In this interview with ADELANI ADEPEGBA, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Mexico, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, says the Indonesian authorities’ defence of the assault on a Nigerian diplomat in Jakarta on August 7 was meant to save face
How did you feel when you heard about the assault on a Nigerian diplomat by Indonesian officials in Jakarta on August 7?
Umbrage was what I felt and still feel, like any average Nigerian, I suppose.
What is your assessment of the reaction of the Federal Government? Was it appropriate or feeble?
My personal opinion of the Federal Government’s response so far is that it is a mature one. In the Foreign Minister’s outing with the press, he said there was absolutely no justification for the kind of behaviour put up by the Indonesian immigration. He dubbed the violence against the gentleman as totally unacceptable.
Consequently, the Federal Government, in registering its displeasure, has recalled our principal envoy in Jakarta for consultations. Flowing from that, the foreign minister said there would be full consultations at the highest levels to know what next steps to take. And any such steps may include a review of the bilateral relations between us and the South-East Asian nation. He concluded by requesting the authorities in Jakarta to take appropriate and severe sanctions against the offending officers. By and large, this is a robust preliminary response to the unfolding, though unfortunate drama.
The Indonesian government, in its defence, claimed that the diplomat failed to identify himself and also attacked an officer leading to a scuffle. Does it mean that the official did not present himself well as a diplomat?
No diplomat worth his/her salt would fail to identify him/herself if and when requested to do so. What would such a person be achieving by refusing to oblige his/her interlocutors? I want to believe that the Indonesian authorities are thrashing around or better still indulging in some post-truths in order to save some face, knowing that they have goofed big time. Please, pay attention to the sequence of their narratives: First, that the officer failed to identify himself and secondly, and to justify their disproportionate force, indeed, brutality, they alleged that our man attacked an officer. No diplomat is trained to involve himself in physical violence, let alone initiate it.
Let us for a moment give them the benefit of the doubt that our officer hit one of them and it was that action that precipitated the violence. The Indonesians videoed the humiliation of our diplomat and put it in the public space via social media. The question then is: did they not film our officer’s violence against one of them? And will any sane man initiate a physical fight seeing that he is out-numbered? I doubt it.
If what you mean by presenting himself well is comportment, then I have this to say that comportment/composure is not only taught at the Foreign Service Academy, it is drilled into and rubs off on you in the course of your career. I want to submit that the Indonesian authorities deliberately targeted the officer for reasons that are yet to be unravelled. Perhaps, the officer compromised himself. Perhaps, he was compromised. And perhaps still, he has been dutiful and diligent in his schedule of duty and some people outside the mission find that unpalatable.
What measures should be taken by Nigeria to prevent a recurrence?
On the diplomatic plain, a robust response to this outrageous conduct by Indonesia will certainly act as a deterrent in the immediate circumstance we have found ourselves. In the long term, we must exert ourselves to rebuild and restore Nigeria to its lost glory – the era of the 1960s, 1970s and the early 1980s. With a robust politico-economic circumstance within our national space and knowing that foreign policy is a projection of domestic happenings, Nigeria will be better regarded in the comity of nations.
Restraint, restraint, restraint! Even in the face of extreme provocation. In the current situation, the officer willingly agreed, according to reports, to go with them in their vehicle to their office for the sole purpose of checking his identity in their database, and you’d wonder why they did not have a laptop with them. It was when they drove past the immigration office that our compatriot raised the alarm, and rightly so, in my opinion.
Do you see the attack on the diplomat as a reflection of the way the Indonesian government views Nigeria and Nigerians?
Perhaps, yes. And I want to believe that it is yes. And because it is a yes, then, it is imperative that we look inwards to do some house-keeping. In the 1960s and 1970s, what was the status of Nigeria in the comity of nations? How many Nigerians were voting with their feet and heading in that direction? What was the level, if any, of peddling in psychotropic substances? Today, because the national economy has been in a tailspin since the Ibrahim Babangida era and progressively so, more and more of our compatriots have deemed it fit to search for greener pastures outside the shores of Nigeria. A significant number of these are rough-necks, who indulge in less than noble enterprises, including trafficking in hard drugs.
A substantial number of our citizens have, unfortunately, been found guilty and punished in Indonesia. This and such other indulgences do certainly rub off on our national image poorly. The current President of that country, Joko Widodo, campaigned and won elections to that high office on the platform of ridding the country of that menace. Thus, his anti-drug drive will hit elements, who are in that trade and we happen to, unfortunately, be a recurring decimal in the drug news in Indonesia.
I recall that two of our nationals were caught, tried, condemned and executed in February of 2015. While there will not be an official national profiling, it stands to reason that those implementing the laws, rules and regulations will have such negative images at the back of their minds when carrying out their official duties. These negative images may bubble up from time to time and lead to very ugly incidents. This is in no way making excuses for over-zealous officials.
Many Nigerians believe that the Federal Government was only protesting the assault because a diplomat was the victim. Do you think the government is doing enough to protect Nigerian citizens facing maltreatment abroad?
I do not subscribe to that opinion. Why? Because, in my experience, response to Nigerians in distress has always been appropriate. I mentioned the execution of two convicted drug traffickers of Nigerian extraction in February of 2015. In the aftermath of the judgment being passed and upheld, the then Nigerian ambassador in Jakarta was directed to seek clemency. And he did, only to be confronted with incontrovertible evidence by the host foreign ministry that the person on whose behalf clemency was being sought was still running drugs from within the four walls of the facility.
Over the same issue, the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the then Indonesian ambassador to the Tafawa Balewa House to register Nigeria’s protest when, eventually, these gentlemen were made to pay the supreme price. Within the meagre resources available, and a lot of times, no resources, at all; Nigerian missions are doing their level best. For example, I have not just been privy to but have participated in contributing money from our pockets to meet the needs of our compatriots in (detention) facilities, especially in the area of toiletries and medical. And do some of these compatriots make matters easier for themselves and for the authorities? No.
What with the penchant to forge travel documents, even foreign passports, only to claim to be a Nigerian when the mission of the country, whose passport he carried, denies him. Let me share with you a phenomenon we were confronted with in Beijing, China, during my tour of duty there. A Nigerian, Mr ‘A’ would overstay his 30-day tourist visa. Mr ‘B’, another Nigerian, would fly into town. The former would approach the latter to sell his passport to him (Mr ‘A’). A deal is struck and Mr ‘A’ jets out happily back to Nigeria. Mr ‘B’, on the conclusion of his trip and wanting to return to Nigeria, proceeds to the local police department and declares his passport lost. And he is issued a police report to that effect.
He obtains an extract of the police report and proceeds to the consular section of the embassy and produces the extract. This is the document our missions the world over are mandated to receive before issuing an Emergency Travel Certificate. This, Mr ‘B’ is issued. However, in China, if you travel in and you have to travel out with an ETC, you are mandated to go to the immigration police in company with a consular officer to have an exit visa stamped on it. This is where the mischief of our compatriots gets revealed. In the process of wanting to issue the exit visa, the details of the ‘lost’ passport are keyed into the system and what is revealed is that Mr ‘B’ jetted out of China on a given day and at a specific airport. And the consular officer will stand there looking and feeling like a fool.