Agenda For Foreign Affairs Ministers

By Oghogho Obayuwana   |   01 May 2010   |   10:00 pm  
NOW headed by Odein Henry Ajumogobia, a lawyer (and former Minister of State for Petroleum), the new team at the Foreign Affairs ministry is coming on board at a time Nigeria is making a critical bend in the transition to a more stable times in her engagement with the rest of the world!

Before the cabinet change, the foreign ministry had been labouring under the weight of a composition that had three ministers with deputies designated as ‘1’ and ‘2’. The bickering and a seeming clash of briefs had ensured that the Minister of State 1, Alhaji Jibril Maigari, was completely anonymous during the period. Perhaps the reason the Acting President decided to have a two-some this time around!

In the current team that also includes former Minister of State for Health, a medical doctor, Idi Hong, and the experienced diplomat, Amb. Martin Uhomoibhi as permanent secretary, Nigeria is now having a diplomatic set-up similar to what obtained during the Murtala-Obasanjo military government.

Diplomatic watchers think that Ajumogobia needs to blend Hong’s reserved nature and good service records with his own suave-nice-guy appearance to create a much-needed Nigerian diplomatic profile that is versatile and knowledgeable in both domestic and foreign affairs.

The new ministers on the saddle will now have to articulate the foreign policy vision of Acting President Jonathan.

But has the acting president really grinded out a new foreign policy thrust for Nigeria?

The Ajumogobia team has been bequeathed four pillars on which Nigeria’s foreign policy has stood in the last three years. These are Citizens Diplomacy, Neighbourhood Diplomacy, the Bi-national Commission (BNC) with the United States (US) as well as the new platform – the Global Strategic Partnership (GSP). The latter was birthed to collate, implement and expand a grand outreach that has now recently included some European Union (EU) members, China, India, Russia, South Africa and with prospects of those model with Brazil, Angola, Turkey and other of futuristic calculations that would be determined by Nigeria’s national interest.

The Present Challenges

In giving Nigeria’s foreign policy the needed push that is concomitant with its interface with today’s global reality, there are a number of issues currently begging for attention of the foreign ministry’s new men.

Nigeria’s poor image abroad, and the enrolment in the terror list following Farouk Abdumutallab’s failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft would not have so much dented Nigeria’s credentials if the federal government had imbibed the proactive principle in its foreign relations or is conscious of the fact that foreign policy is in truth the sum of the domestic policy of any modern nation state.

Starting with the last concept bequeathed by the receded administration-Neighbourhood Diplomacy: This was touted to be the vehicle for an update on Africa as the old centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. The idea was: If you take your neighbours serious you don’t keep away from them.

Foreign affairs experts think that Minister Ajumobobia should appraise neighbourhood diplomacy and see if it could achieve its purpose of becoming for Nigeria, a powerful conceptual tool of ensuring that the country engages more deeply, more strategically and more consistently to the benefit of her citizens, who have faith in continental integration.

The Nigeria-US Bi-national Commission, vigorously pursued for years before acting president Jonathan came on board, was finally signed last month in Washington. The BNC represents a sterling product of Nigeria’s diplomacy bearing in mind that the US is now the world’s sole super power. It deserves to be leveraged on because it also presents a credible platform for engaging on equal terms, the world’s sole super power, and attracting for Nigeria those exogenous resources, tangible and intangible, which only the US (for the time being) could provide for the national security of Nigeria, including sustainable growth and development.

In actualising the 2010 overseas postings for all categories, there is also the need for a follow up on the recommendation of appointment of new ambassadors to replace those who have been recalled or are due to be recalled by mid-year. This is necessary now to avoid creating prolonged vacuum in the missions and hampering Nigeria’s bilateral and multilateral relations.

