A Diplomatic Breach in Ghana?

By Simbo Olorunfemi June 28, 2020

A Diplomatic Breach in Ghana?

There are reports of alleged breach of the diplomatic premises of Nigeria in Ghana. Predictably, Nigerians are furious – some calling for action, retaliation, fire and all that. Of course, that such an action would elicit fierce emotion on the part of Nigerians, given the history of unfriendly actions on the part of citizens of some countries in Africa towards Nigerians and Nigeria, some on-going at this moment, is not unexpected. But we must learn not to conflate or confuse issues.

Of course, Article 22 (1) of the Vienna Convention speak to the inviolability and protection relating to the premises of the mission as well as CERTAIN properties connected with the function of the mission, but the scope of the privileges has been contentious, with the extra-territoriality theory, Representative Character theory and Functional Necessity theory not quite agreed on where the boundaries are, especially when an English Court had rejected the extra-territoriality theory in Radwan v Radwan. While the interpretation of Article 22 might not be settled, by convention, the inviolability of the diplomatic premises and properties is settled, with the receiving state under obligation to protect the premises of the mission.

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Reports from Ghana are hazy, for now, on the exact status of the premises and the circumstances under which the action was taken. There is an allegation of trespass said to have been made by a King, Nii Okwei Dowuona VI of Osu that the Nigerian High Commission was in error and that the said the parcel of land, approximately 1.14 acres, which is situated at West Ridge “is separate from that which is currently being occupied by the Nigerian High Commission.” There is talk of a land dispute, a Nigerian businessman and all that, but nothing can excuse the violation of Nigeria’s diplomatic premises, not even ignorance, which might be the situation in this case.

But there has to be something not right for Minister Geoffrey Onyeama to have reacted. He could not have been reacting on the basis of media reports but on the basis of a despatch from the High Commission.

That as it may be, the response from Nigeria, measured as it is, is appropriate for the moment. You do not start diplomatic engagement from the top, but from the appropriate point, from which it can now graduate or escalate, if the need arises. Recalling an ambassador at this stage would be high-handed and unhelpful. A summon on the Ambassador, as had been done, a public statement as has been issued are adequate preliminary steps to take, pending completion of investigation and action on the part of Ghana.

Emotion is not necessarily the most effective tool in diplomacy. Investigation to establish the facts must always precede action. Then, you must carefully examine all the issues at stake and what you have on fire at that point in time. It is not every fire you fight with fire. The ways you handle friendly fire is different from the manner you respond to fire from the enemy. Nigeria has two irons in the fire at the moment – AfDB and WTO, for which she is working hard, behind the scene to rally support. Some matters are best resolved behind closed doors.

If indeed there was a violation of Nigeria’s diplomatic premises, the embarrassment is more Ghana’s than Nigeria’s. It sends a negative signal to the international community, especially the diplomatic world in Ghana that the country is unable to guarantee the rights and protection of diplomats and their premises, which is a serious breach of trust in international diplomacy. Ghana is mindful of that and the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration finds it necessary to address that and allay the fears that must come on account of such possible breach. The letter already admits that the breach is a violation of the Vienna Convention. That is Ghana already accepting responsibility.

Whatever the case, I would believe the incident in Ghana is not an act of provocation – deliberate or otherwise, but one of friendly fire, which should be handled appropriately – apology, compensation and all that go with it taken care of diplomatically.