Ghana’s demolition of Nigeria High Commission buildings – Punch

In a desecration of diplomatic convention, the Nigeria High Commission in Accra, Ghana, was recently invaded by some non-state actors who destroyed a set of buildings under construction. Intriguingly, more than a dozen police personnel supervised this act of aggression. It was a well-orchestrated and brazen assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty, which understandably provoked angry reactions at home, with the House of Representatives calling on the authorities to invoke the principle of reciprocity.

Two people, the BBC says, have been arrested over the incident and charged with unlawful entry and causing unlawful damage. The affected structures are the residential quarters for the High Commission’s staff and visiting diplomats, pulled down by bulldozers based on the Osu Traditional Stool claim of ownership of the parcel of land. Nigeria’s immediate reaction came from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who summoned the Chargè d’affaires of the High Commission of Ghana in Nigeria, Iva Denoo; she apologised on behalf of her country. The spat did not escalate to the highest level of governments with the Ghanaian President Nana Kufo-Addo’s telephone call to his Nigerian counterpart, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to tender an unreserved apology.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, which defines the framework of diplomatic engagements between nations, stipulates in Articles 22 and 30 that the premises of a country’s Mission and private residence of its diplomatic agents shall be inviolable as they are part of its sovereign territory. There is evidence that the Nigerian Mission had paid for the land two decades ago, as confirmed by Ghana’s preliminary findings. Its Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Botchwey, said Nigeria had presented a “letter referenced SCR/LCS 74/VOL.2/95, dated August 7, 2000, granting allocation and right of entry to the High Commission, for a four-acre parcel of land in the Accra Osu Mantse Layout.” Consequently, “The government of Ghana will ensure that the demolished building is restored to its original state, as soon as possible.”

What is really strange was the involvement of Ghana’s security operatives in the diplomatic assault. The Ghanaian authorities had argued that initial findings by a committee set up to unravel the circumstances surrounding the breach revealed that the Nigeria High Commission did not obtain a lease after the allocation letter, or proceed to obtain a land title certificate or even a building permit for the new property. However, these seeming shortcomings cannot justify any claimant to the land to resort to self-help when the court is available for any aggrieved person to seek redress.

Despite Ghana’s resolve to settle the matter amicably, its authorities still have questions to answer as to how Nigeria’s High Commission became so vulnerable to the extent that it came under such violation without hindrance. It could have led to loss of lives. The role of their police in this dastardly act deserves to be thoroughly investigated, given the testimony of the head of security at the High Commission, Emmanuel Kabutey. He said the leader of the demolition squad told him and his colleagues that their mission had the approval of the country’s National Security and threatened: “If any of us tries (to obstruct the illegal operation) he will clear us off.” The minority party in Ghana’s parliament has expressed deep concern about the action as it was “carried out under the full protection of state security.” The immediate past president, John Mahama, in a tweet, similarly deprecated it. “It beats my imagination how such a violent and noisy destruction could occur without our security agents picking up the signals to avert the damage.”

Security protection of diplomatic missions by a host country is a given in international relations all over the world.  The only way Ghana can avoid a repeat of this diplomatic blunder in future is by bringing the rogue police personnel that were undoubtedly compromised to book. That is one empirical way to prove its point that the hostility had no state approval.

It is an inconvenient truth to the Nigerian authorities that these phenomena reflect how low the country’s image abroad has sunk. Nigeria’s diplomatic ties with other countries cannot be said to be sound, as it wont to claim about Ghana, China and South Africa, when its citizens abroad with legitimate rights of residence or visit are gratuitously harassed, killed and their property destroyed. As a result, Nigeria needs to reinvent its diplomacy for vibrancy, which in the past attracted respect in the comity of nations.

Attention should be paid to citizenship diplomacy to preserve the dignity of its citizens abroad, typified in the Nigeria Consul-General Cyril Anozie’s response to the seizure of passports of Nigerians and eviction from their homes in Guangzhou, China, in April, over the false charge of spreading COVID-19. Amid this diplomatic insult that went viral online, Onyeama gave credence to China’s rebuttal at a joint news conference that the allegation was untrue, blaming the issue on “communication gap”, only for him to make a volte-face hours later. Such unabashed and tepid manoeuvring does not breed result-oriented diplomacy. It should stop.

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