Op ed

Finally, Nigeria Bares Its Fangs Abroad

On October 18, 2011 when Israel swapped one Israeli (Gilad Shalit) with
over one thousand Palestinian prisoners, it looked to some as if Israel
was not thinking properly. Shalit was not the Prime Minister or a member
of the Knesset. He was not a general in the Israeli army. Shalit was a
low-ranking soldier: a sergeant. So why should Israel consider him so
important as to be worth the release of over one thousand Palestenians?
The answer is simple: Because he is an Israeli. The life of an Israeli is
regarded as priceless by his country. Even the corpse of an Israeli is
priced highly. Israel had swapped living Palestinians with the corpse of
an Israeli because they wanted to bury their kinsman themselves according
to their rites. It is such premium the Israeli nation places on its
citizens that makes them so patriotic and ready to defend their country
any time.

On March 2, 2012, South Africa deported 125 Nigerians who had landed in
their country in two flights: Nigerian-based Arik Air and South African
Airways. The Nigerian travellers were accused of possessing fake yellow
fever inoculation certificates called the Yellow Card. Information
gathered showed that a Yellow Card is one of the compulsory documents an
applicant is required to present to the South African High Commission in
Nigeria before it can issue a visa to such an applicant. The argument,
therefore, was: If the Yellow Card was fake, why did the South African
High Commission issue the travellers with visas?

Another point was that even if the certificates were fake as alleged by
South African immigration authorities, the standard practice has been that
such people would be quarantined and inoculated. If after three hours they
are are found to be free of yellow fever, they are allowed to enter the
country. Furthermore, if such people were to be deported, the Nigerian
ambassador to the Republic of South Africa should be informed. That was
not done. Nigerian authorities should also have been present to supervise
the deportation of such immigrants. This was also not done.

Why did South Africa, which had been a friendly nation to Nigeria, act in
such a manner to Nigeria? But unlike in the past when Nigeria would start
waiting for answers before taking any action, Nigeria retaliated swiftly
by starting the deportation of South Africans. By Thursday morning, 136
South Africans had been deported for “improper documentation,” in the
words of the Nigerian Immigration Service.

The South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Kingsley Mambolo, was
invited by the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry for explanation. The two
chambers of the legislature also summonend the Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, for questioning. His comments at
both chambers showed the new thrust of Nigeria’s foreign policy as regards
such matters.

Ashiru vowed that the Federal Government would henceforth take tough
action against any country that takes delight “in ill-treating Nigerians”.

He added: “This 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 punished.”

“I find the action as totally unfriendly and un-African. You don’t treat
fellow Africans that way, and we will not leave any stone unturned to get
to the bottom of the matter. They should know that they do not have
monopoly of deporting travellers and if we feel that the action against
our nationals was discriminatory, we will take action to reciprocate and
there are various ways of reciprocating.”

“It will be measure for measure; we will not let it go unreciprocated. The
signal must go out, not just to South Africa, but to the rest of the
world, that when you treat Nigerians with disrespect, we also will find a
way of treating your nationals with disrespect. No country has a monopoly
of treating Nigerians with disrespect; we too can hit back.”

Nigerians have expressed solidarity for President Goodluck Jonathan’s
government’s response to the treatment from South Africa. His steps taken
have earned him high praise. Nigerians have always been miffed at the
shabby treatment other countries mete out to Nigerians despite the high
level of hospitality shown other nationals in Nigeria.

But some have pointed out that there may be more of political vendetta in
this recent deportation saga than health issue. In August last year, when
the Libya’s rebels took over Tripoli, Nigeria immediately recognized
Libya’s Transitional National Council, calling it “the legitimate
representative of the Libyan people.” It further urged Colonel Muammar
Gaddafi to cede power and give peace a chance. That did not go down well
with South Africa, which accused Nigeria of “jumping the gun” and taking a
position different from that of the African Union. Eventually, the world
recognized the Libya’s TNC and it became obvious that it was Nigeria’s
position that prevailed. Before Libya, a similar event had played out in
Ivory Coast, where Nigeria swiftly recognized Alassane Ouattara as the
winner of the election and urged the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo to hand
over to Ouattara and ease the tension in the country. Gbagbo was
eventually captured and Ouattara took over as the President of Ivory
Coast. On the day of his inauguration as president, Ouattara paid special
tribute to Nigeria for its role during the political cul-de-sac in his
country.

Such actions of the Jonathan administration may not have gone down well
with Pretoria. That could have been a remote reason to “cut Nigeria to
size”, some analysts have noted.

But this was not the first time the Jonathan administration had responded
swiftly to a country that treated Nigeria shabbily. In the first week of
November 2011, Nigeria responded to an action of the United Kingdom in the
aviation industry. UK’s Airport Coordination Limited (ACL) had denied
Nigerian-owned Arik Air the landing spots it requested, thereby
tecnhically forcing it to suspend flights to London Heathrow from Abuja.
In what was considered a retaliatory move, the Federal Government
announced the slashing of British Airways’ flights to Lagos from seven
times a week to three, with effect from Tuesday, November 8, 2011.

The FG also went a step further by rescheduling British Airways’ landing
and take-off times. Instead of landing at about 5.30pm and taking off at
about 10.45pm, the airline was directed to start arriving Lagos at 6.00am
and taking off at 10.00am. That was meant to adversely affect the
airline’s passengers’ connectivity in Europe as they would have to wait
for long hours at Heathrow before connecting to their final destinations.
The British authorities quickly rescinded their decision on Arik Air and
the matter was resolved.

It is obvious that Nigeria’s stance of playing the lamb in internationl
relations has not yielded any fruits. Rather it has made other countries
take advantage of it. It is also one of the reasons Nigerian citizens
don’t feel as patriotic as necessary to the nation. There has always been
a feeling that their country is not passionate about the citizens’ safety
and well-being in foreign lands. Jonathan seemed to have noticed that
lacuna and is taking actions to fill it. And the result is that even those
that have bitterly criticized his performance since his assumption of
office as the CEO of the nation have praised him for standing up for
Nigeria in this face-off with South Africa. The apology of South Africa to
Nigeria has further worked in the President’s favour. But most
importantly, Nigeria’s reaction to the treatment from South Africa’s will
send a stern warning to other countries to be wary of treating Nigeria and
Nigerians with levity in future.

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC and CEO of Portia Web Solutions. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websits. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.
https://www.codewit.com

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