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Author Name: John Igbokwe
Number of articles: 1
Assume for a second, you are a law-abiding, tax-paying parent of one of the two young men in this story... (0) Comment


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A Revamped Foreign Service for Nigeria (Placing the right value on a Nigerian's Life)
Author: John Igbokwe | April 19, 2012



Assume for a second, you are a law-abiding, tax-paying parent of one of the two young men in this story. Your son, in his mid-twenties, full of life and with all his future ahead of him, is travelling through Asia. He has a new Nigerian passport. He arrives in a country and in a city with a large population of Nigerian citizens, amongst them, a few Nigerian friends he had known from living with them in another country. He wants to visit another Asian country but the embassy of this country wants him to submit an official document from his local Nigerian embassy certifying to his citizenship. If his embassy issues this certification, the Asian country would grant him a visa. Your son visits his embassy on two occasions in the company of another compatriot who speaks the same Nigerian language as he and requests a Nigerian envoy to write him a certification. The envoy refuses, saying he is not registered with the embassy, and therefore not a Nigerian citizen. Clearly disinterested, the envoy makes no effort to determine citizenship and register your son so this certification could be issued. Your sonâs companion is present, visible, ready and willing to vouch for your sonâs nationality. A few days later, your son, desperate, gets into a fight with another compatriot who he accuses of stealing his passport. In the fight, your son stabs his compatriot with a kitchen knife, killing him. Local cops arrest your son. They throw him into dark detention. He is tried in court for murder and sentenced to life in prison. For the deliberate failure of a Nigerian diplomat to recognize the citizenship of your son, two Nigerian lives are lost â your sonâs (life in jail) and the life of the man your son killed. The Nigerian envoy goes about his âdutyâ as if he had no role in the double tragedy. If you indeed are the parent of the murderer, would you say Nigeria has served you well abroad? If you are the parent of the victim, would you feel your son would still be alive had the envoy issued the citizenship certification that would have taken the assailant to the Asian country? Would you not feel like you want to get your hands on the envoy whose premeditated negligence of duty brought such ruin and harm upon your family? This is a tiny, partial portrait of Official Nigeria in the Philippines. Nigeria is in trouble overseas due to the massive, pervasive delinquency of her official representatives! Many Nigerian commentators have been gushing recently about the uncharacteristically tough stance the Federal Government took against disdainful countries, the latest being the Republic of South Africa, whose goofy immigration officials treated 125 Nigerian nationals with ridicule and disrespect. Testifying before the two chambers of the National Assembly last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru fumed, âThis is the first time in all my career in the foreign service where a supposedly friendly country would send 125 Nigerians back home on the flimsy excuse that they are carrying fake yellow cards. Nigeria will take reciprocal action. The Federal Government has summoned the South African envoy to demand an apology and to ensure that the officers involved in the deportation are punishedâ. Really? First time Nigerians have been treated in this manner by a friendly country? Either our missions overseas regularly grossly minimize their reports to the Home Office on the plight of Nigerian citizens abroad or I am missing something here. As a Nigerian in the Diaspora who has seen Nigeria in action over many years across many countries, I applaud the Federal Government for the small successes now being celebrated in the Nigerian media. The euphoria from the spat with South Africa is understandable given that Nigeria has not really had much for success to crow about in the international arena in the past five decades. Notching a few, fleeting, high profile points against a friendly African country may seem like a major accomplishment, but situated side by side other colossal, albeit low-profile failures, the current score begins to pale in measurement. South Africa inappropriately deported people who are luckily free and alive to tell their stories. Anyone who reads the the news, both past and current, would notice a progressive deterioration in the treatment of Nigerians in foreign lands. If our people are not being killed in Malaysia, Thailand, China or the Philippines, they are being imprisoned without due process in other lands. Nigerian citizens abroad have suffered and continue to suffer worse mistreatment at the hands of their envoys than at the heels of their host countries. Is mistreatment by a Nigerian envoy of a compatriot better than mistreatment by a foreign country? We all need to be reminded about some of these low-points in Nigeria's practice of diplomacy. Sometime in 1991, Mr. Femi Oladipupo, a graduate student of Mechanical Engineering in one of Manilaâs finest universities disappeared without a trace. Femi, a son of a former Head of Chancery of the Embassy of Nigeria in Manila was said to be a part-time businessman dealing in jewelry. A few days later, his body was found in another city a few kilometers from Manila. He had been