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Geoffrey Onyeama: The quintessential Diplomat and Trouble Shooter

Geoffrey Onyeama: The quintessential Diplomat and Trouble Shooter

Nigerians were initially chagrined and enervated by the seeming aloofness and anyhowness that characterized the Nigerian government disposition to the recent xenophobic attacks that had broken out in South Africa and which had targeted most foreigners and their concerns, Nigerians inclusive. The furore was understandable as many Nigerians wanted an immediate government response in tandem with the social media hysterical speed. They demanded a Nigerian reaction reminiscent of the 1970s when Nigeria had in place a dynamic foreign policy piloted by late Joe Garba and which had positioned Nigeria as the African Uncle Sam  whose activities aided in no small measures in African Liberation, including that of South Africa. Nigerians therefore wanted Nigeria to act, not only to safeguard her nationals in South Africa but to permanently put a stop to such attacks by those who ought to be full of gratitude to Nigeria for the onerous role she played in their liberation from apartheid. However, after an initial seemingly pussy footing, which perhaps was the nature of the business of diplomacy which, while demanding speed needed to be based on well thought-out decisions that may not exacerbate the situation or endanger the lives and limbs of its nationals in the tangent nation, and which will not necessarily damage bilateral relations, a couple of days after, like Daniel come to judgment, the Nigerian minister for foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, no relation of the Air peace boss, Allen Onyeama, but a veritable chip of the old block, descended from the legendary Onyeama royal house of Eke in Enugu State, which had produced eminent persons like the maverick writer, Dilibe and eminent jurist, Charles Daddy Onyeama of ICJ, Hague fame, entered the scene and stated the official government position.

Indeed after describing the attacks as very unhealthy and disturbing, he averred that the government was committed to ensuring that losses incurred by Nigerians will receive complete compensation by South Africa, and that Nigeria was of the view ensuring that adequate security is put in place which may include sending Nigerian security operatives to South Africa, who may have to work with the South African police to provide security around the embassies and for Nigerians with a view to forestalling such happenings in the future. Onyeama stated that to underscore the government’s commitment to the safety of Nigerians that a diplomatic envoy had been dispatched to South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa to dialogue mostly on these two issues and to register Nigerians concern over the recent attacks on foreigners in South Africa, Nigeria inclusive. Even as it appeared, the South African Foreign Minister, Naledi Panden was vitriolic in her outburst, urging Nigerians to keep her drug and human traffickers as well as perpetrators of vices at home, and to create jobs for her citizens.

On the converse Onyeama had remained calm and diplomatic. He had told Nigerians willing to return home that Nigeria was going to ensure their safety and free air freight back to Nigeria. He later elucidated on this and announced that a Nigerian airline, Air Peace, had volunteered to ferry the willing one’s home. This goal getting Foreign Minister saw to it that this was done and so far, no fewer than 400 Nigerians have returned to Nigeria through the Air Peace gesture which was powered by its CEO, Allen Onyeama and ably facilitated by the troubleshooting Geoffrey Onyeama. Indeed, full credits go to him for succinctly appraising the situation and advising the Nigerian government and people to maintain their peace in the face of such obvious affront and it paid off superbly. He had held the view that severance of diplomatic ties was off the mark even as the Nigerian High Commissioner was recalled and that of South Africa was summoned by the Nigerian government. Onyeama enjoined the Nigerian people to shun violent reprisals even when such activities reared up their ugly heads in Lagos, the Africanist and very urbane Onyeama insisted that never was it known that two wrongs ever made a right. These very germane diplomatic and savvy actions of the Foreign Minister had gone ahead to douse the xenophobic inferno from further escalation and has not only reassured Nigerians in South Africa and elsewhere in diaspora that at least that they have someone who would ask after them in case of emergencies. A country’s respect is earned and boosted on the degree of response it manifests when any of its nationals are attacked abroad. Americans and Israelis will not bat an eyelid in declaring war on any nation where the life of even one of its citizens is in jeopardy or taken, without clear explanation and apologies from such errant country

Nigerians current Foreign Minister has earned a place for himself in diplomatic circles putting him along diplomatic greats like Herry Kissinger, Andrew Young, Joe Garba, M.T.  Mbu C.C.Mojekwu and Edward Heath among others.  I join other patriots in doffing my cap for Geoffrey the diplomat who had shot Xenophobic with a damming diplomatic missile and calm has returned everywhere.

South African missions in Nigeria which had shut down purported security reasons have since reopened just as the major business conglomerates; PEP, Shoprite and MTN have resumed operations in Nigeria. Though the second batch of Nigerian have been flown home by Air Peace, but because of the doused xenophobic fires, over a million more Nigerians are reportedly still residing and doing business in South Africa. This crop of Nigerians can now confidently move with the conviction that it has a caring government, much thanks to Geoffrey Onyeama.

Xenophobic acts did not start today in South Africa but has been there a little while after its independence in 1994. In the past three years alone, no fewer than 127 Nigerians have lost their lives through Xenophobic and related violence. South Africans blame Nigerians for drug peddling and other negative activities and these mingled with petty jealously over the huge successes of Nigerians, give vent to these acts of violence by the nationals who feel Nigerians take their jobs.

These recent attacks which according to Onyeama, claimed no Nigerian life though 11 were reportedly killed in the violence, but had razed over 50 Nigerian shops. The immediate cause was the killing of a taxi-man who had accosted drug dealers in Pretoria along with South African policeman who aided and abetted illicit trade. The death led to the protest by taxi-men but was quickly contained with the arrests. However, violence erupted in Johannesburg suburbs and soon escalated to other cities. There were early well as did government officials. But the diplomatic move by Nigerian Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama had roused then and changed all things for good. Kudos!!

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