Togo: Citizen Diplomacy and Mal treatment of Nigerians

13 Nov 2010

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Togo is a country, where under normal circumstance, one should not hear about the mistreatment of Nigerians at all for one major reason: Togo was considered in the 1960s as a special and dependable ally of Nigeria. It was on the basis of this consideration that, when President Sylvanus Olympio of Togo was assassinated in 1963, Nigeria’s then Foreign Minister, Dr. Jaja Wachukwu, made it clear to the world that the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries as provided in Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter, was not acceptable to Nigeria.

Nigeria considered that President Olympio was a very good friend of Nigeria and that the Government of Nigeria could not at all be indifferent to the senseless killing of Nigeria’s friend. In the eyes of Nigeria by then, when the interests of Nigeria were at stake, they had to be protected and the non-interference principle could not be an exception. It was similarly in this vein that racialist policies, particularly apartheid in Southern Africa, were considered an exception to Nigeria’s foreign policy.

Perhaps more importantly, Nigeria’s relationship with Togo in the period from 1960 through 1975 was built on honesty of purpose, oneness in cooperation and common interest in protection. It is a truism to say that Nigeria, in collaboration with Togo, initiated the processes that led to the establishment of  the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975. The ECOWAS, as it is today, is the major instrument of regional economic development, maintenance of peace and security, as well as regional integration.

Against this background, and particularly in light of the fact that Nigeria and Togo are the torch bearers in the quest to protect Community Citizens within the framework of the ECOWAS, it cannot but be most unfortunate that Nigerians are being flagrantly mistreated in Togo. The hypothesis of this article is that, first, there are elements of truth and suspicion in the allegation of mistreatment by Togolese prison authorities; Secondly, if the allegation is true as presented, the Togolese must have a good reason that is yet to be made known officially; and thirdly, in the absence of a tenable reason for the mistreatment of Nigerians, there will be need to interrogate Nigeria’s Citizen Diplomacy once again, particularly why it has not been applicable, at this juncture.

Mistreatment of Nigeriansin Togo

As reported by Chioma Igbokwe in Saturday Sun (6th November, 2010, page 3), some Nigerian prisoners and detainees are currently under inhuman treatment in Togo. One of the detainees, Chief Kalu Jabes, had sent a letter to President and people of Nigeria, asking for help and intervention. As allegedly noted in the letter, “the Togolese government is wicked, brutal and hostile to us. You might not believe that some of us in prison did not commit any crime. Simply because they saw you driving a big car and found out that you are a Nigerian, they will stop you and level one allegation or the other against you and before you know what is happening, you will find yourself in prison.”

Additionally, “when they see any Nigerian travelling from their airport, they stop, search you and if they found a reasonable amount of money on you, they will say that you are dealing in drugs and clamp you in prison, and your money will be divided between the soldier and judges simply because you are a Nigerian. Your house will be searched and everything they find will be taken away and your bank account will be blocked.’

And perhaps most disturbingly, it is stated in the letter that the problems of the Nigerian prisoners and detainees started when the former Principal Representative to Togo, Ambassador T.I. Ironsi, left Togo. Put differently, Nigerians are unnecessarily clamped into detention without help coming from anywhere, not even from Nigeria. It is important to quote another relevant aspect of the letter. Chief Jabes said that “we have seen many other nationals released from this prison over some serious cases, even some of the newspapers in Togo carried the news.

 For example, there was a case of rape, which involved a French national, one Mr. Rovers. He was accused of raping two under-aged sisters (8 and 12 years). They brought him into the prison on August 28, 2010 and released him the following month (September 15). There was also a case of one Mr. Tony, an American national who was arrested at the Lomé Airport over a drug case and  after four days, he was released to the. American Ambassador and was taken back home… Even Radio France International confirmed that Nigerians in Togo prison are suffering. Red Cross International, which visited this place sometime last month, also confirmed the situation in this prison.’

There are many questions to ask on the basis of this letter. The national and international responsibility of the Government of Nigeria has not only been raised, the allegation has also insinuated and indicted the Embassy of Nigeria in Togo, and by implication, the Government of Nigeria. And most importantly, it raises the important question of where and when Citizen Diplomacy applies.

First, there is the unwarranted arrest and detention of Nigerians by Togolese prison authorities. Although we are still making enquiries about the Togolese version of the truth, there is no disputing the fact that, in many countries of West Africa, enterprising Nigerians are essentially suffering from envy. Many Nigerians have been detained and incarcerated, not because they have committed any offence, but because they have always vehemently refused to be extorted. In many cases, they have protested violently. It is this aspect of violence that the police or gendarmes now capitalise on to frame new offences that are not related to the initial refusal to be extorted.

In Togo, could it be that there is now a new policy attitude towards Nigerians that Nigerians are yet to know about? For instance, in Mr. Jabes’ letter, it is stated that ‘the new president of Togo Bar Association, Mrs. Ekoue came to the prison and asked one Kalu Jabes about his situation and what he was doing about his freedom,’ and that ‘after the discussion, she gave Kalu her private phone number (009-228-904-5912) and then asked him to forward it to our government for more information.’ In other words, Mrs. Ekoue appears to have some information to give to the Government of Nigeria, which may not be generally known but which possibly is to assist in securing the freedom of the detainees.

