Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tale of Two Countries

Thursday 5th July 2007

The three-year-old daughter of a British expatriate worker is kidnapped by gunmen in the Niger Delta. The UK's Foreign Office call for her "immediate safe release". British newspapers rally around, flash the torchlight on the region. Nigeria’s president, Umar Yar'Adua, throws in his weight. He appeals for her immediate release, involves security forces. He says he wants to ensure that Margaret Hill is returned unharmed to her family.

Monday 9th July 2007

The three-year-old British girl is reunited with her family after being freed by her kidnappers. UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband says he is "delighted" at the release.

Saturday 10th November 2007

The Nigerian Tribune reports thirteen Nigerians face execution in Saudi Arabia after completing seven years in jail. The men said they were arrested because of a fight which broke out on their street but which they knew nothing about.
Without proper representation in court, the verdict goes against them.
Ten months after completing a seven year jail term, their files are yet to be released from the court.
So far the Saudi authorities have ignored efforts by the Nigerian Embassy in Jedda to secure their release.

Sunday 11th November 2007

I search the Nigerian news wires for a government response, there’s none.

12th, 13th, 14th November 2007

No response

I get a clearer picture when I visit Amnesty International’s web page. The Nigerians were among hundreds detained in Jeddah on 29th September 2002, after a policeman was killed following an alleged dispute between local men and African nationals who were working as car cleaners.

The 13 Nigerians were brought before three judges in a closed court session on 22nd November. They could not fully understand the proceedings, which were conducted in Arabic with no translation. They had no lawyers or consular representation, and that is still the case.

Earlier in January a twenty-one-year-old Nigerian was hung in Singapore. Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi was condemned to death for smuggling drugs into Singapore at the age of eighteen.

After Amnesty International publicized the case our then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, took notice and pleaded for clemency. His plea fell on deaf ears. The Singaporean authorities executed Tochi anyway.

The Nigerian Federal Government responded five days later. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Joy Ogwu, speaking to The Guardian (Nigeria) said: "It's unfortunate that we lost a citizen this way. But a nation's law protects its territory, [Nigerians ought to] respect the law of the land whenever they find themselves outside our shores."

Defending the Government's meagre efforts, she said:"It's not often that a president of a nation writes a letter on behalf of a citizen. But the President wrote a letter to the Singaporean government appealing for clemency."

The Nigerian government refused to condemn Singapore’s act. Instead Prof Ogwu said Tochi’s execution would not threaten the diplomatic relations between the two countries. After all the issue was at an individual level so the bilateral relations of the two countries was not at stake.
In fact, she went on to say:"We had written a letter of clemency, which was signed by the President. But the Singaporean government said they would not bend the law. The reaction is not a row, it is not a contention between the two countries. What we sent was a plea.

It says a lot about the attitude of the Nigerian government. The message implicit in its attitude is: you can treat our citizens as badly as you want and get away with it. If the Government simply waves off the ill treatment of its citizens, why wouldn't so many Nigerians be languishing in foreign jails/fall to the hangman's noose?

The British government, on the other hand, proactively supports its citizens living outside Britain. Referring back to the story of three-year-old Margaret, it didn't count Mr Hills had been living in Nigeria for ten years. Neither did it count Margaret Hills was half Nigerian. What mattered to the Government was the life of its citizen was at stake. It was their duty to protect her.

Granted, in Tochi's case he had broken the law. And the Singaporean government is renown for its ruthlessness in convicting criminals regardless of the persons nationality. Neither am I trying to imply the British Government is faultless and none of its citizens are suffering in foreign countries. My point is the Nigerian Government needs to be more proactive in supporting its citizens abroad. The Government should stand up for its citizens when needed. Adopting a blase attitude will only encourage other countries to treat Nigerians with less respect and dignity. Such level of negligence on the part of the Government is atrocious to say the least.

I also believe Nigerians abroad need to think of other ways to help those in distress. Since the Nigerian Government is hard of hearing, and persistently ignores pleas from helpless Nigerians, lateral thinking is needed. Maybe more pressure groups, forums, community networks could help reduce the suffering of neglected citizens. I believe Nigerians abroad can make giant strides if they rely less on the Government and see what they can do for themselves.


  1. This is a good write up in this important issue bordering on Good Governance. I think the "Tale of two Countries" should be sent to Local Nigerian Newspapers for wider publication.

  2. Nigeria was formerly a British ruled Country; why wouldn't she learn from her former colonial master to protect her people?

  3. Nigeria has had a long experience of military rule since independence. This did not allow room for its constitution to be refined. The justice system suffered tremendously. This is why all Nigerians must work to strengthen the our wobbly democracy. When this is done, we can make demands on our elected represenatatives. This is the only way we can prevent the death of another Nigerian anywhere in the world. Keep the awareness high please Oluchi.

  4. I enjoyed reading this article. One important issue touched is this "who will bell the cat?" I think those of us who are lucky to be in Nigeria need to organize ourself into a club called "Patriotic Nigerians" where we can change things in this country without violence. We need to get involved in the education of the masses and then present a unified force to make important changes in this country.

    I look forward to reading your next article

  5. The single fact that the Nigerian Government does not come to the defence of its citizens abroad when they are in trouble is one of the biggest failings of the Nigerian state. Remember during the Liberian civil war, hundreds of Nigerians taking refuge in the Nigerian embassy in Monrovia were slaughtered right at the embassy premises by Charles Taylor's army. Yet, a few years later, Charles Taylor was granted asylum in Nigeria by the Nigerian government! What an insult to a nation and its citizens !

  6. Good idea keep it up.

  7. Fantastic peice. Your style of taking us through the events day by day as they happened, rather than a single summary written at the conclusion was innovative. Unfortunately the Federal Government of Nigeria is rather hard of hearing. Two lessons can be learnt: every Nigerian living abroad should know that he/she is alone, with only God to rely on for safety; And maybe the wrong people are being appointed as ambassadors, etc.
    Nigerian NGO's have a lot to do.