Last week, some Nigerians in South Africa protested the regime of extortion by officials of the Nigerian Embassy in that country. Going by the account of the Nigerian Union South Africa (NUSA), Nigerians in South Africa are being extorted through the collection of outrageous diplomatic charges by the Nigerian Embassy. Specifically, the protesters complained about the issues of extra charges, the penalty for loss of passport, illegal non-refundable deposits imposed on agents (passport and visa touts), and corruption at the Consulate General in Johannesburg. It will be recalled that a frustrated Nigerian, Geoffrey Ewohime, went on a destruction spree at the UK High Commission following repeated failed visits to the embassy to follow up on his application for renewal of his passport which expired in November 2017 but which renewal was yet to be done, with his passport not ready for collection in June 2019! Then, his attitude was described in the official quarters as unpatriotic and an act of indiscipline. Although he reacted under undue provocation, we agree that he crossed the line by taking the law into his own hands. However, it was wrong for anyone to expect him to be patriotic when the state had done nothing to assist but frustrate him.
There is a sense in which leadership failure in the country has literally turned many Nigerians into a bunch of grumpy, irascible, and dissatisfied fellows always protesting and showing their disapproval of the official handling and management of the country’s affairs. Sadly, this group of Nigerians is in the majority and they are not being finicky or censorious without reason. But the enormity of public disaffection with the government’s inadequacies is somewhat dampened by the fact that only a few are vociferous about their complaints while the vast majority of citizens suffer silently and wish endlessly for better official management of their affairs.
The one-man protest by the frustrated Nigerian in the UK and the recent show of disapproval by some Nigerians resident in South Africa of some of the actions of the Nigerian Embassy officials should not be surprising because the situation is even worse back home. There have been seemingly unending and serial protests and strikes by different pressure and professional groups in the country, with the officials displaying the usual tardiness and absence of capacity to rein them in on a sustainable basis. In other words, what is being reported about Nigerians and Nigerian officials in foreign countries is a reflection of the situation in Nigeria.
A country that does not treat its citizens well at home cannot afford to do so abroad. Ordinarily, though, it is expected that Nigerian diplomats operating in saner climes should embrace the international best practices that they see and perhaps experience first-hand. But it seems that the characteristically Nigerian way of doing things is already ingrained in them. South Africa, by every standard, and more importantly by the sheer number of Nigerians who are resident in that country, is diplomatically an important country to Nigeria. It is therefore imperative that this diplomatic significance is reflected by the Federal Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Embassy staff’s credentials in terms of requisite training and experience. It is doubtful that this is currently the case, otherwise, an issue that borders on the collection of diplomatic charges would have been resolved amicably without an open and embarrassing protest, especially given that Nigerians in South Africa have a union that the Embassy could have liaised with more effectively and in a decent manner to iron out issues.
It is worth noting that many of the Nigerians who are sojourning abroad made the choice because they had no better alternatives. If the situation in their country were conducive for them to earn an honest and decent living, some of them would have stayed back rather than living abroad where they barely survive economically, often amidst hostility by their host communities. It, therefore, smacks of insensitivity and callousness for the Nigerian Embassy in South Africa to alter some of its policies in a direction that tends to worsen the condition of Nigerian citizens in that country.
We urge the embassy, in liaison with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to look into the complaints of the protesters and resolve same without further skirmishes. It is bad enough that the international media space is already suffused with the narratives of misgovernance in Nigeria and the inevitable consequences in terms of a tottering economy, civil unrest, and heightening insecurity. But it is even worse that these foreign countries are now beginning to see, experience first-hand, and validate the sickening stories about the parlous state of affairs in Nigeria because of the unprofessional activities of Nigerian Embassy officials.
This article was previously published on Tribune