Nigeria-Indonesia Diplomatic Row: Beyond the Alleged Egregious Act of International Delinquency
International Bola A. Akinterinwa
In a press release number MFA/PR/2021/22 of Tuesday, August 10, 2021, signed by the spokesperson of Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Mrs. Esther Sunsuwa, the MFA said it had received a comprehensive report on the mistreatment by the Indonesian government agents of a Nigerian diplomat, Mr. Abdulraman Ibrahim, in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. The MFA, not only noted that it had ‘previously summoned the Indonesian Ambassador to the Ministry to express outrage and to protest strongly,’ but also that ‘the Nigerian government condemns in the strongest terms what is in effect an egregious act of international delinquency by Indonesian State actors against an accredited representative of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with absolutely no justification and against international law.’ In protest against the dastardly act, the Nigerian government has demanded ‘appropriate sanctions against the relevant officials and has recalled its Ambassador in Indonesia for consultations, including a review of bilateral relations.’
Even though Mrs. Sunsuwa said government ‘reaffirms its resolve to protect the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians wherever they are in the world and calls for calm as consultations continue,’ the truth remains that Nigeria does not have a consistent policy of protection of Nigerians worldwide beyond rhetorical pronouncements, like the one just issued by the MFA spokesperson. For instance, what does the request for ‘appropriate sanctions against the relevant officials’ mean? What makes a sanction appropriate? If the government of Indonesia sets up a panel of inquiry and even if the suspects are brought to the law court, what influence has the Government of Nigeria in ensuring a true implementation of the sanctionary measures? In Nigeria, for example, what has the Buhari administration done to sanction the similar egregious acts of Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria?
Again, what does re-calling Nigeria’s ‘Ambassador in Indonesia for consultations, including a review of bilateral relations’ mean in terms of justice for the victim of aggression? This statement is, at best, very ambiguous. The purpose of recalling can be for consultations, but how do we interpret a review of relationship in this regard? Does Nigeria want to sever diplomatic ties? Is there any principle of reciprocity in Nigeria’s foreign policy calculus that is to be applied? What does Nigeria want following imminent expression of apology by the Indonesian government?
One major dynamic of Nigeria’s relationship with Indonesia is perception, particularly from the perspective of Indonesia. Many Nigerians are currently in the Indonesian cells and this factor has not, and cannot, make both the Government and people of Indonesia to see Nigerians in good light. When the very patriotic Chief Ojo Maduekwe (CFR) led an official delegation to Indonesia to plead for the commutation of the death sentence on eighteen Nigerians awaiting to be executed, the Jakarta government did not bother to seek any understanding of Nigeria’s plea, arguing that the law of Indonesia is applicable to everyone resident in the country.
More significantly, the Jakarta government said Indonesians who were similarly convicted for the same drug offences were to be executed. Thus, while the Indonesian government sympathizes with the Nigerian delegation and the laws of Nigeria, there is nothing like sympathy for any drug offender in Indonesia. The perception in Indonesia is that anything can go and be accepted in Nigeria, but certainly not in Indonesia. The problem in this case is the question of international law and diplomatic practice. Indonesia is a signatory to the 18 April 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that entered into force on 24 April, 1964. Indonesia is also a signatory to the 24 April 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which entered into force on 19 March, 1967. Indonesia has not respected the obligations on diplomatic protection, contracted by her accession to the Convention on 04 June, 1982. Why is this so? Why the brutalization of a Nigerian, be he a diplomat or not? Perception may be a dynamic.
What type of perception of Nigeria can anyone expect from Indonesians if, on the ranking of the World’s Health Systems by the World Health Organisation, Indonesia is placed in the 92nd position, while Nigeria is ranked the 187th and is only better than the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic which are ranked respectively as 188th and 189th in Africa? There is no way an Indonesian will not hold a better-than-thou attitude when Nigeria and Indonesia are compared. France and Italy have the first and second best World Health Systems.
Besides what type of image does Nigeria give to the international community, particularly to the Indonesians in this case, if the Government of Nigeria is on record to be arresting and detaining protesters in Nigeria? What type of international image should Nigeria be expected to have if the Government of Nigeria offered N100 billion to herdsmen in order to stop kidnapping, when the herdsmen have been internationally identified in the World Terrorist Index as the fourth most dangerous and deadly terrorist group in the world?
In fact, the Government of Nigeria, led by the Minister of Interior, Abdulraman Dambazzau, held a meeting with the herdsmen, under the umbrella of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, in Kebbi. With the payment of N100bn, out of the N160bn requested by the Miyetti Allah, why has kidnapping not been stopped but has increased on the contrary, even if the ECOWAS reportedly prescribed the strategy of making such payments? This situation cannot but send wrong signals out to observers of Nigerian politics.
