Nigeria Lives Abroad: Innocent yet injured!

Nigerians abroad are experiencing injurious threats against what they know nothing about. There’s no end to the bad news on the overseas workers’ front. Labour officials have said more Nigerians face deportation from countries cracking down on illegal aliens. Conditions awaiting the deportees in their own country are far from welcoming. From crowded detention camps abroad they are transported to crowded refugee centers in Nigeria. From the centres they have to pick up the pieces of the lives they had tried to leave behind.

Nigeria persons who have faced, suffered and survived torture abroad have frequently raised the following concerns, some of which are clearly matters relating to diplomatic protection as opposed to consular protection, or vice versa, while other views relate to both concepts. Other than short-term assistance such as the provision of relief goods, health care and temporary shelter, there’s not much that the government can do to reassure Nigerians expelled from other countries that they face a better future in their homeland. Despite a spreading anti-immigrant sentiment in affluent countries, our cash-strapped government is also unlikely to discourage Nigerians from continuing to seek employment abroad. The multibillion-dollar annual remittances from overseas Nigerian workers have been a major factor in the modest growth of the economy even during the regional financial crisis and the continuing global economic slowdown.

What the Nigerian Embassy can do, however, is report those who exploit prospective overseas workers unless compromised handicap new-arrived persons. Most times, Illegal recruiters and human traffickers collect hefty sums from these Nigerians who fall victims, who find themselves in foreign lands with spurious working documents. Many female victims find themselves forced into prostitution. Others who have spent their life savings to pay recruitment fees refuse to return home even without proper documents, risking abuse as illegal aliens.

Transnational human trafficking has become a booming criminal activity, and impoverished persons among us are among the most vulnerable. Even as the government assists Nigerians already deployed overseas in getting decent pay and good working conditions, it should also intensify the campaign against illegal recruiters and human traffickers. These vultures spare no one — not even adolescents who are at the highest risk of physical and sexual abuse overseas. The National Assembly should also move to raise penalties for illegal recruitment and human trafficking inside this country.

The improvement of the quality of life for all Nigerians and revival of our economic fortunes are the cardinal aims of all our economic decisions and policymakers right from the beginning of the self-rule era. It becomes obvious that some countries are notorious for torturing their own nationals and foreigners. While we sensibly advise Nigeria travelers to obey the laws and customs of foreign countries in which they find themselves, this is not the same as mentioning the consequences of falling foul of the authorities or of the treatment to which they may be subjected if detained in those countries were it is undisputed that Nigeria citizens have been tortured in the recent past. This is in contrast to the detailed warnings which the international treaty gives in many of its individual country reports on war zones, rebel groups, civil unrest, ordinary crime, HIV/AIDS risks and so on. To ignore the issue is regrettable.

Detainees have clear and fundamental rights under the Vienna Convention, on which the FCO’s leaflets are based, to prompt consular access. It is not uncommon for a detaining State to breach these rights to some extent or another, even where torture is not at issue. When torture is an issue, it is to be expected that the offending State will also breach other international law norms such as its treaty obligations under the Vienna Convention. Invariably, therefore, a detaining State which is torturing or planning to torture Nigerians will not inform the victim “without delay” or indeed at all of their right to have their consulate notified of their detention and their right to communicate with their consulate, or if the detaining State officials do it will be a cruel empty gesture devoid of any substance; a fortiori, such a detaining State will not then “without delay” at the detainee’s request notify the consul and permit access.

In virtually all cases with which we have assessed , there was an initial delay of at least days, if not weeks or longer, before the Nigerian authorities were officially informed that a national is in custody, and not infrequently the information reached the consul through other sources first: media reports, family, friends. The significance of these failures, breaches and delays on the part of the detaining State is twofold: firstly, in themselves they already constitute clear grounds for the Nigeria consulate to raise a vigorous complaint (once they have been confirmed by the detainee, who in theory may have waived his/her rights to access); secondly, if the consulate itself then drags its heels in asserting its right to visit once it is aware of the detention, this will exacerbate the delay even further.

In one torture case where the consulate did know of the detention within 24 hours of its occurrence, it made its first visit four weeks later. In another case the first contact was forty-two days after arrest. It is not always possible for a torture survivor or anyone else to ascertain precisely when the consulate was first aware, officially or otherwise, of the detention; again, it can be difficult to know, once the consulate was (belatedly) aware of the detention, what cause the further delay(s) in access actually being realized: did the detaining State continue to now actively block access in the face of Nigeria authorities’ demands for it, or was the fault with the consulate which was not vigorous enough, or did consular officials simply take their time, or was it a combination of all or some of these factors? Whatever in practice causes the belated first visit is of far less concern to somebody being tortured than is the fact that he/she is totally cut off from the consulate for days, weeks or even longer.

