Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria and Democratic Control of Foreign Policy

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN), Lagos Chapter, held its first annual lecture on Thursday, 13th September, 2018 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). The theme of the lecture was “Democratic Control of Foreign Policy: the Nigerian Experience.” The lecture was delivered by Professor Nuhu Yaqub, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja. The audience was essentially comprised of former ambassadors plenipotentiary and extraordinary. In the unavoidable absence of Ambassador Olu Sanu, a veteran diplomatist per excellence, who was to chair the occasion, the incumbent President of the ARCAN, Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, stood in for him, while Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya served as the Master of Ceremony.

In his opening remarks, Ambassador Fafowora noted that when the association was formed in 1985, it was meant to be a private interest group. However, the current situational reality on the ground requires interacting more with the general public. He further explained that foreign policy is one subject to which the public hardly contributes. In fact, as he put it, there is a disconnect between the government and the people on the issue of foreign policy, especially in light of the fact that the media professionals are more interested in domestic questions.

More importantly, Ambassador Fafowora not only posited that public opinion is necessary in foreign policy making, particularly if there is to be public awareness, but also admitted that the Government of Nigeria does not even think that the general public has the legitimate right to know. This is why, in his thinking, the ARCAN has to plan in order to put in place an annual foreign policy address by the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is expected to bridge the long gap between the public and the government in the conduct and management of foreign policy.

It should be noted that this is a most welcome development if it can come to pass. There used to be an NIIA Patron’s Annual Dinner during which Mr. President as the Patron, delivers a Foreign Policy Speech in which policy decisions and foreign policy orientation are explicated. All the members of the diplomatic corps were always invited. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, discontinued it, probably because of alleged huge costs of organising the dinner. Even under former President Goodluck Jonathan, attempt was made to resuscitate it after more than a decade of suspension of the programme. Arrangements were made and completed for the Patron’s Dinner to take place. However, it was cancelled at the last minute. Consequently, if the ARCAN wants an annual foreign policy address limited to the level of the Foreign Minister, and to the delivery of an address without much of food diplomacy, the agenda can be feasibly and efficiently implemented.
This then raises the linkage between the lecture title and the objectives of the ARCAN.

The linkage between the theme of lecture and the ARCAN is quite interesting from many perspectives. First, the ARCAN is already functioning as Citizen diplomats and is interested in playing active roles in foreign policy, even though its members are retired. The choice of topic clearly shows that it is much concerned about the extent to which there can be democratic control of foreign policy. Put differently, can there really be any democratic control of foreign policy? This was one question that generated much debate during the question and answer session.
Secondly, the choice of guest speaker is noteworthy: Dr. Yaqub is not only a Professor of Political Science, but has also published extensively in the area of democracy. Additionally, he is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, a Fellow of the Social Science Academy of Nigeria, and the current President of the Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA). Thus, he has the necessary intellectual wherewithal to dissect the topic.

Thirdly, the ARCAN started as an Association of Retired Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARAN) in 1985. The review of the name to include ‘career’ not only raises the question of who is an ambassador but also raises when the name should be answered. In this regard, it is being suggested that only career ambassadors should be members of the ARCAN. Political ambassadors, self-named ambassadors and roving ambassadors are not eligible to join the professional group, simply because they are not professional ambassadors.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, the ARCAN appears to be following the footsteps of the Committee on External Economic Relations, the Political Affairs Committee and the Committee on Institutional Affairs of the European Union, which have been considering how best to further enhance the European Parliament in shaping Community foreign policy. In other words, the European Parliament is controlling the Community’s foreign policy, but it appears that the control has not been enough or efficient, and therefore it is seeking other avenues in improving on its control measures. In this regard, in which way is the control of foreign policy at the level of the European Union different from the experience of Nigeria? What do we mean by democratic control? What is foreign policy? Should there be any democratic control of foreign policy at all? These are some of the questions attended to by both the guest lecturer and the participants.

Issues in Democratic Control

The first issue to address in democratic control of foreign policy is the conception of democratic control: what makes an act of control democratic? Roland Bieber, for instance, believes that democratic control is essentially about supervision through some mechanisms put in place for that purpose. In his article, “Democratic Control of European Foreign Policy,” he says that ‘democratic control mechanisms are those which implement the characteristic principles of democratic systems. These consist first and foremost of the right of supervision and control exercised by elected parliament, supplemented by procedures ensuring separation and limitation of powers, the legality of acts of the institution, and transparency and efficiency.’

