How Nigerian missions abroad mistreat Nigerians by The Nigeria Guardian

Abike Dabiri-Erewa

The recent incident in London in which one citizen Jeffrey Ewohime allegedly smashed seven cars at the Nigerian High Commission in London over the delay in releasing his passport has, expectedly, attracted much venom and condemnation on the poor young man. There is no smoke without a fire. Something must have prompted the unruly behavior of Ewohime and that should be investigated.

No doubt, the action is totally condemnable as no amount of provocation should warrant such disruptive behavior of Ewohime. For, I can bet that he was not the only Nigerian who faced the same situation, or who received the same treatment.

I have tried to see if I could get Ewohime’s own version of the story but couldn’t. What is available from official sources is the official version of the incident, which, for me, is not enough to get the entire picture of what happened and why.

According to sources, citizen Ewohime went to the Nigerian High Commission in London to collect his passport and was told that the passport collection time had closed at 1 pm. He reportedly insisted on collecting his passport and was told to bring his collection slip, which he couldn’t produce.

According to the Embassy, it would, of course, be wrong to hand over his passport to him without his collection slip. He reportedly left, agitated, and returned from a nearby hotel to destroy about seven cars, five belonging to the mission and two to visitors who parked nearby. His attempt to destroy the High Commissioner’s car reportedly failed because it is bulletproof. Ewohime, has, of course been arrested by the police for questioning and prosecution.

In her reaction, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, strongly condemned the action of Ewohime as “unpatriotic and unconscionable act of indiscipline.”

Dabiri-Erewa, after recounting the version of the report she got, yelled, “This is a despicable act, which must be condemned by all. Of course, the law must take its course.”

I would have been happy if this official reaction by Dabiri-Erewa had included Ewohime’s own side of the story but it did not. The reaction is one-sided. No one would expect the High Commission officials to give a story that would not be in their favour.

I took interest in this incident because I have had very bad experience from Nigerian missions in different countries.

To start with, anyone who has had anything to do with any Nigerian mission abroad will know that the narrative reported above as what led to the destruction of the cars by Ewohime is not completely true. It sounds like a cock and bull story. It is so mechanical as if a robot was the “person” in question.

This robot went to the Embassy to collect his passport. He was told that the Embassy had closed. He insisted on collecting his passport. He was told to bring his collection slip, which he could not produce. He left in anger and returned and destroyed seven cars. He was arrested.

Like I said above, anyone who has had anything to do with any Nigerian Embassy abroad, especially, when they had closed, will know that there is no truth in the above account. Once these embassies have closed, they have closed, period. They don’t attend to Nigerians when they are open talk less when they are closed. That is more condemnable.

If you are lucky, a security man, gateman or mai-guard (whatever it is called there), may tell you to go and come another day. If you are not lucky, nobody will talk to you; what you may see is notice on the notice board showing the office hours.

I find it extremely incredible that Ewohime was asked to bring his collection slip when the Embassy had closed. Who was it that attended to him after the Embassy had closed? Was it the gateman or who?

What I can figure out is that Ewohime was probably mistreated at the High Commission and he left in a stretch of anger and returned to smash the cars out of frustration. The High Commission officials inside wouldn’t care to know who was outside until they were told that someone was smashing cars.

I got to know all this based on my experience from Nigerian embassies in different countries. The truth is that Nigerian embassy officials in different countries don’t care about Nigerians. They see Nigerians who come around as “miscreants” who, even without any reason, should be bundled back home.

Over a period of two decades, I had opportunity to travel to about 30 countries on one professional assignment or the other. During those years, I had occasion to seek contact with the Nigerian missions in those countries but got rude shock in most of them.

Except that things may have improved with the people’s diplomacy of the federal government, in the past, from my experience, Nigerian missions see every Nigerian coming their way or making phone call as a “criminal” who should not have anything to do with the embassy but should be bundled back to Nigeria.

With such a warped frame of mind, you pray that you don’t get into any kind of trouble while abroad because the Nigerian mission in the country, if they get to know, would be the first to condemn you instead of offering help. As it were, those embassies never bothered to know what my mission was. They had distrust against fellow Nigerians and would always wonder what brought you to the country.

For example, I had thought that it was good for one to register his presence at a Nigerian mission, for record purposes, when one lands in any country. I tried, therefore, to seek out for the Nigerian mission in any country I visited.

The Nigerian mission in Nairobi, Kenya had aversion for Nigerians. Hardly would you see any of the officials just as their phone was hardly picked. While I thought that the Nairobi experience was bad enough; in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, I found that the Embassy’s gate was securely locked and a guard who couldn’t speak English but Swahili was planted there to ensure that no Nigerian had access.

At the Nigerian embassy in Japan, I couldn’t see any of the officials when I went to register my presence. I was attended to by a local staff from one of the Asian countries. She registered me and I left without seeing any Nigerian official. The same thing happened in nearby Ghana and Cotonou, where the embassy staff refused to see me.

The only two places where I received attention and was treated well were in Berlin, Germany and Kampala in Uganda. In Berlin, the Ambassador himself received me in audience and gave instructions that I should be attended to till I left. A car with driver was assigned to pick me from my hotel to the airport when I was going. The embassy officials I met in Kampala were also very good. They attended to my needs as a fellow citizen.

Based on the foregoing, which is just a tip of the iceberg, it is obvious that the embassies, which were established to cater for the needs of Nigerians in the respective foreign countries hardly do their work. Instead, they cater for themselves and their families and friends.

I would, at this juncture, call on Abike Dabiri-Erewa, on behalf of the Federal Government, to probe into what exactly happened at the Nigerian High Commission in London before drawing any conclusions.

The fact is that the ill-treatment meted to Nigerians at home by the authorities is replicated by the embassies in the Diaspora. How many times have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised summits to instruct Nigerian embassy officials to recognise that they are where they are for Nigerians and not for themselves.

Our citizens should be treated well even when they get into the wrong side of the law, as America and other developed countries do to their citizens. The present awful treatment of Nigerians by the missions abroad should be addressed and corrected to prevent what happened in London from recurring elsewhere.

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