Nigeria’s Economic Diplomacy Initiative as a Potential Catalytic Agent of Institutional Corruption

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

In a press release number MFA/PR/41/2018/23, on April 3rd, 2018, the launching of ‘Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Economic Diplomacy Initiative (NEDI)’ was announced and scheduled to take place on Thursday, 5th April, 2018 at the Banquet Hall, State House, Abuja. And true enough, it came to pass as planned: Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President, was on ground to launch the NEDI.

As explained by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ‘NEDI is an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMTI); the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC); and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC).’ More important, ‘the initiative aims at spurring economic growth and development through facilitation of market access, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), cross-border trade and recruitment of skilled Nigerians in Diaspora for national development.’

And perhaps most importantly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has it that the ‘NEDI leverages on online technology and on existing infrastructure in Nigerian Missions across the world. The platform is divided into two parts – NEDI Business and NEDI Professionals.’ In this regard, while ‘NEDI Business matches Nigerian Business with business opportunities around the world,’ the NEDI Professional ‘serves as a one-stop shop for recruiting and engaging Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora for national development.’
Additionally, at the launching of the NEDI on April 5, Professor Osinbajo said: ‘economic diplomacy, as most of us know, is the use of diplomatic methods to address national economic interest and, of course, it has a key role to play in our case in achieving the objectives in our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).’

Thus, many issues are directly and indirectly raised in the initiative. First, what do we mean by Nigeria’s economic diplomacy? This expression implies that there is another economic diplomacy that is not Nigerian in character. Put differently, economic diplomacy also exists elsewhere, and by implication, there is also the economic diplomacy that is typically Nigerian which we should be dealing with now.

Again, when talking about economic diplomacy, that is typically Nigerian, in which way is the new economic diplomacy launched on Thursday, April 5, 2018, majorly different from that of the Ibrahim Babangida era? It should be recalled that under the military presidency of Babangida, Major-General Ike Nwachukwu came up with the policy of economic diplomacy when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs.

And to a great extent, the policy has always been talked about since then. In many ways, it is not different from what is again being proposed to Nigeria and the world as a new initiative. For instance, the institutional stakeholders are not different: NIPC, NEPC, FMTI, and, in fact, the private sector stakeholders were also conceived to be actively involved. The objectives are essentially the same: attraction of fresh FDI in order to grow and develop the economy. It was on the basis of the Ike Nwachukwu-driven economic diplomacy that even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a special trade and investment unit headed by Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya who brought the private sector to equip the unit in an unprecedented scientific manner.

Besides, the launching of the NEDI took place on the same day the Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit was also held. The summit was organised to promote economic diplomacy through partnerships. This means that it is not only the Federal Government, but also the state governments, that are showing much concern for issues in economic diplomacy. Therefore, when discussing Nigeria’s diplomacy, what the constitutive states of Nigeria do, are necessarily also constituent parts of Nigeria’s diplomacy and cannot be restricted to only what the federal ministries do.

As such, what makes the NEDI an initiative? Is it really a new initiative? An initiative necessarily implies ingenuity, originality, freshness of idea, a new beginning, a new development, a new approach, acting first, and, in fact, something that is not comparable. While it can be admissible that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is taking a fresh look at the old or existing policy of economic diplomacy, especially from the perspective of seeking to leverage on online technology and trying to have a two-typology approach -business and professionals – in the implementation of the economic diplomacy, the truth still remains basic: the NEDI is a reflection of change-in-continuity. Consequently, the use of the word ‘initiative is not appropriate as it suggests an academic theft or intellectual fraud, which should not be.

If Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama wants to re-invent the existing economic diplomacy, there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, it will be quite commendable, especially that the Buharian administration is yet to have any clear foreign policy focus since it came to power. Seeking to articulate one for the government cannot but therefore be a welcome development. However, changing the tactic or technique does not make the fresh approach conceptually an initiative.

What probably could qualify the NEDI as an initiative is the fact that it has the great potential to promote and strengthen institutional corruption in Nigeria and the reason cannot be far-fetched: who are the professionals to be used? Will they not be or include Nigerians, especially senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? In terms of Nigerian businesses and international business opportunities, in which way will they be different from what are currently in place in terms of inter-personal relationships? Regarding the attitudinal disposition of the Nigerian business men, and that of the public servants, in which way will NEDI address it for the purposes of economic growth and development?

Without scintilla of doubt, the Nigeria of today is that of self-deceit and where policy pronouncement always conflicts with policy implementation. Nigeria of today is where a Government Agency or Department or Ministry will approve or adopt a policy decision and then come back to eat its words claiming ignorance of the time of adoption of the earlier decision. No continuity of policy. New policy is without historical precedents informing it. Every Minister is a leader without follower and philosophy. And perhaps, most disturbingly, Nigeria is apparently the only country in the world where the very people who are required to ensure good governance are the same people aiding and abetting bad governance frolic around with impunity.

