(By Chiagozie Udeh)
“Nigeria is very easily and cheaply accessible and as such, foreigners, most of whom are illegal migrants, hardly value their stay here because they did almost nothing to gain entry. Consequently, they deem themselves free to commit crimes without being arrested. Foreigners are the major culprits of the oil theft cases in Nigeria but, they are hardly arrested and even when they are, their ambassadors press for their release. If the Nigerian visa was difficult to obtain, if our borders were too secure to penetrate, if foreigners in Nigeria got the same treatment as our citizens in their countries, there would be greater respect for Nigerians overseas and they would not be subjected to the kind of suffering they go through today.“
THE journey to greatness of every great nation started with the people but, the responsibility of throwing the challenge lies with the government. No nation exists without the people as does the government. Both (Nation and government) are heavily dependent on people but, how good they co-relate borders on how much they value each other.
The people-government relationship goes a long way in shaping the future of any country and observably, in the people-government relationship, the people value the government just as much as the government values them. But in all, the government belongs to the people. Perhaps, it was in recognition of this fact that Abraham Lincoln said of American “this country, with its institutions, belong to the people who inhabit it”. Countries such as USA, Canada and Britain enjoy undoubted patriotism from her people because they got it right in people-government relationship. Thomas Jefferson once said “when the people fear the government, there’s tyranny. When the government fears the people, there’s liberty.” But may I add that, when both fear each other, there’s peace and this, clearly points at the importance of the people-government relationship.
John Kennedy in 1961, challenged Americans to “land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth” within a decade. And, it took Americans eight years, one month and 26 days to achieve that. This shows the American government’s recognition of the role of the people in nation building and it has pushed them to always protect Americans anywhere they may be.
Why is this desirable people-government relationship lacking in my country-the one with world’s highest dark-melanin population—Nigeria? The Nigerian government has continued to relegate the plights of her people especially those abroad. This has greatly affected Nigerians in Diaspora, as that pride of representing one’s country is completely lacking.
As an Igbo proverb goes: “If you regard your calabash as worthless, your neighbour will employ it as an ash-packing tool” and this is evident in the plights of Nigeria abroad.
Nigerians in Diaspora are now overwhelming favorites to face deportation whenever their host countries feel like pressing the red button. To say the least, if humans occupied the entire solar system; Jupiter, Mars and their likes would have deported Nigerians. It really hurts me to know that my countrymen walk the streets of foreign countries with their hearts in their palms in fear of deportation.
Nigerians would seem to be, arguably, the most unique people in the world. Their resistance to revolution—which has surpassed natural tendencies—points to the fact that they are comfortable with any situation and being among the best hands in their fields of endeavour, simply shows that they can hardly be the worst people in their host countries.
But, why will such a fate of being easily deported befall them? Why will every dark-skinned criminal be automatically branded a Nigerian? Are these not overwhelmingly blessed Nigeria?
I am yet to see a crime free population. Not even the most religious ones. But, why is Nigeria’s being blown out of proportion?
The simple answer is that our government set the pace and, others follow suit.
Now, it is clear that illegal migration and lack of required document qualify an alien a deportee, but then, what explains a deportee who is neither an illegal migrant nor in possession of incomplete document? It is pertinent to point out that the manner in which Nigerians are deported abroad leaves much to be desired. This ill-treatment of Nigerians, I believe, is certainly connected with the fall of Nigeria in the estimation of others as the giant of Africa, indeed a fall to a level of global Lilliputian. This country has been downgraded such that some countries that are less endowed in both content and vitality than even the smallest state in our country now see Nigerians as powerless foes that can be easily maltreated without any finger being raised. Thus, with several insults being directed at Nigeria, it appears she’s just comfortable to remain a punching bag.
Our leaders still pretend that we are the father of all African nations; they pretend we have a more than good rapport with all countries even when the obvious suggests the opposite.
As some say, “you don’t bite the finger that fed you” but it is apparent that some countries that have tasted the rich Nigerian milk not only bite off that Nigerian hand, but also swallow it.
Now, how do we explain the politically motivated deportation of Nigerians by the Kenyan government earlier this year? Reports suggest that the President of Kenya was unhappy with the huge support his opponent, during the last election, enjoyed from Nigerians. What this means is that the Kenyan government saw Nigerians as playing cards with which they could gain local political foothold. They were not just arrested and detained, they were also returned empty-handed.
Ghana is often described as the worthy neighbours of Nigeria. The Nigerian government shares this sentiment, too. But the obvious can’t be denied. Ghana-of all countries-is rapidly developing its aversion for Nigeria. A few months back, the Ghanaian government deported about 269 foreigners, who were considered illegal miners. Of this figure 59 were Nigerians, the rest were Chinese. Reports had it that the exercise was carried out with the knowledge of affected countries. The Chinese government sent a delegation to discuss the issue with the Ghanaian government and after the meeting in Accra on June 18, 2013, the Chinese delegation called for a “human face” in the course of the exercise. Nigerians, without much ado, were sent packing.
