My biggest regret as Foreign Affairs Minister – Onyeama
Geoffrey Onyeama, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said his regret as minister is the disdain with which Nigerians are being treated outside the shores of the country and upon sighting their international passports.
He disclosed this in Abuja at the 22nd edition of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration Scorecard Series (2015-2023) organised to project the achievements of the government.
Onyeama was responding to a comment by a journalist who expressed displeasure about how Nigerians travelling abroad were being subjected to harassment upon sighting their green passports.
The minister agreed with the position of the newsman and attributed the challenge to the desperation of many Nigerians who took desperate and illegal measures to travel out of the country.
“If there is one thing that I look back to with the greatest regrets in my seven and half years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is the situation of Nigerians in foreign countries,” he said.
The minister gave some of the instances he had witnessed and had to wade in to rescue trapped victims in the middle of the desert.
“I went to Libya and I actually shed tears when we went to this camp where they were holding Nigerians.
“There is that whole issue of slavery and of course, all the exploitations that go with it and they told us that there were only a hundred or two hundred Nigerians there.
“So, we went to the yard and it was one of the most touching things I ever experienced. We have all these young boys, 13, 14, 15 years old and they all came out, over a hundred of them and they all stood up to attention,” he narrated.
“As soon as they saw us, they started reciting the Nigerian national anthem and tears came to my eyes.
“We were told that the girls were used as prostitutes at night. When we saw them, the girls told us there were more Nigerians and we insisted they should bring them out.
“Lo and behold, twenty minutes after, they brought out another set which was about 200 Nigerians. The President gave directives, that we should charter planes in order to get them out and we did.”
According to him, the despicable situation to the push factor leading a lot of young Nigerians to take desperate and ridiculous risks through the deserts and the high seas.
He said when they even finally got to their so-called dream countries, they got involved in drugs and all sorts of crimes which made it difficult for Nigeria’s passport to be respected.
“Those of us in government have to blame ourselves, particularly in the immigration and even in foreign affairs,” he said.
In addition, Onyeama narrated another scenario where the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria came to show him the list of Nigerians that were issued visas through Note Verbal to go to the U.S. but they never attended the events they were scheduled for and absconded.
He said he was also shown the list of those who were not respecting their visa deadlines and requirements, including top Nigerians.
The minister said all the illegal acts and sharp practices contributed to the manner Nigerians were being treated with disdain abroad when they cited their passports.
“In order to reverse the situation and ensure Nigerian passport is given the due respect it deserves, we all have to work hard and behave ourselves.
“We are all suffering from this because we have people with genuine missions seeking to travel abroad looking for visas and they are denied.
“It is a challenge for each and every single one of us and it is impacting negatively on our country. We all have the responsibility to salvage the situation,” he said.
Onyeama said President Buhari’ had never rested on his oars on the issue because whichever country he travelled to, he stressed it to Nigerians in Diaspora to be good ambassadors of their country.