Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @simboolorunfemi
Too soon, the recent events all around us – in Chad, Gabon, South Africa and Egypt – have forced upon me yet another interrogation of Nigeria’s dysfunctional relationship with the world under President Goodluck Jonathan. Was it not only a few weeks ago that I was compelled to ask what was President Jonathan doing in Washington? I had queried, then, the sense in 50 African elders journeying, like beggars, to go meet with a lame-duck Chief Obama in his own court-yard. Seeing that the man had this rush to renew marital vows with an estranged Africa in the wee hours of his final term in office, did he then have to summon elders from the wife’s village for lunch to make that point to the world?
The symbolism of that trip to Washington is not lost to the discerning. It confirmed the status of Nigeria as a journey-man in international relations. We have elevated naivety to the point where we roll in the mud, heap sand on our own head, while the world is busy throwing dirty water at us, yet expecting things to end well. With each day, it becomes more apparent that Nigeria’s engagement with the world, under President Jonathan, is not founded on any guiding philosophy. With the yawning absence of a compass, we grope in the dark, our diary one of serial misadventure on the global arena.
We are simply all over the place. It is impossible to tell what President Jonathan’s vision is, and difficult to identify the underpinning philosophy that governs his foreign policy. He is not helped by the people around him. Routine matters of protocol have suddenly taken on a shoddy life of their own, in the hands of incompetent aides. Again and again, we end up with eggs on our faces – lost in the crowd in the gathering of world leaders, snubbed at the Mandela funeral service, relegated to the back row at the US-African Leaders Summit. How did it get this bad?
We flounder at little things others take for granted. How do you even explain the fact that our President ended up in a meeting with Chadian President Idriss Deby in the company of the Sheriff of Borno, with photographs as exhibit? How is the world to take us seriously with such faux pas? How did things even get to the point where we have to kow-tow to dark places to gain traction for issues that should not take a regional leader more than a phone call to resolve?
Nigeria faffs around the globe, with no discernible purpose and direction, its stature visibly diminished. We have lost our voice. We have become an object of scorn and ridicule, in our supposed backyard. Respect for the giant of Africa has been eroded. How much of a rallying point on the Ebola crisis were we for West Africa, before the virus came calling? Even now, with the disease ravaging the region, where is our plan of action? Every country now mistakes us for a football, kicking us around the ECOWAS field, like Ebola virus. The aura around the giant of Africa has worn off.
For years, Nigerians have been stigmatised on account of sundry crimes which ordinarily know no geographical boundaries. These days, even dwarfs on the international stage are clutching onto the Ebola outbreak as excuse to keep us away from engagement with the rest of civilisation. Where do we start? Is it with the treatment meted out to young Nigerian Athletes in China, leading to a decision to withdraw them from the Youth Olympics? Is it the blatantly hostile act of the Gabonese, having first stopped flights from Nigeria, then forcing our Under-17 Football team to disembark from the plane in Togo? Is it the abuse and disrespect Nigerian citizens experience in different parts of the world for holding the green passport? Over the weekend, there was a report about Air France, leaving some Nigerians stranded abroad, on account of a section of its crew refusing to fly to Nigeria, on account of the Ebola outbreak. What won’t we see?
To a large extent, we brought this upon ourselves, as a nation. The international arena is a war-zone. There is no room for naïve weaklings who cannot put their house in order. Respect is earned, the hard way, not by bandying population figures or rebased GDP. How can there be respect for citizens of a crawling giant, disabled by the incompetence of her own leadership? Who will show respect for a country that has not demonstrated duty of care over its own citizens, leaving them to the perils of wilderness, home and abroad? Other countries are quick at jumping on the queue to maltreat Nigerians, because our leadership has proven, over time, it places little value on the lives of its own people.
Which country will allow her citizens to be locked up in jail, under questionable circumstances, as presently obtains for many Nigerians, in China? Which other country will allow for her citizens to be hounded and harassed as is often the experience of Nigerians in a number of African countries? Which country will allow for the shenanigans in the foreign embassies in Nigeria in the name of visa interview? Between the Swedish and Austrian Embassies in Abuja, it is difficult to tell who takes the gold medal in the shoddy handling of visa applications. Even then, what does one make of Professor Obododimma Oha’s ordeal in the hands of our brothers in the South African High Commission?
We might not have our house in order, yet. But that is definitely no excuse for kindergarten Consular officials to subjecting Nigerians to all forms of abuse as it’s presently the case in many of the embassies. You often wonder if some of these open-house visa interviews were designed to humiliate and dehumanise Nigerians. There is no excuse in the world for Egypt Air to still be flying out of Nigeria after the inhumane treatment meted out to Kunle Abdul-Azeez, recently deported to Nigeria, after four days of ordeal at the hands of the airline. What was that about the tearing of his Nigerian passport in Egypt?
The General Manager of Egypt Air, Khaled El Rafie, must have had appeasement on his mind, when he reportedly told the 17-year-old passenger, whom his airline wrongly routed to Moldova instead of Ukraine that he “may have been locked up in a cell in Cairo because of Ebola virus”. As we like to say here – it is not Khaled’s fault. As we did not deem it fit to send a few Chinese citizens back home, to protect them from the Ebola ‘epidemic’ in Nigeria in reciprocation for the good gesture by the Chinese, why won’t the Egyptian treat us so shabbily.
It is not his fault, no doubt. As I write, the Gabonese Ambassador to Nigeria has not been summoned by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, as prelude to his being declared persona-non-grata for the unfriendly acts of his country. Yet, we want to be treated with respect. It does not work that way. How long are we going to put up with disrespect, especially from corners of the field we watered with sweat and blood, while we fold our hands and watch?
We might have faltered as a nation. We might not be getting it right, in many areas of life. But this cannot be excuse for us to be docile and play the field with such naivety. We cannot suddenly canonise docility as Nigeria’s foreign policy. It has not always been like this. Nigeria did not influence the seismic shift in Southern Africa which led to the independence of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa, by being docile. The time for President Jonathan to stand firm as the leader of a people deserving of some respect, is now. He can start by telling Gabon one or two things.