The Guardian (Lagos) writes an editorial on the treatment of Nigerians abroad:
THE Federal Government, unhappy with the shabby treatment of Nigerian deportees from foreign countries, recently approved a number of measures to protect its citizens, in accordance with the recommendations of two successive committees set up on the matter.
Specifically, the government decided that Nigerian missions must, after ascertaining their nationality, issue deportee-Nigerians with proper travel documents. From this end, government would tighten the much-abused process by which the Nigerian passport is easily acquired by Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. Furthermore, government would sign agreements with the North African countries often used by Nigerian illegal emigrants. Kaduna and Port Harcourt airports have also been designated as receiving point of deportees.
These measures and any other to protect our fellow citizens from being dehumanized are worthy of support. However, the whole issue must be seen in proper context. The ill treatment of Nigerians by many foreign governments coincides directly with the downturn of our economy starting from the early 1980s. Prior to this time and when the Nigerian economy was in respectable shape, her free-spending citizens received visas to foreign lands at a moment's request, we were received with open arms in Europe, America, and elsewhere. Not anymore.
Since leadership mismanagement and corruption ran the Nigerian economy aground, Nigerians have been forced to seek greener pastures abroad. And as more of our fellow citizens emigrate in droves, the patience and tolerance of host countries have tended to fall even to the point of contempt among some nationals. Indeed, from the point of visa application at foreign embassies here in their own country, Nigerians suffer unspeakable humiliation. The pertinent question then is: why have Nigerians become, in the last two decades, sojourners in and deportees from other lands?
Without prejudice to the present steps of the Nigerian authorities to protect its citizens the truth of the matter is that these merely address the residual symptoms of a grave malady " the failure of the Nigerian economy. This is the reason that our able-bodied men and women, intellectuals, skilled professionals and otherwise productive citizens seek refuge in other lands. In plain language, there are too few opportunities here for the honest and competent citizen to be the best possible. So they vote with their feet, despite the physical dangers often involved and the emotional pain to leave their fatherland.
The Federal Government can save itself much of the present hassle if it frontally addresses the root of the problem. This country needs, now, original and creative policies and practices that will get the Nigerian economy back on its productive feet in the shortest possible time. This done, the emigration will not only trickle out, our fellow citizens abroad will, on their own volition, return home. This is the lesson from the Ghana experience.
Our already destitute embassies are being saddled with the additional responsibility to issue travel documents to proven deportee-Nigerians. Even at the best of times, how well did these missions perform their basic responsibilities to Nigerians in their respective countries of assignment? The answer, for most of them, is in the negative and for reasons that largely border upon a lack of fund. It is cold comfort therefore that government has accepted to fund the added assignment of the embassies. We regret to say that this government has a poor record of adequately funding anything, even the salaries of its workers.
The Federal Government is perfectly justified in its displeasure with the treatment of Nigerians, particularly illegal entrants, in the process of being deported. Needless to say, such behaviour is inhuman and a violation of the human rights of our citizens. Besides, it bears emphasising that the principle of reciprocity is the basis of diplomatic relations. Offending countries must therefore be told in clear terms that future breach of the basic rights of Nigerians will attract reciprocal response from the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Having said that, our officials must understand just why Nigerian deportees, and by extension, the Government and the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are treated with disrespect by some foreign countries. We ask: how much value is placed on the average citizen in terms access to the very basic things of life: food, water, a roof over the head, work to do, and the security of life and of property? The answer is precious little.
That Nigerians are treated with contempt abroad, that our envoys can be thrown out of their residence and their children out of school for indebtedness, that our international passport, so easy to fraudulently acquire by other nationals, is considered a document of indictment in some foreign countries, that Nigerian lives can be taken in other lands with nary a whimper from their home government, these are glaring evidence that Nigerians are not respected at home; outsiders are emboldened thereby to disrespect us and to dare our country.
Respect is earned. It cannot be bought nor sold, borrowed nor commandeered. Like the law, a country is respected only if it is respectable. In the comity of nations, a nation is respected not for its physical size, its population strength, nor its potential, whatever that means. A nation, or country, is accorded the respect commensurate to the aggregate qualitative and quantitative achievements of its citizenry. This, in turn, is a direct function of the quality of the leadership. Committees, no matter how many, are no alternative to this.