Why Can’t They Apologize?

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with ambitions to be the most economically powerful country in it’s region, and Africa as a whole; Nigerians on the whole are quite proud of the putative power of Nigeria – and won’t hesitate to defend it’s potential to overtake South Africa, project its regional power or dominate the cultural scene; but you will rarely find any Nigerian who is an apologist for the Nigerian state or its representatives abroad. A few days ago, the reason why was spectacularly highlighted again when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported the story of a number of Nigerians caught out in Ontario when they arrived at the high commission to find that it was closed despite being issued appointments for that day.

The video makes for heartrending viewing, particularly when Kemi Ola, a Nigerian resident in London, Ontario describes the cost of her journey – she paid $300 for her ticket, more than her parents make, she said, and about the equivalent of her monthly rent.

There was allegedly no advance warning from the High Commission that it would be closed.

The story on Canadian television seems to have provoked a response from Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Canada and former Minster of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe

Strikingly, what has provoked his ire is not the fact that some of his fellow citizens have been unduly inconvenienced and put out of pocket, in some cases by hundreds of dollars. No, the ambassador, and former minister castigates the affected individuals for ‘insulting their country of origin on international media’ – and astoundingly, not listening to explanations.

According to him, the embassy staff responsible for issuing visas were posted to Calgary on the same day as the affected individuals arrived; the high commission tried to explain this to them, Ambassador Maduekwe says, ‘but they didn’t listen to explanation.”

The entire incident begs the question: What is the ambassador smoking? He expects people who work (and in most cases probably immigrated for economic reasons) to travel by plane, train and car to arrive at an embassy to find it closed without explanation, but still willingly to listen to an explanation at the door. It’s as if the Internet revolution never happened. Tellingly, the ambassador says ‘the computer’ issued the appointments, as if his staff had no ability, and indeed responsibility for checking the appointments. Beyond the amusing incompetence of the matter, was the obvious distress for people trying to get access to somewhere and something that should ostensibly be a birthright; perhaps even more distressing was the vitriol with which one person interviewed said she would burn her Nigerian passport once she’s become Canadian. I recently spent an hour at a dinner trying to convince some family members to consider Nigeria as a viable place to live and visit; incidents like this do not help to dispel the negative perceptions many Nigerian diasporans hold.

The ambassador’s response displays the same lack of awareness of the reality of life for most Nigerians, whether at home or abroad that seems to characterise many (but by no means all) Nigerians in leadership positions; watching the video, the recurring question in my mind, and possibly most other viewers is, why can’t he apologize and ensure such an incident doesn’t happen again? Tellingly, not once did words of apology pass the ambassador’s lips. Instead, there was criticism of citizens who only exercised their rights to vent their frustrations through the media. It’s astounding that someone who has spent numerous years in government and state hasn’t developed sufficient grace to think he has to apologize, and it’s perhaps because underlying his perception of his role, is not the idea of service to Nigerian citizens (wherever they are) – but a defensiveness about some allegedly great country called Nigeria – which never makes mistakes, doesn’t have the word humility in its vocabulary and certainly must not be criticized; for even its basic failings are a state secret. Patriotism, someone smart once said, is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and it’s certainly the case in this case, that the embassy has behaved abominably, and the least it can do, is apologize, lest we find one day that this state will be bereft of citizens.