Efforts should also be intensified by headquarters to use the budgetary and other available processes to urgently provide relief to many of Nigeria’s missions in dire financial distress. The ones already critically identified include Geneva, the permanent Mission in New York, Paris, Washington D.C, Rome, Luanda and Islamabad; and then, quickly take a deeper look — in terms of implications — and decide on the proposed closure of 10 of Nigeria’s missions as recommended by the Presidential Advisory Council.

The Unfinished Matters

Presently, what can be said to be the place of global reality in the engine of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy?

With the pronouncements so far, the feeling is that Nigeria is going to have relative stability in the management of the nation’s foreign policy. And citizens are expected to witness an era quite distant from the times when foreign policy oscillated around the whims and caprices of a particular foreign minister or is dependent on the mental capacity of the head of state.

Then, the old, germane questions must be asked: What in the days ahead will happen to Nigeria’s often vilified big power prism; or the medium power posturing; or the centre-piece doctrine?

Over the years, foreign affairs watchers in Nigeria have tended to appear lost in the mire. Many of them cannot predict Nigeria’s line of action in an emerging global phenomenon. They know the nation’s foreign policy officials make diplomatic shuttles, brainstorm at international meets but there is still an aloofness that does not allow the ordinary Nigerian fathom and predict what to expect from his government in those critical periods when the country should stand up and be counted.

Still more questions:

* What shape would economic diplomacy take in the new time?

* What is the fate of concentricism (Foreign policy revolving around concentric circles)?

* And as promised by erstwhile minister Okonjo-Iweala, are the ministry’s assets both at headquarters and abroad being appropriated to take care of all its liabilities in the new spirit of prudence?

* Are the activities of most Nigerian missions abroad still comatose due to a hiccupping flow of funds?

* Is the nation still faced with the attendant security implications of keeping unpaid, demoralised and unfocussed officers who may in time be paid by agents inimical to Nigeria’s interest? Is Citizens Diplomacy still working?

Answers may have started pouring in for these and many others as minister Ajumogobia told the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Relations that Nigeria’s foreign policy needed to be reviewed “to serve the emerging challenges of the country as a key player in Africa and global politics”?

The minister admitted that although the country’s foreign policy objectives were vividly captured in Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution under Fundamental Objectives, those objectives needed be reviewed to make them more relevant to the country and its citizenry.

Similarly, in his maiden interaction with the rest of the world through the principal representatives/envoys of diplomatic missions accredited to Nigeria, Ajumogobia noted that Nigeria needed all of its friends to stand by her now at its most difficult period.

But standing by Nigeria, he clarified, meant engaging with her in a manner that seeks strategic relationship that would foster collaboration rather than patronage and aid.

In his “six messages”, Ajumogobia said Nigeria’s immediate concerns now is the attainment of building “complimentary strategic political economic and social relationships that will foster partnerships, collaboration and cooperation rather than patronage and aid”

Identifying the new pillars as continuity, commitment to constitutional government, global engagement, successes and opportunities, the minister said that in the new Nigerian order, foreign policy has to now be “an engine for the growth of our economy, sustainable development and prosperity… A strong Nigeria is unquestionably an asset to the world”

In making these pronouncements, the minister must have been conscious of the fact that over the past couple of years, Nigeria had positioned itself to embrace the entire globe (in its economic partnership) and not just Africa as the canvass of exertions.

The Old Sore And New Challenges

It would appear that the federal government’s old avowal of economic diplomacy and the revitalization of the nation’s moribund joint venture agreements including a review of the omnibus ones in line with “new economic realities” have not been sufficiently driven. The agreements even as at the close of last year were still under a review process that started seven years ago!

Now, because this falls in the purview of the minister of state, Dr. Idi Hong will need to announce how much the nation saved up through the concentric circles approach to foreign issues. This will be difficult considering, for instance, that Nigeria was, until the establishment of a Hybrid force by the United Nations, spending undisclosed amount of foreign exchange in the pursuit of peace in Darfur, Western Sudan.