Apart from this, the Nigerian prisoners and detainees have indicated that if they are found guilty of any offence, they are ‘ready to serve the sentence in our land because we know that we will get fair trial in our country.’ More significantly, they have said that ‘most of the lawyers we have called upon took our money and disappeared without even taking us to court.’ The glaring implication of this complaint is that the prisoners and detainees do not have any confidence in Togolese lawyers and the Government of Togo. If they do believe that they cannot get justice in Togo and if they have been victim of mistreatment in that country, there is no way that anyone can preach regional unity and integration to such people. This situation can explain in part why it has been difficult to move the regional cooperation and development efforts forward at the fast speed it deserves. Why would a lawyer take money for a service he would not be able to render? Is there complicity between government and the lawyers? What purpose will this really serve? If there is no complicity, how do we explain the attitude of the lawyers as a community citizen and in terms of professional ethics?

One other insinuation in the letter is the inability of the Embassy of Nigeria to resolve the problem of the prisoners. As noted in the letter, the problem of the prisoners began when the then Ambassador of Nigeria to Togo, Thomas Ironsi, returned to Nigeria.  How was the Ambassador handling the problem when he was in office? Why is the incumbent Ambassador not able to do the same? Perhaps more inquisitively, are the prisoners and detainees known to the Embassy of Nigeria as Nigerians? With what passports did they travel to Togo? Were the passports valid? Did the prisoners stay beyond ninety days after which they are required to regularize their stay in compliance with the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement and Right of Establishment?
One possible scenario is that the Nigerian prisoners might have entered Togo legally and might have been accosted by the local gendarmes on grounds of immigration offences, but without telling the Nigerians what their offences were.

In this regard, they might have been clamped into detention for minor immigration offences. True, every person is presumed to know the law. Every Nigerian travelling is also required to register his or her presence in a country with the Embassy of Nigeria in that country. The cardinal objective is to ensure affiliation with Nigeria and to use this factor of nationality linkage to invoke diplomatic protection within the context of private international law, and particularly in the event of denial of justice. However, Nigerians hardly bother to go to Nigerian missions. Indeed, it is when Nigerians have problems that they enquire about where the Embassy of Nigeria is located? This is not the ideal situation.

Citizen Diplomacy and Mistreatment of Nigerians

Citizen Diplomacy, as conceived by Chief Ojo Maduekwe, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, is about the protection of Nigerians wherever they may find themselves. It is about making Nigerians live correctly in accordance with the rules and regulations of their host countries, as well as creating a basis for responsible citizenship in Nigeria. In this regard, Nigeria’s attitudinal disposition is to be guided by the policy of reciprocity or what Maduekwe has called ‘Diplomacy of Consequence’. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Odein Ajumogobia, has not renounced Citizen Diplomacy as thrust of Nigeria’s foreign policy. In other words, Nigeria therefore owes it a responsibility to ensure that the Nigerian prisoners in Togo are not unnecessarily mistreated.

In many countries of the world, imprisonment of foreigners is considered a major burden, especially in terms of costs of maintenance. Many countries have negotiated with Nigeria the possibility of transferring Nigerian prisoners back home to Nigeria, with a pledge to assisting in the establishment of skill acquisition centres for them, and financial packages for initial take-off. In most cases, however, Nigerian prisoners have always refused attempts to transfer them to Nigeria, alleging very poor conditions of imprisonment and likely infringement of their fundamental rights, even as prisoners in Nigeria.

The United Kingdom is being forced by domestic necessity to cut down its prison population of 85,000 by 3000 by the year 2014-2015. And out of the 85,000 inmates in the UK, 11,000 are foreigners, amongst whom are Nigerians. The major problem is that, in reaching any transfer agreement, the consent of the prisoner is also a human rights  condition. When a prisoner is hiding under human rights to refuse transfer to his country, the counter reaction of the host government has been the maltreatment by law enforcement agents. Indeed, it is at this level that the hostile attitude of prison authorities may be understood. Government should therefore investigate, and promptly too, the circumstances of the alleged maltreatment of Nigerian prisoners in Togo.

Without doubt, many Nigerians commit offences that they hardly own up to. They do this without giving due consideration to the implications. In fact, ignorance about the immigration laws of their host states, as well as their don’t care attitude about the culture of their host countries largely explain the many forms of mistreatment of Nigerians abroad.
Consequently, one good method of preventing the maltreatment of Nigerians within the framework of Nigeria’s Citizen Diplomacy is to negotiate agreements with countries to which Nigerians frequently go to. Togo is a case in point. Such an agreement should define the conditions of arrest, incarceration or detention, as well as deportation to Nigeria. Apart from this, a preventive strategy is necessary:

Since Nigerians are increasingly becoming addicted to Nollywood films and are generally also football fans, audio CDs and DVD advertorials on immigration rules and regulations in African countries should be produced; foot-balling should be used to explain Citizen Diplomacy; and emphasis should be placed on government responsibilities and the duties and obligations of Nigerians within the context of Citizen Diplomacy. The CDs and DVDs,  can then be sold to the general public at subsidized rates. It is by so doing that Nigeria’s international image can be greatly enhanced through reduction of crimes and increased understanding of international life and its challenges.

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