murdered. According to people who knew him well, Femi was a regular, hardworking guy. His murder was never solved. On November 14, 1995, a gunman casually walked out of his Ford Cortina on a busy Philippine roadway, took a few short steps to another car caught up in the busy afternoon traffic, pumped lead into a black driver, casually walked back to his car and fled the scene. The black driver was Mr. Lewis Akenzua who had just married his sweetheart only two weeks earlier. Akenzua was a salesman at a Manila auto dealership. He was not a long-time Manila resident, having arrived in the Philippines a few months before his assassination. Lewis was a sitting duck, mowed down mafia-style in broad daylight in the presence of many witnesses. He never had the chance to honeymoon with his new wife. The gunman was arrested within twenty four hours based on tips from witnesses who had taken down the license plate number of his getaway vehicle. The murderer was never tried and Akenzuaâs death was never punished. Before Akenzua, in late May 1995, two Nigerian citizens were slaughtered inside a hotel room in the City of Baguio, some two hundred kilometers from the Philippine capital city of Manila. Their murderers were a band of rogue officers from a police detachment based in the city. The cops alleged that the victims (Prince â from Imo State and Morgan â from Rivers State) were drug traffickers. An elected Councilor of the city publicly denounced the police action as âsummary executionsâ and called for enquiry into the police conduct. One of the victims, Morgan was personally known to this writer who vouched for him as a straight arrow, just like many other Nigerian compatriots who knew him well. Their murder was solved in the sense that cops, whose duty was the protection of life, took theirs. The real circumstances surrounding their execution were never determined and nobody was tried and punished for the crime. When the brother of Morgan traveled to Manila from Saipan to pursue justice for his brother, the Embassy of Nigeria did not support him; a high mission official advised him instead to drop his planned quest for justice. Prince and Morgan were later buried in unmarked graves. In September 2010, 14-year old Godspower Okirie (from Rivers State) was brutally murdered by stabbing not far from his home in Sampaloc, a neighborhood of Manila City, Philippines. His killer, a teenaged street toughie and drug dealer known to the local police was never arrested and prosecuted although it is common knowledge the cops knew whereabouts he had shifted residence in the city. A common thread to all of these murders is the role the Embassy of Nigeria did not play to bring about justice for these victims. By the doctrine of moral responsibility, the Charge DâAffaires, Mr. Samuel Ajewole and the Head of Chancery of the Embassy of Nigeria in 1995, Mr. Femi Akenson Rotimi may be said to have the blood of Nigerian citizens on their hands, for the action they refused to take to defend the security of their citizens. In a forced meeting with the diplomats inside the Chancery of the embassy following the Baguio City murders, Dr. Akin Famoyegun, a Nigerian Professor at the local Manila-based Philippine National Police Academy informed the two senior officials and the meeting that his students at the Academy had told him they were involved in the killing of the two Nigerian citizens in Baguio City. The Professor further informed these top officials at this meeting that his Police informants had warned him that more Nigerian citizens would be killed. Mr. Benjamin Okafor (M. Arch.), a widely respected community member at this meeting also informed the officials that the landlord of Morgan, one of the fatalities had boasted about his involvement in the murders and taunted there was nothing the Embassy of Nigeria could do about it. The embassyâs top officers were given information from three sources, including an elected councilor, enough lead with which they could work with Philippine authorities to obtain justice and prevent future attacks. They refused to act on the information. The deliberate decision of the officials to not defend Nigeria left the impression on the Philippine public that Nigeria did not attach any value to the lives of her citizens. Less than five months after they refused to act on this information, Akenzua was killed. In a country with judicial weaknesses similar to Nigeriaâs, a victim of crime needs front-seat support from his government to obtain justice. Pressed for action by a frightened community, the Head of Chancery of the embassy, Mr. Femi Akenson Rotimi, threatened death against a compatriot. He orchestrated a bomb threat against his own embassy, terrorizing embassy staff and the community and diverting attention from the failures of the mission. The same Head of Chancery, while at this, stole money from the embassy over several years with the full support of some corrupt bigwigs of a criminal cabal inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And then, he stole property, sexually harassed office secretaries, had at least three â and possibly four - illegitimate children with different women other than his wife and kept a host of other mistresses â all of these while actively shutting distressed Nigerian citizens out of ordinary consular support services. At this same embassy, an ambassador was accused by an official Student Committee of abusing his office by coercing financially distressed female Nigerian students into having sex with him inside his office at the embassy. This charge was never investigated. Another ambassador