Political allies of President Bola Tinubu, as well as former ministers and other officials from the administration of previous President Muhammadu Buhari, have begun aggressively pushing for positions as Nigerian ambassadors abroad.
According to Saturday PUNCH, many prominent citizens, including members of the National Assembly and retired military officers, are vying for positions as ambassador.
There are a total of 109 Nigerian diplomatic outposts across the world, including 76 embassies, 22 high commissioners, and 11 consulates.
On September 2, 2023, the Federal Government recalled all envoys from their duties, prompting a flurry of last-ditch lobbying for ambassadorial appointments.
The emissaries were told to head back home by October 31st at the latest.
In addition to the 47 career diplomats already nominated, on October 20, 2016, then-President Muhammadu Buhari approved the nomination of 46 additional diplomats.
Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, released a statement clarifying that only 25 career ambassadors who had reached the retirement age and had been in public service for at least 35 years were recalled, despite earlier reports to the contrary.
There was never anything like a mass recall of ambassadors,” he said in a statement. Recent events include the recall of 25 career ambassadors who reached retirement age (35 years of service) in December 2018.
Since the elections had just concluded, they were given permission to stay at their posts and an extension, if that’s the term.
In January 2021, President Buhari authorised the deployment of 95 envoys, including 43 career ambassadors and 52 non-career ambassadors.
The Senate had already approved their nominee for the position in 2020.
The diplomats were sent out after being confirmed by the Senate per Article 17121c4 of the Constitution of 1999.
On September 2, 2023, however, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Yusuf Tuggar recalled the envoys.
After reports that Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK, Ambassador Sarafa Isola, had been recalled, the ministry acknowledged the development.
Tuggar, however, reaffirmed that the order did not constitute a witch hunt and that it was applicable to both career and non-career diplomats.
The minister’s media adviser, Al-Kashim Abdul-Kadir, released a statement in which the minister said, “Sequel to the enquiries on the letter recalling the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, has reaffirmed that all career ambassadors and non-career ambassadors have been recalled on the instructions of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”
After initial confusion, the presidency made it clear that the country’s permanent representatives to the UN in New York and Geneva would not be affected by the recall.
A statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, stated the exemption was a result of the UN General Assembly, which was held between September 18 and 22.
Our correspondents could not establish whether the recall order had been extended to Nigeria’s UN permanent representatives in New York and Geneva after the UNGA.
As of the time this news was filed yesterday, officials from the foreign affairs ministry had not yet provided an update on the diplomats’ whereabouts.
The President’s office has reportedly started creating the list of new ambassadors.
Minister Gbajabiamila is under pressure.
As a result of this new information, it has been reported that politicians and other interested parties have been flooding the president and his chief of staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, with requests for nomination to the open diplomatic positions.
Our sources further gathered that the foreign affairs minister and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Ambassador Olusola Enikanolaiye, had come under enormous pressure from renowned Nigerians wanting positions.
According to our sources, the most enthusiastic candidates for ambassadorships are the ones who were passed over for ministerial nominations.
An anonymous official added, “The president’s associates and state governors are intensifying their lobbying for career and non-career ambassadorial nomination.”
They are actively promoting their candidates’ online profiles. They are getting rid of people who are about to retire and replacing them with those who still have many years of work ahead of them.
There is significant pressure on the President to appoint Yusuf Tuggar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olusola Enikanolaiye, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and International Relations, and Femi Gbajabiamila, the Chief of Staff to the President. These lobbyists include members of the National Assembly, APC support groups, and party chieftains.
“Among these lobbyists are many former administrators, politicians, retired military men, failed gubernatorial candidates, and former heads of agencies under Buhari.”
In response to whether or not career diplomats or those without diplomatic experience would be appointed, the source stated, “Fifty-five per cent to 45 per cent.”
According to information acquired by one of our sources, the bulk of the recalled ambassadors have already returned to the nation, and those who have not done so have formally handed over to the most senior officers at their diplomatic posts while finalising travel preparations to return home as requested.
An anonymous high-ranking official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed this, saying, “Most of the ambassadors are rounding off their tours of duty and heading back to Abuja.” They’ve been coming back in large numbers.
Similarly, a source in the Presidency said while some of the bigwigs in the APC and former governors had started submitting their curriculum vitae, some former ambassadors were also fighting to be reappointed.
The source noted that the identities of those being considered for the position remained secret but added, “The Presidency didn’t extend it (ambassadorial appointment) for them (previous envoys). Some of them have already started making their way back to Nigeria.
No one I know is in the lobby. They are obviously working on it, but I am unaware of the specifics. People are sending in their resumes.
Party heads and other interested parties are all trying to get their way. Even some of them (former ambassadors) are lobbying to be restored, so until the list is made official and publicised, everything can change.”
‘No political insiders’
However, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, asked President Tinubu to avoid from choosing ambassadors as a reward system for his loyalists.
Most political ambassadors, he added, put their own interests ahead of the country’s, thus the president should consider choosing academic ambassadors who expertise in handling foreign issues of the countries they would serve in.
Akinterinwa added, “Political ambassadors are not interested in any national interest to protect abroad. As soon as they are appointed, they begin planning for life after the term of the President who made the appointment.
“The defence of national interests is not a top concern for Nigerian politicians. Nigeria is headed for trouble if President Tinubu is not careful with nominations and decides to reward his political cronies and pals.
I agree with the suggestion of academic diplomats, as there are already many of them working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Those who have served in certain nations and are competent at the Grade Level 16 or 17 level are the ones who should be prioritised.
To further, the ex-director general of the NIIA said that anyone nominated to the position of ambassador who lacked formal training as a diplomatic agent or career ambassador was known as a “political ambassador.”
To carry out the diplomatic duties outlined in the Vienna Convention of 1961, political ambassadors require diplomatic training. “Unfortunately, political ambassadors have historically been the worst offenders when it comes to conduct unbecoming a diplomat,” he said.