Last week, some human rights bodies returned to the front burner, the unfortunate case of 18 Nigerians facing execution in far away Indonesia, urging both the Nigerian government and law makers to intervene in the matter.
One of the groups, known as Arise Nigeria, in a statement issued in London, asked the government to “urgently instigate all diplomatic channels to secure proper representation for these citizens”, claiming that the Nigerians were “denied access to justice in accordance with Indonesian law, natural justice, and the human rights Convention.” It would be recalled that the news first broke two years ago, of their arrest and subsequent sentencing, for various crimes including drug trafficking.
It is important to remember that theirs is not the first case. There have been several other cases in the past involving the execution of Nigerians who fell foul of the laws of other lands, especially those based in Asia and the Middle East, where death, as a penalty for certain categories of crimes, persists. Recently, the Libyan authorities executed some Nigerians, as news filtered in that even more were still on death row in the North African country, and in many other locations abroad.
Last year, the unfortunate case of another Nigerian who was executed over what was termed a minor drug offence in Singapore, made global headlines and attracted the attention of the National Assembly whose late intervention, not surprisingly, yielded no positive results.
While we do not want to appear to be playing judge over some foreign judicial systems which easily hand down the death penalty for crimes that do not warrant it, we believe that the onus is on the Nigerian government to show far more compassion and a deeper sense of responsibility towards Nigerians who get into trouble abroad, than it is showing at the moment. It is a widely held view that the Nigerian government and its missions abroad neither bothers about the welfare of Nigerians nor shows any reasonable concern for the fate of Nigerians in distress in other lands. Overseas-based Nigerians routinely recount touching tales of their unpleasant experiences in the hands of Nigerian embassy officials.
But it is the duty of every responsible government to seek to protect its national pride by fighting for the fair treatment of its citizens at home and abroad. It is true that a few Nigerians tarnish the image of our country by engaging in crime and other sharp practices abroad, in a bid to make quick money. Thankfully, most Nigerians are unanimous in the belief that these are not the kind of ambassadors this country needs as it seeks to positively engage the rest of the world towards realising its growth aspirations.
The case of Samantha Orobator, a Nigerian-born British citizen who was, last year, condemned to death in Laos over drug-related offences, aptly demonstrates how much protection a country owes its citizens, especially in times of difficulty. It is on record that the British authorities deployed their full diplomatic might to ensure that the lady was not executed in a foreign land. At the end of the day, her sentence was commuted to a jail term, while Britain has also been pushing for her serving the rest of her term at home. The Americans also have an enviable reputation of not toying with the welfare of their citizens in other countries, be they law-abiding or felons.
It is not enough to demand the highest form of patriotism from citizens when the leadership of a country neither shows compassion for the people, nor provide cover for those in need.
In the case of Nigeria, there is no doubt that a well articulated citizen protection policy would not only inspire an enduring national pride and confidence in the people, it would also engender a commitment to the nation’s vision for growth and development.