In just five short years (2015 – 2020), the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has succeded in systematically eroding the ethos of professionalism and docurum in the Nigerian diplomatic service in favour of cronyism. A service that was established on the twin pillar of competense and capability, was the first victim of PMB’s government when in July 2015, envoys appointed by the Jonathan Administration were recalled. This development resulted in all 93 Nigeria’s embassies and high commissions to be left without substantive heads for over one year.
When the government finally decided to appoint the envoys; a list of 93 ambassadors consisting of 46 non-carreer (50%) and 47 (50%) career were submitted to the Senate for confirmation. No sooner than this list was submitted, 11 of the embassies namely; Greece, Ukraine, Congo (Kinshasa), Central Africa Republic, Tunisia, Burundi, North Korea, Czech Republic, Syria, Libya and Singapore were (unilaterally) downgraded, hence no substantive ambassadors were appointed to head those missions.
With this unprofessional decision, some of the 47 career officers who have served this country in various capacities around the world were appointed deputies and made to serve under political ambassadors. The result can only be imagined going by the relationship between the President and Vice President or governors and their deputies in today’s Nigeria.
The monumental failures witnessed in our diplomatic experience during this period (2015 – 2019) is about to be surpassed going by the list of ambassadors recently submitted to the Senate by the government. The list of 83 ambassadorial nominees consisting of 42 career and 41 non-career was immediately followed by a Presidential wpproval to retain 12 non-career ambassadors at their present posts. When these number are added to the 5 ambassadors appointed just last year, a total of 100 ambassadors would be expected to be sent to Nigeria’s 83 foreign missions. At a glance, a whopping 17 ambassadors would be expected to serve as deputy ambassadors, and it goes without saying that career officers who have been trained and retrained for 30 years and above would be made to serve under political appointees with all the resultant ramifications.
The truth need to be told that Nigeria will continue to be ridiculed and humiliated for her self inflicted wounds. Do we need to be reminded of the diplomatic humiliation the country suffered when a certain inexperienced Fatima Mohammed Kyari was presented as a candidate for an African Union position, contrary to the advice of the Foreign Ministry to field an experienced career diplomat? The country also lost international positions to other African countries due to the fielding of “chosen candidates” in place of competent and experienced persons.
At a time when the world is witnessing tremendous changes and transformations, what isxrequired is adjustments and realignment of forces to face head-on, the emerging challenges. Every professional, no less our trained diplomats would be required to spearhead global engagements through the embassies and high commissions. This is no time for amateurism and playing to the gallery. The stakes are too high and consequences too grave.
In this regard, Mr President should as a matter of urgency withdraw from the Senate, the list of non-career ambassadors unilaterally compiled by a certain dark horse presidential aide, Mallam Ya’u Darazau (Senior Special Assistant to the President, Special Duties). The list is too large and lopsided. Whereas some states have 3 nominees, other states such as Abia, Kebbi, Niger and FCT have no nominees. As it became apparent after the list was read at the floor of the Senate, the names were compiled without consulting the key political actors in the states. Many state governors have kicked against the nominees from their states. A sizeable number of Senators have also come out to complain that they were not consulted. Yet they are expected to confirm these appointments.
Worse still, the loopsidedness was also reflected in the list of 12 serving noncareer ambassadors who were undeservedly retained at their duty posts. It should be pointed out that both Ambassador Baba Madugu (Switzerland) and Ambassador Yusuf Tuggar (Germany), hail from Mr. Yau Darazau’s state, Bauchi State. Although the duo are to remain at their duty posts, a new nominee from Bauchi State was also forwarded to Senate for confirmation as ambassador.
According to the Nigeria’s Foreign Service Rule, non-career ambassadors should not constitute more than 25% of Nigeria’s envoys at any point in time. However, this rule, like many other rules have been swept under the carpet by this government. The percentage of non-career ambassadors was 60% during Buhari’s first tenure, and if the Senate does not stand its ground and somehow reject the list recently submitted by the Executive, the percentage will inevitably rise to about 70%.
Isn’t ironic that a President who campaigned returning Nigeria to its rightful place in the world arena is gradually taking the country to the very bottom of the pit?
Nigerians have witnessed what happened with the security service, following the retention of the incompetent service chiefs. The financial sector also suffered from the retention of expired leadership, and now the diplomatic service is being made to suffer from the overinjection of mediocres and politicians who failed elections in their constituencies. Rather than send these unprofessionals abroad, government should consider utilising their experiences at home to improve on Nigeria’s failing politics.
If the question is to be asked, does anyone now wonder why Nigeria lost her Big Brother position in ECOWAS and Africa? Is anyone in doubt why Nigerians are suffering from visa restrictions & travel bans?. Does anyone wonder why Nigerians are failing to clinch positions at International organisations and at the global stage? The answer is the failure of the government to allow professionals to manage her diplomatic outposts and foreign policy.
The Senate, being the representative of ordinary Nigerians, should not rubber stamp the list of nominees submitted by the executive. The list should be returned for due process to be followed. Let foreign service rule be allowed to function as our guiding principle. Above all, let there be fairness and federal character not be thrown to the bin.
As was done by the 8th Senate in 2015, there are many grounds for this Senate to return the list of non-career ambassadors to the executive, to be reviewed and reduced.
History will judge your action or inaction, as the case may be.