Recently, a building within the premises of the Nigerian Embassy in Ghana was demolished leading to diplomatic hiccups between the two West African neighbours. Joshua Egbodo writes on the position of the House of Representatives.
Beside the wide condemnation generated by the demolition of a segment of the Nigeria High Commission in Ghana, the House of Representatives appeared to be the most angered by the development. Last week at an interactive session with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyema, over the development, the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, did not mince words in expressing the feelings of his colleagues.
The segment of the Nigerian High Commission, reportedly housing staff members of the mission, was said to have been demolished by a businessman over some ownership issues.
At an instance of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, a meeting with Mr Onyema was held, during which lawmakers took the hard line, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to deploy diplomatic reciprocity in response to the latest development, more that it was not happening for the first time.
Gbajabiamila angry, sought tougher measures
In a message to convey the feelings of the house, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila described the action as a breach of Nigeria’s sovereignty, adding that the attack might not have happened without the prior knowledge of the Ghanaian authority, and that the act deserved a tough response.
“If Ghana has a problem and is approaching it through subterranean moves, then what do you think the outcome of the legal proceeding will be? So, I think we should pursue it from that angle; I think we should make it clear for the authorities in Ghana that Nigeria is not going to sit down and fold its arms.
“Reciprocity is a legitimate instrument in foreign relations. The doctrine of reciprocity is what should be considered.
“The Nigerian state was attacked. I think we should look at this thing from the premise that the Nigerian state was attacked. It’s not a building that was demolished. No! The Nigerian state was attacked; I think if we look at it from that premise, we will begin to understand the importance and the gravity of what we are dealing with”, he stated.
The Speaker went further to express reservations for Nigeria’s usual soft diplomatic approach to issues of such nature, including attacks on its citizens abroad, and submitted that a new approach must be adopted.
“We have established a pattern, and what we get are apologies, and ‘we will look into it’. I don’t think that should suffice at this point. We must put a stop to what has become a perennial problem between Nigeria and Ghana. To me, this is a sibling rivalry, between two sister countries, but even in sibling rivalry, there is a line you don’t cross, and they (Ghana) just crossed the line, albeit a second time,” he noted.
“An embassy of country is a country. If the embassy of the United States or of the U.K is attacked today in Ghana, I don’t think they would be talking about apology or issues like that, and be diplomatic in language, more that this is not the first time.
“Let’s be a little more aggressive in our diplomacy. The House of Representatives is here to back you up, Honourable Minister in whatever you need to do. Let’s imagine that the embassy of the US, the U.K. or Germany is attacked in that manner today, all hell would be let loose.
“Attacks on Nigerians in other countries, especially in other African countries, have become a recurring decimal in the nation’s foreign policy engagements”, he stated, adding that many countries within Africa have taken the liberty of hurting Nigerians, while Nigeria looks the other way in the name of brotherhood.
“We all have a responsibility to make sure that we uphold the honour and integrity of the country that we serve. The Minister has explained what happened and what they have done or doing. But I think we should look at it from the premise that it was the Nigerian State that was attacked, not just a building.
“In terms of visibility and otherwise of the property, I want to say that it is trite to understand that all countries exist through their Embassies in other countries. So for that reason, Nigeria was attacked by Ghana because if anything happens in Ghana, it’s the Nigerian Embassy that Nigerians will run to and get protection due to the diplomatic immunity that it should enjoy”
“If they get away with this, they will do it again”, he said as he disclosed that he was already making attempts at reaching speaker of the Ghanaian parliament to express his grievances on the matter, and present a way foreword to forestalling recurrence.
More members back move
More members were to agree with the Speaker. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Yusuf Buba, in his remarks expressed sadness over the irony that while Ghana’s High Commission in Abuja remained fully barricaded and under protection of personnel of the mobile police unit, the reverse appeared to be the case in Ghana. “It is appalling that Nigeria’s High Commission would be so porous, and even took one and a half hour after the incident before police arrived, and yet no arrests were made”, he said, even as several other members backed the new move
Gains of Gbajabiamila’s follow-up
True to Gbajabiamila’s earlier promise that he was seeking parliamentary intervention, through the Ghanaian Speaker of parliament, his follow-up helped to a great extent in dousing the then mounting tension. Making reference to the Speaker’s social media pages, a statement from his media office, few days later was to disclose that Ghana has agreed to cede the said property and all its covering documents, as well as rebuild the demolished High Commission building.
The message further disclosed that the promises were obtained through a telephone discussion he (Gbajabiamila) had with the speaker of the Ghanaian parliament, Hon Aaron Mike Oquaye, last Thursday. “The Ghanaian Speaker had assured Speaker Gbajabiamila that the parliament will work with their Executive to ensure the matter is resolved diplomatically”, the statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Lanre Lasisi said.
Gbajabiamila on his Twitter page wrote; “Yesterday (Thursday) I had a good and constructive discussion with His Excellency Rt. Hon. Aaron Mike Oquaye, Speaker of the Ghanaian Parliament. He reassured me of the respect and regard the people of Ghana have for Nigeria.
“He stated the Ghanaian government is taking the demolishment with all seriousness and has taken the following actions: 1) Perpetrators have been arrested and investigation is ongoing; 2) the Property will be ceded and all documents handed over to Nigeria under the Compulsory Acquisition Act of Ghana; 3) the destroyed High Commission quarters will be rebuilt by the government of Ghana”.
According to Gbajabiamila, his Ghanaian counterpart stated firmly that “Ghana will not allow anyone to peril the deep and long relationship between our two countries. Together, we will find sustainable ways to rebuild good relations btw our countries and unite our people in our collective interest as Africans”.
Time for tougher measures?
Representing the executive arm of the federal government at the meeting mentioned earlier was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Onyema who disclosed that the government was considering a review of Nigeria’s foreign policy. “We have not got sufficient appreciation from other countries; we will have to sit down and make a decision, to review the foreign policy”, he had stated.
To many pundits, the minister’s submission as presented above was already an admittance that Nigeria was operating on a faulty foreign relations policy, without the right foundations for citizens’ protection. Cuing behind the “commendable” hard stance initially taken by the House of Representatives, it is therefore a widely accepted position amongst analysts now, that it is time to make an urgent paradigm shift in the nation’s foreign policy.