Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Stansted debacle revisited

By Our Special Correspondent

Even now as the British Government ponder over what further action to take against the Nigerian Government, Britain's economic interest in Nigeria is the focus of attention.
It is often said that when arguments are long drawn, people of little intelligence tend to be rude. Admittedly, the series of reactions, comments and write-ups by "diplomatic experts" in the Nigerian press following the botched kidnap of Alhaji Umaru Dikko are one argument, and one com- ment too many that have been long drawn. In the event, ignorant people have become rude. For instance, over the past week we have had reporters who are experts on international law and on human psychology cry to the high heavens and apportion blame. We have heard near-sighted eye-witnesses recount all that they saw and insisting theirs is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But for all these, sleeping dogs would have been left to lie. But that would have been on insult to posterity, an unforgivable one at that and it is for this that this write-up is being undertaken.

It is not an authoritative voice that speaks, but one that is only attempting to understand human nature and, however rudimentary that knowledge may be, believes like the Chinese that the greatest journey begins but with the first step. This is a step towards further understanding. In the end, more questions may have been raised than answers, and readers are allowed to judge these for themselves.

The capitalist West is markedly different from the rest of the world because of its adherence to its economic philosophy of free enterprise and monopoly capitalism. Here, the slogan is, to each according to his own ability, an indirect juxtaposition to the motto of to each according to his need, perpetuated by the socialist East. For each of these blocs of nations, the need to sustain the systems is paramount and cannot be compromised since it is the system that is their standard way of life.

Ways to maintain and protect these systems therefore were devised. The most potent of these was the founding of political philosophies, and two easily come to mind - democracy and communism. In democracy, the government does not provide individuals with their bread and butter directly. It creates a healthy atmosphere for the individual to go out and freely cater for himself.

There is fierce competition between the strong and the weak and within a short period of time, a class structure is created and you have the strong doing as they will and the weak suffering as they must. The system allows it and the people perpetuate it. In communism however, it is the responsibility of government to cater for everybody because it is the government that controls all the resources as well as the means of production.

And to make its work easier, government makes sure that the people are law abiding. It creates rules and regulations and exerts penalties for offenders.

Thus it is that the apparent economic and political differences between the East and the West notwithstanding, efforts have been made by both systems towards mutual cooperation and understanding. This, with the under- standing that both systems cannot operate in isolation. It was for this that world organizations such as the United Nations Organization, the Inter- national Monetary Fund, etc. were formed. A final breakthrough in civilised and dignified behaviour was established in the 1961 Vienna Convention. At this time most Africans were yet to emerge from colonialism or form nation states.

But almost immediately independence was granted, the new African leaders started filling application forms for membership into the United Nations Organization and soon became signatories to the Vienna Convention and other international conventions, mostly in complete ignor- ance of what they were getting them- selves into. Wrote a highly talented African lawyer: "Membership in these organizations, particularly the UNO, became a status symbol for all newly independent African states...

It was a grandiose occasion for our political mentors to address such an august body from the podium of the General Assembly to which the eyes of the world were turned. But this has not proved refreshing for the foundation members of such organizations. PROTOCOL For ever since African nations emerged from their bondage of semi- slavery and were granted memberships into these world bodies, things have not been the same again. There have been flouting of protocols, breaking of rules and regulations and crimes committed in the name of diplomatic immunity. Sadly enough, the founders of these world bodies have often been the victims.

For instance, from Washington to New York, London to Paris, Vienna to Bonn and in countless other civilised capitals of the world, African diplomats have become symbols of notoriety. Hiding under the banner of diplomatic immunity and other such world bodies bureaucratic propensities, crimes after crimes have been perpetrated. Drunk-driving, over- speeding, crossing of red lights, indiscriminate smuggling use of firearms, name it, and all would have been committed by most African diplomats. Curiously, the self-imposed "giant of Africa", Nigeria, has often topped the crime list. It is against this background that the recent fiasco at Stansted Airport in London needs to be examined, particularly since the stakes in this episode appear to be high. First, the few established facts.

As the wave of political instability increases daily in Africa, countries of the West have found themselves saddled with a growing number of exiled Africans seeking political refuge. And where genuine cases exist, such requests are often granted. When Dr Umaru Dikko, formerly Nigeria's Transport Minister came to London following the establishment of a military junta in Lagos, he made no secret of his destination. He must have entered the British soil legally and so was in no fear of eviction by the British government.

Soon after, he was declared "wanted" by the Buhari military regime but with no official charges brought against him. There was no formal request from Lagos to London for the extradition of Dr Dikko. But all along, Lagos was crying wolf and accusing Britain of "harbouring fugitives" and swearing at the same time, that the "fugitives" were going to be made to come home and pay for their economic crimes by all means.

Then came the bungled kidnap attempt of the ex-minister and here too there are a few facts to be noted. The appearance of Nigeria's diplomatic cars and staff at the airport at the time the crate containing Dr Dikko was being loaded into a Nigeria Airways aircraft, point, however subtle, to the Nigerian High Commission's complicity. Again, the swift impounding by the Nigerian government of a British Caledonian aircraft soon after the kidnap attempt was foiled, point to the government's disappointment and fury with the British government for coming to Dr Dikko's rescue. Finally, the crate containing Dr Dikko was labelled as a diplomatic baggage.

Civilized nations, particularly Britain where the crime was committed, are justifiably furious because diplomatic trappings have again been wrongly used. And this coming shortly after a Libyan killer of a British police woman was left to go scot free because diplomacy had to prevail.

In the end, however, Britain had to break off diplomatic relations with Libya. At stake then, was Britain's sense of justice, fair play and civilized conscience against its economic interests with Libya. To have agreed to cut off diplomatic relations with Libya was a triumph for justice. Even now as the British government ponder over what further action to take against the Nigerian government, Britain's econ- omic interest in Nigeria is the focus of attention. Even more than the Libyan episode and at stake this time, is the more tricky problem of balancing the bonds that exist between a former colony and the economic considerations and the sense of outrage that Britain feels.

Indeed, events within the past few weeks lend a cynical interpretation to the fact that the FMG is so anxious to send military men abroad as Ambassadors and High Commissioners, rather than career diplomats, or eminent civilian Nigerians, for it is unlikely that the military regime can have its way with the civilian envoys quite as easily.

As it is, one of the Nigerian papers recently quoted Major-General Buhari as saying that the Ambassadors and High Commissioner's chief function abroad was to watch the activities of fugitives.

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