But even the foreign ministry itself has since been described as a sick engine on account of the fact that it does not function with modern tools. About nine years after former minister Ignatius Olisemeka told The Guardian that “what takes a foreign ministry elsewhere 30 minutes to get, we get it here in 10 days”. But the sore of an absence of interconnectivity with the rest of the world and reliable networking with the ministry’s missions abroad was being attended to before the cabinet reshuffle.

The other challenges had dared even citizens diplomacy in its face with the federal government’s routine statements on the sanctity of Nigerian life abroad vowing not to tolerate the situation whereby her citizens are treated with indignity on any shore.

In the past, there have been interventionist instances like the spectacular case of a curious death sentence passed on a Nigerian in Libya, that got commuted; the last minute stoppage of what would have been an amputation of Nigerian limbs in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the timely evacuation of Nigerian citizens who were trapped in Lebanon by the brief regime of Okonjo-Iweala and lately the rescue of Nigerian hostages off the coast of Somalia as well as the intervention in Ghana when Nigerian business were being hounded down. etc

But many still feel that the systematic dehumanization of Nigerians in the western hemisphere has largely gone unchallenged and on this, Ajumogobia must continue to act sensibly even in the defence of the right to dignity of stowaways. He must burst, once and for all, insinuations by aggrieved Nigerians of tendencies by some countries to seemingly design the rules and regulations in such a manner that suggests that they are targeted specifically at Nigerians both in terms of content and application; especially the inclination to stereotype all Nigerians abroad with the same mosaic brush and subject them to treatments that may be construed as discriminatory, selective and unjustified.

Getting Today’s Job Done

Beyond circulating protest notes verbal, Nigeria needs greater commitment to the security in the oil rich Niger Delta before the rest of the world.

The world is eagerly waiting to see how Nigeria would navigate the state of anomie in the Niger Delta, its cash cow (even though the situation has improved with the general amnesty programme), the serious social and economic infrastructure deficit, growing number of sectional, national, regional and sub-regional conflicts. Add these to the immense consular problems for Nigerians around the world, you can then see the manifest despondency, distrust and wariness of the international community towards Nigeria.

Foreigners in that volatile belt ought to be given more concrete assurances of their safety! With the knot of foreign policy being a reflection of domestic policy, the sore of the Niger Delta is taking a lot away from Nigeria. It has become a major foreign policy matter.

To do all of these however and make diplomatic charity earnestly begin at home, this giant needs a befitting structure that would be the hub of the entire gamut of nerves that should convey to the outside world Nigeria’s grand statement on the management of foreign policy, Clearly, Nigeria deserves a showpiece hub, an aperture through which the rest of the world can catch a glimpse of the country; and through which she can project her image to the rest of the world from the domestic scene. This has to be in similar manner that imperial France makes impression on any visitor through the masterpiece in Quai d’Orsay, Paris; the US’s State Department building in Washington DC ;and the Foreign and Commonwealth office in London — appetising visitors with the proudly renowned British foreign policy and the Egyptian foreign ministry building in Cairo

Commenting further on what needs to be done now, former permanent secretary of the ministry said that a lack of proper coordination between the ministry and other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the Federation, had seriously affected the foreign ministry’s ability to convey to its missions abroad, government policies and decisions in a timely manner, thus “undermining the effective articulation of the nation’s position on key foreign policy issues”. This he said must be done away with.

Nigeria’s former ambassador to Venezuela with concurrent accreditation to Colombia, Ecuador and Panama Ambassador Ayo Adeniran in an interview with The Guardian recommended closer collaboration between the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution IPCR, and possible merger of Nigeria’s two foreign aid agencies — TAC and Directorate of Technical Aid Corps (DTAC).

Adeniran, now with the National Defence College holds that “Autonomous existence is detrimental to a coherent foreign policy” and the vibrancy that Nigeria now seeks to give to same.

In the days ahead, the minister would do well to press for the template for the upgrading of the Foreign Service Academy as Nigeria’s primary unit of training in the model and standard of similar institutions in Brazil, India, Egypt and Germany.



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