Friday, September 3, 2010

This article is a follow up to 'Saudi Arabia Bans Repeat Nigerians From Hajj'

With less than three months until the 2010 Hajj, it was revealed that Saudi Arabian officials implemented a Nigeria-specific ban. Although the ban was possibly enacted in 2009, knowledge of the ban came to light only in the last week of august 2010. According to the new rule, Nigerian Muslims can only participate in the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca once in 5 years. Since that announcement, the reaction of the Nigerian government has been questionable. And in fact, the Jonathan administration's response puts in jeopardy future administrations and their ability to be taken seriously in the international arena.

After the visa-ban was announced, officials from the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCONleft for Saudi Arabia. NAHCON is an organization charged with ensuring that procedures for taking the pilgrimage are smooth and orderly. As can be expected, NAHCON's attempt to plead on behalf of Nigerian Muslims yielded no change. Days after NAHCON officials left for Saudi Arabia, Nigeria's Vice President, Namadi Sambo, left for the Saudi kingdom. According to news reports, Sambo will take a 3 day trip to participate in the lesser Hajj, also known as the Umrah. Sambo would also reportedly "discuss" the ban on repeat Nigerian pilgrims with Saudi officials.

Namadi Sambo

Namadi Sambo

Although it is understandable that NAHCON officials would attempt to resolve the matter, the reality is that the discriminatory ban is not a matter for a powerless agency that cannot act in the place of the federal government. The ban was, instead, a matter for Nigeria's diplomats and the federal government to formally address. Unfortunately, the foreign affairs minister, Henry Odein Ajumogobia, is yet to utter a public reaction or announce a plan to address the discriminatory ban.

However, the reaction from Nigeria's Vice President Sambo is worse than the capitulation by NAHCON officials, the fact that Ajumogobia is yet to react and even the possibility of no government reaction at all. Sambo's trip to Saudi Arabia is a slap on the face to ordinary Nigerians who unlike the Vice President do not have money and prestige to avoid the hassle of needing travel documents to enter Saudi Arabia. 
Goodluck Jonathan
Source: Artist, Craig Coulthard - Politician Portraits (2008)

Even more important is the fact that it makes no sense to enter the very country that openly and unabashedly discriminates against Sambo's constituentsFrom a political perspective, this act by the Vice President is indicative of weakness and a lack of self confidence. Already Nigeria and its government are routinely dismissed and belittled in the press and by foreign bodies. And sadly enough, Sambo's trip to Saudi Arabia, under these circumstances, reinforces the negative attitudes of foreigners and even citizens towards the Nigerian government. It is impossible to respect a person or even a government that appears weak and in the long run, this method of diplomacy by Sambo and hence the Jonathan administration, will have a ruinous effect on a country that claims to want to rebrand its image. That the administration would not issue a forceful statement condemning a foreign government's discrimination against Nigerians and would instead allow the Vice President to travel to that country for personal, albeit religious, reasons is disgraceful. It is also a slap in the face of Nigerian citizens, Muslim or not, who depend on Nigerian officials to defend them and work tirelessly in their interest. In this case, Sambo and the Jonathan administration have an interesting way of proving that they are doing so.

Sambo will likely be on the Jonathan ticket to once again control Nigeria in 2012. But, this handling of the Hajj ban by Sambo and President Jonathan raises the crucial concern of how the administration would handle more complicated matters of foreign affairs. Talk less of the many high risk domestic matters that require and will require visionary leadership that understands the need to improve and preserve Nigeria's position within the African continent and the international arena.

Sambo's trip to Saudi Arabia and the confusion that led NAHCON, and not experienced diplomats, to handle the ban situation, is a continuation of missteps by the Jonathan administration. It cannot be ignored that Jonathan is seen to have bowed to FIFA pressure regarding a position taken after the national team's performance at the 2010 World Cup. These examples suggest a troubling pattern of ineptitude on the part of the administration. The Saudi Arabia matter also reflects a well-held belief that Nigeria's leaders are not connected to the needs of constituents. This failure to connect with the masses has already cause instability in the social fabric of Nigeria as evidenced in militia activity in the Niger Delta, Islamic religious zealots in northern Nigeria and other incidents across the country.

Jonathan and any future Presidents would be well advised to remember that as leader of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a President is entrusted in making sure that he or she advances Nigeria, not take the country backwards. Unfortunately, the Saudi Arabian ban on Nigerians and this administration's inadequate response leaves much to be desired and puts in question Jonathan's credibility as a leader of a nation in dire need if capable and intelligent leaders.

From The Archives:
- Saudi Arabia Bans Repeat Nigerians From Hajj
- Of Pilgrimages, Hajj & Nigerians

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