Also, the Ghanaian government announced an investment promotion law which provided that foreign traders (of whom the majority are Nigerians) can only be allowed in Ghana with an initial capital of $300,000 (about N49 million) and having at least 10 Ghanaians on their payroll. This led to the deportation of most Nigerian businessmen in Ghana as they could not put up with such an excessive demand. It took the intervention of ECOWAS to change the situation.
Recent media reports suggest that Nigerians living in Botswana may be in for massive deportation if they do not possess a resident permit or trading licence. The reports go further to suggest that the even Nigerian officials are not spared in the arrest and state-sponsored humiliation Nigerians suffer in that country.
To cap it all, about 171 Nigerian female pilgrims were deported by the Saudi authorities with many more detained during the 2012 Hajj. They cited not being accompanied by their husbands or approved male partners as reasons for their September 2012 deportation. As a member of the Arab and African parliament SHOORA, Nigeria deserved more respect. It should go without saying that these Nigerians had spent much preparing for the trip only to have their hopes and spiritual aspirations count for nothing in the face of the determined Saudi authorities. It goes a long way to show how bad things have gone with Nigeria that even in a sacred ceremony like pilgrimage where peace is often the keyword; Nigerian citizens were picked out for special undesirable deportation.
Our government has done close to nothing in addressing these experiences by Nigerians. Our citizens both at home and abroad are eager to defend the green-white colours. They are ready to give their all for a worthy Nigerian cause but the Nigerian government is not offering them the sense of belonging and protection as other countries do.
Countries like America, Britain, Canada, South Africa, even Egypt, attach much importance to their citizens regardless of their conduct—not because they have a stronger economy or smaller population—but because they see the wellbeing of their citizens as a priority. No matter what the first thing they do is to give their citizens the benefit of doubt. Nigeria is not more populated than America yet the latter would trace her citizens to all parts of the world. Earlier this year an America-based Nigerian spoke with emotions on a programme, Nigerian Pride, on Radio Nigeria on how the American government was always asking after his daughter who had dual citizenship of Nigeria and America. The daughter died in Dana air crash of June last year. According to the guest, the American authorities always asked him of how they could assist his family in any way. As the man continued to decline their offer, they reminded him that his daughter was an American citizen and they even offered to fly her body to the U.S. for funeral if the father so wished. Such gestures must naturally engender an unequalled pride and sense of patriotism in the Americans. It gives them such sense of belonging and great pride-of-place that pushes them to represent their country in the best way possible.
However, there is an internal side to this reckless deportation of Nigerians. It is natural that people value what they have more when it is earned the hard way. Nigeria is very easily and cheaply accessible and as such, foreigners, most of whom are illegal migrants, hardly value their stay here because they did almost nothing to gain entry. Consequently, they deem themselves free to commit crimes without being arrested. Foreigners are the major culprits of the oil theft cases in Nigeria but, they are hardly arrested and even when they are, their ambassadors press for their release. If the Nigerian visa was difficult to obtain, if our borders were too secure to penetrate, if foreigners in Nigeria got the same treatment as our citizens in their countries, there would be greater respect for Nigerians overseas and they would not be subjected to the kind of suffering they go through today.
The almost tit-for-tat deportation exercise between Nigeria and South Africa last year showed largely that countries of the world are ready to listen to Nigeria only if her government could speak or act strongly. The South African government deported over 125 Nigerian within two days citing alleged fraudulent yellow fever cards as reason. Nigeria, having been certified a yellow fever free country by the World Health Organisation sensed a foul play and responded by deporting 84 South Africans within two days in a clear act of revenge. And this, forced the South African government to apologise to Nigeria.
But then, how do we choose our ambassadors? Ambassadors of any country are expected to be among the most patriotic citizens. Their fields of study or the relationship with the Presidency are secondary to their patriotism. You choose an ambassador because the individual can stand for you anywhere. It is worthy of note that Nigeria has been a victim of wrongly chosen ambassadors. For instance, in 2011 the news of the Nigerian ambassador to Kenyan beating his wife to stupor, spread like wildfire. Also, during the violence in Libya, the Nigerian Ambassador to Libya was reported to have been the first to flee, leaving about 7,000 Nigerians stranded at the Libyan airport while other countries were sending aircraft to evacuate their citizens.
There are also cases of our Ambassadors regarding fellow Nigerians as touts, thereby encouraging local authorities to deal with them as they wish.
Like every country, Nigerians are not crime free but it doesn’t mean that all Nigerians are criminals. Hence, criminal allegations by host countries must be properly investigated.
Generally, just like the game of tennis where the most important players are seeded, Nigeria as a country is seeded in the comity of nations but her government is far from being seeded. So, until the Nigerian government becomes relevant in the comity of nations, her citizens abroad will continue to suffer this ugly fate of deportation.
Udeh is a young activist and public affairs analyst in Awka.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”