FOUR African men were among eight drug offenders executed by firing squad in Indonesia on Wednesday in a case that attracted huge international attention.
Nigerians Raheem Agbaje Salami (also known as Jamiu Owolabi Abashin), Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Martin Anderson and Okwuduli Oyatanze were killed at 12:30am, local time, on the Indonesian prison island of Nusa Kambangan.
"The executions have been successfully implemented, perfectly," Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo said of the controversial deaths. "All worked, no misses."
Nigeria only responded late Wednesday, expressing "deep disappointment" at the execution by firing squad of four of its citizens.
Abuja said President Goodluck Jonathan and Foreign Minister Aminu Wali had made "spirited appeals for clemency", most recently at an Asian-African summit in the Indonesian capital Jakarta last week.
Brazil and Australia both recalled their ambassadors to Jakarta for "consultation"—diplomatic speak for expressing great displeasure. Australia had made more than 50 appeals for clemency.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo who has announced his intention to clear the country's death row of drug traffickers, insisted that narcotics are "a national emergency" that require an unforgiving response. Analysts say he is looking to convey the image of a decisive leader to Indonesians.
The country, which has some of the toughest drug laws in the world, in December said it would put to death 64 convicts, including foreigners. It is also reportedly working hard to save over 200 Indonesians on death row in foreign countries, largely on drug and murder charges.
The deaths of the four Nigerians would add to a trend where Africans have been jailed or killed for drug related offences in foreign countries, many in Asian countries which have the death sentence.
When president Widodo reactivated the death penalty for drug crimes after a five-year pause, the first victim was Adami Wilson, a 48-year-old Malawian sentenced to death in 2005. He was executed also by firing squad in 2013.
Two other Nigerians were executed in January in the same country.
In the same month, 28-year-old South African Deon Cornelius was sentenced to death in Malaysia for smuggling an illegal drug, having been arrested in 2013.
1,500 South Africans in prisons abroad
According to data from Locked Up, a South African organisation that assists nationals arrested abroad, some 1,300 South African citizens are serving prison sentences in foreign countries, mostly on drug related charges. The majority are held in Brazil and Asia.
China, Africa's biggest trading partner, regularly executes drug smugglers, though it does not make available statistics, adding to the problem of undocumented travel that makes it difficult to accurately map the magnitude of the problem for Africa.
Last year two Ugandans were executed in China for drug trafficking, despite the appeals of the Ugandan embassy. In a statement, the East African country said that 23 other Ugandans were on death row in China, 24 on life sentences and 28 on trial.
China had refused to compromise on the matter, Uganda's foreign ministry added, Beijing insisting it could not overturn a court verdict. Kampala said its investigations showed most of those arrested were job seekers recruited as mules (carriers), a common defence in many drug arrests.
In one five-week period between April and May 2010, China executed a Nigerian and sentenced a Zambian and five Kenyans to death for drug trafficking. It is unclear if they were carried out or commuted to life terms.
Hong Kong, which does not have the capital punishment sentence for drug-related crimes, has increasingly reported drug-related arrests involving Africans.
Tougher line on drugs
China's fight against drugs has received strong support from the top, with president Xi Jinping last year calling for "forceful measures to wipe drugs out." Drug-related arrests have since gone up by up to a third on the year before, many leading to death sentences.
In June, while the vast cases involved locals, Chinese officials said they had handled 1,491 drug-related crimes involving foreigners, a 15% increase on 2013, with 1,963 foreign drug suspects arrested. Most were Africans, Liu Yuejin, director of the ministry's narcotics control bureau said.
Meanwhile in November last year a Kenyan court ordered police to extradite four suspected drug traffickers—two Kenyans, an Indian and a Pakistani, to the United States, highlighting differing treatments.
Pakistan earlier this year ended a freeze on executions, and drug crimes are expected to be among those punished, according to human rights groups.
This came months after British and Australian navies seized the largest ever haul of heroin at sea, weighing 1,032 kilogrammes and valued at $235 million, off its coast.
The continued arrest and execution of Africans in foreign countries cast a spotlight on their governments' inability, or unwillingness, to extract prisoners' concessions from Asian countries, when those countries often successfully save their own in Africa.
More than 20 of the 32 countries that prescribe capital punishment for drug trafficking are in Asia, with just three in sub-Saharan Africa.
Earlier this month African governments attended the Asia-Africa conference in Bandung, Indonesia which commemorates the 1955 conference that laid the foundations for the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
It was meant to strengthen South-South cooperation, organisers said, but analysts argue the conference is more about big countries seeking to unilaterally extend their influence with other participants, often at the expense of African countries.
Lack of African clout
The lack of African countries in rescuing their citizens from foreign jurisdictions by legal means essentially is a result of their failure to use such leverage along with burgeoning trade links to their advantage.
Another major hurdle for African countries is the lack of interest in prisoner exchange agreements. International law has generally pushed for foreign sentenced offenders to serve out their terms in their home countries, largely for rehabilitation and humanitarian reasons, but also for law enforcement purposes.
For long, the objection towards this centred on the infringing of sovereignty and exclusive territoriality, but this has since been weakened in the face of the benefit to international relations between the involved countries that such deals give.
Few African countries have even simple bilateral deals, which are perceived as time and resource consuming, or are members of the multilateral agreements that would govern offender exchanges, despite giving the nod to the UN's Model Agreement on transfers.
The European Convention is one of the more prominent ones, but Mauritius is the only African country that is a member, despite 18 of the 64 member states being non-European.
Of the 53 member states in the Commonwealth, just 15 have enacted the club's rules for transferring prisoners, including Malawi and Nigeria, but not countries such as South Africa, which prides itself on its human rights laws.
No African country has signed on to the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad either.
Unless the continent takes up the issue and uses its links with Asia, Africans will continue to be pawns and makeweights in regional geopolitical battles.