Date: December 7, 2023 1:10 am
- Govs, lawmakers, retired military officers submit loyalists’ names to Gbajabiamila, Tuggar
Don’t appoint envoys as reward system for cronies, expert advises Tinubu
State governors as well as former ministers and other officials, who served in the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari, and the political associates of President Bola Tinubu have launched an intense lobbying for appointment as Nigerian ambassadors to foreign countries.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress, National Assembly members and retired military officers were among those jostling for ambassadorial nominations.
Nigeria has a total of 109 missions, 76 embassies, 22 high commissions and 11 consulates abroad.
The desperate lobby for ambassadorial appointments commenced after the Federal Government recalled all the envoys from their posts on September 2, 2023.
The envoys were directed to return to the country on or before October 31.
On October 20, 2016, former President Muhammadu Buhari approved the nomination of 46 non-career ambassadors-designate in addition to the previous nomination of 47 career ambassadors-designate.
Earlier, there was controversy over the recall of ambassadors by Buhari’s government but his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, debunked the reports in a statement, saying only 25 career ambassadors, who had attained the retirement age and had been in public service for 35 years, were recalled.
He explained in a statement, “There was nothing like mass recall of ambassadors. What happened lately is that 25 career ambassadors, who attained the retirement age, or 35 years of public service in December 2018, were recalled.
“They were allowed to remain at their duty posts and given an extension, if that is the word, in view of the upcoming elections, which are now behind us.”
In January 2021, Buhari approved the posting of 95 envoys, comprising 43 career and 52 non-career ambassadors, to man the nation’s diplomatic missions.
Before the approval, the Senate had ratified their nomination in 2020.
The diplomats were deployed after they were confirmed by the Senate in accordance with Section 171(2) (1c) and subsection 4 of the 1999 Constitution.
But the envoys were recalled by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Yusuf Tuggar, on September 2, 2023.
The minister confirmed the development following reports that Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Sarafa Isola, had been recalled.
But while clarifying the directive, Tuggar said the action was not a witch-hunt and that it applied to all career and non-career envoys.
The minister, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Al-Kashim Abdul-Kadir, had said, “Sequel to the enquiries on the letter recalling the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, has reaffirmed that all career ambassadors and non-career ambassadors have been recalled on the instructions of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”
The Presidency later clarified that all the country’s United Nations permanent representatives in New York and Geneva were exempted from the recall.
A statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, said the exemption was a result of the UN General Assembly, which was held between September 18 and 22.
Our correspondents could not confirm whether the recall order had been extended to Nigeria’s UN permanent representatives in New York and Geneva after the UNGA.
Foreign affairs ministry officials had yet to provide information on the status of the diplomats as of the time of filing this report on Friday.
Saturday PUNCH had reported that the Presidency had begun compiling the list of new ambassadors.
Pressure on Gbajabiamila, minister
Following the development, it was gathered that the jostle for the vacant diplomatic posts escalated with politicians and other interested individuals bombarding the President and his Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, with requests for nomination.
Our correspondents further learnt that the foreign affairs minister and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Ambassador Olusola Enikanolaiye, had come under immense pressure from prominent Nigerians seeking appointments.
Sources disclosed that those who failed to get ministerial nominations were at the forefront of the rush for the ambassadorial positions.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official said, “The President’s associates and state governors are intensifying their lobbies for career and non-career ambassadorial nomination.
“They are pushing the profiles of their candidates. They are jettisoning those with a year or less to retire and picking those with longer career years ahead.”
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuggar; Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Ambassador Olusola Enikanolaiye; and the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, are under intense pressure from the lobbyists, including National Assembly members, APC support groups and party chieftains to be listed as ambassadors.
“Some of these lobbyists include past administrators, politicians, retired military men, unsuccessful governorship aspirants, and those who served as heads of agencies under Buhari, among others.”
When asked about the ratio of career and non-career diplomats that may be appointed, the source said, “Fifty-five per cent to 45 per cent.”
One of our correspondents gathered that the majority of the recalled ambassadors had returned to the country, while those who had yet to do so had formally handed over to the most senior officers at their diplomatic posts, while perfecting travel plans to return home as directed.
Confirming this, a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “Most of the ambassadors are rounding off their tours of duty and heading back to Abuja. A good number of them have already returned.”
Similarly, a source in the Presidency said while some of the bigwigs in the APC and former governors had started submitting their curriculum vitae, some former ambassadors were also jostling to be reappointed.
While noting that the names of persons to be shortlisted remained confidential, the source added, “The Presidency didn’t extend it (ambassadorial appointment) for them (former envoys). Some of them are returning (to Nigeria) already.
“I don’t know anyone lobbying. I know that they’re working on it but I don’t know the specifics. People are submitting CVs.
“Different party leaders and stakeholders are pushing their interests. Even some of them (former ambassadors) are lobbying to be reinstated, so until the list is made official and published, anything can change.”
‘No political cronies’
However, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, urged President Tinubu to desist from appointing ambassadors as a reward system for his cronies.
He said the President should consider appointing academic ambassadors who specialised in handling international affairs of the countries they would serve in, saying most political ambassadors usually pursue personal interests over national interests.
Akinterinwa said, “Political ambassadors are not interested in any national interest to protect abroad. The moment they are appointed, they look out for how to survive even after the tenure of the President who appoints them.
“Nigerian politicians do not place priority on the protection of national interests. If President Tinubu is not careful with the appointments and decides to reward his political cronies and friends, Nigeria will certainly be in trouble very shortly.
“If we are suggesting academic diplomats, I agree with that; there are many academic diplomats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There can be a focus on the specialisation of those who have served in some countries if they meet the level of Grade Level 16 or 17; those are the people they should be looking out for.”
Speaking further, the former NIIA DG explained that anyone appointed as an ambassador without prior training as a diplomatic agent, or career ambassador was referred to as a “political ambassador.”
“Political ambassadors need diplomatic training to be able to perform diplomatic functions enshrined in the 1961 Vienna Convention. Most unfortunately, it is the political ambassadors that have always behaved in a manner considered not compatible with the status of diplomats,” he added.