Posted by News Express | 19 March 2017 | 3,648 times
“We have not come here on a holiday, we have come here for a purpose and you are that purpose. It will break our heart, if we will have to suffer any insults from you...”
— Honourable Minister Geoffrey Onyeama
For the first time in my many years of me gluing to the television set to watch Nigerian news in my London home; I switched off my television set in disgust when Nigeria’s Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, expressed disappointment over a truthful assertion from a concerned Nigerian over the ongoing South African citizen’s attacks on foreigners.
The Honourable Minister was lectured about the plight of Nigerians in South Africa by people who are victims of the xenophobic attacks and rightly or wrongly; the mannerism of the Honourable Minister changed when one of the aggrieved persons threatened to travel to Nigeria to sponsor indirectly protest/targeting of South African businesses, ‘feeding them with their own medicine’ so they understand how it feels.
A similar reaction was expressed by the Honourable Minister when Hon. Abike Dabiri-Ewera, SSA to the President on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs, issued an advisory warning to Nigerians not to travel to the United States if their circumstances had changed.
Many Diaspora analysts would wonder why the blood of the Honourable Minister boils whether he is either lectured or comments are made about his handling of foreign affairs issues are raised.
In the last couple of weeks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been in the eye of the storm over the South Africa xenophobic attacks and the unfortunate return of some Nigerians from the United States f America.
For a man that spent his adult life studying overseas in two different continents from the United States to Europe; one would have expected the Columbia University graduate to be familiar with the Diaspora concerns and even more proactive to their plight. However, the contrary is the case. Many Diaspora analysts were angered by his unprofessional handling of the America issue and the sluggish downplay of the genuine concerns over xenophobic attacks by Nigerians.
Whilst the Honourable Minister might be quick to speak ‘words with no action’ to his Nigeria audience and get away with it; he fails to realise that he is gradually losing credibility with the ‘Elite Nigerian Diaspora’ who are highly disappointed with his snail style approach to foreign affairs governance and strategic handling of issues relating to the Diaspora.
As one of the keen observers of the Diaspora Day Conference held on the 24th to 26th of July 2016 at International Conference Centre (ICC) tagged “Harnessing the potential of the Nigerian Diaspora for National Development”; it was one of the worst Diaspora conferences I have ever attended considering that I am conference speaker that had travelled widely in the past to attend Diaspora events – if only I could have the opportunity of ‘time travel’ I will definitely not purchase the flight ticket or attend that event.
Of course, the event was the first Diaspora conference under the watchful eyes o f the Honourable Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, who stood on the podium promising Nigerian Diasporans that a national database would be established and it is now almost a year; yet there is nothing happening on that ‘front’ – a clear indication that the Honourable Minister is failing Nigerians on a variety of issues particularly because such as a database is a major catalyst in the actualisation of the Diaspora voting.
Thus, the Minister addressing Nigerians in South Africans that he is not on “holiday” and “it will break our heart, if we will have to suffer any insult from you...” from my view is the highest level of disrespect from him
I think the Honourable Minister needs to put his Ministry in order and instead of travelling around the world ‘drinking coffee and eating lunch’ with his counterparts, he should set up a ministerial committee to explore exactly how best his ministry could serve the Diaspora constituency that he has responsibility for.
I hope this article is sent to him and he reads it personally. Nigeria Diasporan foreign remittance into the country is second to oil revenue and our business investment in farmland, small/medium business, support for relatives back home keeps millions of Nigerians above the poverty line with our population outside the country making up strategically the 7th sub-region of Nigeria.
Yet with all the budgetary allocation given to his Ministry, the Foreign Affairs website is ‘third rate’ and majority of the information not fit for purpose. Majority of the respected foreign missions around the world normally set up ‘incident rooms’ immediately an event adversely impacts on their citizens but the Honourable Minister had to travel 4,520 kilometers from Abuja to South Africa to announce the ‘intention’ to set up a 24 hours helpline for Nigerians and he thinks, his ministry is doing the Diaspora a favour through that cheap media publicity policy. It is important to highlight that the 24 hours helpline is not operational yet and what does it take/cost to rearrange an office within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and arrange for few telephone lines to be routed into the office and some civil servants deployed to handle the calls?
If the Honourable Minister had travelled to South Africa and made public announcement about:
• Establishment of an emergency relief fund to assist Nigerians affected in the South Africa
• Creation of a web portal for Nigerians to record their concerns with evidence attached which Nigeria government officials would pass to their counterpart
• Establishment of a counselling centre to assist Nigerians at the Nigeria High Commission in South Africa to help bereaved Nigerians overcome their psychological trauma, etc . . .
. . . I know that South African multi-national organisations in Nigeria would be happy to drop some money in such emergency funds and that way, the issue of community tension would be dramatically reduced.
I was also surprised that the Honourable Minister is not aware that many Nigerians are regularly turned back from the United States and particularly from the UK because the immigration official at the point of entry decides to exercise his/her power to cancel the entry clearance visit issued from either the US Embassy or British High Commission in Nigeria.
The last one year has been a particularly difficult time for many Nigerians with 5 or 10 years multi-visa endorsement because UK immigration officials cancelled majority of the visas with no right of in-country appeal.
Presently, a lot of Nigerians, especially in the United Kingdom that have paid for Nigerian passport, have been disappointed with the way the Nigerian High Commission had handled their passport applications and yet there is no satisfactory relief available to aggrieved Nigerian citizens whose business and personal life had been adversely affected by the poor service rendered by staff at the High Commission.
Thus, it was not surprising that Nigerians in the Diaspora were disturbed by the way the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handled the America visa saga considering that only staff of NEMA, Hon. Rita Orji and Hon. Abike Dabiri had been visible on issues of Nigerians stuck in Libya, Mali and speaking out about the mistreatment of Nigerians in India, Malaysia, etc.
While some of the Honourable Minister’s interventions such as the launching a jointly run “early warning” system to track and deter xenophobic attacks against Nigerian migrants is a welcome development; yet it is only theoretical until when such ‘Tension Monitoring Centre’ is officially opened and staff with competent individuals.
Nigerians are waiting for the next move of the Honourable Minister but only time will tell if he could add value to the Diaspora community.
•Temitope Olodo is a Preventive Terrorism Consultant, Author and Conference Speaker based in the United Kingdom. He is currently the chair of Nigeria Diaspora Security Forum (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PHOTO CAPTION: •Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama speaking recently in South Africa.
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