would file papers for travel, lock herself up in her house for the duration of the supposed trip and claim estacode for travel that never took place. Perhaps the most egregious misapplication of office was the economic sabotage of Nigeria by the same Head of Chancery when he successfully lobbied a recruitment team from an Asian country to not hire fellow compatriots for teaching positions in that Asian country. This was a fundamental vitiation of office and of Nigeria that the primary responsibility of diplomacy which is the protection of all interests of your country is so profoundly undermined. But what did Nigeria do? Instead of removing this savage, unpatriotic envoy from service, he was promoted and sent out again to senior posting in a major European country. Shame! The list is endless. There is hardly a country in the world where Nigeria has diplomacy on the ground that has not seen similar or worse cases of abuse and intentional failure of duty as these cited for the Philippines. Nigerian diplomats habitually treat their people worse than most foreign countries do. When an envoy deals in the abuse of his people, he loses the moral standing to fight injustice perpetrated against his people by a host government. When a crime is committed against a Nigerian citizen overseas who needs the support of the embassy to seek justice, the failure of our envoys to provide this support becomes more heinous than the crime itself. Compare how Nigerian diplomats defeat her citizens overseas to how other countries uphold their own people. Two nations in focus: the Philippines and the State of Israel. As Director of Finance in the Ministry of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing of the Government of Saskatchewan, many reports pass through my office every day. In January 2012, two letters on one subject, written by two Consuls of the Philippine Consulate in Toronto arrived at my desk. The first letter dated November 29, 2011 and penned by the Consul informed my Deputy Minister that the Consulate was then âcurrently updating its records of Philippine citizens, who are in the custody of the Saskatchewan provincial correctional institutionsâ. It requested the Deputy Minister to provide the Consulate, the following information: name of detainee/accused and gender; nature of offense, sentence; and status of the case. Less than two months with the Consul gone, the new Acting Head of Post sent a follow-up reminding the Minister of the first request from November. In less than two months, a Philippine consular outpost had sent two diplomatic requests asking about any citizens in distress! Finest diplomacy comes alive when a nation actively seeks information about its citizens who might be in trouble â and in need of care. As I read and re-read the letters, my mind raced back to my life and times in the Philippines. It went back to the pains endured to try to get Nigeriaâs envoys to stand up for their people and their national interests. As I re-experienced the preventable wastefulness of lost lives, and the harshness of seeing Nigerian officials turn their people away, the hardened activist, with two letters in hand melted as emotions flooded my eyes. I closed my office door to prevent my administrative assistant from asking questions. The truth is that the Philippine Republic cares about her citizens. The country has always had a no-Filipino-left-behind foreign policy. They value their people as their greatest resource and few nations can stand toe-to-toe with Filipinos when it comes to patriotism. Serving the national interest through everyday assistance to their expatriates is the bedrock of Philippinesâ practice of foreign relations. Every Filipino diplomat is ingrained with this vision as a condition of service. And yes, this service to nation sometimes assumes extreme proportions like when in February 2011, Hon. Dr. Jejomar Binay, Executive Vice-President of the Republic of the Philippines traveled to Beijing to meet with high officials of the Chinese government. Three Filipino nationals had been convicted of smuggling hard drugs into China and sentenced to die. The three ill-fated contract workers â two women and a man - had been arrested at an airport as they tried to enter China. They had accepted envelopes from their Manila-based recruiter for delivery to unfamiliar parties inside China. They were unsuspecting drug mules. The Philippine Vice President did not travel to ask China to pardon the convicts. He went to ask for a commutation of sentence to life in jail. He failed. But the Filipino nation is grateful that their government tried to save the convictsâ lives. When a government has the back of its citizens, the people reciprocate in outstandingly patriotic ways. Little wonder, the Philippineâs national economy rests on the shoulders of her expatriate citizens! The countryâs biggest export is her citizens. The State of Israel is renowned for her unmatched, unapologetic protection of her citizens wherever they live in the world. Every Israeli life is precious to the Jewish State. Even the remains of her dead â in war and peace â are sacred and treasured. In 1956 following the Suez Crisis, Israel returned 5,500 Egyptian prisoners captured during the campaign and 77 others who were captured during military operations prior to the war, in exchange for an Israeli pilot taken prisoner during the war, and three soldiers taken captive in pre-war attacks. This was the second prisoner swap after the first in 1948 following the Arab-Israeli War. On 18 October 2011, Israel released 477 Palestinian prisoners and another 550 in December 2011 for a total of 1,027 prisoners. Among the freed prisoners were terrorists responsible for killing 569 Jewish civilians. In exchange, Gilad Shalit, five years in Hamas captivity was turned over to Israel. 