Posted by News Express | 23 November 2021 | 277 times
ABANDONED to a cruel fate at her greatest hour of need, a Nigerian trader, Itunu Babalola, has met with a bitter end in Ivory Coast. Babalola’s death occurred eight months after a court in Bondoukou unjustly sentenced her to 20 years imprisonment in the West African country. She died at age 23. Having been subjected to an oppressive abuse of her rights, and miscarriage of justice, her premature passing raises several posers on the value the Nigerian state places on the lives of its citizens who are sojourning outside the country.
Babalola’s fatal ordeal began in 2019 with a simple case of burglary. According to this newspaper, the Oyo State-born lady travelled home to Nigeria from her Bondoukou base to visit her ailing mother. On her return to Ivory Coast, Babalola discovered that her apartment had been burgled. Items worth over N300,000 were stolen. Rightly, the police there said they caught the thief. But thereafter, instead of the normal course of justice, Babalola’s nightmare began. A divisional police officer reportedly intimidated her to drop the case because the suspect was related to him. She rejected the offer, preferring to seek justice. This landed her in trouble.
In a cruel twist of fate, Babalola was accused of human trafficking and charged to court. From that moment in 2019, she never regained her freedom until she died in incarceration on November 14. Nigerians residing in Ivory Coast did all within their power, including raising money to fight her case and using the #JusticeForItunu on social media in the fight to secure her freedom. It was to no avail.
As usual, the Nigerian government’s response was too little, and too late. Neither the Foreign Affairs Ministry nor the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan made any serious impression on the Ivorians to probe into the matter until Babalola died in detention. On its part, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission said it was at the point of its intervention that Babalola died. These are untenable excuses from the government, as even ordinary Nigerians made more sustained efforts to get justice for Babalola than the national institutions charged with that responsibility.
The Babalola case shows that over time, Nigeria has lost its edge in international diplomacy. Unlike in the military era, incoherence currently defines the country’s foreign policy. Then, Nigeria’s copious financial, military, and political support in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau made the difference in those places.
Valiantly, Nigeria fought against apartheid in South Africa with its resources. It mobilised 27 other African countries to boycott the 1976 Montréal Olympics Games in protest of the apartheid regime, and the New Zealand rugby tour of that year. That boycott cost the Canadian city $1 million in ticketing losses in the first two days of the Games. Nigerian students and civil servants donated huge funds to end apartheid by making personal sacrifices. By one estimate, the country lost billions of dollars in the process.
Additionally, Nigeria nationalised British Petroleum in 1979 to protest the white minority rule in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). Leading the establishment of the ECOMOG in 1990, the West African peace-keeping force intervened in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau despite the opposition from the Francophone countries. All this came at a great cost in terms of life and limb to Nigerian troops.
Today, African countries have consigned all that to the dustbin. Just as it happened to Babalola, Nigerian citizens are now living at the mercy of their hosts in most places in Africa. That negates Nigeria’s selfless Afrocentric policy. Between 2016 and 2019, the Senate estimated that South Africans slaughtered 200 Nigerians in xenophobic attacks. Periodically, Ghana terrorises Nigerian traders with gargantuan levies before they can trade. Many shops belonging to Nigerians were summarily closed in 2019. In June 2020, Nigerians woke up to the shocking demolition of two buildings in its High Commission compound in Accra.
Therefore, Nigeria needs to reshape and reinvigorate its foreign policy. The Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, in public perception, seems to be inactive. By now, Nigeria should have summoned the Ivorian ambassador to interrogate him on the killing of Babalola. Other options include recalling its ambassador to Ivory Coast and possibly expelling some Ivorian diplomats from Nigeria. This is the language of international diplomacy, which has been proven effective globally.
China and Canada demonstrated this in 2018 when Canada detained Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese tech executive, who was wanted in the United States for misleading investigators on Iran. In retaliation, China also charged two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, accusing them of espionage. Shortly after Canada released Meng last September, China also released the Canadians. It should be clear to Nigeria that Ivory Coast will only do the needful about Babalola if it takes strong retaliatory action, just like in 1969-70, and 1983 when Nigeria and Ghana expelled each other’s citizens.
Nigeria should demand a thorough investigation of the police and judicial officers who abetted the trumped-up jailing and killing of Babalola. Adequate compensation should be paid to her family considering the burglary she earlier suffered.
In this sordid affair, the Nigerian government itself has questions to answer. Why are Nigerians seeking refuge in other countries, with an estimated 800,000 Nigerians living in South Africa alone? From Cameroon to Mali, and Equatorial Guinea to Chad, Nigerians are trooping out for greener pastures simply because the economy is not working for the majority. Many others travel the hellish desert roads in North Africa on their way to Europe. Therefore, Nigeria should rebuild its economy to sustain its citizens. This will reduce the desperation of Nigerians to emigrate to other countries at all costs where they endure humiliation, imprisonment and sometimes death.
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