Put differently, it is implied in this quotation that there can be democratic control but the control cannot but be by an elected parliament. This also means that parliamentarians are supposed to be the controlling agents, since they represent the people. The control is to be ensured through respect for separation and limitation of powers, as well as for the legality of acts of the institution, and the need for transparency and efficiency. For instance, while the executive arm of government can be quite free to negotiate international treaties, the implementation of such treaties cannot but be subject to the control measures which include supervision.

A second issue is who is best placed to control foreign policy? In Nigeria, there are many foreign policy centres. The Ministry of Education, for instance, deals with education and therefore relates with the UNESCO. The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture similarly relates with the UNESCO. The Federal Ministry of Health is in contact with the World Health Organisation. In fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is supposed to be the foreign policy coordinating ministry. It is the major and most important foreign policy institution in Nigeria. The Presidency cannot also be neglected. The same is true of the National Assembly.

The problem, however, is not only the fact that, more often than not, the foregoing institutions which tangentially engage in foreign policy activities, but also the fact that they do not always carry the Ministry of Foreign Affairs along. The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs behave as if they are not working for the same Government and people of Nigeria. In this type of situation, it is useful to ask the extent to which the ARCAN can be able to control the various foreign policy institutions effectively, when the Presidency is on record to have even bypassed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the making of some foreign policy decisions.

Explained differently, a foreign policy lobbyist can only seek to monitor or control what is made known to it. The ARCAN cannot but find it difficult unless it also seeks the support of other foreign policy associations in the country, as rightly pointed out by Professor Nuhu Yaqub. The guest lecturer suggested in this regard the need to collaborate with the Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), of which Professor Bola A. Akinterinwa is the President/Director General; the Society for International Relations Awareness, of which the guest lecturer is also the incumbent president, etc. But, it is still possible for such a lobby group to seek information it desires on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act. Whether the type of information sought will be granted remains another question entirely.

This is so because President Muhammadu Buhari strongly believes that the protection of the national interest should take precedence over the rule of law. In this regard again, who determines what constitutes the national interest beyond the protection of territorial integrity, national security, and self-preservation? When should the need for protection of human rights take precedence over the need for national security?

A third issue is the definitional status of an ambassador. An Ambassador has different appellations. Those accredited by the Catholic pontiff are called Papal nuncios. High Commissioners are those accredited between and among the Member States of the Commonwealth Organisation. Those accredited between and among the Member States of the French Community, that is, the Francophone countries, especially as from the 1960s, are referred to as High Representatives. All the Heads of Mission are classified on the basis of the status of their diplomatic missions.

In other words, to be eligible to answer the name ‘Ambassador,’ it must be clearly stated in the Accreditation Letter of the Sending State that the holder of the letter is an ambassador with full powers to act on behalf. This is why the title of an ‘Ambassador is further qualified with ‘plenipotentiary and extraordinary.’ Plenipotentiary is coined out from a French word, ‘plénipotentiaire,’ that is, with full powers. The element of ‘extraordinary’ is simply to suggest that, as a representative, he or she should be trusted as he/she is considered to be a confidant of the President accrediting him.

The point to note here is that the title of an ‘Ambassador’ can only be used by a diplomatic careerist, and not by political appointees, after their leaving office. Many non-career ambassadors like to be addressed as ambassadors after the completion of their tenure. This is wrong. The title can be included in bracket as part of their documentary titles but not as an acquired title. Non-career ambassadors have the legitimate right to answer the name of an ambassador by virtue of the presentation of the Letter of Recall of the outgoing ambassador and his or her own Letter of Accreditation to the host president.

The truth of the matter here is that the word ‘ambassador’ has both a political and a professional meaning. It has a political meaning when we talk about nomination as ambassador-designate and eventually as ambassador when an agrément is procured. This is political appointment. As for professional meaning, it is the crescendo of the title attainable in the diplomatic profession. First degree holders begin their career at the level of a Third Secretary, then promoted to the grade of Second Secretary and ultimately to the level of a director. Under normal circumstance, as from grade level 16, they can be appointed as an ambassador. But most unfortunately, many are prevented from reaching the highest level of their career for reasons of selfish and destructive politics. The implication of the foregoing is that the membership of the ARCAN is deliberately restricted to the career ambassadors. This can be further explained by different factors. Government is increasingly giving prominence to political ambassadors to the detriment of the careerists. Without doubt, many political ambassadors, especially the academics among them, do well as ambassadors. But many others are more of a burden. In an attempt to protect the personality of the careerists, a deliberate policy of discrimination was adopted, especially that ambassadorial appointments are increasingly being made in the spirit of patronage and to the detriment of diplomatic finesse.