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for one captured Israeli soldier! This was the highest price Israel has ever paid for a single soldier! Between the first and the latest prisoner swaps, several thousands of Palestinian prisoners have been freed over the years for a handful of Israeli captives that included the remains of dead soldiers. Why does Israel deal in lopsided trade of captives? Simple! Every Jewish life counts! A Jewish life is precious to the Jewish State! The state turns every stone in the protection of her citizens, including her dead. Is it not time Nigeria placed the right value on a citizenâs life? I submit that now is the time! But to begin to do this, the political will must exist to slay a hydra-headed dragon inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This dragon is corruption and unpatriotism! Both are behind all the bad cases of consular misbehavior that we read and hear about every day. That Head of Chancery in Manila who arrived at post with a forged diplomatic rank, who drew huge, undeserved salaries over several years, and stole embassy property had accomplices and godfathers in the Administrative Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That ambassador who sexually exploited financially strapped female citizens had protectors at Headquarters. That consular official who denied the citizenship of his compatriot leading to a murder that was totally avoidable should be held to account. If these diplomats were employees of publicly held companies and they committed one half the same crimes they did in the Service, they would have all lost their jobs. No private company can tolerate the kind of abuse some of our envoys get away with so easily. So why would government be different, especially in the very sensitive department of foreign relations? The Foreign Affairs Minister can chastise South Africa, Nigerians can celebrate the new boldness of our diplomacy, but all of this would mean nothing if the government does not audit and revamp out all the crooks in the Foreign Service â at the missions abroad and in the Home Office. It is only after the bad apples have been cast out that the country would get a fighting chance to reclaim the high ground necessary to effectively institutionalize patriotism-imbued professionalism, correct current flaws in orientation and make ring true the declaration of Minister Ashiru when he recently inducted 88 new ambassadors into office and said, âWe should demand at all times and anywhere that Nigerians at home and abroad who seek service or assistance at any embassy, mission, or consulate must be treated with dignityâ. The ring of this declaration is hollow because it is only future-looking. To be meaningful, it should also be introspective. It should cover justice for all citizens of Nigeria who have been cut down violently overseas under the watch of their diplomats. Every loss of Nigerian life to violence which has not been solved or justified should be pursued, no matter how long ago that may be. There cannot be argument that some of these cases are old or too far in the past. Justice for our people may be delayed, but it should not be denied. This is because justice delayed becomes justice denied only when persistence flags. The State of Israel still hunts down Holocaust criminals, more than sixty years after the Second World War ended! So Nigeria must persist until every one of these forgotten cases is resolved and culprits brought to justice. And this should start with the Philippines where evidence exists to pursue the murders of our people. Nigeria must change diplomatic course and stop the current bent towards âreactingâ to developments. A reactionary foreign policy is no policy at all. It is not a productive construct for defending a nationâs interests in the world. Nigeria needs to conduct proactive diplomacy in which our envoys anticipate problems before they develop. This proactive model will require a comprehensive audit and review of performance going back three decades, at a minimum. It will require a revamping of the Foreign Service to prepare it for the new age of competition in which true patriotism and professionalism define who fails and who succeeds in the fierce jostle for advantage amongst nations. That major flaw of Nigeria's foreign policy, which is its tendency to cut loose and brush the past under the rug of parochial solidarity, must be cast aside for a deeper probe into the scam-ridden and syndicate-controlled departments of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Until a credible probe is done, Nigerian diplomats abroad will continue to subjugate our nation's welfare to their personal interests, scandals will continue to dog Nigeria's Foreign Service, citizens will continue to be mistreated at our missions abroad, more Nigerian citizens will still lose lives to violence in foreign lands, and the army of families traumatized by unsolved, unjustified crimes against their members will continue to increase. Arise O compatriots, Nigeria's call obey! Igbokwe is the author of A BROKEN MISSION (Nigeria's Failed Diplomacy in the Philippines and the Fight for Justice and Embassy Reform). He writes from the City of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Email: igbokwe@abrokenmission.com. Website: www.abrokenmision.com.

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