Foreign Ministry and NIIA’s Recruitment of a New Director General: Beyond Politics of Malaise and Maladie

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Geoffrey Onyeama

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) used to be the leading foreign policy think tank in Nigeria. It also used to be an internationally recognised foreign policy research institution. The foundations of both the national and international recognitions of the institute were laid under previous seasoned diplomats and academics. The cases of the first Director General, Dr. Lawrence Fabunmi, a diplomatic careerist; Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi, a seasoned diplomatic scholar and former Foreign Minister; Professor Gabriel O. Olusanya, an astute administrator and diplomatic historian and Professor George O. Obiozor, a diplomatist per excellence, are noteworthy.

One major rationale for their very positive impact was the honesty and objectivity of purpose, that is completely devoid of jot of tribalism, of their Governing Council members. The Council members were nationalist in orientation and very academic in supervision. Another rationale for the greatness of the institute was also the factor of the placement of the institute under the supervisory authority of the Vice President. In the beginning, the NIIA was under the Ministry of External Affairs, but Professor Akinyemi is on record to have gallantly fought for it to be placed under the Vice Presidency and to the extent that the NIIA took directives on policy matters while maintaining its academic and independent status.

It was fully free to think freely. True enough, the institute freely combined theory and practice of international relations, on the basis of comparative methodologies, in providing policy advice to Government. And probably more interestingly too, the factor of no capital project to warrant the covetous attention of the Governing Councils in the day-to-day management of the institute, might have also explained the objective discharge of duties of all the then Council members.

As at today, the story is different. The current Governing Council of the institute apparently cannot function well as required, because of the very decadent situation it met in place. In fact, the NIIA is currently suffering from a tripod of epidemic malaise: The malaise of the Ike-Nwachukwu-led Governing Council which has completely debased the academic character of the NIIA and replaced with ethnic-induced indiscipline; the malaise of acquiescence of societal indiscipline and corruption; and the malaise of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a major obstacle to truth and patriotism-driven development of the institute. These three categories of malaise serve as the foundation of the poverty of ideas that has come to characterise the academic lull in the NIIA of today. The lull appears to have also prompted the placement of an advert for the recruitment of a new Director General, following the end of tenure of Professor Bukar Bukarambe, under whom the malaise became more complex as a result of inattention and don’t-care attitude of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Before now, placement of an advertisement to recruit the Chief Executive of the NIIA was a rarity. In fact, the first time attempt was made to recruit a Director General for the NIIA through advertorials was in 2011 when I was then the Acting Director General. The then Minister of Foreign Affairs was Henry Odein Ajumogobia, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and the then Permanent Secretary was Dr. Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, an Oxonian diplomatic historian. They sponsored the placement of the advert for reasons that we have reserved for the future. What should be noted for now is simply that, eventually, the advert served no purpose as there was never any interview for any candidate thereafter. This partly explains why it took exactly 365 days for the confirmation of my appointment to take place under a different seasoned diplomatic careerist and Foreign Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ayodeji Ashiru. In this regard, why another advertorial in the recruitment of a Director General? What has happened to the ministerial and presidential prerogative?

Unending Foreign Ministry Malaise
For the second time in the life history of the NIIA since 1961, an advert was placed in The Guardian of Friday, May 22, 2020 by Ambassador Mustapha L. Sulaiman, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is the supervisory authority of the institute. One main reason for the placement of this second advert cannot be far-fetched: the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council-inflicted malaise. The malaise, which was consciously inflicted by the Council and condoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has turned into an academic epidemic, and is now producing unwanted seeds. It is against this background that the recruitment of a new Director General should be understood.

Put differently, it is argued here that no amount of efforts undertaken by the Foreign Ministry can turn the NIIA around, especially through the placement of an advert, unless the bastardisation legacy left behind by the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council is first nipped in the bud. All the criteria advertised to be met by interested candidates, are, at best, good for nothing, without first removing the endemic attitudinal viruses. Two or three illustrations can explain the deep-seated rottenness, beginning with the advertorial.
The advert is good, it should be admitted, but the goodness is necessarily bastardised by one major criterion: factor of no age limit. This, hypothetically put, is very fraudulent. The advert gives one impression that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is sponsoring a candidate. Why is there no age criterion?

In the universities, retirement age is seventy years. In research institutions, retirement age is sixty-five, a major factor that has always put off many serious scholars and administrators to want to join the NIIA. There was the time a seasoned librarian from the University of Lagos took up appointment as Director of Library at the NIIA under the administration of Professor Gabriel Olusanya. He spent about a year and returned to his base, discovery the difference of five years of service he might be missing.

