The People’s Ambassador in Washington
(This article, first published November 23, 2010, is republished as a tribute to the late Professor Ade Adefuye).
AGAINST the backdrop of scarcity of good news that could enliven the heart in this clime, the spirit is daily assaulted and crushed by nerve rending news like bad governance, bad roads, no electricity, kidnapping, robbery, strikes, mayhem, fuel scarcity, looting, bombing, unbridled corruption, etc. It is, therefore, a thing of joy to have cheery news.
That was the feeling I got with the recent courtesy visit by Professor Ade Adefuye, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States of America to the Rutam House headquarters of The Guardian.
Ambassador Adefuye came to interact with the editors during which he fielded questions on a number of national and diplomatic issues. His responses were heartening and satisfactory.
He spoke, not like a politician but like a dedicated public servant, who is out to serve the people differently and make a change in the way things are done at Nigeria’s foreign missions.
I was moved by his insistence that Nigerians in the United States can now feel free to see him or any official at the mission’s offices in the U.S. without restriction.
Going by his assurances and disposition on the issue of welfare of Nigerians in the Diaspora, the days of contempt and negligent of Nigerian citizens in foreign countries by the country’s missions abroad may be over.
The tide is turning for brighter days ahead when their own country’s representatives at the foreign missions would treat them like humans. We’re moving to a new era when Nigerians abroad would feel free to go to their country’s embassies and missions, without undue restrictions, to resolve personal and official matters. The experience so far has been nasty.
So far, those who are supposed to attend to their needs at the missions have been negligent, treating Nigerians like outcasts. Ambassador Adefuye was in the country a fortnight ago on official assignment. He had earlier delivered the University of Ibadan 2010 Convocation Lecture entitled, “Higher Education in Nigeria: A Foreign Policy Dividend”.
He decried the failure of Nigerian universities to utilize opportunities inherent in partnerships with foreign universities. There is no doubt that issues bordering on research funding could be leveraged if the universities explored external linkage opportunities with foreign universities. I am a product of such a linkage between the Universities of Jos and Durham, England.
The truth is that many lecturers appear not to be interested in doing research. They’re more interested in political appointments and private practice.
As I said earlier, my interest was aroused when the Ambassador was asked whether there is a change in the way Nigerians in the United States are treated at the embassy.
This is against the fact that Nigerian embassy officials in different countries don’t care for Nigerians. They see them as miscreants who, even without any reason, should be bundled back home. But Ambassador Adefuye in response stressed that the era of mistreating Nigerians is over.
He said such neglect and mistreatment happened in the past but not now. He said such a thing couldn’t happen in Washington or the consulate in Atlanta, or elsewhere in the United States where the mission has office. He emphasised that any Nigerian who has cause to see him personally is free to do so without restriction.
He said the embassy officials are there to attend to the needs of Nigerians and as such have no reason whatsoever to deny any citizen access or attention at the embassy.
He asked rhetorically, why are the officials there in the first place? The Ambassador’s disposition may have erased the more than two-decade impression I have about the misdeeds of Nigerian missions against fellow Nigerians abroad.
I had over the years concluded that Nigerian missions abroad are there to cater for themselves and their families and not for Nigerians. My impression is founded on personal experience with the missions in different countries.
Added to that is the frequent reports of neglect and lackadaisical attitude of the foreign missions against Nigerians. Over a period of two decades I have had the opportunity to travel to about 30 countries on one professional assignment or the other.
During those years, I had occasion to seek contact with the Nigerian missions in those countries but got rude shock in most of them. Except that things might have changed with the people’s diplomacy of the federal government, in the past, from my experience, Nigerian missions see every Nigerian coming their way or making phone call as a “criminal” who should not have anything to do with the embassy but should be bundled back to Nigeria.
With such warped frame of mind, you pray that you don’t get into any kind of trouble while abroad because the Nigerian mission in the country, if they get to know, would be the first to condemn you instead of offering assistance.
As it were, those embassies never bothered to know what your mission was. They had distrust against fellow Nigerians and would always wonder what brought you to the country? For example, I had thought that it was good for one to register his presence at the embassy for record purposes when one lands in a foreign country.
I tried therefore to seek out for the Nigerian mission in any country I visited. The Nigerian mission in Nairobi had aversion for Nigerians.
Hardly would you see any of the officials just as their phone was hardly picked. While I thought that the Nairobi experience was bad enough; in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I found that the Embassy’s gate was securely locked and a guard who couldn’t speak English but Swahili was planted there to ensure that no Nigerian had access.
At the Nigerian embassy in Japan, I couldn’t see any of the officials when I went to register my presence. I was attended to by a local staffer from one of the Asian countries. She registered me and I left without seeing any Nigerian official.
The same thing happened here in Ghana where the embassy staff refused to see me. The only two places where I received attention and was treated well were in Berlin, Germany and Kampala in Uganda.
In Berlin, the Ambassador himself received me in audience and gave instructions that I should be attended to till I left. A car with driver was assigned to pick me from my hotel to the airport when I was going.
The embassy officials I met in Kampala were also very good. They attended to my needs as a fellow citizen. Going by the pro-people attitude of Ambassador Adefuye that the embassies are there first and foremost for Nigerians, a new vista is being created at the embassies, at least in the United States.
Nigerians could now regard the embassies as theirs. They could now go and be properly received by embassy officials, whatever maybe their complaints. It is absolutely wrong to paint every Nigerian black because a few bad eggs are in our midst. Ambassador Adefuye strongly believes that Nigerians have the right to be treated well under any circumstance.