By AYO OLUKOTUN
In spite of contradictory narratives concerning the origin of the scuffle in Jakarta, Indonesia, involving the brutal mishandling of a Nigerian diplomat by Indonesian immigration officials, anger, consternation and shock continue to trail the event. A few days back, the video recording of the incident went viral with the diplomat pinned to a car seat, gasping for breath and making a distress call in the words, ‘I can’t breathe’, as three Indonesian officials cruelly maltreated him. Subsequently, the Indonesian government tendered an apology to Nigeria but that did not prevent the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from recalling its ambassador expected to arrive in the country on Thursday. Both the foreign affairs ministry of Nigeria and civil society have issued a torrent of condemnations based on the viral video recording. Whatever new facts emerge, there can be no justification for the inhuman treatment meted out to a Nigerian diplomat in a faraway Asian country with which Nigeria had hitherto enjoyed good diplomatic relations. Obviously, and as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama, has complained, the rough-handling of the diplomat is clearly unacceptable and “a breach of the Vienna Convention”.
Let me digress to state that Indonesia, which had in the 1960s comparatively lower economic development indices than Nigeria, is today the portrait of what Nigeria could have become. Whereas Nigeria has lagged, Indonesia has quickly raced ahead to become an Asian Tiger, with an economy highly diversified enjoying a substantial manufacturing component and boasting of reduced poverty rate as the benefit of growth is fairly, evenly distributed. Recall, for example, the often told story that Indonesian officials came to Nigeria in the 1960s to borrow palm oil seedlings which they took back home to nurture. Three or so decades on, Indonesia had become an agricultural giant and a major exporter of products derived from palm oil. To be sure, the two countries share features such as large population, colonial rule, years of military dictatorship, multi-religious and multi-ethnic characteristics. This is not the occasion for exploring the often-asked question of why Indonesia has hugely succeeded in transiting from a fragile state into a developmental state, while Nigeria replicated the so-called African tragedy, earning the unhappy sobriquet of the world’s poverty capital.
We can say in passing nonetheless that Nigeria’s kidnap by a succession of inept and thieving regimes as well as its political and policy chaos have much to do with it. So, if Indonesia holds Nigeria in contempt, it may be for good reasons not unrelated to the way in which a former classmate who had made good tends to naturally look down on an unsuccessful member of the same class. Why do we say this? As the crisis broke and raged, Indonesia has been quick to go to town with the escalating number of illegal Nigerian immigrants in that country and what uphill battle it has faced dealing with them. Of course, this is a bitter reality that detracts from the apology of the Indonesians to Nigeria, but it nonetheless forms an unhappy backdrop to the current imbroglio.
According to one account, the Indonesian immigration personnel took the diplomat for one of the soaring number of undocumented immigrants from Nigeria who are about to be deported to their never-do-well country. The Indonesians did not use that expression, but their body language very much suggested it, especially when the Nigerian diplomat did not immediately produce his diplomatic identification. Needless to add that there are thousands of Nigerians in several countries around the globe most of them living at the fringes of decency, ethics and legality. The point to make is that were Nigeria to have become more like Indonesia in developmental and governance terms, it would have less of the perennial export of human “noncapital” who have chosen to make a living out of the loopholes of the law and societal norms outside of their own country. None of the foregoing excuses or justifies the sadistic attack on the Nigerian diplomat by Indonesia immigration, but it provides a context for the unfortunate incident.
To be sure, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acted vigorously and forthrightly but there is still this unpleasant aroma about Nigeria which makes it vulnerable to occasional dirty slaps from the privileged of the global pecking order. A corollary dimension has to do with whether this country has learnt the lesson once taught by the Italian philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, that the objective of power build-up is to ensure that even if individuals, kings, or nations are hated, they should not be derided or taken for granted. For example, anti-Americanism for various reasons is a distinct aspect of the current global arena but very few nations have dared or even remotely attempted to trample on American rights and respectability.
If Nigeria had learnt this lesson long before now, it would have established a presence on the world stage in which other nations will fear or tremble to test its will. That is another way of saying that there are consequences, some of them tragic of being left far behind in the developmental race. Even in Africa, in which Nigeria is putatively a giant, several countries hitherto not reckoned with and some of them war-torn had by-passed it in several crucial dimensions of progress and human security. How much regard, to put it frankly, can a country that is heavily debt-ridden, recently classified by the International Monetary Fund as a high risk debtor country with galloping insecurity, and several parts of it converted into killing fields enjoy abroad?
Nigerian leaders may enjoy or appear to enjoy the flourish and protocol of being welcome in other countries as Africa’s giant; nonetheless, as the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof. Eghosa Osaghae, wrote in a major book two decades back, the giant is crippled. Sadly, the state of affairs observed by Osaghae has gone from bad to worse since he wrote that trenchant book. In spite of its good fortune, and plenitude of natural and human resources, Nigeria remains the sick man of Africa in dire need of major surgery.
It is alright and even required to let the Indonesians and indeed the whole world know just how strongly we feel about this violation of normative and good conduct in international affairs. But even if we assume a worst case scenario in which Nigeria breaks diplomatic relations with Indonesia on account of this recent misconduct, the impact will be felt more by the less advantaged country underlining the inequality in economic and social terms. Ultimately, power, hard and soft, is what international relations is all about while we cannot run away from American political scientist, James Rosenau’s insight that foreign policy is nothing if not an extension of domestic policy and politics.
Diplomacy alone, however adroit, will not get us the respect we need abroad; equally, if not more important is to earn respect by orderliness in place of the current bedlam, a scaling up of our economic fortunes and eventually as the short term appears to be lost, the kind of affluence and might that will make other nations even if they dislike us to stop trying our will.
Indonesia’s dirty slap on Nigeria’s honour
By AYO OLUKOTUN