Fidelia Onoghaife was the senior policy advisor at the Dutch embassy in Nigeria. She was recently dismissed after reporting her boss for leaking sensitive information to Shell about a large corruption investigation. The ambassador was reposted, whilst Miss Onoghaife lost her job. A Dutch court has ruled in her favor saying her dismissal was wrong. This case is another illustration of the gross inequalities that allow for toxic meddling of European companies and governments in African countries. In an open letter to Miss Onoghaife, Ama van Dantzig – Dr. Monk co-founder – seeks to understand what exactly happened and how this story fits into an all too well known narrative of European extraction, quelled resistance and corruption.
Dear Ms. Fidelia Onoghaife,
A judge in a Dutch court recognized that you were wrongfully dismissed from the Dutch embassy in Abuja after whistleblowing and revealing the truth. You noticed that your former boss, the ambassador, had leaked sensitive information to the director of Shell in Nigeria. This was no small slip up: the information leak was about an investigation into the corrupt acquisition of the OPL245 oilfield in Nigeria for which approximately 1 billion dollars was allegedly paid in bribes!
When you stepped forward to report this integrity breach, you were assured by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs that you would be protected. But later on, they denied, ignored and blamed you. Whilst you were initially offered a 7-year contract renewal, after blowing the whistle, they accused you of being “high handed” and difficult to work with. You were discredited and made to feel the lowest of the low. The organization decided you were the problem and fired you. Strangely and conveniently enough, the ambassador in question still has his job, though no longer in Nigeria. In your case, the judge ruled that your dismissal was a consequence of your whistleblowing and was therefore wrongful. The ministry has been ordered to pay you two years’ salary.
As a woman of color, I am familiar with the trials of talented and ambitious black women working their way up. The treatment of Black women in such organizations seems to fit a pre-existing blueprint. I am writing to you because I want to fully understand what happened. As with a trick mirror, there is a delusion preventing me from seeing what’s actually going on. What should we be focusing on in this story? The integrity of the Ambassador? Yours? The Nigerian Government's involvement with the acquisition of the oil fields? The wrongful dismissal of a Black woman working in a predominantly white organization after whistleblowing? Or the fact that the former Dutch Ambassador in Nigeria leaked sensitive information to the head of Shell in Nigeria about a large corruption investigation? All of these storylines expose unhealthy systemic patterns. The blacked-out text submitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the court hearing unfortunately suggests there is still more than meets the eye.
There are persistent double standards in how Western countries relate to African countries: whose interests do foreign missions align with when large multinationals such as Shell or Unilever are involved? Unfortunately, the stories of extraction and destruction and destabilization outweigh the cases of compensation. Shell is still an omnipresent beast at large, insisting we cannot live without it. It Insists it has cleaned up its act, but nothing is further from the truth. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to emphasize the importance of doing business, a different type of business, one that is mutually beneficial and does not destroy the earth. In reality, however, there is evidence that Dutch businesses, with the support of the ministry, continue to benefit while Africans mostly do not. For instance, take Mozambique in 2015. There were similar blacked out texts from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs worth diving into. These documents showed the keen interest of the ministry in the profits of Shell, while seeming to turn a blind eye to the threat of the loss of land of Mozambicans. In fact, the Dutch Embassy has been promoting Shell to the Mozambican government for years.
This system has been inherited. It’s nothing new. Starting with the colonisation of the African continent, we can understand it as the moment in which the European nations took on the roles that had earlier been played by commercial entities. An example is the Royal Niger Company, which was active in the Niger Delta. The company was rife in its extraction and exploitation of resources while the colonial governments provided security as well as the necessary conditions to maximize profits. This was met with resistance. A famous example is the uprising of Aba women in 1929. They famously protested against unfair taxation and the destruction of their livelihoods. The resistance was, however, ultimately quenched with violent firepower. Over the years the story has remained pretty much the same.
What does all this mean to you? Your story fits uncomfortably well into a long controversial history of the changing faces behind the actions of extraction, quelled rebellion and corruption. All these seem to be covered with a thin film of good intentions and a vision of mutually beneficial progress. While your former employer has suggested you are “high handed”, the truth of it is neither here nor there. Its systems failed to protect you when you reported the integrity breach. Your employers, The Embassy, turned against and discredited you. Dutch foreign policy that is implemented by its Embassy’s seems itself entangled in too many contradictory policies, visions and values. You blew the whistle on that. Your whistle blowing punctuates and ripple through our system sounding the alarm for a different type of relationship between The Netherlands, Nigeria and other African countries. One that acknowledges and atones for the violence and destruction of the past; one that is infused with integrity on all sides and truly leads to a sustainable, just and equitable future in which we all gain.
This letter was first published in Lilith Magazine.