Ambassadorial List… Experts Raise Concern Over Delayed Posting

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The Nigerian diplomatic turf appears to be in a state of uncertainty following the delay in the appointment of substantive heads of Nigerian foreign missions in the positions of ambassadors and high commissioners with possible implications.

While it is not clear from the government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu about the reasons for the delay since the heads of missions were recalled in September last year, some retired Nigerian ambassadors and experts in international relations have reacted to this development.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the time of filing this report, had not officially reacted to LEADERSHIP’s request as to why the government is delaying the release of the ambassadorial list and subsequent deployment of the envoys to Nigeria’s various missions. However, a source within the Ministry told our correspondent on Sunday that the matter rests absolutely with the Presidency.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP yesterday, a former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi, said ambassadors and high commissioners are the highest officers at the diplomatic missions and it was not a good idea to “leave the foreign missions vacant for long because of the serious implications it might have regarding how the nation is rated within the comity of nations”.

He added that “if our diplomacy must achieve the desired results, then the earlier the substantive ambassadors are appointed to replace the ones that have been recalled the better.”

Also speaking to LEADERSHIP yesterday, former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who served as one time envoy to Ethiopia, Ambassador Bulus Lolo, explained that the appointment of ambassadors is the prerogative of the President, adding that no law stipulates when ambassadors should be appointed after a President assumes office.

He said however that it will serve Nigeria’s national and strategic interest better to have ambassadors in place in countries where the level of representation is ambassadorial.

“This is because diplomacy is a rank conscious profession. An ambassador is the principal representative of the President who is a sovereign. In all jurisdictions around the world, the respect accorded an ambassador is higher than that of a lower ranking diplomat. Therefore, a Charge d’Affaires, whether En Titre or Ad Interim, will not command the respect that an ambassador would,” he said.

On the implications, Lolo said they are two-fold.

“First, for the time that there are no ambassadors to man Nigeria’s diplomatic missions abroad, one can safely presume or even conclude that access to certain doors, including investment opportunities for our country, may be circumscribed.

“Second, and this should be of greater concern to the President Tinubu-led administration; it takes a minimum of six months for an average Nigerian ambassadorial appointee to complete the requisite processes necessary before assumption of office abroad, particularly for those going to bilateral missions and, of necessity, need the consent of the receiving country.

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“With eleven months almost gone in the tenure of the administration, it means that ambassadors appointed by the government will have barely two and a half years to serve. Considering the time it will take for the ambassadors to settle down at their new posts, it stands to reason that they may probably not serve more than two productive years before changes may be made following the next presidential election in 2027, and this is what the administration will need to bear in mind as the President decides on when to announce the names of his ambassadorial nominees,” he said.

Lolo advised the President to hasten in the appointment of ambassadors adding that the longer it takes for this crucial action to be taken, the shorter will be the tenure of the appointees at their duty posts.

Reacting to this development, former Nigerian High Commissioner to Singapore, Ambassador Ogbole Ode, told LEADERSHIP that the nomination, screening, appointment and deployment of principal envoys to man Nigeria’s diplomatic and consular missions abroad follow a set process.

He said, “Some stages in the process are out of the control of the sending state (in this case, Nigeria), especially, where it concerns seeking the nod of the receiving state via what is called the Agrément. This, in international affairs, is the agreement by a state to receive the principal envoy of a diplomatic mission from a foreign country. In this procedure, the posting (sending) state formally requests consent, via a demande d’agréation, from the receiving state before appointing a principal envoy to the receiving state.”

He noted that while the current process had not gotten to this stage, it is still one of the stages that can be responsible for considerable delays.

“The nomination list might be what is causing the current ‘go-slow’, to use the popular Nigerian street parlance. Whilst the relevant rule found in the Foreign Service Regulations (FSR) stipulates a ratio of 70% – 30% in favour of career diplomats, one cannot say with certainty that the rule is being obeyed in contemporary Nigeria. The spoils of office syndrome may be at play.

“Screening of nominees by the relevant committee of the upper chamber of the Parliament is still awaiting us,” he said.

On the implications of the absence of envoys on Nigeria relations with other countries and major global events, the former envoy said that if it is viewed from the perspective of continuity in governance, one may say that not much is lost with the absence of substantive heads of Nigeria’s diplomatic missions across the globe.