Put differently, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is talking about recruiting professionals, the Ministry, even under the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, there is the need to ask how it has managed or supervised the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in its capacity as Supervisory Authority. Asking such question is apt in order to appreciate how the Ministry is likely to manage the NEDI when saddled with the responsibility. In this regard, Vie Internationale posits, and strongly too, that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as it is, is not capable of implementing NEDI or any policy without having to encircle itself in subjectivity of purpose, with corruption, political chicanery, and ethnic jingoism.

Again, and for the umpteenth time, the empirical case of what happened at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs is a clear illustration of the foregoing thrust. One case study may not be sufficient to make a general conclusion. However, when a government is coming out to the public to preach the gospel of holiness, fairness and justice as basis for national development, and yet the same government is also consciously aiding and abetting unholiness of character, unfairness and injustice in political governance, the people of Nigeria only need to remind the same Government not to make haste in forgetting history and moving slowly in admitting that truth is constant.

NEDI as Potential Agent of Corruption

There are two main rationales for considering the NEDI as a potential and catalytic agent of corruption under the present Buharian administration. The first rationale is that the administration is on record to have been consciously appointing people with known bad records in public positions. President Muhammadu Buhari does not appear to bother much about integrity of those people serving under him. He is always claiming their competence over moral integrity as justification for his action and official remissness. There is no disputing the fact that the Buhari administration attempted to reinstate the former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Mr Abdulkareem Maina. Mr. Maina was indicted and sacked because of mismanagement of N2.7 billion pension funds.

There is also the case of the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf, who was indicted for corruption, and yet, President Buhari is on record to have reinstated him. Additionally, on Tuesday, 3rd April, 2018, the organised labour unions drew public attention to the plans by the Federal Government to reinstate the Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mr. Mounir Gwarzo, who is currently on suspension for corruption charges.

Concerns about the plans of his reinstatement prompted the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) to remind that ‘Gwarzo was suspended after a properly constituted administrative panel set up by the Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, found him culpable of financial impropriety.’ What the President and his cabal do not probably know, the ASCSN has also said, is that ‘the impression being created in the minds of millions of Nigerians with the policy of recalling chief executives and other top government officials enmeshed in financial malpractices is that the war against corruption is a ruse.’ I cannot agree more with this viewpoint and this brings us to the second rationale: the case of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the handling of the case.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the Supervisory Authority for the NIIA. When I was the Director General of the NIIA, 2010-2015, I drew the attention of the then Governing
Council, chaired by Major General Ike Omar Nwachukwu, to various acts of serious misconduct as defined in the Public Service Rules in which some members of staff were engaged but which the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council simply covered up.
For instance, Miss Agatha Ude, Director of Administration and Finance, changed promotion examination result for some staff and I complained to the Council. The Council asked the Council Committee on Appointments and Promotions to look at the matter. Being the complainant and also the statutory chairman of the committee, another member of the committee was directed to chair the investigation. When the decision was to be taken on the matter, I was asked to go and look for some ludicrous documents. When I returned and still raised questions about the matter, I was told the matter had been resolved by the Committee of which I was a member. I could only protest, but to no avail.

The same Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council dictated the contents of the letter to be sent to assessors of professorial candidates, a thing that had never occurred in the life and academic existence of the NIIA. In fact, for the first time, the Director of Research and Studies, Professor Ogaba Danjuma Oche, revealed the names of possible assessors to the candidates. The Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council opted to keep silent over it.

And true enough again, the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council adopted a policy that set aside the Federal Government’s monetisation policy and replaced it with what it called the university approach, according to which the payment of 8% of basic salary is required as rental charge for occupation of official quarters. The official quarters of the NIIA is located on Idejo street, Victoria Island. It is a block of ten flats built under Professor Bolaji Akinyemi when he was Director General. Each flat contains four bedrooms and a self-contained and standard Boys Quarters en suit. By whatever international definitional criteria, the block and the flats were of international standard.

In addition, there are reserved two parking slots for each flat apart from the open space for general parking. The bitter truth here is that, in the absence of an official quarters for me as the Director General, I accepted to continue to live in the flat in which I was before my appointment as Director General. I lived with my colleagues without any jot of status difference.

The problem, however, was that instead of the N40,000 naira rental charge being paid for the 4-bedroom flat monthly, or N480,000 by each resident I was paying N90,000 monthly while another staff was paying N12,000 monthly for the same flat of 4 bedrooms, with the same facilities, in the same location on the basis of the Ike Nwachukwu Council’s policy. The main rationale for this is the argument of low income of some other occupants like Dr. Efem Ubi and Dr. Joshua Bolarinwa who were paying N12,000 and N14,000 naira every month respectively. This was the type of Justice the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council was pursuing, not because the Council had sympathy for the poor, but because of the need to fight my objectivity of purpose.

