Revisiting the High Commission incident

An angry Nigerian on June 17, 2019 broke the windscreens of several official cars of the Nigerian High Commission at No 9 Northumberland Avenue in London, United Kingdom over issues concerning the issuance of his passport.

The behaviour of this young man cannot be justified in any way. However, there is no doubt that incidents of inefficiencies at the High Commission and some Nigerian embassies are real and the issue, especially the underlying causes of this anomaly, should be addressed in a forthright manner.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland hosts the largest concentration of Nigerians abroad. And to cope with this population, there used to be three Nigerian diplomatic missions in the UK viz: London, Edinburgh and Liverpool.  The mission in Edinburgh covered Scotland and environs, while the consulate in Liverpool served the coastal cities of the UK and Seamen.

The Nigerian High Commission London is the most important Nigerian diplomatic mission abroad. It is classified as a grade ‘A’ mission among very few others. The offices accommodate the Chancery, the High Commissioner, Defence Adviser, Immigration, Trade, Protocol, Information Administration etc.

The various sections relate to their counterparts and the public in London as required to promote Nigeria’s interest.

The Chancery liaises with the Court of St James’s, Buckingham Palace, the British and Commonwealth Office and other missions.

The issuance of passports, visas, and such documents are essentially the responsibility of the Immigration Service.

The three missions in the UK worked in harmony with the public and the host authorities until 1984, when the two consulates in Liverpool and Edinburgh were unilaterally closed down during the  rationalisation of missions, and the retrenchment of civil servants.

The responsibilities of the two closed missions were shifted to the High Commission in London, where I was at that time the Deputy Chief of Protocol. The system was suddenly thrown into confusion. The facilities in London were overstretched to the limits. The staff strength was reduced, such that the few officers were overworked and stressed up. Nigerians and the general public were forced to come from different regions of the UK to London at great expense and inconvenience, just to obtain passports, process visas, scholarships, identity cards and authenticate documents. The mission and officers, equally victims of this awkward arrangement, were unfairly held responsible for the travails and ordeals of the public and vilified for it, and sometimes attacked.

This is the genesis of the crisis which had persisted for 35 years without any solution in sight,  except of course, if  the consulates in Liverpool and Edinburgh are reopened to ease the  pressure on the High Commission in London.

 The Chancery buildings of the two missions are in a state of disrepair, but recoverable, if refurbished. This is yet another appeal on behalf of all Nigerians that the consulates in Edinburgh and Liverpool should be reopened immediately, after 35 years of being unilaterally closed down without any logical reason.

There are other Nigerian missions abroad in similar circumstances. For example, the closure of the Nigerian Consulate in California, USA, created the same problem. The three Nigerian missions in Washington, New York and Atlanta Georgia are too few to cover the vast territories of America. California is six hours flight away from Washington or from any of the missions. It is the same with several states where flight hours to Washington or New York are between two and five hours. The cost of travel, accommodation and inconveniences to the public and Nigerians who wish to obtain documents from the embassies can best be imagined.

Brazil, Canada, China and India are facing the same challenges. Brazil is about eight times the size of Nigeria. The mission in Sao Paolo was similarly closed down leaving the Embassy in Brasília, and the Consulate in Rio de Janeiro to cope with this huge country.  Most importantly, Sao Paolo is the economic capital of Brazil, home of Embraer Aircraft manufacturing company, Volkswagen, Petro Bras, and several military hardware manufacturing companies. The district of Sao Paolo accounts for about 10% of the Gross Domestic Product of the entire continent of South America. The presence of a Nigerian mission in this city is of critical economic interest which cannot be provided in far away Brasília or Rio de Janeiro.

It does not cost an arm to run some missions, especially consulates, which could have a staff strength of just three officers and three supporting staff from the host country. And where the Chancery and residences are owned by the government, the payment of allowances and the cost of running the mission can be derived from charging a little extra on visa and other fees, which is the standard practice by many missions, even in Nigeria.

This extra cost is very insignificant compared to the inconveniences of travelling long distances to reach far away embassies.

Since this issue affects mainly Nigerians in the Diaspora, the Chairperson of the Diaspora Commission, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, should take interest in reopening these consulates and others which were closed down without evaluating the political, economic and social impacts on the image of Nigeria.

Ambassador Rasheed was Director of Trade and Investment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, [email protected]

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