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Renewing the Golden Years of Nigeria’s Foreign Ministry: The ARCAN and Environmental Conditionality
Bola A. Akinterinwa
One critical issue raised at the Family Reunion Luncheon and Cocktail organised by the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN), Lagos Chapter, was the ‘Golden Years’ of Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The issue was raised by Chief Emeka Anyaoku, GCVO, CFR, CON, the third Commonwealth Secretary General (1990-2000) during his opening remarks as Chairman of the event. As he explained it, the golden years of the MFA coincided with the time it was located at 23 Marina, Lagos. The Ministry, which was created in 1961, was moved to Abuja in 1992 during the military regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Thus, 1961-1992 were the ‘Golden Years’ of the MFA.
Similarly, Professor Akinjide Osuntokun, OON, FNAL, an academic diplomatist, noted in the Academy of International Affairs’ WhatsApp platform that the ‘Golden Years’ of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy dates back to 2007. As he put it, ‘we should not forget that what our colleagues are saying may be right up to the end of Obasanjo regime up to 2007. After that time the ‘‘golden era’ of Nigeria’s foreign policy collapsed.’’ True, Nigeria had a foreign policy in the period 1960-2007. Thereafter, foreign policy focus was not clear, not programmatic and not forward-looking. From 2007, it was more of reactive foreign policy.
Explicated differently, Nigeria first made Africa the cornerstone of Nigeria’s foreign policy in 1960 and then the centrepiece in 1976 under General Olusegun Obasanjo following the recommendation of the Professor Adebayo Adedeji committee. In 1963, Nigeria formulated two exceptions to the principle of non-interference and non-intervention as contained in Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter: Nigeria could not remain indifferent to the killing of Sylvanus Olympio in Togo, a very friendly person to Nigeria and Nigeria could not but have the responsibility to intervene to protect her national interest. The second exception was apartheid which Nigeria considered must not be considered as an internal affair of South Africa. Consequently, Nigeria formulated the policy of ‘No Compromise with Apartheid.
Additionally, during the post-civil war era, the Commissioner for External Affairs under General Yakubu Gowon, Dr. Okoi Arikpo, similarly came up with the policy decision of under no circumstance would Nigeria accept the use of Africa solely as a source of raw materials for the development of Europe. General Obasanjo’s nationalisation of the Barclays Bank and British Petroleum were further illustrations of Nigeria’s foreign policy golden years.
In this regard, were the golden years of Nigeria’s foreign policy the same as the golden years of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Let us first deal with the character of the ARCAN luncheon.
The luncheon-cocktail was held at the residence of Ambassador Omotayo Ogunsulire, a nonagenarian, and one of the original Twelve Diplomatic Apostles of Nigeria, on Sunday, February 19, 2023 on Victoria Island, Lagos. The luncheon was significant because it was a platform for dousing tension. It was also quite interesting because of its purpose, which is first to share ideas on why all those who have patriotically and loyally served the Nigerian nation-state are not always given their due respect; Secondly to create an opportunity to commiserate with the family of, and give honour to, the veteran diplomats that had served Nigeria well and passed on; to reflect on the foreign policy challenges with the Government of Nigeria is currently faced; and thirdly to show solidarity with one another, especially in light of the many controversies surrounding the status of ambassadors in Nigeria and international relations.
It should be noted that membership of the ARCAN, at least from the name, is only open to ambassadors that were careerists before their retirement. Ambassadors who were accredited to foreign countries on the basis of political consideration cannot be accommodated as members of the ARCAN. This is one reason for the quest by political ambassadors to establish an association of non-career ambassadors. In fact, the initial name of the ARCAN was Association of Retired Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARAN). It was partly because of this non-careerist question that led to the inclusion of ‘career’ into the name. Retired Ambassadors-in-situ are legitimately qualified to join the ARCAN as diplomatic careerists before the issuance of their Letters of Commission.
