Augustine C. OhanweFriday, February 2, 2007
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he tendency to define our nation's national interest in a narrow way, limiting it to only geographical realities; investment opportunities and other money accruing ventures to the nation is rife with many commentators. Its broader definition is often ignored.

Recently Femi Fani-Kayode, Minister of Aviation, by his action, has put extra touch to the broader definition of the concept of national interest. He sent out warning signals to two Airways telling them that the unhealthy attitude meted out to Nigerians aboard their airplanes fell short of expectation and will not be tolerated. He furthered warned the Airways involved to reverse such attitude or face the consequences. He was protecting Nigeria's national interest.

Again, during her short tenure as the head of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala demonstrated her broad knowledge of national interest when she responded to the dangerous situation brewing in Lebanon in the wake of Israeli-Lebanon skirmishes. Having reached a conclusion that the political situation in that country would inevitably claim innocent lives of residents there, she immediately planned for the timely evacuation of Nigerian citizens in Lebanon. Hundreds of Nigerians evacuated from that country owe their existence to the foresighted Minister. Protection of one's nationals abroad should be a part and parcel of a nation's national interest.

The recent conviction and eventual hanging of Tochi in Singapore for being in possession of 725.02 grammes of heroin should generate concern for Nigerians and lawyers worldwide. Tochi's case is pathetic due to the way it was handled by the Court in Singapore. Tochi, as we gathered was a keen footballer who travelled to far-away Singapore to have his talent harnessed. It was alleged that while in Dubai en route to Singapore someone gave him a parcel to deliver to another person resident in Singapore. He innocently collected the parcel. On arrival at Singapore Airport it turned out to be heroin.

It was further gathered that the lower Court that first tried him did not find sufficient reason to send Tochi to a hangman's noose. His case was then referred to the Appeal Court. The Appeal Court, it was further gathered overruled the decision of the lower court and sentenced Tochi to death. No nation has the right to interfere in another sovereign state's judicial system. But in Tochi's case, Nigeria reserves the right to register her dissatisfaction and to defend the right of its citizens abroad in a case involving death or life jail where inadequate legal representation of its citizens falls short as stipulated by the international law, as in the case of Tochi. The allegation of his inadequate legal representation in the Appeal Court is disturbing and requires an in depth explanation. This type of "intervention" should be seen as a part of Nigeria's national interest.

Nationals of a nation are the most important of the nation's constitutive elements. Nationals of one nation who are within the territorial jurisdiction of another state are, according to the international law entitled to treatment that conforms with the standard stipulated by the international law. This law applies also to those on transit, residents, on court trials as well as refugees.

Protection of one's nationals abroad had in many occasions dovetailed with the concept of self defence. Self defence is another concept that had suffered definitional injury. Some view it narrowly as when individuals defend themselves from unprovoked attack or when nations defend themselves from external intrusion into their territories. In a broader sense, self defence includes the defence of one nationals abroad when they are under constant harassment, persecution or being killed. When diplomatic channels have been exhausted, nations whose nationals are been persecuted reserves the right invoke the doctrine of self defence in order to protect their nationals trapped abroad regardless of territorial sovereignty. After all the concept of territorial sovereignty does not include slaughtering of foreign citizens because one does not like their faces or their nationalities.

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demonstrated the execution of the principle of self defence of their nationals in Liberia under Charles Taylor. Nationals of ECOWAS member states resident in Liberia were confronted with grave danger of brutal massacre because their countries of origin participated in Ecomog force (the military wing of Ecowas) stationed in Liberia to keep the peace. When diplomatic pressures on Taylor to change his policy failed, Ecowas had no other option but to pursue the line of self defence of its citizens trapped in Liberia.

No caring government can sit idly by and watch its citizens being persecuted in a foreign land. Some powers had even used military force to protect their nationals facing persecution abroad. In 1956, the United Kingdom, in conjunction with France mounted Anglo-France invasion of Suez for the purpose of protecting their nationals. When in the same year, the case was brought before the UN General Assembly, the UK defended itself that the attack was not against the sovereign state of Egypt but was undertaken in self defence of its citizens resident in Egypt.

In 1960, Belgium sent troops in the Congo for the same purpose of protecting the lives of their nationals and those of other Europeans. Like the UK, Belgium also argued that its military action had no political underpinnings and therefore should not be misconstrued as an aggression against a sovereign state.

The US did the same in 1975 when it combined aerial attack and the landing of 200 marines to recover it vessels "Mayaguez" along with its crew who where detained by the Cambodian authorities in Cambodian territorial waters. They claimed to have acted in self defence. They did the same again in Iran when its embassy staff were held hostage.

Israeli paratroopers landed in Entebe Airport in Uganda to secure the release of the crew and passengers of Israeli extraction aboard Air France aircraft "hijacked" on a flight from Tel Aviv en route to Paris by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The list is long.

These few examples shown above, were done in the name of national interests of the nations concerned. It shows, above all, how caring nations view their nationals.