The recent incident involving the physical assault of a Nigerian diplomat in, Jakarta, Indonesia by that country’s immigration officials has reminded us of several previous incidents of abuse of Nigerians in the South-East Asian country.
This fresh occurrence has probably generated more attention because the Nigerian involved is a serving diplomat and there is video of the attack which trended all over the world and brought close to home what Nigerians go through in Indonesia. In addition, unlike previous incidents, the government at least responded early enough, probably due to the social media ‘explosion’ and the frenzy the video generated.
From the video, the diplomat could have been killed because he was already crying “I can’t breath” a la George Floyd and we would have had another world-wide human rights death on our hands as perpetrated by another security agency team who have no regard for other races.
This is not the first time a Nigerian or Nigerians have been harassed in Indonesia and there is no doubt that our citizens were targeted and will continue to be targets of these seemingly officially sanctioned attacks.
As in many other countries in that part of the world, there are thousands of Nigerians living and working in Indonesia, mostly as business people as well as those who travel in and out, and although there are a few Nigerians who hold positions in the corporate world there, some can only tell you they are ‘hustling’.
Where you have thousands of citizens, about 5000 at the last official count, there will be some bad eggs or bad apples that will spoil the whole bunch and some of these bad eggs have been caught in the past, especially in drug trafficking, which carries the death penalty in Indonesia. Some Nigerians are also known to be staying illegally in that country. But the bad eggs are not enough reason to profile every Nigerian as drug dealers or illegal immigrants when they do have legitimate means of livelihood.
The recent incident that made Nigeria to recall its ambassador to Indonesia over the maltreatment of a yet-to-be-named diplomat in Jakarta by immigration officers was shown in a video of the abuse that had gone viral on social media last weekend.
Nigeria’s foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama told newsmen in Abuja this week that when officials saw the video on social media, they immediately contacted Nigeria’s Ambassador to Indonesia, who gave a further account of what happened. Indonesian immigration were said to be on a random search for illegal and irregular migrants in their country and pounced on the Nigerian who happened to be a diplomat but they obviously did not believe him. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomats cannot be subjected to such arrests and humiliation, even if they committed an offence.
Without defending the affected Nigerian diplomat, we believe he was right to be apprehensive when the so-called immigration officials did not take him to the official destination that he expected to be taken to, and he had to start struggling with officers, thinking it was a case of kidnap.
Onyeama confirmed that there are many Nigerians in Indonesia and the Nigerian Government have been receiving “complaints about some Nigerians and it is something we have been engaging robustly with the Indonesian government about. Some of the issues we do have in a number of countries and Indonesia is no exemption.”
In 2016, some Nigerians attacked and vandalized the Nigerian embassy in Jakarta because they felt the mission was not always responsive to their plight and call for help when they were being harassed by Indonesian Government officials. The Nigerian Embassy was vandalized and many cars were damaged by Nigerians over the death of a Nigerian, who reportedly lost his life while trying to evade arrest from Indonesian immigration officers. The Nigerian died while trying to jump out of his high rise apartment when Indonesian Immigration officials knocked on his door following his alleged possession of expired papers and illegal stay.
In July of that same year, three Nigerians were executed by firing squad for drug crimes. The execution came in spite of pleas by Nigeria and other countries and agencies, including Amnesty International, who condemned the killings as a “deplorable act” that violated local and international law.
The Indonesians said the executions were only aimed at halting drug crimes and promised more executions in stages. The names of the Nigerians executed were given as Seck Osmane, Humphrey Jefferson Ejike and Michael Titus Igweh. Four other Nigerians were said to be expecting to be executed following the July 2016 killing.
Two years ago, there was also a report that over 400 Nigerians were in jail in Indonesia, with 14 of them on death row, while another 400 were in detention centres for violating immigration laws. Some of those in prison were said to have been involved in drug or cybercrime offences.
But there are accusations by some Nigerians that many of those in prison or detention centres are victims of racial and wrong profiling because of the activities of a few members of the Nigerian community.
Many questions: Why do Nigerians go to Indonesia if the government and people are so harsh and show a lot of hatred to them? Why does the Indonesian government even give visas to Nigerians if they are going to end up running after them? Why do their visa people not ensure, like other civilized countries, that those applying for visas have genuine employment or businesses to pursue there?
Diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Indonesia date back to 1965, when Indonesia opened its resident diplomatic mission in Lagos. In 1976, Nigeria reciprocated by opening its mission in Jakarta. Nigeria was the first Sub-Saharan African country to establish a diplomatic mission in Indonesia. Both countries are members of multilateral organizations such as the Non-Aligned Movement, World Trade Organization (WTO), Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Developing 8 Countries. African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries, as well as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
In 2001, Indonesia and Nigeria signed an Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement, and establish a Joint Commission. In March 2007, an MOU was signed between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Corruption Eradication Commission of Indonesia (KPK). Other draft MOU/Agreements exchanged between the two countries include cooperation in trade, reciprocal promotion and protection of investment, agriculture, gas, and illicit drugs.
Nigeria is Indonesia’s second largest trade partner in Africa after South Africa and in 2011, the trade value reached US$2.09 billion, which was 21.66 percent of Indonesia’s total trade with Africa. In 2013, the bilateral trade volume between the countries hit $2.2 billion.
There are over 15 Indonesian companies currently operating in Nigeria but such cannot be said about Nigerian companies in Indonesia. The bilateral trade is hugely in Indonesia’s favour and the fact that the country is not so open to Nigerians may be responsible for the absence of top Nigerian companies operating in Indonesia.
The time has come for Nigeria to ensure reciprocity by insisting that Indonesia is open to genuine Nigerian businesses; promoters and employees of such businesses should expect level playing field and the right immigration and economic environment that will encourage them to operate legally and fairly.
Nigeria also has a duty to ensure that its citizens are not populating Indonesia illegally and the Nigerian Embassy in Jakarta must ensure it protects the interest of Nigerian citizens when they are being harassed by unscrupulous Indonesian Immigration and security officials. Otherwise more countries will also decide to mete the same harsh treatment to Nigerians, many of whom are genuinely looking for opportunities to expand their businesses and live better lives.
Although Indonesia has apologized for the assault on the Nigerian diplomat in Jakarta, the apology should not be the end of the matter. Nigeria must explore all internationally acceptable legal means to ensure that such incidents do not occur again.
IMAGE CREDIT: 1209 UPDATE