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One week, two troubles by Rotimi Fasan

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Nigerian High Commission

By Rotimi Fasan,

In just the space of about one week Nigeria, “the giant of Africa”, was involved in no less than two, maybe three, diplomatic debacles, each of which can be traced to an incremental reduction in the quality of governance over so many years that has now resulted in the country’s loss of influence among Nigerians and the rest of the world.

The first piece of depressing news came out of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, where the Nigerian High Commission was besieged by what could be described as a well-organised mob. In plain sight of security agents, a residential building in the precinct of the High Commission came under direct attack as it was demolished in gross violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to which Ghana is a signatory. Under this Convention, the premises of a foreign mission are inviolable and can only be accessed with permission.

Acting otherwise could even be viewed as an act of war that could at the very least lead to a breakdown in relations between concerned countries. But not only were what might be considered the hallowed grounds of the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana violated, but parts of its residential area were also reduced to rubble under the onslaught of bulldozers in the service of Ghanaian citizens.

An attack like this could easily get out of hand as happened in Libya after the ouster of Muammar Ghaddafi when the American Embassy in Tripoli was attacked and the ambassador was murdered in cold blood.

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Any of the Nigerian occupants of the residential building could have been injured or, even worse, killed given the belligerence that characterized the incident as captured on available video footage.

It stretches credulity that Ghanaian authorities could not be summoned early enough to respond to the distressed cry of the Nigerian occupants of the building for the period the attack lasted. We are not here talking of some surreptitious activity by ordinary thugs or petty hoodlums. What was on display was organised thuggery executed with the probable connivance of the Ghanaian authorities.

The goal was apparently to embarrass the Nigerian government for its alleged failure to live up to its responsibilities. For the point at issue, one line of narrative claims is that the lease Nigeria took on this property in which it houses her diplomats had lapsed without the High Commission either renewing it or moving out.

Not only did Nigeria fail or refuse to do either of this, it went ahead to construct additional structures on the property that is owned by the Osu Traditional Chieftaincy, a private entity that resorted to self-help in the apparent face of official, though foreign, impunity. If the claim of the expired lease is true, then the authorities in Ghana could not have executed the demolition without ruffling diplomatic feathers and risking the ire of Nigeria.

Which then stands to reason that what Ghana could not do by direct use of force, it did through the moral authority and outrage of her private citizens. Ghana has, however, in the wake of the attack regretted the action of the perpetrators of this heinous act while admitting that Nigeria bought the piece of land on which the High Commission constructed its property 20 years ago.

Except Ghana is engaged in some tongue-in-cheek exoneration of Nigeria from the irresponsibility of not paying due rent, then it ought to bring the full weight of the law to bear on the perpetrators of the demolition.

This should be in addition to its apologies to Nigeria and promised reconstruction of the demolished portion of the High Commission. But should it turn out that Ghana is only trying to help Nigeria save face after embarrassing her publicly, then it serves Nigeria right as this country has no business conducting itself as outlaws outside her borders.

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An increasing number of Nigeria’s missions abroad appear distressed with reports of staff with a backlog of unpaid salaries working in dilapidated buildings and even rundown office spaces that aggravate the already deplorable image of the country in certain quarters abroad. For effective and proper management of resources, including cost-saving, Nigeria could cut down on the number of its diplomatic missions or reduce the status of some. We do not need ambassadors in every nook and cranny of the world.

In some cases, there is no justification for this proliferation of embassies other than to provide jobs for the boys, compensating associates, cronies and friends among scores of other political lackeys and journeymen and women masquerading as diplomats. Let us do this and save ourselves the embarrassments of angry creditors setting thugs on diplomatic staff and thereby putting diplomats lives in harm’s way.

The dust from the demolition job in Accra had hardly settled than there was an invasion of the Nigerian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. This time the attackers are (wait for this) Nigerians protesting against their treatment in the hands of Indonesian immigration agents; in this instance, leading to the death of a Nigerian who allegedly plunged to his death from the ninth floor of a building while running away from agents that wanted to arrest him.

It is not at all clear how these angry Nigerians thought the embassy could have been of help. But their sense of moral outrage was such that their only line of defence was to make Nigeria accountable for their situation. In expressing their grievances, they set upon the embassy’s property, vandalising vehicles and desecrating the Nigerian flag.

While such actions are neither new nor peculiar to the embassy officials in Jakarta, the protesters need to know that being Nigerians does not excuse any anti-social behaviour nor can an embassy provide cover from the law for Nigerians thought to have violated the laws of their host nations.

It is sheer foolishness to think otherwise. Fugitive or no fugitive, foolish or not, it is a reflection of a high level of cynicism that the gap between the rulers and the led has so widened that it has, in turn, resulted in a loss of faith in Nigeria as a country worth living in or dying for. This is why Nigerians will without scruples sooner deny their country than affirm faith in her survival.

Nigerians must begin to reappraise their relationship with their country and not tie their disillusionment with the country’s leaders to the very idea of having faith in Nigeria as a country. Nigerian leaders are not Nigeria and their conduct at any time, in or out of office, should not be viewed as representative of the Nigerian character, dream and worldview.

What could have been a third incident was again a self-infliction, namely, the reported closure of the Nigerian embassy in Germany.

What’s this about? Another non-payment of lease disguised as the need for repair work? What a week!


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