How Nigeria’s poor foreign policy fuels citizens’ disrespect abroad

The nighttime footage, from what appeared to be a closed-circuit TV camera across the street from a side entrance into the embassy compound, showed a yellow taxi pulling up and a man jumping out of the front passenger door, according to a report by Reuters.

The man moved purposefully towards the entrance, but after he had taken about three steps, the door of a police sentry box in front of the entrance swung open.

A man in police uniform then darted out, grabbed the man, and wrestled him to the floor about two metres from the door, leading into the embassy building, according to footage broadcast by NTV.

The footage then showed the police officer sitting astride the other man, who was on his back, pinning him to the floor. The man managed to wriggle his way towards the door and get it open, at which point the footage ended.

Russian foreign ministry later said the police officer had wanted to check the man’s documents to establish he was not a threat to embassy security but was elbowed in the face when he tried to challenge him.

However, the US debunked the claim and accused Russia of a campaign of harassment against its diplomats in Moscow “over the years,” while Russia also accused Washington of meting out similar treatment to Russian diplomats based in the US.

In response to the assault on its diplomat, the US a few days later expelled two Russian officials from the country. In retaliation though, Russia also expelled two American diplomats amid the fracas.

According to findings, many instances like the one above abound on how countries take actions against countries that disrespect their citizens or diplomats abroad. Sometimes, countries take action that may be in the form of economic sanctions on the countries where their nationals are abused.

Experts said actions like this were part of what countries did in the foreign policy realm, adding that the essence of having foreign policy was for the protection of the country and its citizens, among other objectives.

When a country has a strong foreign policy, experts say the rate at which its citizens were abused abroad would be very minimal, if at all such incidents happen.

Lamentably, this is often not the case with Nigeria as many cases of abuse have been recorded of its citizens living abroad, a situation experts aver indicate weak foreign policy.

The latest incident was that of a senior Nigerian diplomat working at the Nigerian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, Mr Abdulrahman Ibrahim, who was allegedly unjustifiably harassed by Indonesian immigration officers on August 7.

A group, Stakeholders of Nigerians in Asia, in a communiqué signed by its coordinator Kingsley Nwankwo said Ibrahim had gone out on shopping for his family when four immigration officers, who had laid siege to Ibrahim’s apartment, arrested him and demanded his travelling papers.

Ibrahim, however, allegedly told the officers that as a diplomat, he did not use a visa and instead showed them his Diplomatic Identity Card, but the officers were reportedly not satisfied and asked that he followed them to their office, to which he obliged to avoid creating an unnecessary scene in the area.

“On their way, the officers ordered for a car with tinted glass and Ibrahim told them (politely) that the car was not an official one. Yet, he agreed to follow them in it, thinking they were going to the Indonesian Immigration Head Office in Kuningan, Jakarta,” the communiqué read.

Nwankwo alleged that after driving for a while, it became unclear to Ibrahim where he was being taken to, so he attempted to call the attention of passersby, which infuriated the officers who then assaulted and handcuffed him.

“The development resulted in him sustaining a lot of injuries in the neck, hands, and chest,” SNA stated.

The group said the incident was just one out of many cases of Nigerians being subjected to abuse in the Asian country. According to the group, Nigerians are being continually harassed, intimidated, and unlawfully arrested in the Asian country.

Nwankwo called on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to address the growing xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in the diaspora, adding that many Nigerians were currently languishing in Asian prisons.

To address the abuse, Nwankwo also urged the Nigerian government to urgently set up a high-powered delegation to examine the continued harassment of Nigerians in the region.

“We want the Nigerian government, especially the Minister of Foreign Affairs and President Muhammadu Buhari to write the Indonesian government on the need to sanction the officers involved in the maltreatment of the Nigerian diplomat,” the group said.

The video of Ibrahim being assaulted by the Indonesian immigration officers has since gone viral, sparking outrage and condemnation. Indonesian authorities have since apologised.

But much more than just outrage and condemnation, experts want the Federal Government to use the incident as a wake-up call to strengthen its foreign policy to stop the disrespect of Nigerians abroad.

“On the diplomatic plain, a robust response to this outrageous conduct by Indonesia will certainly act as a deterrent in the immediate circumstance we have found ourselves.

“In the long term, we must exert ourselves to rebuild and restore Nigeria to its lost glory – the era of the 1960s, 1970s and the early 1980s. With a robust politico-economic circumstance within our national space and knowing that foreign policy is a projection of domestic happenings, Nigeria will be better regarded in the comity of nations,” a former Nigerian Ambassador to Mexico, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, said.

Emphatically, Amedu-Ode said the incident showed that Nigeria had lost its respect in many countries abroad, but also warned Nigerians living abroad to conduct themselves in ways that wouldn’t attract disrespect to themselves and Nigeria at large.

This is also the submission of Prof Bola Akinterinwa, the President/Director-General of the Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies and a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.

In a piece on the attack on the Nigerian diplomat in Indonesia, Akinterinwa said one major dynamic of Nigeria’s relationship with the Asian country was a perception, particularly from the angle of Indonesia.“Many Nigerians are currently in the Indonesian cells and this factor has not, and cannot, make both the government and people of Indonesia see Nigerians in good light,” Ainterinwa wrote on ThisDayLive.com.

