By Kayode Robert Idowu
With the frontal assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty in Ghana penultimate week, it’s time for this country to reappraise her diplomatic bonds with the sister nation for better effects.
There is no question, of course, that cordial relations must be sustained; but things apparently aren’t working as they should at the moment.
The Nigerian state was assailed in Ghana when a building in this country’s high commission premises in Accra was pulled down by a bulldozer at the instigation of certain individuals, but with no immediate intervention from the Ghanaian government or its security services.
Reports said while the demolition lasted, frantic efforts by officials of the Nigerian mission to get some protection from the Ghanaian police and Foreign Affairs ministry fell through.
At about 10p.m. on the fateful day, armed men stormed the Nigerian High Commissioner’s residence, which hosts a block of uncompleted apartments being put up for mission staff and visiting diplomats, and forcibly ejected Nigerian officials that were on hand.
Then the building was pulled down by the demolition squad, reportedly with Ghanaian security officials who arrived on the scene refraining from intervening.
“When the police came, they did not come to us or any other person, but rather went straight to the man (leader of the demolition squad).
They had a friendly chat, exchanged numbers with him and allowed him to go,” the high commission’s security chief, Emmanuel Kabutey, was reported telling Ghanaian media outfit, Joy News.
Reports further said the local businessman who led the demolition had previously showed up at the premises with documentary claims of ownership of the land parcel, upon which the Nigerian mission petitioned the Ghanaian government but got no response until the man returned with a bulldozer.
Nigerians were expectedly outraged at the assault. Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama initially said government was engaging its Ghanaian counterpart “and we demand urgent action to find the perpetuators and provide adequate protection for Nigerians and their properties in Ghana.”
Legislators in the House of Representatives rooted for a tougher line, including the possibility of reciprocal retaliation against the Ghanaian government.
House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, who spoke on behalf of the chamber during an interactive session with the Foreign Affairs minister, said apologies and indemnities by Ghana shouldn’t be enough.
“We have a responsibility to make sure that we uphold the honour and integrity of the country we serve. The minister has explained what happened and what they have done or still doing, but I think we should look at it from the premise that it was the Nigerian state that was attacked, not just a building.
Reciprocity is a legitimate instrument in foreign policy,” he said as he canvassed recourse to heavy hand by Nigeria in response to the incident.
Earlier, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Yusuf Yakub had described the incident as an illegal invasion of Nigerian territory in foreign jurisdiction.
As it were, however, the angry lawmakers spoke against the backdrop of reports that the Ghanaian government at the highest level had dialed in apology for the incident, with Foreign Affairs Minister Onyeama informing them that diplomatic efforts had gone into resolving the issue and that Accra had agreed to bear the cost of restoring the demolished structure.
On the heels of the demolition, Ghana’s Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Ministry had spoken up to voice concern over the incident which it acknowledged to be a breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR 1961).
Later, the country’s President Nana Akufo-Addo was reported to have placed a personal call to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari expressing profound apology for the embassy demolition and vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Malam Garba Shehu, who made this known in a statement, said suspects had been arrested by the Ghanaian government and would soon be arraigned in court.
But it wasn’t all apologies coming out of the country. Soon after the demolition, the head of the Osu Traditional Area and chairman of the National House of Chiefs, Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona, justified the act, alleging that the Nigerian High Commission trespassed on the land parcel and had spurned invitations for community mediation.
The monarch claimed that the controversial land parcel and the entire Osu Mantse layout belongs to the Osu Stool, a council of local chiefs, and is not state-owned.
“The said parcel of land belongs to the Osu stool and is to be used for purposes only agreed upon by the stool and its council of elders,” he said inter alia in a statement.
At a media conference in Abuja later last week, Minister Onyeama restated the Ghanaian government’s regrets over the demolition and its readiness to restitute; but he also acknowledged historical sloppiness on Nigeria’s part by which reason title documents on the embassy property had not been perfected over the years.
He promised that would be done expeditiously. Then, the minister further explained that Nigeria is constrained from reciprocal act against Ghana as is being canvassed by many because the demolition was carried out by non-state actors, hence you could not legitimately have a state targeted response.
Diplomacy makes profound sense, as the minister’s narrative strained to make clear. Besides, Ghana is such a strategic sister-nation that no one could reasonably insist on a rash action against her by Nigeria.
So, the issue arising from the embassy demolition should be to interrogate the realpolitik of diplomatic ties between the two West African ‘siblings.’
For one, there are indications diplomatic bonds between the two countries currently aren’t at their best. This is implied in the fact that the Nigerian High Commission in Accra has for some time been presided over in acting capacity by a Charge d’Affaires rather than a full-fledged High Commissioner, while Ghana’s mission in Nigeria is presided over at similar level of representation.
It is a well known diplomacy code that the level of representation between two countries signpost the depth – perhaps effectiveness – of diplomatic ties between them.
That relations between Nigeria and Ghana is anchored on surrogate representation subtly index the shallowness of diplomatic bonds between the two countries – a factor that needs earnest reappraisal by both, considering their mutual strategic status sub-regionally and beyond.
Moreover, it is reassuring Minister Onyeama said Nigeria would wake up to perfecting title documents on the embassy land parcel.
But it offers cold comfort to say the demolition isn’t as grievous as is generally assumed because it was carried out by non-state actors.
Attacks on one country’s citizens and property in another country have rarely emanated from the resident state in question.
Xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other blacks in South Africa in recent history were not just by non-state actors, but also in stubborn defiance of Pretoria; and foreigners affected suffered greatly.
When the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi was torched in 2012, it was by Ansar al-Sharia terrorists and not the Libyan state, yet the attack claimed the lives of American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.
The possible extent of restraint by unruly non-state actors is the extent to which the state is held liable for their actions.
The argument for presumed exclusivity between state and non-state actors, as Minister Onyeama suggests, could therefore not be a guiding principle for Nigerian diplomatic responses.
In other words, the extent of the safety of Nigerians and Nigerian property in Ghana is directly proportional to the extent Abuja holds Accra liable for breaches. It is same principle for Ghanaians and Ghanaian property in Nigeria.
The Nigerian embassy demolition should be a wake-up call to both sister nations that how the citizens of one country treat those of the other is a function of the premium explicitly placed by respective government on the safety of the other’s citizens and property located within their territory.
- Please join me on kayodeidowu.blogspot.befor conversation.