At home and abroad, ordinary Nigerians are vulnerable to distress and harassment. Around the world, they face adversity; from punitive legal action, negative reviews and imprisonment, to discriminatory travel agreements and violent xenophobia. Dinchlar’s recent labor pains are familiar to everyone. Lal, abandoned by the Nigerian government, is being held in the United Arab Emirates through a legal process that critics say lacks fairness. The diplomatic corps should deal with this issue, as well as all other Nigerian nationals’ cases abroad who have faced similar predicaments.
It is the responsibility of any country to ensure the safety and welfare of its citizens around the world. This obligation applies to law-abiding nationals, even to those who break the law in foreign countries. With few exceptions, the Nigerian government’s record in this regard has been subpar.
Lal’s ordeal began on August 31, 2022, when she and some other Nigerians were separated from other international travelers and detained shortly after arriving in the Middle Eastern country.
Lal tweeted about her ordeal, saying she and other Nigerians actually arrived in the UAE with valid visas. A family member confirmed this, saying Lal was later released after being detained for several hours. But surprisingly, she was re-arrested by Emirati officials as she prepared to take a return flight home, apparently incensed at her social media posts of photos of detained Nigerians.
Although the post was later deleted, the UAE continued to jail her for violating the country’s cybercrime laws. While no one should be encouraged to break the laws of the host country, Lal’s case appears to be a mess. The Nigerian diplomatic mission in the UAE and other relevant agencies should make every effort to provide her with competent legal representation and to put pressure on the UAE authorities.
But it’s not just about Lal. There are also more than 16,500 Nigerians in foreign prisons; more than 300 are on death row, according to the NGO Legal Defense and Assistance Project. While it makes sense for most people to be jailed for drug-related offenses and others for fraud, a significant number of people are also jailed for being untenable. For years, stakeholders have urged authorities to protect innocent Nigerians overseas and ensure compliance with the law and due process should they be accused of breaking the law.
In Lal’s case, as usual, the Nigerian government’s response was too little and rather late. Neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Nigerian embassy in the UAE allegedly failed to impress the UAE authorities to ensure fairness. For its part, the Diaspora Council urged Lal to appeal her sentence and said it would stand by her.
However, most countries ensure that their citizens have effective legal representation in such situations. Ordinary Nigerians have made more sustained efforts to get justice for Lal through their campaigns on social media. State institutions that take on this responsibility should do more for every Nigerian in a similar predicament.
“The right of a State to protect its citizens while abroad is a generally accepted norm of international law,” declared a publication endorsed by the International Court of Justice.This The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed by UN member states, allows diplomats to look after the interests of their nationals and to make representations to recipient countries if they are harmed, hurt or oppressed. Options available and deployed by other countries include “diplomatic representation, mediation, arbitration, negotiation, judicial action and economics”.
But Nigeria often fails its citizens. The governance of domestic apathy extends abroad. In 2021, Itunu Babalola died in an Ivorian prison after an unjust imprisonment that began in 2019 in a simple burglary. The Oyo native returned to Nigeria from her base in Bondoukou, Côte d’Ivoire, to visit her ailing mother, the report said. On her return to Côte d’Ivoire, Babalola discovered that her apartment had been stolen and items worth over N300,000 had been stolen. Police reportedly caught the thief. But after that, Barbarola’s nightmare began, rather than the normal course of justice. A divisional police officer threatened her to drop the case because the suspect was his relative. She rejected the offer, preferring to seek justice. This landed her on trumped-up charges, jail time, and eventual death. Unpleasantly, NIDCOM said Babalola was intervening when he died.
The serial abuse of her citizens by outsiders has been linked to Nigeria’s loss of global prestige. Her reputation was a mess, breaking into the global news cycle largely through negative news—corruption, fraud, terrorism, mismanagement, crime and economic underperformance.
The country, once respected for leading South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and mobilizing the African and West African subregions for worthy causes, such as peacekeeping and the promotion of a democracy-promoting multinational army, is now associated with negative factors. Its citizens bear the brunt of abuse at foreign entry points, slammed with discriminatory visa/entry requirements and sometimes violence.
The Senate estimates that between 2016 and 2019, South Africans slaughtered 200 Nigerians in xenophobic attacks. Ghana regularly hurts Nigerian businessmen with exorbitant tariffs. Many stores belonging to Nigerians closed in 2019. In June 2020, two buildings of the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana’s capital Accra were demolished.
Nigeria needs to reorganize at home and reshape and revitalize its foreign policy. Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama should press the UAE ambassador over Lal’s case and the detention of other Nigerians in the UAE and other diplomatic options that have proven effective globally.
China retaliated by accusing two Canadians of espionage when Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese tech executive wanted in the United States. Shortly after Canada released Meng last September, China also released Canadians.
The governments of the United States, Europe and Australia, among others, have gone to great lengths to provide legal support to ensure the release and safe return of nationals accused of crimes abroad, detained or treated unfairly. Nigerian authorities should adopt this standard.