Noteworthy in this case is the comparative attitudinal disposition of a career ambassador and a political ambassador.’ Career ambassadors have a diplomatic culture and discipline which political ambassadors much often do not have. The culture of civil and public servants in Nigeria is necessarily Nigerian in character, while that of career ambassadors extends beyond the shores of Nigeria. Their culture is internationally defined and regulated. This is the first fundamental difference. Secondly, political ambassadors often attempt to bypass the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preferring to deal directly with the presidency. Probably this partly explains why the more powerful ambassadors of the great powers also seek to relate directly with the Presidency, not going through the Foreign Ministry as required. This unconventional style undoubtedly undermines the Foreign Ministry and also belittles the established diplomatic processes. This behaviour of the political ambassadors is partly explained by their first line of interest which is that of their political party and not the national interest. Thirdly, political ambassadors often ignore protocolar rules and often behave arrogantly because of their belief in political connections. Although many political ambassadors are as much disciplined like the career ambassadors, the truth remains that every career ambassador has ‘yours obediently’ as his operational watchwords. Political ambassadors are obediently disobedient.
Organisationally, the luncheon reflected diplomacy in practice. For instance, on arrival at the venue of event, invited guests first took a ‘diplomatic selfie photograph,’ backing a good, shining, colourful and cultural background before going round to greet the elders and sitting down. Although tables and seats were not numbered, and no table name cards were provided, all invited guests knew where to sit in the way water always finds its own level. Diplomatic seniority and camaraderie played a major factor in finding where to find a seat. More importantly, room was never given to gate-crashing and security was water-tight. The luncheon took place in an open oxygenated air. All the guests were dressed in Nigerian attires and national dresses. The women dressed more gorgeously than their men. Speeches delivered followed the rule of KISS (Keeping It Short and Simple).
Additionally, the foundation diplomats and the diplomatic eggheads sat in the innermost part of the event venue, which was considered as the head-table. The approach to the table arrangement was à la Chinoise, that is, the tables were neither square nor quadrilateral, meaning that there was no room for a head of table. The Anglo-Saxons have tables in quadrilateral or square shape and often have a head at one edge. However, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a veteran diplomatist, who did not serve as an ambassador before his appointment as the Commonwealth Secretary General and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, served as the Chairman of the cocktail-luncheon and his table was round. Seated with him at his table were the sagacious Super Permanent Secretary, Chief Phillip Asiodu and his wife, and Ambassador Abdullahi Attah and his wife. The light complexioned Henry Odein Ajumogobia, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, with his wife, Awuneba, sat next to the Anyaoku table.
While Chief Asiodu, Chief Anyaoku, and the Ajumogobias sat at angle 90 degrees to the left of the venue, the wives of former Foreign Ministers, seasoned ambassadors and Foreign Service Officers sat at the other angle 90 degrees to the right. Her Excellency, Mrs Kehinde Ashiru; Her Excellency, Mrs Bunmi Adeniji; Her Excellency, Mrs. Yinka Fowora; Mrs. Yemisi Olukanni, Mrs Abolurin, wife of the Secretary to the ARCAN, were in thisangle 90 degrees to the right. Etc. Perhaps more interestingly, three people could not sit: Ambassadors Segun Akinsanya, the ARCAN President, Lagos chapter; and Ambassador Wole Coker, because they were coordinating receptions and food diplomacy. The third person, while Ambassador Ayo Olukanni served as Master of Ceremony, coordinating the speeches.
And perhaps most importantly, what can be described as an extraordinary seat without a table, backing the food service centre, was occupied by Mrs. Soba Ogunsulire, who was visibly wrapped up in the glory of her beauty at old age, physiognomically quiet, cool, calm, and collected, and looking at all guests coming in and sitting down.
What could have been more interesting than having a very sumptuous luncheon provided by the V. GINIS caterers who provided assorted food à la Nigériana and Chinoise. was provided. Food was unlimited and bar was inexhaustible! The environment was serene, quite oxygenated. No music. The various drivers and support staff who came with the invited guests, were all seated outside along the Macadamised Akin Adesola way. Inside and outside, everyone was itching to eat, wine and ‘cool temper.’ The environment was made natural. And true enough, Ambassador Segun Akinsanya, could not have been much happier. So were Ambassadors Ani and his wife, Ganiyu Akanbi, Korede Willoughby, Layi Laseinde, Wole Coker who took advantage of the occasion to engage in discussions on foreign policy challenges.