The fundamental point is that a torture victim is in the most vulnerable position imaginable. Some countries are notorious for torture, and in many cases by the time the consulate is aware of the detention (whether or not the detaining State has officially informed it) Nigeria officials will or should strongly suspect that torture is a real possibility. It is therefore not surprising that Nigeria torture survivors often accuse consular officials of failing to visit them as soon as they possibly can. There are also reports of lack of consular consistency even within the same detaining countries and
at the same time, where more than one Nigeria nationals has been detained; in addition, there appears to be variation in the practice from one consulate to another, raising the question as to whether there is a standard to which consular officials are expected to attain. Once a consulate knows (from whatever source) that a Nigerian is detained, is access sought immediately, or within 24 hours, or 36 hours, or 48 hours, or longer? If there is a standard, does it vary from nation to nation? What is the response procedure if the first attempted visit is blocked, or if this continues? Do any such procedures also vary from nation to nation?

These are just some of the issues, which arise amongst Nigeria torture survivors who blame consular officials for belatedness. If you are arrested abroad, you will be entirely subject to the criminal justice and prison systems in that country, which may be very different from those of Nigeria. You must realize that being a foreigner will not protect you from the legal system in the country where you have been arrested.

Failure to

ensure access to a lawyer has enabled some countries torturing or planning to torture Nigerian detainee pay scant regard to other established norms of international law, such as the right to prompt access to a lawyer. Even if the detaining country has a domestic law which clearly allows for this right, and even if it is usually observed in respect of arrested nationals, (and of course frequently neither of these will be the case), then it is precisely foreigners targeted for torture who are often likely to be denied proper and prompt access. In such a case the Nigerian citizen has nobody to turn to but the consulate to try to get access to a lawyer. This issue is also to be seen in the context of the crucial importance of access to a lawyer during the (sometimes lengthy) period of pre-trial detention as well as when preparing for any trial per se, and/or during the trial itself.

Numerous different kinds of complaints have been raised in this regard. It is clear that the minimum practice is to provide a list of English-speaking lawyers, but sometimes this does not appear to be carried out properly. In one case a detainee charged with an extremely serious offence was given a list of lawyers at the consular officials first, prompt visit, but they were all civil, not criminal lawyers. In another case the detainee received a list ofEnglish-speaking lawyer 11 months after arrest. Is there a standard policy as to when such a list should be provided? Other torture survivors have complained of the lists being out of date, or carrying incorrect information in respect of contact details, proficiency in English, or specialties and areas of expertise.

It is emphasized here that these types of complaints go far beyond other problems relating to lawyers which Nigerians face, and which rightly or wrongly are sometimes laid at the door of the consulate. These would include the incompetence of the lawyer, or his/her failure or inability to have private, regular or effective consultations with the detainee, or the lawyer not being present at the very earliest opportunity, when had a simple technical point been taken the detainee might have been released there and then.

This latter example has been raised by one torture survivor, who remains convinced to this day that the consulate in the country concerned could easily and cheaply have avoided what turned out for him to be several years incarceration and periodic torture: all that was needed was for a lawyer to have attended on him shortly after his illegal arrest and while still at the police station, before he got sucked into the irreversible and corrupt judicial system. However, because no such arrangement exists, his subsequent gross sufferings, not to mention the consulate’s far greater costs (in terms of time spent thereafter), was an inevitable consequence which must have been foreseen in the country concerned whose ‘way of doing things’ was well understood.

Not only does the minimum practice of providing a proper list of lawyers not always take place, but in consulates’ apparent insistence on never getting involved in the appointment of a lawyer(presumably for financial and/or ‘ethical’ reasons) certain specific deleterious consequences can and have resulted. Many torture survivors with whom we have spoken believe that the Nigerian Embassies should at least to have an ‘emergency lawyer’ on standby if only for the most serious situations and for an initial consultation; thereafter, the client could be responsible for his/her own instructions and expenses. In any event, if for whatever reason or reasons the most that can be done is the provision of a list, then it always ought to be one correctly drawn, currently accurate and with lawyers known to be appropriate and competent, and it should be provided at the very earliest opportunity.