He said, however, that when viewed from the perspective of diplomatic practice that relies heavily on rank and ranking, it means that the absence of principal envoys is detrimental to Nigeria’s ability to achieve set goals, especially but not limited to Nigeria’s multilateral missions.

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According to him, certain negotiations between countries can only be held at the level of substantive heads of missions and any officer of a lower rank participating in such meetings, both in representational capacity, may not be accorded “full credence”

On what President Tinubu must do  in this circumstance,  Ode said  the President could hasten the process by breathing down the neck of all stakeholders involved in the nomination process, adding that the screening process could be fairly laid out and accomplished ‘tout suite’.

He said, “Deployment of heads of missions could pose another delay. Here, it is the prerogative of Mr President on advice from Tafawa Balewa House.

“Passages, i.e passport and visa issuance to appointees and their families, ticketing, etc, could pose threats to quick and orderly departure of diplomats in general. Here, the foreign ministry must up its act to stymie the potential delay points”.

Contributing to the discourse, an expert in international relations and a lecturer at the Nigerian International Institute of Journalism, Abuja, Dr. Austin Maho said while it is the prerogative of  Mr President to have recalled heads of foreign missions as he did last year September, it is wrong to have done so without ready replacements.

He noted that Nigerians shouldn’t expect the international community to take the nation seriously if they don’t take themselves seriously.

He said “having charge d’ affairs as head of our foreign mission is supposed to be a temporary arrangement, not one that should exist for this long.

“The implications are grievous; the strong voice we need to drive our foreign policy objectives in the international scene is lacking. Only recently the minister of foreign affairs launched what it called its 4D foreign policy objective of Democracy, Demography, Diaspora and Development. How does it intend to drive it without ambassadors?

“What we have been hearing for several months now is that Mr President is vetting the list of ambassadorial appointments; I think this is taking too long.

“As long as the list is not overwhelmed by political jobbers and hangers-on but career ambassadors, I believe the Tinubu administration should as a matter of urgency give life to our foreign mission by releasing the list of appointments.”

International Constitutional Law expert, Livingstone Wechie, said the implications of not having ambassadors and high commissioners are very grave. He said that diplomats mediate and represent the interests of their home states in other nation, ranging from economy, défense, climate change, terrorism, global security, and  international politics.

He advised the Tinubu administration to immediately address this serious diplomatic deficit by appointing ambassadors from Nigeria failing which Nigeria’s diplomatic credibility will further cave and slide against Nigeria’s interest irreparably so.

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According to him, the current question is problematic at a time when more and more of the world’s problems, from climate change to mass migration to terrorism, are transnational in scope and beyond the capacity of single countries to resolve alone, and when there is a growing shift in power away from states and towards non-state actors.

He said, “Indeed, the transnational nature of today’s problems suggests that the state system itself with its formalised diplomacy, dominant since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, may no longer be sufficient to resolve today’s global challenges. However, formalised diplomacy is crucial because it partners non-state actors to address mutual global issues.

“The failure, neglect or refusal of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration to appoint ambassadors to foreign countries almost a year after assumption of office is a wrong signal and indicative of less commitment to diplomatic values. The fact is that if action is not taken, Nigeria’s growing foreign engagements and bilateral arrangements will not have the attention it deserves in terms of execution by foreign states and development partners”.

He recalled that the president had been embarking on many foreign trips and meeting diplomatic institutions without the relevant diplomatic signature. This, he said, will affect the buy-in of Nigeria’s partners because merely having a foreign affairs minister in a delegation may not be enough to fill that critical blank diplomatic space.

“Under Article 4 of the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations and Optional Protocols, 1961, an ambassador can be sent only after an agreement is entered into between the sending and receiving countries. Usually, it is a formal and routine practice.

 

“The president should immediately prioritise the appointment and deployment of Ambassadors and High Commissioners and use the same to tame the huge capital flight arising from the humongous foreign trips.

 

“By this, most of the foreign engagements and trips by the President can be handled by Diplomats in those states who should rather represent the Nigerian state in any bilateral engagements particularly during this austere economic period where the government must cut the cost of governance.

 

“The ambassadors or high commissioners must be competent to stand for the president instead of always wasting public funds on needless delegations from Nigeria,” he added.

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