By Uche Nnadozie
Last week, the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, advised Nigerians who wished to travel to the United States, but whose trip is not essential to probably tarry awhile because according to her there are a few Nigerian travellers who were turned back from various entry points in the US. In fact, reports suggest that some were turned back at transit countries. On the other hand, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyema, was to address a press conference where he discredited Abike’s advice. The minister insists that it is his office that has the right to issue travel advisory. Next was the United States Embassy in Abuja who tried to clarify that there was no official ban of any Nigerian attempting to enter the States.
All these are happening because of the new policy, which American President, Donald Trump has come to implement. He initially had caused an executive order to be operational wherein he banned immigration from nine countries to America. This is part of his campaign promises of toughness on immigration. He placed a 120-day ban on travellers from certain countries who are mostly Muslims. Although the courts in that country have quashed the order, since then there have been various schemes of preventing visa and green card holders from travelling to the United States. In fact, he recently issued another order reducing the number of countries from nine to six. Bottom line is that the US is no longer as welcoming as they used to be. Although it must be agreed that issuance of valid visa is not a guarantee for entering a country.
Now how does this affect Nigerian travellers? There seems to be a pattern to Trump’s immigration policy. While officials at their borders maybe overzealous a times, yet, nothing should be taken for granted with the xenophobic Trump! His penchant for attempting to implement everything he campaigned on even though most are cruel and un-implementable, he still thinks he must force them one way or another. Because his knowledge about public administration is zero, in his bid to force through some of his policies, collateral damage will be foisted on the rest of the world. He has said he is not president of the world, but in fact as American president that is what he is based on the many roles that country has played and still plays. He must find a way to accept reality.
Back home, the spat between the presidential assistant and the minister should not have come up in the first place. But where there is a vacuum, somebody has to fill in. Because Abike spoke, there were reactions. Our foreign affairs minister has been a disaster and that is putting it mildly. When he was appointed, his credentials showed a man who is vast in relating with diplomats around the world. He is also a polyglot. His spoken English is polished and he seemed very engaging. When the president embarked on extensive tour of many countries and engaged in several multilateral meetings I thought these were his plans. I thought the momentum will continue, especially on economic cooperation. And knowing the president, I had expected his foreign affairs minister to be tough too, especially with regard to how other countries (even less endowed ones) treat Nigerians. But I am let down.
The xenophobic attacks strengthen my bias against this minister and the minister of state. First, since President Buhari slowed travelling – both ministers retired to their ministerial mansions. The handling of ambassadorial nomination, appointment and postings has been abysmal and childish. Do you remember the 82 year old nominee?
How does one fathom that Nigeria has had no ambassador at the United Nations, Washington, London, Pretoria, Addis Ababa, Beiging, Berlin, etc for nearly two years? Even if other postings are not ready, a serious minister should have pressed for postings to first grade countries and institutions. Not these ministers. Pathetic! Then the xenophobic attacks in South Africa have shown me with a note of finality that we don’t have minister for Foreign Affairs. This minister did not address any press conference when Nigerians were being attacked and promises of more attacks made.
The minister was not angry when Nigerians were being deported from various countries, including South Africa and Libya without any kind of dignity. This minister has not made any trip to these countries including South Africa to ascertain what exactly are the issues? In South Africa for example, I had hoped that the man will go meet south African officials, Nigerian community and the High Commission officials to ask questions and insist that if Nigerians commit any crime like its done in normal countries, the suspects should be arrested by police (not a mob), tried in court and sentenced if found guilty. Our minister should have asked for compensation for victims of South African stupidity. These processes would have been well covered by the media. With such effort, Nigerians at home will not therefore cry for retaliation. Neither will South African investments in Nigeria become targets of reprisals.
But unfortunately, we don’t have a minister of foreign affairs.
It is that void that Abike sought to fill. And that is why she is not backing down. Because after the ministerial news conference, she took to twitter to insist that’s she only advised Nigerians to be more careful while travelling to the US. Or indeed, not to travel at all so that they don’t suffer loses. She has also accused South African politicians of encouraging hatred against Nigerians and told them to stop. I am sure, if that ministry is left to her to manage, some of the nonsense we see about other countries trampling on our citizens will stop. Abike is the type of public official we need right now-practical, knowledgeable and bold. I hope Mr. President will sack the two ministers at the foreign affairs ministry and elevate Abike!