It was a season of missile attacks. Ghana also hit Nigeria with a missile. Ghana’s missile strike was only that a local Ghanaian Microfinance Bank evicted the Nigerian High Commission from a property in Accra, that once served as residence for the High Commissioner, and later as Chancery. The news was overshadowed by the implosion in the crisis between Iran, Iraq, and the USA. Donald Trump’s blow to Iran that brutally decapitated General Qassam Soleimani, and Iran’s bizarre retaliation – first, a massive funeral for Souleimani with a stampede in which 56 Iranians were trampled upon to death. For good measure, Iran fired 13 katyusha rockets into the US base in Iraq, with 8 hitting their target, “careful” to ensure no American but Iraqi casualties. On edge, an Iranian operator of a missile defense system mistook a Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 airliner for an American missile and shot it down killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. Victims included 80 Iranians.
With a Third World War staring us in the face, who would look at Ghana’s minuscule missile strike on Nigeria? Thanks to God for little mercies. Yet the tragedy in the sacking of Nigeria from the Accra property was in several respects, devastating. First it drove home the fact that an African country, a neighbouring one at that, could deal a blow on Nigeria and get away with it. We just got sacked as tenant by a paying microfinance facility!
As the pressure on the High Commission mounted, it sent frantic messages to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seeking quick intervention. It would seem that the High Commission was ignored and left to stew in its own juice. How did matters get this bad without the appropriate note verbals to the Minister? But there indeed were several. Getting no desired response, from the Office of the Minister, staff at the High Commission felt put down by the humiliation of the unfolding scenario in Accra. Why was there no response from Abuja? How could they serve the country selflessly if on such a serious issue, there was no response from the Ministry that should have quickly addressed the humiliating embarrassment government to government? The embarrassment became public knowledge when sections of the Ghanaian press took the story to town. It echoed in the Nigerian Press, only to be overshadowed by more grave events in the Middle East. Nigeria was evicted. The Microfinance Bank shoved our effects to the nearest Ghanaian police station and the next day, scraped the green white green, and repainted the property.
Nigeria got into the crisis on the back foot. It does not seem to me that our High Commission was even able to make a valid case to retain the property, and the High Commission’s deserved esteem, using how it legally came by the property in the first place. It did not flaunt any records. The Ghanain Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources had to draw our attention to the lease of the property from a Thomas D Hardy in 1959 a year before our independence, and not through a reciprocal arrangement between the governments of Ghana and Nigeria. Clearly, our lease (what a long lease), had expired and we were hard put to renew. And we must realise that with the border closure hurting Ghana’s economy badly, their Government was in no mood to be hospitable and diplomatically courteous.
It is a fait accompli. The Nigerian High Commission in Ghana has lost what once served as the Residence of the High Commissioner and later the Chancery, to a microfinance bank. The worry now is our position on the remaining High Commission property including the diplomatic official residence. What is our real status? We could be sitting on a similar pricking pin. Not even just in Ghana alone. It is hinted that quite several of our missions abroad, being strapped for funds are facing embarrassing difficulties that even affect ambassadorial service to foreigners and nationals. Indeed some of them are in disturbing state of repair. In Israel, it got to a point when the Nigerian Embassy and the official residence of the Ambassador in Herzliya, Tel Aviv were disconnected of electricity and water, and rendered inhabitable. The predicament lasted a long time, at least through the whole month that I was in Tel Aviv. The embassy was decrepit and overgrown with weed. It presented a shameful spectacle (and probably still does if unattended) because it is the only property in the high brow part of Tel Aviv that looked as unkempt as that.
Similarly in Russia, the stench from the failed toilets of the Nigerian Embassy became a reported disturbing public embarrassment. By April last year, it became evident that Nigeria was having to scale down up to 130 embassies owing to poor funding. Our real estates were degraded beyond the acceptable standard of most countries. At the budget defence at the Senate, the Ministry for External Affairs lamented that shortage of funds were a hindrance to diplomatic effort and functioning, and would further compromise the operation of capital projects, postings and return entitlement of ambassadors and officers, UNGA, AU and as well as contributions to International Organisations. In any discreet discussion with most of our envoys abroad, they in chorus lament the fact that even approved budgetary estimates are hardly released. Note verbals fall on deaf ears at the Ministry in Abuja. As a Senator noted ruefully in one of the sessions, the condition of most of our missions abroad are to say the least, very unbecoming. Nigeria is reputed to offer services far below the standards of smaller and poorer African countries, who appear to work with lean budgets and yet providing world class quality of service. Nigeria should swallow all pride and rationalise the foreign missions to a number that can be adequately funded and manned. The era of the vainglorious masquerade is over.