November 19, (THEWILL) – The recent Air Peace incident in Saudi Arabia is another reminder that all too often the persistent maltreatment and indignities suffered by Nigerians in foreign lands have become a recurring national embarrassment and a dent on Nigeria’s international image.
From xenophobic attacks in South Africa to police brutality in Ghana, racial discrimination in Europe and America, and modern-day slavery in the Middle East, Nigerians abroad constantly face varied forms of dehumanisation and targeted actions of state and non-state actors.
This appalling situation demands urgent action from the Nigerian Government and society to protect their citizens and restore national dignity. Beyond knee-jerk reactions, we need long-term solutions that address the root causes of this maltreatment while leveraging the immense potential of Nigerians in the diaspora.
Fundamentally, the Federal Government needs to strengthen its foreign policy and international diplomacy to better engage with and hold accountable countries that violate the rights of Nigerians. Too often, Nigeria adopts a passive, reactive approach when its citizens suffer xenophobic, racist and/or targeted attacks abroad.
A more robust foreign policy is required, where the government proactively monitors the welfare of Nigerians globally and promptly demands justice from foreign authorities when problems occur. Nigeria’s diplomatic influence, though weakened by years of misrule, can still pressure reluctant regimes to respect international conventions on migrants’ rights.
Simultaneously, the focus on diaspora diplomacy as a foreign policy tool should increase. Nigeria has one of the most expansive and talented diasporas globally, constituting key ethnic minorities with political and economic influence in their host societies. By formally recognising and partnering with diaspora civic groups, Nigeria can coordinate lobbying efforts targeting unjust policies abroad.
Furthermore, cultural diplomacy programs showcasing Nigeria’s rich heritage can help tackle the roots of xenophobia—the stereotyping and “othering” of Nigerians as illiterate criminals. Strategic dissemination of Nigerian music, movies, food, and fashion that highlight Nigeria’s creativity and humanity can transform negative foreign perceptions.
In addition to the mistreatment of individual Nigerian citizens abroad, even successful Nigerian corporate entities looking to expand globally face discriminatory barriers and unjust restrictions in foreign nations as the Air Peace example clearly typifies.
For anyone not aware, last week, Nigeria’s leading airline Air Peace airlifted over 260 Nigerian intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, but over 170 passengers were deported by Saudi officials back to Nigeria on the same day. Saudi authorities claimed the passengers had improper visas, but Air Peace insisted that all visas had been verified before departure.
The incident provoked outrage among Nigerians who saw it as disrespectful and discriminatory. They demanded that the Nigerian Government investigate the matter and get clarification from the Saudi officials.
Such foreign barriers and mistreatment of enterprises like Air Peace trying to operate internationally mirror the problems that individual Nigerian migrants face. It stems from the broader disrespect and hostility foreign governments have towards Nigeria which must be tackled urgently.
When Nigerian entities follow all due procedures, but still get unjustly sanctioned abroad, it deprives Nigeria of major economic benefits. Air Peace operating smoothly into Saudi Arabia is a major game changer for the Saudi-Nigeria route. It offers way cheaper fares and would easily dominate the route. This is clearly what the Saudi authorities are trying to prevent, so Nigeria should stand up for its own too.
By protesting incidents like the Air Peace deportations forcefully using diplomacy, Nigeria can over time ensure that its corporate citizens capture more global market share currently ceded to foreign firms. Protecting the ability of Nigerian companies to thrive abroad is crucial for enabling the country to reap the full rewards of its human capital.
Beyond foreign policy reforms, however, Nigeria must address internal failings that drive its citizens into perilous emigrations and create vulnerabilities abroad. Record levels of poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and state repression are pushing Nigerians to seek better opportunities overseas.
Nigeria must demand respect abroad by becoming a country that respects the lives and rights of its own citizens. The brazen brutality and extortion of citizens by Nigerian police and state agents foster global perceptions of Nigerians as undeserving of human dignity. By sincerely reforming its police and justice system to serve citizens justly, Nigeria can command greater moral authority internationally.
In addition, the public messaging by Nigerian leaders, the media, and popular culture must celebrate the country’s diaspora positively to enhance Nigeria’s stature globally. Nigerians abroad are often labelled with damaging stereotypes like fraudsters, prostitutes, and drug dealers that legitimise their mistreatment.
Yet, the reality is Nigerians abroad are mostly educated professionals contributing enormously to global medicine, academia, business, and culture. By publicly highlighting successes like Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chimamanda Adichie, Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid and Rema, and other champions in the arts and sciences, music and entertainment, sports and the creative space, Nigeria can inspire more dignified perceptions.
Finally, education and orientation programmes are needed locally to prepare Nigerian emigrants for securing their rights and dignity abroad. Many Nigerians are ignorant of laws and norms governing employment or police conduct in host nations, dangerously amplifying their vulnerabilities.
So for me, ending the recurring indignities inflicted on Nigerians abroad requires both engaging diplomatically with hostile foreign nations and governments, and fixing the foundational problems luring Nigerians into perilous emigrations.
While seeking justice for immediate cases of abuse is crucial, Nigeria must employ farsighted reforms addressing economic failures, social divisions, police brutality, and corruption that are root drivers. Fundamentally, Nigeria must become a country that values and protects all its citizens – both within and beyond its borders.
With visionary leadership and concerted national efforts, our country can soon fulfil its enormous potential and command respect worldwide as a source of exceptional human capital, rather than a troubled exporter of vulnerable migrants. The dignity of Nigeria as a great African nation depends on bold reforms ensuring no Nigerian anywhere ever feels compelled to endure maltreatment just for an opportunity to thrive.