The murder of Nigerian national Obodo Uzoma Simon at Parra village in north Goa, and the unusual street protest by the small community from the African nation that followed, have brought under focus the seamier side of the tourist paradise. While the crime itself may have been the fallout of what the police believe is a turf war between local and international gangs in the narcotics trade, the knee-jerk reaction of the authorities in beginning an eviction drive against Nigerians was unwise. By the time Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar came out with an explanation that the drive was against all foreign nationals staying on without valid documents and was not limited to Nigerians, wrong signals had gone out. The African country intervened diplomatically to seek a reassurance that its nationals are not unfairly treated and demand that the culprits involved in the murder be apprehended. It issued a note verbale to India, and the Indian emissary in Abuja had to explain the situation to the Nigerian foreign office. India imports oil in considerable quantity from Nigeria, which is one of its major trading partners. There is a sizeable Indian community in Nigeria. It would make little sense to resort to actions against Nigerians that may invite retaliation there. Nigerian diplomats did mention the possibility of retaliatory action.
The Goa police have made some progress in the investigation, arresting one Goan suspect and identifying a few more. It appears that there is considerable local resentment against the activities of some foreign nationals, especially after the police struggled to control the protest by the Nigerian community, but this should not be an excuse to crack down on foreign nationals indiscriminately. Prejudices and perceptions often come together to put communities to disadvantage, especially in the backdrop of unsavoury incidents. Goa’s reputation as a haven for the fun-loving tourist is matched only by the popular perception that gangs belonging to various nationalities operate there with impunity. Crime statistics, however, do not bear out the theory: there is no unusual spike in recent years in the number of foreign nationals arrested for such offences. And it is now no secret — after a committee of the Goa Assembly highlighted last month the nexus between the authorities and drug dealers — that the trade is more than a mere shadowy activity catering to addicts. While dealing with such cartels, the State government should focus on any criminal activity, rather than the nationalities of those involved. At any cost, it should not allow the perception to gain ground that a crackdown on organised crime has racial overtones.