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Does a diplomatic visa offer immunity to arrest?

Credit: The Nation 5 mins read

Pulse Nigeria claims that Diezani, former petroleum minister’s Dominican diplomatic passport made her immune to arrests. 

Although findings show that a diplomatic passport is capable of providing immunity from arrests, in Diezani’s case, nothing is concrete yet.

Full Text

A recent Facebook post, captioned “She lobbied for a diplomatic passport and got one. Now, she can’t be arrested” had been making the rounds. The link on the post further leads to a report on PulseNigeria on how Diezani Alison-Madueke allegedly ‘escaped Nigeria and became Commissioner in Dominica.’  The opening paragraph reads, “Fresh details have emerged of how Nigeria’s former Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, plotted her escape from Nigeria in the twilight of the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2015.”

PulseNigeria aired the news on Sunday, May 7th. On the same day, Diezani trended on Twitter for the same reason – her appointment with the Dominican Republic. And while the Facebook post was just a link to the website that contains the whole story, it has garnered 866 reactions, 421 comments and 143 shares. 

In addition, PulseNigeria named the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as the source of its intel; further stating that her foreign appointment and new diplomatic status in Dominica explain the reason the EFCC has not arrested her.

Vanguard also published the story. 

Who is Diezani?

Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke was a famous Nigerian politician. She had taken different federal government appointments from 2007 through to 2010; first as Minister for Transportation, Minister of Mines & Steel Development, and finally Minister of Petroleum. The latter was during ex-President Jonathan’s administration.  In her time in Nigeria, Mrs Alison-Madueke recorded many achievements, one of which was being the first woman to head the ministry of petroleum. 

However, it all came crashing down at the beginning of the Buhari-led administration. First were the EFCC manhunts on accounts of money laundering and corruption cases, home and abroad. She is yet to have her day in the Nigerian courts as she reportedly fled the country to the United Kingdom where the British government arrested her for alleged bribery and money laundering.

Verification

A keyword search provided us with a series of results from last year, indicating that this story is not “fresh”, but reinvented. 

Old story, new fame

As we got deeper into our search, findings show that the report about Diezani and the Dominican appointment is not new. The first revelation came when an Aljazeerah investigation titled Diplomat for Sale was published. It revealed how Diezani got a diplomatic passport from Dominica.

In a December 2019 report, Premium Times revealed that Mrs Alison-Madueke met Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit in London where the latter brought her a Dominican diplomatic passport and an appointment letter as Trade and Investment Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Dominica. This meeting reportedly happened on May 23, 2015, while Mrs Madueke was still in her position as Nigeria’s petroleum minister.

Similarly and more recently, in the bid to clear the air on the Diezani controversy, a BBC publication also acknowledged that the report was not new and that the former minister had denied the allegation that she paid for the passport with an apartment in New York. 

Does Diezani hold a Dominican Diplomatic Passport?

Based on the information shared with Premium Times by her lawyers, Mrs Alison-Madueke holds the diplomatic passport. It was also revealed that she took up the appointment but wasn’t earning anything from the role. 

Mr Skerrit, the Dominican president also corroborates this fact, saying, “the passport was issued “after due diligence” and before corruption allegations against the former minister became public.”

Do Diplomatic Passports give immunity from arrest?

A diplomatic passport is given to civil servants whose role involves representing and negotiating for their government in the international domain.  In some cases, the family of a diplomat enjoys the same privilege as the diplomat if they are travelling on the same mission. It further ensures diplomats safe passage, offering them immunity to lawsuits or prosecution under the host country’s laws; although they can still be expelled.

For better clarity, we contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, specifically their spokesperson, Ferdinand Nwoye. He said, “It depends, there are certain things you can do that will amount to undermining your host country, then your immunity can be waived. But generally, if you are a diplomat, you can not be arrested like that. They will give you a Persona non grata then 24 hours to leave the country or they waive your immunity and charge you. It depends on the weight of your offence, but generally, diplomats can not be just arrested like that.”   

Next, we narrowed our search to legislation. Article 41 of  The Vienna Convention of 1963 states that “Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.”

Also, Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations1961 has it that “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity.”

While the possession of a diplomatic passport limits law enforcement and judicial actions against the holder, Mrs Alison-Madueke’s situation continues to generate debate. 

In March 2019, the EFCC, in a Vanguard report, said that “We are intent on bringing Diezani to justice and despite the spirited efforts of the commission in ensuring that she returns to Nigeria and face trial, she has been held back in the UK by an investigation that has spanned almost four years without any signal about when she will be available in Nigeria for prosecution.” 

Also, the EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, had in May 2020 urged Nigerians in the diaspora to put pressure on the UK government to release Diezani for trial.

When we reached out to EFCC for an update on Mrs Alison-Madueke’s case, spokesman to the anti-graft group, Mr Dele Oyewale, said: “There is nothing new other than the fact that we are trying to extradite her and we are asking Nigerians in the diaspora to mount pressure on the British authorities, they should form pressure groups and pressure the government to release her for trial in Nigeria.” 

In addition, we asked Mr Oyewale whether her diplomatic status had anything to do with the delay in her arrest. He was economical with his response: “I don’t have any comment about that.”

Conclusion

In light of the allegations against Mrs Alision-Madueke by the claim-author, Dubawa has confirmed, to be true, her possession of a Dominican diplomatic passport and the assumption of a post in the Caribbean country without pay. However, even as our findings have shown, a diplomatic passport is capable of providing immunity from arrests, in Diezani’s case, nothing is concrete yet.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Sheikh Abdullateef Ajibola.

    June 26, 2020 at 09:49

    Am sorry for going into private of “Lateef Sanni”. His name should be “Abdullateef Sanni”SORRY”.

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