So what is the solution to the Nigeria-Saudi Arabia diplomatic impasse? So many writers and pundits have written about it. To me what is happening regarding the female pilgrims is not surprising, even if the approach is difficult to justify. In April this year I visited Saudi Arabia, and on my return I wrote an article entitled “Child Abuse, Kano-Jeddah and Nigerian Muslims”.
At the end of that article I advocated for the establishment of a binational commission between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia in order to address some of the unfortunate abuses and crimes committed by some Nigerians in the holy land. These issues are not restricted to Saudi Arabia; you will find similar things in the United Kingdom, the United States and other places.
The relationship between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia is too important to be left to deteriorate. It is a relationship that is defined by faith, the most important human identity. To Nigerian Muslims, Saudi Arabia is second home, just like some Nigerians consider the UK and the US their most important destinations. This is not a problem that will be solved by threats, counter-threats or physical confrontation.
The entire issue, in my opinion, was caused by indiscipline, bad governance, corruption and ignorance. In summary, you can say that the problem is attitudinal. While some of these issues are internal and have to be addressed by Nigeria alone, others require a collective cooperation between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia; Nigeria has the largest Muslim population in Africa, Nigerian Muslims are among the most frequent visitors to Saudi Arabia for Umrah and Hajj; and medical tourism, trade relations are increasing by the day. Nigerian expatriates are everywhere in the Saudi economy, ranging from oil companies, medical doctors working in hospitals, nurses and university lecturers.
Key Saudi universities like the University of Madina, Ummul Qura University in Makkah and King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals are populated by a large number of Nigerian students. In fact, in different shops in Makkah, Madina and Jeddah many Saudis speak Hausa language fluently because of their interaction with Nigerians.
Countries like the US that have strong relationship with countries like Mexico due to the movement of people for economic and social purposes establish binational commissions in which officials from both countries meet regularly to find solution to their key concerns.
An example of that is the US-Mexico Binational Commission. In 2010, Alhaji Mahmud Yayale Ahmad led a delegation of Nigerians to sign an agreement forming the US-Nigeria Binational Commission with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Since then, regular meetings have been taking place between US and Nigerian officials, the most recent being in June 2012.
Nigeria has similar agreement with South Africa, and recently some of the diplomatic rows between Nigeria and South Africa were addressed by the Nigeria-South Africa Binational Commission.
A binational commission is a strategic partnership established between two countries in which officials from both countries meet regularly to discuss and find ways of helping each other in areas of strategic interest. The agreement will decide how many times delegations from both countries should meet. The way it works is that key areas of interest between the two countries are identified, and working groups with representatives from both countries will be established.
Each working group will constitute some experts and senior government officials to discuss and find practical solutions to the problems affecting the two nations. As far as I know, no such commission exists between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, and it is time to have one since Saudi Arabia is the most strategic partner of Nigeria in the Middle East.
With such a commission, and if taken with all seriousness, important issues like Hajj and other matters will not be left until the last minute, thereby creating unnecessary negative headlines. One can easily think of different areas of interest such as Hajj/Umrah, trade, education and employment.
But by far the most important issue to be addressed by the commission is the one that neither of the two countries speaks about openly, and that is Nigerians living in Saudi Arabia illegally, committing and spreading so many social vices, and finding ways to return to Saudi Arabia after they have been deported. Such binational commission can find ways in which serious rehabilitation programmes can be initiated so that on arrival in Nigeria, the deported people can be assimilated into the society.
The commission can also address the concerns of Nigerians on how they are treated by Saudi officials so that the dignity of every Nigerian is protected. A single step that provides solution is far better than unproductive noisemaking.
Newcastle upon Tyne