In May 2014, prominent sports journalist, Aisha Falode’s 19-year old son, Toba was killed in Dubai, United Arab Emirates when he fell off his 17th floor balcony. While his friends claim that his falling was an accident, Mrs. Falode alleges that it was a murder, and accused the Dubai Police of being part of the cover-up in what she calls ‘a miscarriage of justice’.
A few months later, the 30-year old son of former Bayelsa State Governor, D.S.P Alamieyeseigha, Oyamiefa, was murdered in the family apartment in Dubai. Hardly anything has been heard about the case ever since.
Even more curious is the silence from the Nigerian authorities either here at home or through the Nigerian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital. One would have expected that the diplomatic mission will take up the cases that involve their nationals losing their lives, and use all available channels to exert pressure on the Emirati authorities to find the culprits responsible for the murders of Toba Falode and Oyamiefa Alamieyeseigha.
The cases of Toba and Oyamiefa are not one-off cases of abandonment of Nigerian citizens to their own fate once outside the country by their own government; instead, it has become the sad norm.
It has become routine to hear of Nigerians abroad complain about the nonchalance of embassy officials to their challenges in their countries of residence – in many cases, the phone lines at the embassies ring without being answered. In-person visits are not any better and attempts to renew passports are long and torturous.
In cases where Nigerian citizens abroad in challenging situations have gotten help, it is as a result of outcry from citizens leading to the intervention of government, such as the case of Joshua Kunle Abdul-Azeez who was flying to Ukraine but ended up in Moldova due to the negligence of the airline. It took the intervention of the House Committee on Diaspora, led then by Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa after media outcry for Egypt Air to admit its wrongdoing and compensate Mr. Abdul-Azeez.
There needs to be a turnaround in the attitude of the Nigerian government to the treatment and safety of her citizens when they are abroad. There should be no abdication of its constitutional responsibility towards its citizens irrespective where on the globe they might be.
An excellent starting point will be the embassies and high commissions of Nigeria all around the world – there needs to be an improvement in the quality of services provided and the responsiveness of embassy staff towards the issues and problems of Nigerians, whether it is as simple as renewing their passports or as complex as involving the law.
Not only that, the Nigerian government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must take an active interest and involvement in legal issues and court cases involving Nigerians around the world, no matter what the crimes are.
For example, there are at least eight Nigerians on death row in Indonesia awaiting execution after four others were executed in the same country in April last year – this is the time for the Nigerian government to explore all diplomatic channels to have them repatriated to Nigeria and their sentences commuted to life sentences.
It should not wait until their sentences are nigh to begin running from pillar to post in last-ditch attempts to save their lives.
Nigerians need to be able to be confident that their government will do everything within its power to protect them, advocate for them and be there for them in the situations that it is needed.
So far, the Nigerian government has been dismal at doing so. It needs to step up.