Apology not enough – The Nation Nigeria
From Nigeria’s immediate West African neighbour, Ghana, came the unimaginable news on June 19: two of the buildings on the Nigerian High Commission premises in Accra had been brought down by a Ghanaian who claimed ownership of the land on which the buildings were situated!
In international relations, this, clearly, is an abomination. This was one of the things we were learnt as post-graduate students of international law and diplomacy. By the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, such a thing should never have occurred. The inviolability of a country’s diplomatic mission and its premises is a key element of diplomatic law. This is because the diplomatic mission is seen as an extension of the seat of power of the country in the host or receiving state. The other key elements of diplomatic law are the immunity of members of the diplomatic staff, and the security of diplomatic correspondence and diplomatic bags.
The receiving state is indeed mandated to ensure adequate security for the mission as well as its members of the staff, even as none of the receiving state’s agents is allowed entry into the mission’s premises without the express permission of the head of the mission.
So, for some ragtag individuals to enter into the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana with bulldozer to pull down buildings there was an affront not only to Nigeria but also the Vienna Convention, and it should be condemned by right-thinking members of the international community. One, not only did it show the harm that the mission officials are exposed to, as there was no report of the impudent intruders being challenged by any security agents of that country, aside the unarmed security men there who could only watch the unfolding drama from a reasonable distance.
We were also told that the mission was only a few minutes drive from a police station and that the police in that station were contacted but looked helpless even as they came late to an operation which lasted over an hour.
It is true the Ghanaian authorities might not have been complicit in the matter, but their failure to adequately protect the mission is a serious lapse which cannot exculpate them from blame. But then we need to ask the embassy officials too if this absence of government security presence in the place had been like that for long, or they only pulled out to enable the lawless individuals who destroyed the buildings operate unchallenged. If this had been on for some time, did the officials ever inform the Ghanaian authorities of this serious lapse? Did they inform their home government? If they did not, then they are also guilty of laxity.
But the implication of that incident goes beyond violating the high commission; it also rubbished the immunity which the officials were supposed to enjoy under the same Vienna Convention. It was shameful seeing some of the embassy officials narrating the incident. Their fear and anger were palpable, understandably. Fear because the way the incident happened was like they were watching a movie. It was like they could easily have been attacked by armed robbers or even kidnapped without challenge if that was the mission of the intruders. And anger because, as one of them said, Nigerians would not have done that to Ghana.
Of course, those who drafted the Vienna Convention treaty were not oblivious of the dysfunctional purposes it could sometimes be put to, some of which had led to breaking of diplomatic laws in the past. Here, Wikipedia gave examples, including “the famous Iran hostage crisis in 1979, the shooting of a British police woman from the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984, and the discovery of a former Nigerian minister in a diplomatic crate at Stansted airport in 1984.”
I am however interested in the case of the Nigerian minister, not only for the comic relief it provides but also because of the consequences for relations between Britain and Nigeria, afterwards. The minister, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, was the most talked-about of President Shehu Shagari’s ministers in the Second Republic (1979-1983). Again, Wikipedia aptly summarises the incident: “The Dikko affair was a joint Nigerian-Israeli attempt to kidnap Umaru Dikko, a former Nigerian civilian government minister living in the United Kingdom, in 1984, and secretly transport him back to Nigeria in a diplomatic bag. The kidnapping took place, but the transportation was unsuccessful. After it was foiled, the political fallout seriously damaged relations between Nigeria and the United Kingdom for years.” It was unfortunate though that some ‘overzealous’ British customs officials denied Nigerians the social service of seeing their once powerful minister accused of massive corruption, (a thing Dikko denied) arriving the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in a 1.2 by 1.2 by 1.6 metre crate! I imagined how the sensational Nigerian media would have feasted on this for days.
Although the instant case between Nigeria and Ghana is not in any way similar to this, it is still capable of damaging relations between them if not for the maturity applied by the Nigerian government.
The beauty of diplomatic law is in its principle of reciprocity. This is simply about doing unto others what you want them do unto you. If a receiving country declares a sending state’s diplomat a persona non grata (unwanted) and sends him back to his country, the sending country has a right to do same to the receiving state’s envoy in its territory. This is one reason why countries think twice before taking any diplomatic decision. So, what should Nigeria do in this case? An eye for an eye? Definitely not. Tell Ghana to go but sin no more? Again, not exactly.
As I have said earlier, the present issue is not strictly between Nigeria and Ghana as such. It is about an individual who probably took advantage of the porous nature of the embassy to wreak havoc. I say this because no matter the merit in the case of the intruder, he would not have been encouraged to go there with bulldozer if the premises was fortified. That premises should be inviolable no matter what; and to the extent of that inviolability, it should not be open to the kind of attack that was unleashed on it without the Ghanaian police being able to lift a finger to protect it. This, really, is my worry. And that is why we cannot simply tell Ghana to go but sin no more.
Although there might be the possibility of laxity, either on the part of the Federal Government or the high commission concerning the regularisation of the particulars of the premises, the onus still falls on the Ghanaian authorities to ensure it is not violated.
Unfortunately, this would not be the first time that Nigeria would be suffering such an embarrassment. Nigerians have lost several of their compatriots to xenophobic attacks in a place like South Africa. Even in Ghana, there have been some running battles between Nigerians and the government and people. Yet, most often, the best we got were apologies which could never bring back the dead when some of these skirmishes led to loss of lives. You may ask whether there is anything that could bring back the dead. My answer is, nothing really. But then, South Africa has several investments in Nigeria that could be made to pay for the troubles Nigerians go through for going to live in South Africa. But the Nigerian government hardly allows such to happen here. As soon as there is tension between both countries, it deploys security agencies to protect those foreign investments that are are at risk in such moments.
All said, it’s high time Nigeria began to care about its citizens and embassies in other countries. If that had been the case, its high commission would not have been open to the kind of June 19 attack it suffered in Ghana. The incident should be a wake-up call to it to take an inventory of our embassies and high commissions all over the world with a view to righting the wrongs concerning documentation of papers on the premises, rent (which has been an issue in some cases) all of which can seriously embarrass the country. It does not befit our status to be having issues on such little details. We should not take our legendary ‘Nigerian factor’ to that ridiculous extent.
Indeed, we should not open our flanks to attacks only to start recalling how we had rescued some of the other African countries in their years of troubles. As some people have argued, we did whatever we did in those countries unconditionally. Other countries would have done what we did with specific (sometimes apparently selfish) clearly-stated objectives, such as advancing our national interest.
It is true that Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo has apologised to Nigeria on behalf of his country. The apology is accepted; but it is not enough. For how long will we continue to turn the other cheek when slapped? Ghana has to rebuild those structures from scratch. Second, it must ensure the perpetrators of the evil act and their collaborating security agents are dealt with in accordance with its laws. Also, Ghana should begin to address itself to the issue of security, not only in the Nigerian High Commission in its territory but in other countries’ missions that are open to such attacks. These should be the irreducible minimum in the circumstance.
Apology not enough – The Nation Nigeria