A fourth issue is the protocolar order of precedence in Nigeria’s foreign policy. The ARCAN is against the practice of saying ‘all protocols duly observed,’ or ‘standing on existing protocol.’ In the thinking of the ARCAN, especially as explained by Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya, every protocol should be observed and not collectivised.

As much as this classical approach may still be condoned, the ARCAN must not close its eyes to the current situational reality at the African Union. It should be recalled that, the African Union Commission under the former South African Foreign Minister, Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma as chairperson, presidents were given the policy of five by two minutes to speak during debates. Every speaking leader is given a total of seven minutes to address the Assembly of Heads of States. The first five minutes were meant for general points’ submission. At the end of five minutes, the speaker is reminded by the jingling of the bell that only two minutes are left to conclude.

As many of the presidents were used to long story telling, spending unnecessarily time to thank their host government for the warm reception and having little time to discuss their more essential issues, presidents were cut off automatically at the end of the last two minutes. When the first president who spoke was caught off at the end of the time limit, the second speaker suffered the same fate, the third speaker noted that something was ‘obviously wrong’ but was still caught off at the end of the seven minutes. Then came the fourth president, who knew that it would no longer be business as usual, said, in the Nigerian fashion, ‘all protocols observed.’

Thereafter, many presidents opted to say ‘all protocols duly observed’ to save time. Many others who were able to manage their time well, observed limited order of precedence and therefore focused greater attention on the main points of their submission. This was how what the diplomatic corps in Nigeria often take as a not-serious-enough protocol by non-diplomats during official and officious meetings, has now been elevated to continental acceptance at the African Union. This simply means that there is no longer any big deal about classical order of precedence and protocol. In the very manner the definition of security has to be redefined by African scholars to include security of the stomach and social security, the observation of protocol has the potential to be significantly revisited.

This not only means a good diplomatic creativity on the part of Nigerians, but also a major contribution to the diplomatic lexicon. Consequently, it may not be in the long-term interest of the ARCAN to stand against Nigeria’s own style and contribution, if other countries are already imbibing it. In fact, diplomacy is an art and science to which many countries have been contributing. The contributions are articulated and directly or indirectly imposed on others under the pretext of diplomatic civilisation.

Nigeria’s Experience

In one of the many observations of Professor Nuhu Yaqub, he said foreign policy tradition is so privatised in a sense because it is always conducted in secrecy. He therefore raised the question of the extent to which foreign policy can be democratised in light of this situation. In his eyes, foreign policy can be intriguing in its making, implementation, and particularly in terms of its politics.

Professor Yaqub submitted that there is yet to be democracy in Nigeria and that what currently obtains is civil rule. The interpretative conclusion therefore is that, if there is no democracy in Nigeria, no one can logically talk about any democratic control of foreign policy in Nigeria. At best, we can talk about civil rule control, in which case the role of the National Assembly has to be reassessed. Put differently, can it be rightly argued that the various provisions on foreign policy in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, do not fall within the purview of democratic control? How do we explain the dualist character of ratification of international agreements done by Nigeria, which subjects the enforcement of such international agreement to an initial domestication before entry into force in Nigeria?

Without doubt, the truth is that Nigeria’s foreign policy is democratically controlled in different ways. Nigeria, not belonging to the Monist School of thought in international law, not only requires ratification by the executive arm of government but also the final approval, called ‘domestication’ before such an international agreement can be implemented or enter into force. This is an expression of democratic control of foreign policy.
More interestingly, the ARCAN and other foreign policy interest groups can control and supervise foreign policy in the area of formulation of foreign policy principles, modalities for policy formulation and preparation for participation in international conferences, as well as in the conduct and management of bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral relations.

In terms of scope of control and supervision of foreign policy, Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution requires the media, as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, to monitor political governance and to hold the government accountable. Foreign policy is necessarily an important issue in political governance. For instance, as rightly pointed out by the guest lecturer, that there should be greater collaboration between and among the existing various foreign policy groups, either as research centres or advocacy, the ARCAN can always provide the required leadership in bringing all the stakeholders together, in order to assist in shaping and articulating Nigeria’s foreign policy direction. The beauty of Professor Yaqub’s lecture is that it elicited much debate and interest. The lessons from the lectured should be taken advantage of so that there can be a meaningful basis for further promoting democratic control of foreign policy in Nigeria and so that the environmental conditionings can also be made more conducive.

Related Articles