Indeed, Nigeria’s poverty rate is 40.1% on the basis of an estimated population of 211.4m people as at 2021, compared to Indonesia’s 10.1% poverty rate and population of 276,361,783 people as at 2021. Indonesia is not only a newly industrialised country, considered as the 15th largest economy in the world by nominal GDP and the 7th largest in terms of GDP (PPP), but also a member of the G-20 of which Nigeria is not. Indonesia has a 6.5% unemployment rate as at 2021, compared to Nigeria’s 32.5%. The HDI is 0.718 for Indonesia, which is high, while it is 0.534% for Nigeria, which is adjudged low. Nigeria has an import, and therefore a consumption dependent economy, while Indonesia has an export dependent, a production, economy.
From the foregoing, there is no disputing the possibility of an Indonesian government’s attitudinal arrogance vis-a-vis Nigeria. This possible governmental arrogance can be easily imbibed by the people of Indonesia and government officials. This is one way of first interpreting the very dastardly mania of mistreating the Nigerian diplomat in Jarkata.
In the area of economico-diplomatic ties, both countries established diplomatic relations in 1965 and signed an Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement in 2001. Exchange of official visits has been noteworthy. Former President Abdurrahman Wahid visited Nigeria in 2001. President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Indonesia in 2001, 2005 and 2006. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono not only met with Nigeria’s President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua at the United Nations in 2007, but also visited Nigeria in 2013 with an entourage of 99 businessmen.
In February 2013, both countries signed agreements on airlines and aircraft maintenance. The contracts were done between the Garuda Maintenance Facility Aeroasia of Indonesia and Nigeria’s Kabo Air, Silverback Africa, Hak Air, Max Air and Service Air Limited. Additionally, Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Corruption Eradication Commission of Indonesia (KPK) did an MoU in March 2007. Members of the National Infrastructure Science and Engineering Agency of Nigeria (NASENI) were given training in HYCON in Bandung on the basis of the signed agreements.
Nigeria is Indonesia’s second biggest trading partner in Africa after South Africa, accounting for about 21.66% of Indonesia’s total trade with Africa. There are fifteen Indonesian businesses in Nigeria, including Sayap Mas Utama, Kalbe Farma and Dufil or the household Indomie, which has remained a popular brand of Indofood, which established a factory in Nigeria in 1995 and which has remained the biggest instant noodles manufacturing plant in Africa.
What is particularly noteworthy about the diplomatic ties between the two countries is that Nigeria is actually the hub-nub of Indonesia’s diplomacy in West and Central Africa, as the Embassy of Indonesia in Abuja also has a concurrent accreditation to many countries: Ghana, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, and the ECOWAS in the West African region; and Cameroon, Congo, Gabon in the Central African region.
The essence of the foregoing is to underscore the importance of Nigeria in Indonesia’s economic diplomacy in Africa. Indonesia Embassy in Nigeria was the first to be established in sub-Saharan Africa in 1965. Nigeria did not open an embassy in Jakarta until 1976. Consequently, if a Nigerian diplomat has been brutalized in Indonesia in the mania of George Lloyd in the United States and the Government of Nigeria is talking about a possible review of her relations with Indonesia, it is not the bilateral relations that would suffer the most, but Indonesia’s plurilateral relations in Africa.
In this regard, should the honour of being a Nigerian be sacrificed on the altar of bilateral or plurilateral ties? With a possible closure of diplomatic missions, Indonesia’s Embassy in Abuja will not be able to coordinate her interests in the West and Central African regions. Nigeria does not have notable investments in Indonesia. Although both countries proposed to sign a Preferential Trade Agreement in 2017 and the relationship is said to be in good shape, the reality of the ties at the individual level of government agents in Indonesia does not point to a truly cordial relationship. The mistreatment of a Nigerian diplomat by Indonesian immigration agents was most obnoxious, very barbaric and unfriendly. It showed xenophobia and racism of the first order. The response to it should therefore go beyond rhetorical statements, mere expression of official apologies, and demands for punishment for the suspects. The international responsibility of Indonesia has to be officially raised.
Diplomatic Law and Indonesia’s Responsibility
International diplomatic relations are governed by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which is a resultant from the United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities. The Consular Relations are regulated by the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
The 1961 Vienna Convention provides for what can be described as absolute protection, in terms of inviolability of officially recognized accredited diplomats in a receiving State and also in terms of non-payment of official taxes in the host State. For instance, in Article 23 of the diplomatic convention, ‘the sending State and the Head of the Mission shall be exempt from all national, regional, or municipal dues and taxes in respect of the premises of the mission, whether owned or leased, other than such as represent payment for specific services rendered.’