Furthermore, the consulate should also then ensure that certain practical steps are possible, such as the detainee actually being able to contact someone on the list; for example, if access to a prison phone is denied, which is another complaint which has been recorded; there is little use in having a list of names. This is not a case of maltreating someone for obtaining Nigerian citizenship, but of maltreating the mother of a little child. As a bilaterally bind country and an African Union member state, we believe that this is because of her Nigerian citizenship

For example, through 1999; many Nigerians abroad have returned home in recent years because of solid economic growth and fading fears that it would have trouble reintegrating politically with Nigeria. Of US-born citizens living abroad, women were more likely to leave than men, while Nigerians between the ages of 21 and 25 were more than twice as likely as other age groups to emigrate. Between 1996 and 2006, naturalized Canadians moved abroad at three times the rate of Nigerian-born citizens.

However, the majority of Nigerians living overseas were born in this country. In 2006; the costly evacuation of tens of thousands of Nigerian citizens from the western world during the military-induced sanction against the Abacha junta enraged some pundits, who labeled the evacuees “citizens of convenience.” But the study notes that emigration by Nigerian citizens of developed world origin has not been “exceptional.” Whatever has been said about this large number of people who go abroad has largely been negative, and I don’t understand that.

The Nigerian government is expressing anguish over the increase in the number of cases of custodial violence, torture and lock-up deaths against her citizens in foreign countries. The authority is not wrong in blaming the “devilish devices adopted by those at the helm of affairs in Diasporas, who proclaim from the rooftops to be defenders of democracy and protectors of peoples’ rights. Without mentioning names it castigated them for letting loose “their men in uniform to settle personal scores, feigning ignorance of what happens and pretending to be peace-loving Nigerians”. No purpose would have been served by identifying the people or a group of people who have subverted the instruments of the nascent democracy in Nigeria to prosper.

International communities should break the diabolical hold of the incriminate-every-Nigeria mindset and put right so many nexus over most levers of legal power, the threat to the life, liberty and dignity of ordinary Nigerian citizens working for their host-country’s wellbeing.

The detention of Nigerians without subsequent repatriation for long periods of time even without trial is a less gruesome aspect of civil-right malaise. The Nigerian Embassies had some years ago issued guidelines for the release of her nationals in foreign prisons who had spent more time in jail than they would have had they been tried and convicted. A visit to any jail in foreign countries would reveal the scale of indifference of the jail authorities to following the highest human right violations. The same attitude is reflected in the mounting figures for custodial deaths. The Nigerian Embassies had sent notices to the Centre and the countries asking them to show because why their home law- courts should not issue directions for adopting preventive measures.

The Nigerian government was determined to defend and support law-abiding Nigerians abroad. It is somewhat difficult today for us to appreciate the mind-set of the western-framers in regard to this overriding question of our citizens’ security, because we tend to think that threats in that era were launched for reasons of national aggrandizement and conquest. We also think that the situation is entirely different today in the colonial age. The fear of nuclear has vividly portrayed situations involving abuse of our nationals or our interests abroad. The major foreign-policy turning points of those administrations run against the behest of our dear nation; Nigeria. As the plight of these hostages appeared on cold winter days abroad, we thought

that our national outrage over and concern about individual persons must be a hallmark of heightened sensitivity in our era to human rights and of the empathic power of the Nigeria’s foreign policy and diplomatic dignity.

The fact is that two or three centuries ago, the plight of individual Nigerian citizens in foreign countries, and not territorial ambitions, was the major excuse for the looming diplomatic humiliation. The masses of Nigerian people then were pretty much like the masses today; they reacted far more to stories of maltreatment of my fellow Nigerian citizens, even when the stories were largely that the military government were out of regime in Nigeria, than they did to the plotting of accusing Nigeria government of looting and her citizens of fraudulent; but why?

Nigeria has demonstrated its capability to mobilize, deploy, and sustain battalions in support of peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia, Angola, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Sudan/Darfur. Nigeria currently has about 6,000 peacekeepers deployed in 12 UN missions worldwide. The world was quite cynical about the latter; the pursuit of conquest usually meant deprivation, the western world arranged the possible but public sentiment can most easily arise when tented stories spread insults to our ambassadors abroad or denials of justice to fellow Nigerian citizens traveling abroad. An insult to the nation’s honour that is a felt sympathy to every citizen .Enough of this shot!!

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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  • Every crime committed by a black is taken to Nigeria side abroad. why can’t we tackle the issue once for all for Nigeria’s prospect