As there was no immediate apology by the Indonesian authorities even after it was known that Ibrahim was a Nigerian diplomat, Akinterinwa pointed out that incidents like this would continue to occur until Nigeria strengthened its foreign policy.

He said, “Whatever is the case, until Nigeria adopts a foreign policy that is driven by self-respect and principles of reciprocity, there will always be new cases of an egregious act of international delinquency.

“The conduct and management of Nigeria’s foreign policy have always been done in a valley of shame and chicanery, which explains, in part, the negative perceptions of Nigerians at home and abroad and also why such egregious acts of international delinquency always occur.

“From xenophobia and ‘Nigerianophobia’ in South Africa to Ghana’s assault on Nigeria’s Embassy, and now to Indonesia’s diplomatic delinquency, when will these acts be stopped?

“It has now become a desideratum to prevent sacrificing the honour of being a Nigerian at the altar of diplomatic rhetoric because no amount of financial compensation by Indonesia can be adequate for the type of enslavement and savagery to which Mr Ibrahim has been subjected.”

Akinterinwa added that Nigeria must go beyond acknowledgement of the increasing egregious acts of international delinquency.

“Anything short of downgrading or closure of the diplomatic missions of both countries is unacceptable. Nigerians must always be treated with due regard, decency, and punished for their offences where necessary on the basis of rule of law. Never on the basis of jungle justice!” he said.

As Akinterinwa noted, incidents of abuse of Nigerians have been ongoing for years. For example, in May 2015, police officers in Equatorial Guinea allegedly beat up a Nigerian diplomat, Mr Noah Ichaba, on the streets of Bata, a port city in the Litoral Province of Equatorial Guinea.

Ichaba, then a vice-consul of Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea, was reportedly beaten to a pulp on his way to a market after the police officers stopped his taxi driver.

Ichaba narrated at the time that the police officers demanded his papers, at which point he brought out his diplomatic identity card issued by the country’s foreign ministry and showed it to the police officers.

Instead of taking a look at his ID card, Ichaba claimed that the policemen snatched it from his hand, squeezed it and gave him a sudden slap on his face while pulling him out of the car.

The diplomat was later taken to the hospital for treatment while the Nigerian consulate, condemning the assault, decried that attacks on Nigerians in the Central African country had been extended to diplomats, which was a violation of diplomatic immunity accorded diplomats by the Vienna Convention.

Two years before this incident, a similar show of disrespect was accorded to Nigeria in Guinea Bissau when the Nigerian Embassy in the country was attacked, leading to the death of a Nigerian and the injury of several others.

Some armed personnel and militia reportedly stormed the Nigerian Embassy and unleashed the mayhem, according to reports at the time.

Also, in June 2020, some armed men attacked the Nigerian High Commission in Accra, Ghana, demolishing some apartments under construction to house staff and visitors.

However, the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, apologised to President Buhari and promised to rebuild the demolished building.

In April 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, Nigerians in China were also subjected to brutal racial assaults by the authorities of their host country. They were accused of being the purveyors of the virus even when some of them had no recent travel history. Among the victims are businessmen, travellers and students.

Nigerians were allegedly summarily evicted by their landlords at the behest of the police; denied access to medical facilities, and turned away by hotels where they sought alternative refuge. They were also allegedly denied food at restaurants, corralled into quarantine, forcibly tested for the virus and their passports confiscated.

Similar xenophobic attacks have occurred in South Africa on several occasions, phenomena experts said were unacceptable diplomatic conduct.

In June 2021, the Beninoise government also reportedly arrested one Pastor Kunle Gab for resisting encroachment on Nigerian borders.

Gab was reportedly arrested alongside his interpreter, Benjamin Amosu, by Gendarmes (Benin Republic Police) in a Gestapo style at Igbokofi, Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State.

The situation has since generated outrage by the Nigerian government, with the Senate demonstrating anger at the encroachment on Nigerian lands by the Benin Republic authorities.

Political scientist and media scholar, Mr Ayo Olukotun, said now was the time Nigeria should rejig its foreign policy to command the respect it deserves from other countries.

He said, “If Nigeria had learnt this lesson long before now, it would have established a presence on the world stage in which other nations will fear or tremble to test its will. That is another way of saying that there are consequences, some of them tragic of being left far behind in the developmental race.

“Even in Africa, in which Nigeria is putatively a giant, several countries hitherto not reckoned with and some of them war-torn had by-passed it in several crucial dimensions of progress and human security. How much regard, to put it frankly, can a country that is heavily debt-ridden, recently classified by the International Monetary Fund as a high-risk debtor country with galloping insecurity, and several parts of it converted into killing fields enjoy abroad?”

“Diplomacy alone, however adroit, will not get us the respect we need abroad; equally, if not more important is to earn respect by orderliness in place of the current bedlam, a scaling up of our economic fortunes and eventually as the short term appears to be lost, the kind of affluence and might that will make other nations even if they dislike us to stop trying our will,” he added.

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  1. The man moved purposefully towards the entrance, but after he had taken about three steps, the door of a police sentry box in front of the entrance swung open.

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