Senate Committee Chairman on Foreign Affairs, Senator Mathew Nwagwu
By Omololu Ogunmade
About 776 Nigerians are serving different jail terms in foreign prisons, Senate Committee Chairman on Foreign Affairs, Senator Mathew Nwagwu disclosed Tuesday.
The revelation which followed a motion moved on the floor of the Upper House by Nwagwu (Imo North), prompted a resolution, urging the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigerian embassies across the world to be more proactive on matters affecting Nigerians in countries where they are in distress.
A breakdown of the number of Nigerians serving foreign jail terms, according to Nwagwu, includes United States (62), Thailand (71), Spain (395), Malaysia (43), Cameroun (29), and Niger (30).
The Senate urged relevant Nigerian authorities to “press for redress and restitution” on behalf of 14 of 27 Nigerians deported from Spain who are said to be innocent.
It also urged the Federal Government to use diplomatic channels to register Nigeria’s disenchantment towards maltreatment of her citizens and what he alleged as wrongful deportation from Spain or any other country.
The lawmakers also urged the Ministry of foreign affairs to strengthen “our consular services in our missions abroad with a view to increasing their capacity to protect our citizens in distress and ensuring prompt legal advice is provided for them where necessary.”
While moving the motion which was co-sponsored by Senators Victor Ndoma-Egba, Senator Akin Odunsi, Senator Zainab Kure, Ita Enang, Chris Anyanwu, James Manager, Atiku Bagudu, Nenadi Usman, Hussein Mudashiru and Helen Esuene, Nwagwu lamented “unfair treatments and harassment of Nigerians in foreign countries leading to torture, intimidation, arrests, detention, deportation and occasional deaths.”
While alleging that the torture had continued for so long, Nwagwu regretted that Nigeria has been nonchalant towards the unfair treatment of its citizens, adding that lack of proper legal representation has made Nigerians vulnerable in foreign lands.
Noting that it is not in all cases that Nigerians are culpable in allegations against them, Nwagwu cited the instance of a Nigerian student in Ukraine “who was said to have defended himself with a broken bottle against six Ukrainian youths, who allegedly attacked him at the entrance of his apartment in November 2011.” He added: “Right now, he risks life imprisonment if convicted. His situation is made worse by the refusal of Ukrainian police to take his case to court on the excuse that they have not been able to get an interpreter for him.”
In his comment, Senate President, David Mark, remarked that innocent Nigerians should not be lumped together with criminals, stating that anyone who commits an offence, however, should be made to face the wrath of the law in such land.
Mark expressed the need to educate Nigerians that they will ultimately pay for their misdemeanours, regretting however, that their misdeeds bring Nigeria into disrepute.
The Senate President also expressed regrets that Nigeria’s foreign missions have not lived up to expectation by rising in defence of Nigerians in distress until cases of wrongdoing are established against them.
He also noted that Nigerian missions face acute problem ranging from inability to pay house rent, telephone bills and other running cost, submitting that staff cannot pay their children’s school fees.
He added that the foreign missions ought to reflect Nigeria’s status as the giant of Africa.