- Those with no valid papers caused incident, says embassy official
By Brown Chimezie
FOR Nigerians living in Bangkok, Thailand, it was a day of total humiliation and indescribable embarrassment. Many would not forget the agony they suffered allegedly in the hands of Thai law enforcement officers on April 3. It is an event that will remain green in their memory for long.
Daily Sun learnt that on the fateful day, a combined team of Thai security operatives stormed The Bride of Christ Church and New Life Church Ministries. They reportedly laid siege to the two churches where Pastor Dr. Richard Okafor and Rev. Pastor Livy Papa Phillips were presiding. The operation led to the arrest of many Africans they claimed had no valid documents to stay in the country.
Daily Sun gathered that when the police arrived at the church, the Consular Officer of the Nigerian Embassy, Mr. Gayus Jalo, was called to the scene. But even the diplomat was not spared, the reporter learnt. The operatives, allegedly led by one Col. Nophasit Sittiphong, also assaulted the envoy. The officer reportedly claimed that he was acting under martial laws and, therefore, owed no one any apologies.
Chikezie Okondo, who was in the church when the operatives struck, told the reporter: “As the consul walked into the church premises and attempted to bring out his diplomatic cards from his bag, he was grabbed like a common criminal by one of the officials from the Narcotic Bureau. While trying to explain to them that he is the Consul of the Nigerian Embassy and still struggling to reach out for his ID cards, the military personnel started raining punches on him.”
“Even after Col. Sittiphong and Lt. Rawee later identified the consul, we thought they would accord him the respect due to a member of the Diplomatic Corps. But they never did.
“After his credentials were ascertained, we thought he would be allowed to carry on his consular duties. But the Thai officials explained that he was protesting the ill treatment meted to Nigerians and the incessant violation of the sanctity of the religious house. Then he was forcefully dragged away by a police officer identified as Pradit and detained in a waiting police truck.
Okondo lamented: “As ordinary Nigerian citizens in Thailand, our question is that, if this kind of treatment can be meted out to a diplomat under article 44, then what is our hope here? Because, it is obvious that we can be killed and there will be no justice. Secondly, we felt that the treatment meted out to the consul was premeditated, because Envoy Jalo had regularly appeared on virtually every occasion where a Nigerian was being harassed by the Thai security agents and had always stopped them from violating their rights and the rights of other black Africans. In Thailand, the general belief is that all black people are criminals or offenders.
“Finally, on what grounds would the Thai security operatives just jump at anybody without asking him who he is and what he is doing around the area? Yet the consul was shouting at the top of his voice that he was the Consul of the Nigerian Embassy. Why didn’t they stop the ill treatment? Also after he had shown his credentials, what right did they have to arrest a diplomat who is carrying out a legitimate diplomatic consular duty?
The humiliation of the envoy and other Nigerians has moved the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Mekong River, with headquarters in Thailand, to call on the Nigerian government not to treat the matter with kids gloves.
In a message made available to Daily Sun, the association said: “If our embassy officials will be subjected to such gross violation of their diplomatic rights, then it is obvious that our government’s silence on the issue would mean signing the death warrant of every Nigerian in Thailand. We wish to reiterate that the Consular Officer of the Embassy, Mr. Jalo, is a young diplomat with immense zeal to better Nigeria. It was on his arrival to Thailand that some transformation took place. Some of his achievements include the formation of the New Nigerian Community Association (NCAT) and rebranding of the Nigerian Community in Thailand; formation of the Nigeria in Diaspora Association (NIDA); formation of the Nigerian Students Association (NSA); formation of the Nigerian Pastors Association (NPA); formation of the Nigerian Teachers Association (NTAT); formation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Mekong River, formation of the Hausa community and the rebranding of all other state associations.”
Furthermore, the association explained that Jalo had always been the arbitrator in cases, involving Nigerians against other Nigerians, adding that all the diplomat’s decisions were well respected by the community.
“He has come out of his home at odd hours when he was called upon to intervene between the host security agents and Nigerians. He has always assisted other Africans, especially those in detention centres, who do not have embassies or Consul offices in Thailand by getting across to their various embassies in Asia. He has also created the only soccer championship for Nigerian students in higher institutions and because of him, the blacks and Nigerians in particular, have been carrying out their legitimate activities in Thailand without fear because they are optimistic that if they are harassed, Mr. Jalo will be there to fight for them. It was against this background that we declared that the attack on him by the host security agents is premeditated and it boils down to the fact that he was targeted because of his services to the Nigerian community in Thailand.”
The organisation called on the Nigerian government to act in line with diplomatic norms to address the injustice before the situation got out of hand.
When contacted, Mr Jalo who spoke to Daily Sun on telephone confirmed the incident. He then referred the reporter to the ambassador, noting that the senior envoy was in a better position to give a detailed comment on the issue.
But a source at the embassy told Daily Sun that the influx of illegal emigrants from Nigeria to Thailand was to be blamed for the embarrassment suffered by the Nigerian worshipers in the hands of Thai security. The source cited an instance when a Nigerian in Thailand prison was deported to Nigeria to complete his jail term. But in less than one year, the man was back again in Thailand. He said such situations breed mistrust and lack of respect for the Nigerian community in Thailand. The Sun