It is important to note that the retirement age of seventy years is only for academic scholars that have attained the professorial cadre. Non-academic staff retire at the age of sixty-five. Librarians that have academic publications are considered eligible to retire at 65. In the same vein at the NIIA, retirement age for all staff is either 35 years of service or 60 years of age, with the exception of the research or academic staff who retire at the age of 65 years.

On the basis of this distinction, promotion of staff is also made different. Non-academic staff are governed by the Public Service Rules while the promotion of the academic staff is strictly based on the rules obtained in the universities. And specifically, it is the regulations in the University of Lagos that apply at the NIIA with one additional criterion: that NIIA academics must have more academic points in publication than their counterparts in the university because the NIIA research staff do not carry any regular teaching responsibility. They are presumed to have more time for research, and therefore, more time to publish.

The point being made here is that there is no age limit to be met by interested candidates as advertised, meaning that a professor who has retired at 70 is still eligible to apply. The question here is this: why the omission of age criterion? Even if researchers have to prepare briefs for the Director General, the briefs have to be read and translated into policy recommendations. The extent to which an old man can run here and there to execute the mandate of an institute like the NIIA cannot be a child’s play.

For instance, one mandate of the institute is to promote and encourage the study of research into all aspects of international affairs within the framework of promotion of scientific study of international politics, economics and jurisprudence. In this regard, in a situation where the more people live in Nigeria, the younger one becomes in age and on records, especially as it has occurred at the NIIA, there is no disputing the hypothesis that the non-provision of age limitation in the recruitment advertorial is intentional and fraudulent. For the purposes of the uniqueness of the NIIA, being a world institute in Africa, an African institute in Nigeria, and a Nigerian institute in Lagos, the recruitment process must be completely devoid of political chicanery and influence politics. Any applicant for the position of the Director General of the NIIA must not have attained the age of 65 years as at the time of his or her application to be eligible, even if the advert is silent on the factor of age.

Without any whiff of doubt, there is beauty in longevity of experiential knowledge and one cannot buy experience with money. However, there is a serious limitation as to the physical fitness of old people in running up and down in the implementation of the mandate of the institute. President Muhammadu Buhari himself cannot even have the luxury of frolicking around because of his age. The immediate past Director General of the NIIA himself cannot truly come into the open and say he has ever spent more than four hours per day in office or claim to have ever resumed duty before 12 noon unless by force majeure. This situation is one of the resultants of Ike Nwachukwu’s legacy in the institute: reckless indiscipline and ethnic chauvinism.

Today’s Malaise, Tomorrow’s Maladie
The malaise of the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council can be likened to a diabetic wound, which we all know, can be quite difficult to heal. The ethnic politics of the institute itself is another dimension of the problem. Let me give some instances without much detail to illustrate. When I was appointed in 2003 as Special Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, CON, I applied to the then Director General, Mrs Joy Ogwu, for either leave of absence or secondment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under which the NIIA was and still is.

For more than two months, there was no response to say no or yes from Mrs Joy Ogwu. Ambassador Adeniji took the matter up with the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette, who not only wondered why approval was not given, but also considered that the NIIA and the Foreign Ministry were both government institutions, and therefore, directed that I should resume duty in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said that by the time I would be completing my new assignment, Mrs Ogwu would have left.

True enough, I served as Special Assistant to Ambassador Adeniji as Foreign Minister and as Minister of Interior. When I returned to the NIIA, Mrs Ogwu had left to serve as Foreign Minister, but with the strategic calculation of possibly coming back. She arranged for Professor Osita Eze to fill the gap. Professor Osita Eze ensured the continuity of her service. I wrote him to inform that I had reported for duty. He noted in his reply, signed by Mr. Alex Ekeanyanwu, that I was no longer a staff of the NIIA. I referred the matter to the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe. For almost one year, I was shuttling between Lagos and Abuja without salary.

At the end of the day, Ambassador Kingibe could not understand how I absconded and therefore, directed that I should be re-instated. In his words, ‘re-instate Dr. Bola A. Akinterinwa and report immediate compliance.’ This was how I ended up not being considered as having absconded and nobody has asked why there was no query for the Director General for not responding to my letter of request for permission to accept an offer of temporary appointment in the same public service.

