In 2009, a Briton was sentenced to death in Laos, that tiny South-East Asian country that borders Thailand, for drug-related offences. She was saved by biology. As the story was reported in the media, this woman got a fellow Briton to donate her some semen, inserted it into herself and thankfully, became pregnant. The laws of Laos would not execute a pregnant woman and that bought her some time until the British government’s intervention went through. She was repatriated to the UK (where there is no capital punishment) and she served, comparatively, a very light sentence and under far more humane conditions. An irony of the story is that this woman, Samantha Orobator, is Nigerian born. Another irony is that while the trial lasted, even though it was beamed on all major news media like CNN, it is not on record Nigeria intervened; not even as some eye service at least. Not surprisingly either, when she praised her redeemer, she mentioned only Britain. And even while I condemn her offence, I must also confess I found the extent to which Britain worked to save her commendable.
Please keep this story in mind as I take a quote from the Nigerian Senate President, David Mark, who said recently that the country would not do anything to help those convicted of drug-related offences and similar crimes abroad because, “if they break the laws there (abroad), they should face the consequences. This is a warning to other Nigerians abroad. They cannot continue to tarnish our image.”
There are many unfortunate statements coming out of Nigeria in recent times but this one makes me want to throw the toilet bowl in the direction of the Three Arms Zone. It is maddening that the Senate president would miss the point about intervening on behalf of your citizens. It is as political as it is humanitarian. You do it to communicate the worth of your nationality; to show other countries you will not tolerate disrespect.
Of course, no country likes its citizens to commit crimes. Many of us squirm in our seats when we hear that one Nigerian or the other has been arrested for an offence. When the case of Farouk AbdulMutallab happened, even the President pointed out on the CNN that the boy was radicalised abroad and only a few years of his life were spent on the Nigerian soil. Then Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili, announced to the world that suicide bombing was not in our “Nigerian character”. (Since then, time has changed that perception and the joke is now on us). Beyond the shame of it, however, a self-respecting country first drives the fox away before blaming the chicken for wandering too far.
When, recently, a US soldier, Robert Bales, went on a killing spree in Afghanistan, murdering 16 people, did the US abandon him to the enraged Afghans? Did they not ship him back to the US immediately and their media immediately changing the tenor of the issue by saying Bales is “deranged”, “traumatised after losing a friend” and, “was wounded in war”?
Beyond the political reasons, did it occur to Mark that sometimes, those people arrested abroad are victims of all sorts of social inhumanity ranging from racism to xenophobia? Has he heard of stories of people who were tried and convicted in a foreign language and without any legal representation whatsoever? True, there are legitimate criminals who should be punished but there are also people who are victims and should be protected from an unjust system.
And, speaking of those tarnishing Nigeria’s image abroad, did Mark honestly think those who steal or who are arrested for drug-related offences have done anything worse than what Nigerian leaders, especially those holed in the National Assembly, have done and are currently doing? In my opinion, those who do drugs have not done half the damage our leaders have done. Today, corruption in Nigerian high places is a banal news story and I cannot think of what can ruin the country’s already tattered image further. Nigerian corruption has bred so many evils among which the Senate itself symbolises more than a handful. How come Mark missed that and looked externally for the source of Nigeria’s poor foreign image?
To bring it closer home, didn’t Mark himself just return from Israel to treat his illness while Nigerian hospitals are as rundown as they get? Was he not welcomed at the airport by a band of executive idlers who cannot, even for the sake of propriety, pretend they are busy in the office to justify their outrageous salaries? And Mark thanked God for saving his life rather than Nigerian taxpayers whose sweat and blood made his trip possible! Isn’t that enough to ‘tarnish Nigeria’s image abroad’ or it’s immoral only when it happens outside Nigerian borders?
Some people reason that Nigerians go abroad and commit crimes of desperation because those at the helm of affairs at the various levels of government over the years made the country not worthy of living in the first place. It is a fine line but, really, an unworthy argument that merely tries to justify crimes. But here is what I suspect is the reason for Mark’s stance: his is a sense of guilt; an unease about his role in the many demons that continue to plague Nigeria. He needs to push down those “criminals” to convince himself that he and his fellow travellers, on the road of Nigerian history, are not the worst things that have happened to the country. Those ones out there who are accused of crimes should therefore be sacrificed to purge the Nigerian image which Mark and others have defaced with cow droppings.
In any case, no one is asking Mark to extend his sympathies to defend people who commit crimes and happen not to be senators. As Senate President, he should not speak with such disregard for his fellow citizens who might be victims of a cruel system. He should keep quiet and stop acting like a eugenicist, as a columnist once described him. In case he doesn’t know, it is tough enough carrying the green passport in many countries of the world and where you are treated like a second class citizen. It is worse when your own leaders act as if your lives are not worth anything. If you treat your own people with such contempt, how do you expect other countries to treat them with respect?