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Endless war in S'Africa's Nigerian Mission *CG, NUSA set for legal battle

By Ben-Benson Okoli, Executive Editor, Johannesburg on 16/06/2021

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Any hope of a truce between the Consul General of the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg Abdulmalik Ahmed and Nigerians living in the country appears quite distant at the moment as both parties appear not ready to shift ground from their positions.

In fact, the courts in South Africa may be enlisted into the battle, as both parties stoutly refuse to return their long unsheathed swords to the scabbard, going by the threats of the CG and his traducers, and the attendant allegations and counter allegations. 

The issue in question, is about the fees imposed by the mission which Ahmed heads, regarding lost passports replacement and the rejection by some Nigerians in the country.

Apart from each side heaping loads of accusations on the other, they have virtually drawn the battle line in the sand, not only upsetting the quietude of the atmosphere, but exerting immense tension on the chord of relationship to breaking point.

Though the problem did not start with him, it is said that Ahmed has either virtually pulled off his gloves, abandoned diplomacy, a tool that saw his predecessor escape and triumph over the onslaught at him by the same set of Nigerians or his strategy is failing him.

A fortnight ago, on June 4, the diplomat had spoken to a well-organised and carefully selected audience tagged an international Press Conference and Community Engagement held in the Nigerian house in Johannesburg, where he laid bare his spleen on members of the Nigerian Union in South Africa (NUSA), a group, which, is engaging him in an epic battle.

NUSA, was previously banned by Ahmed’s predecessor, but like the slain snake which head was not cut off, is still very much alive and even more dangerous, the group has remained a thorn in the flesh for him.

If anything, the group, rather than being assuaged, seems hell-bent on adding more fuel into the fire to see that the wars the diplomat inherited did not end without victory for them.

The demand of its members was clear – end the arbitrary fees on Nigerians that lost their international passports which other missions do not charge their citizens or face their wrath.

However, Ahmed’s response was also clear – there would be no change. This point he made pungently at the June 4 event, where he laboured to justify the fees he was accused of imposing “on famished Nigerians,” putting all his eloquence and vast knowledge of diplomacy at play to sway his audience.

“I want to take this opportunity to address the re-introduction of administrative fees and charges for lost passports and more importantly, to present our case in the face of the lies and falsehoods peddled against the Mission and my person by none other than the de-recognised Nigerian Union South Africa. This has become necessary as these disgruntled elements have gone ahead to incite fellow Nigerians with intent to sabotage the Mission,” he started.

He admitted the passport challenges but refused to take responsibility of what he described as institutional lapses with origin from the headquarters, adding that there were disparities in the Consular fees between the two Missions in Johannesburg but assured that “all Consular services, including visas had been standardised and harmonized.”

The CG explaining the essence of the N70,000 “deterrent fees” for lost passport, the monster that is baying for his head, was emphatic that he would not shift ground in his determined effort to deter Nigerians from what he called “criminal undertones and infractions associated with these so-called lost passports.”

Everybody, those who had lost their passports genuinely, and those accused of exploiting the loopholes in the system were lumped in one basket, regardless of the circumstances, reminding his audience of the instruction to him “to embargo the processing of lost cases pending further directives from the headquarters.”

He chronicled the activities of the NUSA over the past years which included blackmail, harassment, petition writing, extortion, racketeering and violent protests and informed of the long standing position the government had adopted.

“In 2008, the Federal Government advised the Missions to disconnect and distance themselves especially in the face of the smoking gun evidence of cult activities and other criminal activities of NUSA,” he said.

He said that the activities of the leaders of the group, that included Adetola Olubanjo and Collins Mgbo, President and Secretary respectively, were injurious to his reputation and integrity and informed his audience that he was considering an action for libel, defamation and character assassination.

“No sane official would stand by and watch these misguided elements continue to drag the name of the Consul General in the mud or soil the integrity of the Mission and the federal government of Nigeria. And for these perfidious activities, the Mission had commenced discussions with the South African government with regards to the status of the group,” he said.

But his opponents appear unmoved. Not even the threat of escalating the situation with the host government, appears to change their position on the issue, as they insist on fighting the battle to the end.

In a swift ripostee, contained in a circular of June 8 and signed by the President and Secretary, the Union lambasted the CG, describing him in so many unkind and unprintable words.

It rebuked him for calling it a group of cultists and criminals merely because it was “opposed to his extortionist agenda,” and challenged the CG to produce evidence of to substantiate the allegations he leveled against the group and threatened him with an action.

NUSA said it was seeking legal opinion on how to remove the vague that was obviously preventing the group from “legally bringing the CG to justice for his litany of lies” and promised “to continue to mobilise Nigerians to protest against extortion until he listens.”

It described the CG’s intended action as an action of “a man who does not have basic training for the position he occupies, otherwise he would have known that the CG and all diplomats enjoy immunity from prosecution, an immunity he is daily abusing.”

The group did not even spare the audience assembled by Ahmed, dismissing them as “clowns”, who are “mostly suspected drug dealers.”

Whirlwindnews investigation revealed that behind these hot words, NUSA seems not to be alone as more than 70 per cent of Nigerians are not gainfully employed and can hardly afford extra fee for the lost passports.

Many Nigerians, expressed rage and were unanimous in their condemnation, not only for the fees but for the reason advanced for the punitive measure. They find it unconscionable that fees would be used as a method to dissuade the activities of criminals and want a demarcation to be made between the people with genuine application and those exploiting the loopholes in the system. 

One other thing that sent unclear signals, was the absence of any of the staff of the Nigerian High Commission, Pretoria at the June 4 event. This would be the first of its kind in many years, that an event of this magnitude would not have the presence of Pretoria, an observer pointed. This has created suspicion as to whether there was a dispute between the two Missions over the deterrent fees.

A Pretoria staff who spoke to Whirlwindnews informally, said that the absence of Pretoria was a clear statement and refused to give further details. What was clear though, is that the Consulate was careful in the selection of its audience, which included people from the academia and leaders of religious, ethnic and cultural groups, who did not have a problem giving the CG a vote of confidence, even before he made his case.

Though they all sang from the same hymn book, it was unclear whether it was an opposition against the earlier protest that NUSA launched or an approval of N70,000 lost passport deterrent fee.

Sunny-Wenike Douglas, a leader of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in South Africa, who had earlier boycotted the event, distanced his group from the NUSA protest, saying he preferred to continue to engage with the Mission in ensuring Ndigbo, which constitutes over 80 per cent of the population enjoy better services from the Mission.

Whether the NUSA will make good its promise to make the job more difficult for the new CG and how the CG hoped to end the life of the proverbial tsetse fly on the scrotum will be seen in the coming days and weeks. Who will blink first? The knives are out!




Posted on June, 16 2021

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