Before this time President Muhammadu Buhari had been adjudged Nigeria’s de facto foreign affairs official. He got that unofficial appellation after having singlehandedly performed the roles of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Permanent Secretary of the ministry, and the ambassadors of Nigeria to foreign missions collectively in the early days of his administration.
Of course the assumption was essentially premised on his numerous international trips, otherwise known as Shuttle Diplomacy, during his first few weeks in office as the new President of Nigeria. During that period the president covered over 27 countries including Niger, Chad, Germany, South Africa, United Kingdom, USA, Cameroon, Benin, France, Ghana, India, Sudan, Iran, France, Malta, UAE, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Equatorial Guinea.
These international engagements were largely conducted without a Foreign Minister, substantive ambassadors in Nigeria’s missions abroad, especially in the foreign nations where the President had visited and with prevalent ambivalence within the ministry over the character of the diplomatic officialthat would eventually serve as the permanent secretary of the ministry under the new administration.
Indeed, the concern about who the permanent secretary for the Foreign Ministry of a nation like Nigeria, which with all her foibles, is still regarded within the international relations milieu as a formidable regional diplomatic force on the continent of Africa, is very much in good faith.
And since foreign policy by its fundamental composition is basically a product of the domestic environment, the discussion and concern over the seasoned bureaucrat that will effectively superintend the affairs of Nigeria’s foreign objectives and relations and harmonise all valuable influences within the ministry is certainly of utmost priority.
Even though Nigeria is yet to articulate its foreign policy direction, one can easily assume that the fight against corruption, the war against international terror and insurgency in the Northern Nigeria in addition to troubling voices of secessionists and Avengers from the Southern Nigeria as well as the diversification of the nation’s economy from over dependence on oil would inform Nigeria’s foreign objectives and relationships with the outside world.
As such, the country needs not only the ideas just in papers or on a computer, it sure deserves a thoroughbred, excellent and tested diplomat that would stimulate and galvanise positive actions from within the nation’s diplomat corps to perform in line with positive trend in global diplomacy. And this will ultimately help to highlight President Buhari’s programme in the international community and also considerably save him from expending energy and time on full diplomatic responsibilities while other critical areas of nation-building are seriously calling for attention.
You will recall that the President only appointed his minister of foreign affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, an accomplished legal officer, after some of Nigeria’s less-than-powerful and impactful diplomatic outings and statements and much hue and cry on the need for the President to completely release the nation’s diplomatic assignment to the experts.
Even though Geoffrey Onyeama, a political appointee, has been seen smoothly running some diplomatic activities, the need for a professional diplomat to complement the minister’s works in giving a clear direction to our foreign policy and improving Nigeria’s diplomacy particularly under the current government was beyond expedient.
So the latest appointment of the new permanent secretary, Ambassador Olusola Enikanolaiye, is a long anticipated necessity in Nigeria’s move to repositioning and claiming her rightful place in the international affairs and within international community.
Interestingly, words from within and outside of Nigerian diplomatic quarters have
alluded to this appointment as a mirror into the world of renewed and vibrant diplomatic policies, actions and decisions by Nigeria. And, Enikanolaiye, beyond his first class and distinction academic awards in Ahmadu Bello, University of Lagos and Oxford universities respectively, is said to be “a major contributor to the development and articulation of Nigeria’s foreign policy and diplomatic practice with emphasis on institutional development, security and peace keeping matters, including the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity to the African Union, the evolution of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as well as regional integration in Africa, among others.”
But as they say, especially among Nigerians, the taste of the pudding is undoubtedly in the eating. And, indeed, Nigerians do have their high expectations as regards addressing some critical issues that are pivotal to the advancement of the nation’s diplomatic efforts.
For a while poor funding has been ascribed as a massive and major impediment to Nigeria’s diplomatic progress. Because a situation where Nigerian diplomats are subjected to embarrassment by authorities and citizens of their host countries due to non-payment of billslike water, electricity and sanitation does not look well for a country that is desirous of repositioning herself on the global platform of serious diplomatic debates and negotiations.
So as the new permanent secretary is vast on institutional development and reforms, he and his minister can, hopefully, also embark on the training and deployment of sound and digitally-savvy diplomatic personnel who will brilliantly hold conversations and coordinate relationships in this highly technologically-driven world that we live in.
The issue of poor remuneration, which has partly contributed to poor performance and demotivation amongst the ranks, should also occupy the front burner in our solutions to diplomatic challenges.While there should be a way out of property agents and landlords consistently bombarding some Nigerian missions abroad with notes for non-payment of rents, the president should also make efforts to appoint substantive ambassadors that will be the real faces of the country in foreign countries. Representatives of potential foreign investors and businesses will be quite comfortable to interact with on their intentions to bring their businesses to Nigeria.
It must also be emphasised that as Digital Diplomacy is gaining traction as an important tool in the delivery and promotion of a nation’s foreign policy as shown by many countries within the northern and southern divides of the world, Nigeria will achieve a lot more if she can quickly tap into this enabler for advanced diplomacy.
And in this vein, just a simple diplomatic-app that will convey vital elements of the Nigeria’sforeign policy actions and endeavours, major achievements in international relations, promote opportunities, decency in our foreign missions and attract valuable suggestions for improvements and many more will certainly be remarkable as a milestone of this government in strengthening the country’s diplomatic space.