New Delhi, April 1: Nigeria's high commissioner in India today protested Union minister Giriraj Singh's comment suggesting that the Congress would not have accepted Sonia Gandhi as its chief were she from Nigeria, and hinted the country expects New Delhi to act against the leader.
"This is a deplorable comment by the Indian minister," O.B. Okongor said, speaking to reporters outside the high commission. "This is particularly regrettable because of the excellent relations between India and Nigeria."
Singh, in a conversation with journalists in Hajipur, Bihar, said Sonia was acceptable to the Congress only because of her gori chamdi (fair skin).
"Would they have accepted her if she was from Nigeria?" he asked, to the sound of laughs in a recording of the conversation that has emerged in the public. Late evening, Singh apologised.
Okongor said Nigeria would not lodge a formal diplomatic protest against Singh's comment with the ministry of external affairs (MEA).
"But we will hope they (the government of India) take such action as is appropriate," the high commissioner said.
MEA officials said foreign minister Sushma Swaraj would share Nigeria's concerns with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who alone can decide on any action against Singh, who just before the Lok Sabha elections had said that those against Modi should "move to Pakistan."
Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, is India's third-biggest supplier of crude oil, and host to a growing number of Indian businesses. India has, in recent years, also enhanced defence cooperation with Nigeria, especially following a series of mid-sea piracy attempts in the Gulf of Guinea.
For Okongor and many African diplomats, Singh's profiling of people from their countries fits a pattern that has seen their nationals attacked physically and abused verbally on multiple occasions over the past few years.
In November 2013, Goa police physically attacked a group of Nigerian men, triggering an angry outburst from a diplomat, who threatened that Abuja may evict Indians from the West African nation in response.
Two months later, in January 2014, then Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti joined a mob that attacked a group of women from Nigeria and Uganda in South Delhi's Khirki Entension neighbourhood, popular with students and other visitors from many African nations.