One reason that will be told in the future is related to the visit of former US President to Nigeria, on the invitation of President Olusegun Obasanjo. During the reception organised in his honour, I stood in for the NIIA, being the most senior staff available and in the controversial absence of the Director General, who queried me of preventing Solomon Lar, the only one-member of the then Governing Council, from making a speech during the event. She queried me for preventing the access of her official representatives to the Presidency as if I had any protocolar knowledge of should be allowed or disallowed to enter the Presidential Villa.

In fact, Mrs. Ogwu also accused me of making an error of fact in my vote of thanks. I joyfully responded that I was never a consumer intellectual, and not also trained to be a plagiarist. I therefore vehemently contest professors who cannot profess and academics who only consume but do not add to knowledge. True academics are required to always think and guide national development. They do not think to please people or cut favours. They are not tell people what they want to hear.

Indeed, Mrs Ogwu made efforts to get me redeployed to the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution in Abuja as a Deputy Director. I initially accepted the offer, but when I considered that I had been an Associate Research Professor for more than six years by then, why accept the position of a Deputy Director which was then my equivalent grade? I was even under prima facie consideration for substantive professorship. I simply threw the offer into the dustbin of history and put on a new garment of warrior to fight every jot of societal indiscipline and hatred. The hell in the NIIA, I have always gone through but God has always has always delivered me from all the ordeals. Tomorrow will tell the rest of the story. Truth will confront untruth and prevail. Justice will find its level like water and time will also judge wickedness and show that there can be terrible things in righteousness, but darkness will always give way whenever light enters.

A second example, probably more interesting is the saga from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. In 2011, a furniture allowance was approved for me. A furniture allowance can only be taken once in every four years. I was appointed Acting Director General with effect from November 16, 2010. The conditions of service of an acting Director General and a substantive Director General are exactly the same.

The tenure of service of any Director General of the NIIA is four years. My first four years of service came to an end on November 16, 2014. In March 2015, I applied for a fresh furniture allowance. I was asked to provide my first letter of appointment as Director General. I did that and official approval was not only given but I was also paid in July 2015. Simply and apparently because I carried the war of anti-corruption to the door steps of staff who constantly engage in acts of serious misconduct, especially Ms. Agatha Ude who was changing promotion examination results for some staff, as well as remove queries from her files, but well protected by the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council, the Office of the Accountant General was wrongly made to believe that I had been fraudulent. My official severance entitlement on leaving service was attached to serve as replacement. What is noteworthy is the tainting of my person as having been fraudulent. This particular case will soon be another case for litigation after the winning the first four cases against those who attempted to defame me.

Whether anyone wants to believe or not, in Nigeria, honesty is generally crucified. Dishonesty is always glorified. Political governance is inspired more by influence politics than by any objectivity of purpose. Commit any atrocity, get a big man to intervene, the table of justice will be immediately turned against the complainant. This is most unfortunate and should no longer be and this is why the recruitment process at the NIIA must be decent. It must reflect not simply the Soviet type of glasnost and perestroika (openness and restructuring), but also unlimited transparency. Names of all applicants should be made known to the general public and the names of those shortlisted should also be made known. The public should know who is really who.

This is necessary because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a supervisory authority is more of a problem than an objective supervisor. In this regard, why is the Ministry consciously keeping quiet about allegations of serious misconduct at the level of the senior members of staff of the Administration department? This is where Ambassador Bulus Lolo as Permanent Secretary and Acting Minister and Geoffrey Onyeama, as substantive Foreign Minister since 2015 should be asked questions in the public, especially how directors in the institute were taking instructions from them when I was still the de jure and de facto Director General. This is why there is the need to go beyond advertorials for recruitment to preventing today’s malaise from becoming tomorrow’s maladie.

To prevent today’s malaise from degenerating into maladie and malfeasance tomorrow, there will be need to remove the foundation of serious culture of misconduct laid by the Senator Ike-Nwachukwu-led Governing Council. Unless the foundation is first removed, any new Director General appointed would have failed ab initio. Second, it is no longer useful to put the NIIA under the supervisory authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the Institute has always been subjected to the personal whims and caprices of the Ministry, rather than to intellectual needs. Third, Governing Councils should not be involved in the day-to-day administration of the Institute. A situation in which a Governing Council has more interest in the funding of a capital project, hiding myopically under non-compliance with the due process to no avail, but kept quiet about allegations of serious misconduct of changing promotion examination results, removal of official queries from files, and writing malicious reports to which even Government has turned a blind eye, etc cannot be helpful in nation-building and intellectual development. Consequently, ‘today’s malaise’ should be prevented from degenerating into tomorrow’s maladie.’