Perhaps most interestingly were the various developments of the week, anxiety of the February 25 presidential elections, and the reflexion of Chief Emeka Anyaoku on the golden years of Nigeria’s foreign policy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which prompted the journey down the memory lane by many guests. In this regard, can there be any golden age of the foreign Ministry again in light of the deepening diplomatic challenges and complexities?
New Golden Years and Challenges
It is useful to begin the analysis of the new golden years by first reconciling whether Nigeria’s foreign policy is different from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is a desideratum in finally determining the beginning and end of the golden years of Nigeria’s foreign policy and of the Ministry of Foreign Ministry. True, at one level, the Foreign Ministry formulates and implements foreign policy, meaning that the two cannot be considered to be synonymous. The Ministry is a subject while foreign policy is an object that the subject is acting upon.
And yet, both foreign policy and Foreign Ministry constitute two sides of the same coin, and therefore inseparable. It is like the relationship between a pestle and a mortar in pounding functions. Considered as such, the golden years of Nigeria’s foreign policy and those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are largely a resultant from the personality of all the actors, and particularly the ambassadors who are involved in formulation and implementation of foreign policy as careerists. He serves as the nexus between foreign policy and the Ministry. It is actually the ambassadors that define the goldenness of any of the years.
Put differently, can the goldenness years of foreign policy be different from the goldenness of the Foreign Ministry? The answer can be yes and no, depending on the extent of quality of decision processes, success or failure of policy in question, and overall self-satisfaction. In this regard, if we admit that the golden years of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ended at the point of movement of the Ministry from Lagos to Abuja, how do we explain the discontinuity of the goldenness? Were the environmental conditionings inclement? Did the Ministry relocate without its staff? If the relocation also included the staff, how do we explain the change of attitude of the same staff to the extent that the staff could no longer perform the way they had been doing well before relocation to Abuja? Could the factor of non-goldenness be traced to no foreign policy focus? De-apartheidisation was a major dynamic of the golden years. If the Foreign Ministry was moved in 1992 to Abuja after the carving out of the Federal Capital Territory in December 1991 and Apartheid South Africa was only liberated in 1994, lack of foreign policy focus can be a tenable excuse understandably for two reasons.
First, time was needed to settle down and reorganise the way forward following relocation. It is important to recall here that, based on the original plan, the Presidency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were to be the last to move to Abuja. One credible diplomatic source has it that the Foreign Ministry was actually planned to move to Abuja twenty years after the settlement of Abuja as Federal Capital. However, for various reasons, especially security, the military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, unexpectedly instructed that all government agencies should move to Abuja without having made adequate preparations for their settlement. In fact, the source also had it that several civil and public officials were lodged by Government gratis in hotels for six months. In this type of situation, no logical thinking of a new foreign policy strategy could be contemplated or expected.
Secondly, dismantlement of apartheid, with few cases of decolonisation agenda, the need for re-definition of a new foreign policy focus became necessary. This is probably where there was failure of policy and why the goldenness of the Foreign Ministry could not but collapse. And true enough again, there were, and still are, many other factors that may explain the setbacks of the Ministry. For instance, under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), nepotism was brought to its crescendo in total disregard for the Principle of Federal Character, which was introduced into the Constitution of Nigeria in 1979. The first topmost positions in the NNPC are occupied by Northerners and Nigerians drew the attention of PMB to the irregularity, but to no avail. One explanation given by PMB was that he appoints the people he knows. This explanation is most unfortunate and too ethnic to be tenable.