The essence of this provision is that if and when accredited diplomats are engaged in procuring materials for their mission corporately or individually, the provision applies. If a Nigerian diplomat is arrested by immigration agents, and he is not supposed to be arrested as a diplomat, what is expected of the Indonesian government agents is to quickly release the diplomat on self-identification, because Article 24 not only stipulates that ‘’the archives and documents of the mission shall be inviolable at any time and wherever they may be,’ Article 25 also compels the receiving State to ‘accord full facilities for the performance of the functions of the mission.’ What does this mean or imply?
Article 24 is noteworthy because it says wherever the archives and documents of a diplomatic mission ‘may be.’ Put differently, any of the accredited diplomatic staff can be in possession of a diplomatic document when going to office or going back home. A diplomatic bag carrier can be in transit. In this type of situation, such archives and documents are inviolable whatever the circumstance. In the context of the Nigerian diplomat, he might have refused to be checked if he had official documents on him. Article 25 is similarly noteworthy because the receiving State is also obligated to facilitate the performance of the functions of diplomatic missions.
The arrest and detention of the Nigerian diplomat necessarily prevented the performance of the function of the Embassy of Nigeria in Jarkata during the time of his detention.
Perhaps more interestingly, Article 29 says ‘the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity.’ Put differently, emphasis should be on non-liability ‘to any form of arrest or detention.’ This inviolability covers the private residence, papers and correspondence of a diplomatic agent (Article 30) who also has immunity from criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He is not under any obligation to give evidence as a witness (Article 31).
In essence, whatever might have been responsible for the need to arrest of Mr. Ibrahim, this Article prohibits his arrest or detention, even if he had committed an offence of whatever kind. He must still be treated ‘with due respect or dignity.’ The worst scenario is to declare him persona non grata, but not to mistreat him. In fact, the mistreatment is uncivilized, it is a failure of diplomatic governance. The required responsibility of the Indonesian Government is to prevent people from committing offences of violation of the person of a diplomat. This is one of the reasons why every country provides a diplomatic passport to its agents in order to facilitate their identification. It is also for the same reasons that there are provisions for special diplomatic plate numbers: CC (Corps Consulaire: Consular Corps), CD (Corps Diplomatique: Diplomatic Corps) and CMD (Chef de Mission Diplomatique: Chief/Head of Diplomatic Mission), to differentiate the diplomatic community from the general public.
And perhaps most importantly, since the Nigerian diplomat was reported to have been mistreated by immigration officials, many assumptions on the circumstance can be contemplated: the diplomat is travelling to or travelling out of Indonesia and was stopped at a border control point or at an area that is security threatening; the diplomat is asked to submit himself for check but refuses to comply possibly on the basis of his status and thus compelling the Indonesian government’s agent to decide to take the bad end of the stick and attacking him very brutally; the mania of response of the Nigerian diplomat might have been also infuriating to have warranted the disregard for his diplomatic status; the Nigerian diplomat might have offended the host country before the incident, in which case the new incident of mistreatment is nothing more than a retaliation. In this regard, Indonesia might have opted for retaliation, bearing in mind that apologies would be given to Nigeria as a method of redress, while the matter would not only eventually be thrown into the diplomatic garbage of history, but the victim would have deliberately also been made to suffer unnecessarily. Let us move beyond assumptions here.
The story as given by the Indonesian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr. Usra Harahap to Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, and reported by Adelani Adepegba (The Punch of Thursday, August 12, 2021, p.2), is that the Nigerian diplomat, who refused to identify himself when lawfully asked to do so, and who also allegedly attacked one Mr. Laode Hauzan, an immigration officer sitting next to him in the car, was the aggressor. In his explanation to Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Dr. Harahap said that the immigration officers from South Jakartar Immigration Office were carrying out surveillance on foreigners when they asked Mr. Ibrahim for identification.
As he further explicated the incident, ‘they met with Mr. Ibrahim and politely requested him to show his travel document. He answered that his passport was in his room. Then the officer asked again, “can we see your travel document to check the residence permit and if there is no problem with the document, so you may continue your activities”. Mr. Ibrahim was not willing to show his passport and said to the officer, “you know who really I am and be careful on that.” Instead of showing his identity card, Mr. Ibrahim was angry and said “just arrest me and you will regret to know who really I’am.” According to the Indonesian plenipotentiary again, the Indonesian officer said ‘we will not detain you further sir, if you can show us your identity card.’ Then Mr. Ibrahim said ‘where is your car, I’ll come to your office.’
The knotty aspect of the narrative, is not only the determinability of the truth but what reportedly occurred on the way to the Immigration office in South Jakarta. As told by the Indonesian High Commissioner, ‘on the way to the Immigration Office … several incidents happened. Mr. Ibrahim elbowed the immigration officer, Mr. Laode Hauzan Baidi, who was sitting next to him until Mr. Laode’s lip was bleeding. This led to other officers restraining him from attacking another officer during the trip.’ He said Mr. Ibrahim later identified himself and the issue was resolved around 6.30pm, following the arrival of Nigeria’s High Commissioner at the immigration office. More importantly, the officer purportedly injured by Mr. Ibrahim, lodged an official complaint ‘about the attack on him but did not process it further because the matter had been resolved.’
