By Tonnie Iredia
Some two weeks ago, the United States Embassy in Abuja announced an increased visa fee to be paid by Nigerians wishing to travel to that country. Considering that the old fee was already quite high for an average traveller, some commentators, fiercely criticised the Embassy for the development. Many were shocked to later learn that the Americans were merely retaliating the posture of Nigeria in fixing same high figure for Americans seeking to obtain Nigerian visas. Indeed, the US Embassy appropriately blamed the Nigerian government when it disclosed the pains it had taken severally to ask Nigeria to reduce its own fee. The US could not be said to be wrong because international diplomacy is premised on the principle of reciprocity, known in Nigerian parlance as ‘You do me, I do you.’ If so, it means every country is entitled to retaliating any policy towards her by another country. This policy of equality was what first occurred to me when media reports from Johannesburg, confirmed the killing of Nigerians in South Africa. All over Nigeria, the subject was the matter of the moment, provoking heated debate here and there.
As usual, the nation’s official position was that of ambivalence with discordant tunes from top public office holders. In fairness to our Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, he did much to calm frayed nerves. Although the details at his disposal showed he had done ample research on the subject, not many believed him not only because people are used to disbelieving him but perhaps because South Africa had become notorious for xenophobic attacks. At the same time, Nigeria’s foreign policy had often taken a rather annoying self-denial posture. For instance, in 2017, there were reports of indiscriminate deportation of Nigerians from the US, which our government denied; yet there were Nigerians reporting their ugly experiences in that regard. One Femi Olaniyi who was reportedly deported on the 21st of February 2017, from his point of entry in Los Angeles had narrated how he was put in a cold cell and held for 4 days while his phones were seized making it impossible for him to have access to his family or anyone else. Another Nigerian, Francis Adekola, who narrated his own travel ordeal to Punch newspapers, said he was detained for over 10 hours before he was placed on an aircraft and returned to Abuja.
Official reaction of our government to the stories, was that its Ambassador in the US was unaware of the incidents. Who was to tell him when the victims were neither allowed entry nor given a chance to make a call? It is such rationalization that has actually put our people in a position whereby they are hardly satisfied with government reactions to how Nigerians are treated abroad. Many countries particularly, in the west have a tendency of attributing every wrongdoing to Nigerians while our government and some privileged fellow citizens help them to highlight our so-called criminal tendencies. While not supporting the commission of crime, we condemn the particularization of those allegations to stigmatize Nigerians. Besides, many crimes attributed to Nigerians always have the complicity of other nationals who are never so publicised as criminals the way our people are set aside for ridicule.
The other day, the popular ABC TV News did a feature titled ‘Nigerian Scam’ which told a story of some Nigerians claiming to have a type of magic-ink for turning mere papers into hard currencies. The Nigerians were televised along with the materials including the money. It was shown that the criminals deceived ‘unsuspecting’ Americans of twenty-five thousand US Dollars ($25, 000) which they were given to convert to Fifteen million dollars($15m). While the goal of the story was to expose Nigerian criminals, not much was said about greedy Americans who fell for a change of their money from $25,000 to $15million without doing anything to earn such a fabulous amount. What is the difference between the parties involved in the crime? Again, we are all aware of how fantastically corrupt the whites say our leaders are; without condemning their banks and citizens who are the custodians of the proceeds of our alleged fantastic corruption. It is for this reason that some of us are not impressed by our timid foreign policy which is a far cry from the activism of the Murtala Muhammed military government of the 70s.
Back to the madness happening in South Africa. Both the people and the government are yet to satisfactorily condemn the killings of other nationals in their country. All they have been saying is that they are uncomfortable with the large number of foreigners that have reportedly taken over control of their economy. Where else in the world except crazy South Africa do immigration control measures include the killing of foreign investors and entrepreneurs? Painfully, amidst this heinous crime against humanity, there are Nigerian rationalists, who are prepared to apportion blames to Nigerians who are allegedly in South Africa unlawfully. There are others who are prepared to swear that no law-abiding people are among those attacked. According to them, it is drug peddlers and supplies who deserve their fate that are in trouble. No one remembers that South Africa has had a robust drug law as far back as 1928. Could it be that the criminals going from house to house to kill supposed drug barons are part of the due process of law in that country?
Having established the point that international diplomacy is premised on reciprocity, it is hard to fault the current reactions by Nigerians. The argument that wrong people may become victims and that government must not allow hoodlums to take over the subject beg the point. Is it not hoodlums that are killing people in South Africa? If from what we hear the said hoodlums are engaged in indiscriminate and barbaric burning of people to death, who says there are no wrong people among their victims? The only reason the ‘tit for tat’ policy may not have the same impact is because South African investments in Nigeria are allegedly co-owned by dubious but highly placed Nigerians. The other obvious reason is because South Africans in Nigeria are just too few compared to the large Nigerian tourists who visit South Africa every other day.
Perhaps what our leaders can do at this point is to be making some noise that might give the impression that something may be done by Nigeria. We have since started that. Indeed, an envoy we hear, has gone to South Africa to gather all the facts; two days after that, we shall consider calling our Ambassador from there to come and corroborate if possible, the story gathered by the envoy. In the meantime, maybe we can listen to those who urge Nigerians ‘to boycott South African goods and services to protest the killings of Nigerians and other nationals living in that country.