The bitter truth is that I and my very patriotic team were putting in place a new international conference centre in which the Governing Council was interested but over which it could not influence the direction. The Council sought different ways to scuttle it under the pretext of non-compliance with due process, which was far from the truth. It sought to indict me. It wrote secret reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Investigations were carried out but without anyone asking me any question up till today. Yet, decisions were taken on the basis of one-sided investigation. But fair enough too, no one has officially accused me of any wrong doing. The best the Council could do was to prevent the confirmation of my appointment for another term. For this, I have been sincerely grateful, because I will never, whatever the circumstances, accept to work against my country, Nigeria, and particularly against any government that puts me in any position of trust.

This probably explains why the then Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Bulus Lolo, not only gave different instructions to the Director of Administration and Finance Agatha Ude, aimed at frustrating my developmental efforts at the NIIA. The sae cannot but also explain why Ambassador Pius Ayewoh, acting on behalf of the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council, held several purported meetings of reconciliation with Dr. Efem Ubi and other petitioners, all in an attempt to undermine my policy of no compromise with indiscipline, and particularly corruption, official remissness and recklessness.

The truth about the meetings was to incite the petitioners against me. The ultimate end of the incitement was to the extent that Dr. Efem Ubi and his wife later physically assaulted in a very indecent manner my wife. The matter was referred to the police and eventually to the court. Dr. Ubi and the wife have been convicted in the court. Going by the Public Service Rules, Dr. Ubi is supposed to have been on suspension on the very day of his conviction pending the decision of the Public Service Commission. However, neither the Management of the NIIA, nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nor the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is bothered about the conviction. The ex-convict is at the NIIA, behaving as if court conviction does not have its consequences. In fact, the conviction does not mean anything to the NIIA Management.

I have said, and I still insist, the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council has bastardised the NIIA and its future beyond immediate repairs. One resultant effect is the inability of directors to know the limitations to their official recklessness. When I went to the NIIA to deliver a public lecture on “Sustaining Peace and Security in the ECOWAS Sub-region,” on the invitation of Shalom Vineyard Initiative, an educational non-governmental organisation, on Friday, October 19, 2017, otherwise about two years after I left office, the NIIA security men prevented me and my entourage from entering the premises of the NIIA.

I protested and insisted on having a court order to that effect. The security men explained that there was no court order but a written directive signed by Miss Agatha Ude, Director of Administration and Finance, Mrs. Abimbola Dada, Director of Library and Professor Ogaba Oche, Director of Research and Studies to that effect. I referred the matter to the incumbent Director General, Professor Bukar Bukarambe. In the absence of remorse and an official apology, the matter is being referred to the court for determination and justice since the Management of the NIIA is specifically implying that I and my family have no right to enter the premises of the NIIA even though we are bonafide citizen of Nigeria by ius sanguinis.

When the foregoing is reviewed against the background of the NEDI, especially in terms of NEDI Professionals and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs being the coordinator of NEDI, I seriously have doubts about the capacity and capability of the professionals that will be brought together to recruit Nigerians in Diaspora for the purposes of national growth and development. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, in fact, the Government of Muhammadu Buhari, has opted to keep mute on the NIIA matter, and yet the government is preaching anti-corruption as a gospel. Government is fighting corruption at the top level but allowing its growth at the bottom level. This is cutting leaves at the top but watering the roots and the stems of corruption. In fact, the pattern of political governance in Nigeria is increasingly showing decision-taking by non-objectivity of purpose. This is most unfortunate.

Consequently, if it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the supervisory authority of the NIIA, under the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, who for whatever reasons, opted to keep quiet over various acts of indiscipline at the NIIA and to which his attention was drawn when he assumed duty as Foreign Minister, the NEDI cannot but, at best, be an agent of further corruption in Nigeria because the Foreign Minister is much likely to keep silent over national questions when they will be required to be addressed decisively and objectively. The Foreign Minister could not show any patriotic courage of looking into official complaints on his table when he became the Foreign Minister. He has, in fact, also been showing this same attitude when Nigerians are in trouble overseas and are seeking help.

In conclusion, it is important to note that there is nothing wrong with the conception of NEDI. However, it should not be presented as a new initiative. The methodology for NEDI businesses and NEDI Professionals should be articulated and made known to all Nigerians for further inputs if need be. This will enable garnering public support for the NEDI where necessary. The NEDI can be helpful in the immediate future if the operators are not wrapped up in the glory of subjectivity of purpose, institutional corruption, and scientific ethnic chauvinism.