On the basis of the foregoing explanations and deductive methodology, there is no way the international responsibility of Indonesia will not be raised, because the explanations lend credence more to a diplomatic chicanery and illness than a reflection of the situational reality.
First, the whole story is shrouded in ambiguity. Mr. Ibrahim reportedly said his passport was not with him at the point of arrest, explaining that it was in his room. If this was true, Mr. Ibrahim was at fault for not having a piece of identification on him, particularly as a diplomatic agent.
Second, Mr. Ibrahim, according to the Indonesian High Commissioner, followed the immigration officers in their vehicle and later identified himself. Where was his passport with which he identified himself? We are also told that the Nigerian High Commissioner came to the immigration office at 6.30pm and the whole misunderstanding was resolved. Did the Nigerian High Commissioner go there with Mr. Ibrahim’s passport? If not, how do we explain the emergence of the passport that could not be initially presented at the point of arrest but suddenly and miraculously now made available at the immigration office? What was the basis of the resolution of the dispute by the Nigerian High Commissioner? Does this not lend credence to Mr. Ibrahim’s explanation that he explained his diplomatic status but the immigration officers refused to understand.
Third, how do we really explain the impact of the George Floyd virus infection in faraway Jakarta on Mr. Ibrahim? If Mr. Ibrahim was in an immigration vehicle with many immigration officers, and he was not armed or weaponized in whatever manner, what could have led to the decision to want to strangulate his cervical vertebrates and kill him? The Indonesian High Commissioner already unconsciously gave one possible answer: ‘as of February 22, 2021 there were 180 Nigerian citizens in Indonesia Immigration Detention Centre who were undergoing process for deportation.’ Without doubt, every Nigerian is a criminal in the eyes of the Government of Indonesia and its agents and the Government was simply frolicking around to look for more Nigerians to arrest and deport to Nigeria. This appears to be a dynamic of the attitudinal disposition of the immigration officers.
Fourth, why will an accredited diplomat be afraid to identify himself when he is not a fake diplomat? If Mr. Ibrahim allegedly refused to identify himself but accepted to go with the immigration officers to their office for the only purpose of self-identification, is it not that the immigration officers never accepted the initial explanations of Mr. Ibrahim?
Fifth, why is there silence on the ‘several incidents’ that happened in the car when the Nigerian diplomat was being forcefully taken to the South Jakarta Immigration Office? Dr. Harahap narrated the story of how Mr. Laode Baidi was elbowed by the Nigerian diplomat, but kept quiet on how the Nigerian diplomat was being deoxygenated and strangulated in the car. The Indonesian High Commissioner should not be economic with the truth. He needs to expatiate on how other immigration officers made efforts to restrain Mr. Ibrahim ‘from attacking another officer during the trip.’
Sixth, what is the meaning of Mr. Ibrahim ‘elbowed the immigration officer?’ This question is necessary because Mr. Ibrahim was reportedly sitting next to Laode Baidi. The mere fact that Mr. Baidi preferred not to make any issue out of the alleged elbowing clearly suggests that the claims of the immigration officers are either not serious enough or not at all tenable for the simple reason that the sole intention of taking Mr. Ibrahim to their office was simply to sanction him for allegedly refusing to identify himself. After Mr. Ibrahim identified himself, what happened? Was there any immediate Indonesian apology? Whatever is the case, not until Nigeria adopts a foreign policy that is driven by self-respect and principles of reciprocity, there will always be new cases of egregious act of international delinquency. The conduct and management of Nigeria’s foreign policy has always been done in a valley of shame and chicanery, which explains in part, the negative perceptions of Nigerians at home and abroad and also why such egregious acts of international delinquency always occur. From xenophobia and Nigerianophobia in South Africa to Ghana’s assault on Nigeria’s Embassy, and now to Indonesia’s diplomatic delinquency, when will these acts be stopped? The dignity of Mr. Ibrahim has been soiled. It has now become a desideratum to prevent sacrificing the honour of being a Nigerian at the altar of diplomatic rhetoric, because no amount of financial compensation by Indonesia can be adequate for the type of enslavement and savagery to which Mr. Ibrahim has been subjected. Nigeria must go beyond acknowledgement of the increasing egregious acts of international delinquency. Anything short of downgrading or closure of the diplomatic missions of both countries is unacceptable. Nigerians must always be treated with due regard, decency, and punished for their offences where necessary on the basis of rule of law. Never on the basis of jungle justice!