Penultimate Friday, precisely November 17, 2017, 26 wooden coffins were laid out in a circle in the middle of Salerno’s cemetery, Italy. In the 26 wooden coffins in this faraway city were 26 bodies of young Nigerian women said to have drowned during a migrant crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Libya.
The bodies said to have been recovered November 3, by Spanish rescue ships were being honoured with an interfaith funeral ceremony by the Italian government.
At the ceremony where Salerno Archbishop Luigi Moretti told the crowd that the women “lost their lives as they were seeking freedom and a better life,” there was no representative from the Nigerian Embassy or Consulate present.
And among the 26 bodies recovered, only two were identified. They were Marian Shaka, a Muslim, and Osato Osara, a Christian. Prosecutors were also said to be working to contact relatives of the others, using phone numbers the women had hidden in their clothes before setting off from Libya.
According to them, autopsies showed all but one drowned. “The other had internal bleeding from a ruptured liver as a result of blunt trauma before falling in the water. None bore signs of recent physical or sexual abuse. Two of the women were pregnant,” they said.
And then came the twist! Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Monday, November 20; told journalists in Abuja that the Italian Embassy had earlier indicated to the Director General, National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) that the burial of the girls would take place on November 26, 2017.
She therefore wondered why they went ahead with the burial nine days earlier without informing the Nigerian government.
The SSA, who addressed newsmen alongside a NAPTIP representative, Mr. Abdulrahim Shaibu, said a protest letter had been sent to the Italian envoy in Nigeria to the effect.
“Why were they hurriedly buried nine days before the date communicated to the DG, NAPTIP by the Italian Embassy without any information to the Nigerian government? Why the rush to bury the bodies without carrying out a post-mortem to determine the causes of death?” she queried.
According to Dabiri-Erewa, information indicated that only three of the girls were identified as Nigerians, noting that the identities of the other victims had yet to be ascertained before they were interred. She also said the victims’ families might have wanted them buried in their countries of origin.
Wonderful! If the argument above is what the Federal Government has to offer on this matter, then those knowledgeable on issues of foreign affairs will easily conclude that the line of communication between Nigerian government and her Italian counterpart must have been faulty, ab initio. Or that the Nigerian government out rightly abandoned its own.
Considering that the Italian version was about the only information regarding the incidence in the public domain before Monday’s press conference by the SSA and the NAPTIP representative, the question is: Between November 3, that the bodies were discovered and probably identified, and November 17, that they were buried, a clear two weeks, what move did the Nigerian government make to see that those girls got a befitting burial in Italy, or for their bodies to be repatriated?
In international affairs, this is not for an SSA to the president on Diaspora, or director/representative of NAPTIP to carry out, since they have no locus standi to take on such matters without acting ultra vires.
As a matter of fact, experts on foreign affairs say such office as SSA on Diaspora has absolutely no presence and recognition, whatsoever, within the international community beyond what the foreign minister tells the office to do/say. Or very unlikely, what the president directs the office to say.
Anything to the contrary amounts to meddlesomeness, which ends up sending conflicting signal to the public (both Nigerians and the world in general) on what Nigeria’s foreign policy is. Such pronouncement and action is mandatorily made by the foreign ministry using the embassies as vehicle.
So, was this procedure followed or not? Did it result in any conflict? Those concerned must set this record straight.
Unfortunately, and before the burial of these young girls by the Italian authority, little or nothing was heard from the Nigerian side on the development, something that actually triggered lots of reactions, especially on social media, as to whether Nigeria has an ambassador in Rome or not.
If the Nigerian government, which obviously has a diplomatic mission in Italy, were in constant communication with their Italian counterpart, one would expect that the issue being raised by Dabiri-Erewa, as it were, will not arise. The Nigerian government would have been part of the plans from day one.
So, obviously, something didn’t go right in this matter and something isn’t also going right at the moment in Libya where Nigerian illegal migrants en route Europe are being captured by Libyan authorities and sold off as slaves for various amounts in the range of $400.
The time for the Nigerian government to act on the Libyan issue is now, not when these young men, though on illegal journey, may have been killed and buried by foreign authorities.