The Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally came out of the woodwork. And it did so with a sledgehammer aimed at President Muhammudu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media, Abike Dabiri.
Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama who, besides addressing occasional press conferences and taking pictures, has yet to do much else, lunged at Dabiri after she made a statement advising Nigerians to make only essential trips to the US.
She had expressed concern that there were increasing cases of Nigerian travellers turned back at the border in spite of valid travel documents and advised that until US President Donald Trump decides which executive order on immigration he wishes to implement, it’s better to think twice before travelling.
With Trump, you never know how the cards are stacked.
The Foreign Ministry was mad. Quite anxious to do America a favour, the fellows obviously instigated a story that the US was very upset about Dabiri; the ministry asked Nigerians to ignore the busybody and carry on with their lives.
I don’t know if there is still one thing in the world, outside the US, that Trump cares about, or if our foreign minister is more concerned about keeping the US happy than being honest with his own country.
In recent times, Nigerian travellers have had a torrid time - and they didn’t need Dabiri to tell them it's a hostile new world out there. The green passport is the new yellow flag.
I agree that, in a few cases, the problems were self-inflicted. In the last two or three weeks, however, from Libya to South Africa and the US, there has been wave after wave of xenophobic attacks, with Nigerians targeted.
When Onyeama spoke in response to the xenophobia in South Africa, he spoke more about his confidence in the South African government than about what he was doing as foreign minister to protect Nigerians. If Pretoria truly cared, the nonsense would not be happening every now and then.
But it will continue because Nigeria’s foreign ministry is on holiday, and the world knows that too well. In fact, in what appears to have been a Freudian slip, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said Nigerians were complaining “too much” and asked if he should “start counting how many South Africans have died in South Africa at the hands of Nigerians.”
When Trump signed the first executive order, widely interpreted in some circles as potentially curtailing the tenure and cost of US visas for Nigerians, the ministry kept quiet. A journalist asked for weeks, without answer, about how the ministry planned to respond to the order or what Nigerian travellers should do.
And Onyeama is complaining about Dabiri?
In what is increasingly a sign of the times, a blogger, Japheth Omojuwa, had a run-in with the South African border police recently. He was detained in Johannesburg along with another Nigerian student who had been schooling there for four years, for the fun of it.
Omojuwa kicked up a Twitter storm not because he was hoping anyone in Onyeama’s office would notice, but precisely because he knew that with people like Onyeama in charge of the foreign ministry, every Nigerian might as well add foreign affairs to their laundry list of Do-It-Yourself.
It was the intervention of the same Dabiri, who Onyeama obviously thinks is eyeing his job, that shortened the misery of Omojuwa and the Nigerian student. Wherever Nigerians in distress abroad cried out for help, Dabiri has been the first to arrive at the scene with succour.
If Onyeama will just keep his big title and let the person who’s doing the job do it, not many would notice that the ministry is a sleeping bag.
But he won’t because turf war is the new obsession.
Less than two weeks ago, the New York police forced a Nigerian software engineer, Celestine Omin, to take a written exam at the JFK Airport in New York, even though he had valid documents. He would have been damned if he was not making an essential trip.
To be fair, foreigners have complained about the shambolic consular practices in a number of our missions abroad and you can’t blame another country for putting the safety of its own citizens first.
At a time of uncertainty and a rising wave of nationalism, a turf war between the minister and the presidential adviser does not make sense to citizens looking for comfort and direction.
Nearly two years after the Buhari administration took office, Nigeria still does not have ambassadors in many key countries around the world. That includes the US and China, where Buhari personally visited and signed off important bilateral agreements!
A divided house can only make matters worse, not necessarily for the minister or the special adviser who travel on diplomat passports, but for thousands of ordinary Nigerians who will bear the brunt of the infighting.
We don’t care who killed the snake; we just want the job done.
Azu Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview magazine and board member of the Global Editors Network.