As clearly noted by Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, John Erero and Basil Oshionebo in their article, “Federal Character and Management of the Federal Civil Service and the Military” (vide Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 21 Fall 1991), ‘federal character principle, which has been enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution since 1979, seeks to ensure the appointment to public service institutions, fairly reflect the linguistic, ethnic, religious, and geographic diversity of the country. Application of the principle in the federal civil service and the military has amounted to a confused balancing of the merit principle and the quota system, based essentially on states of origin. This has had adverse consequences for both institution in terms of discipline, morale, and overall effectiveness and efficiency.’ Professor Adamolekun et al could not have been more correct as at 1991, as this factor of Federal Character Principle partly explains why the golden years of foreign policy and Ministry of Foreign Ministry had to collapse and inexistent as at today.
And true enough again, public officers are indiscriminately cross-posted to the Foreign Ministry, not simply at junior levels to allow for in-house training, but at the level of Permanent Secretaries. Indeed, it has been policies of bastardisation. The level and quality of Foreign Service Officers has been unnecessarily reduced to a very shameful level. An ill-equipped Foreign Ministry cannot be expected to perform well in international relations. Consequently, the critical challenge before the ARCAN that is seeking a new Nigeria and a new golden era of foreign policy and Foreign Ministry must begin with the stoppage of bastardisation of the Foreign Ministry.
To begin with, the issue of pension scheme should be urgently addressed. It is unbelievable, but true, that many of the ARCAN members earn less than one hundred thousand naira monthly as pension. This is so, because most of them, when they were still on active service, fully concentrated their time and energy on defending the national interest. They had little or no time to engage in part time businesses to make money as many other civil servants do. Stealing and economic chicanery was quite strange to them. Additionally, with the new pension scheme introduced in 2004 under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the more elderly ambassadors who retired before 2004 necessarily fall under the old pension scheme. The situation is not all that better for those who even retired after 2004. The ARCAN must therefore first seek how to seek redress at the level of the Head of Service.
A third major challenge is how to present to the world of the institutional corruption, struggle for secession, armed banditry, Fulani-herdsmen, boko haramism and decadence that have all come to characterise political governance in Nigeria. The diplomatic corps is surely monitoring the 2023 elections. Consequently, Nigeria’s ambassadors cannot but find it quite difficult to tell their host governments a different story. This is where the past experiences of the members of the ARCAN may be quite useful to the Government.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, Chief Emeka Anyaoku suggested that, in preparing for a new era of golden years of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Ministers, former and serving, should value advice given by the ARCAN to them, as he found the ambassadors playing active parts in promoting the national interest. The support he enjoyed when he was contesting for the position of the Commonwealth organisation was given as a reference point. Chief Asiodu recalled that when the public service began, people who failed in elections were simply given ambassadorial appointments. He suggested that should not and no longer be. Ambassadorial appointments are a very serious business in his eyes. Mr Odein Ajumogobia admitted that he found the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a very serious organisation of different and qualified professionals when he served as Foreign Minister. He advised on the need for great caution in closing down Nigeria’s diplomatic missions without considering the implications of the costs and enmity that may be generated at the level of the host country of the mission to be closed down.
Finally, under normal circumstance, a methodological framework for translating the character of extraordinary and plenipotentiary of any retired ambassador of Nigeria in the preparation for a new era of golden foreign policy and Ministry of foreign Affairs is what we can call triangnosis, rather than diagnosis which can be carried out by one person or more, but basically by two people because of ‘dia’. Triangnosis is more appropriate in the context of the global challenges with which the Nigerian foreign policy process is currently faced. The first angle of the triangnosis is a priori comprised of the Federal Government at the level of which the final decision is taken. The second angle should be occupied by the ARCAN which, by necessity, has the unique role of offering suggestions to Government based on their past empirical knowledge, while the NIIA which has to occupy the third angle should be charged with the responsibility of special further research on the feasibility of suggested policy attitudes, as well as carry out investigation on the foreign policy attitudes of foreign countries toward Nigeria. Triangnosis as an analytical method can then be articulated from time to time. It is by so doing that any effort at restoration of the old Golden Years can come to be. In this regard, what led to the collapse of the previous golden years must first be meaningfully addressed.