The Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) wishes to refer to the article written by Abba Mahmood which appeared at the back page of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers on 6 April, 2017, in which he decried the increasing ‘Politicisation and Destruction of the Nigerian Foreign Service’. Mahmood expressed dismay and warned that such overt politicisation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can only weaken and even lead to its eventual destruction. ARCAN associates itself fully with the issues raised and his concerns.
As a matter of fact, ARCAN has noted that lately, many serious pundits of Nigeria’s foreign policy have expressed concern about a perceived waning of the country’s profile and standing in world affairs. Some have even gone as far as to derisively allege that for some time now, we have done considerably less than we are capable of, despite our claims to being a nation of significance and influence, not only in our region but, indeed, beyond.
Not quite a few have attributed this unfortunate state of affairs to a basket of issues, one of which, in their view, is the increasing slippage in staff quality and capability in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA),which is the constitutionally acknowledged and preeminent institution charged with the responsibility of managing our foreign policy and the overall conduct of our diplomacy. They contend that the healthy respect that the Ministry had earned from policy leaders on account of proven track record of professionalism and competence that its staff had garnered from its early days has, of recent, suffered terribly.
Again, many see the present staff challenge at two layers with each compounding the other. The first, is the unbridled recruitment, often outside the established guidelines of cadet diplomatic officers at the entry points of Salary Grade Levels 08 and 09 with scant regard for the personnel needs and structure of the Ministry. The 1980s were especially notorious for this unfortunate phenomenon. Even more disruptive to the orderly development and staff progression of the Ministry are the most recent efforts by the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), to transfer, en masse, staff from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and parachute them into both the middle and policy making echelons (SGL 13 – 16) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Yes, it is true that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is part of the Nigerian Civil Service and the larger Nigerian bureaucracy. But, it is equally true that the Nigerian Foreign Service, which is what the Ministry is, is part of the community of the Foreign Services of the world, universally locked into each other, with internationally agreed Conventions and Protocols guiding and circumscribing acceptable conduct and practices. Let it be clearly understood that it is virtually unheard of for a Foreign Service anywhere to recruit diplomatic staff at the senior to Director grade level for the very cogent reason that at that stage, a good diplomat would have already acquired considerable expertise in the delicate art of negotiation and dialogue, honed his trade in all its aspects and developed his network of contacts with colleagues all over the world.
The Foreign Service in any country is treated as a unique and professional service and this explains why recruitment into it is carefully done. In addition to academic qualification, potential recruits must have a pleasant personality, be able to communicate well and have flair for diplomatic service. The ability to speak additional foreign languages is always an added bonus. This explains why it has separate Rules and Regulations and unwritten norms and conventions. In short, it has a universal character. Therefore, the Nigerian Foreign Service was not supposed to be an all-comers job; nor was it intended to be a platform for political patronage. Rather, it was meant to be from inception, a compact, manageable and result oriented Service.
ARCAN is naturally concerned about the present direction of affairs and wishes to caution that Nigeria should not be an unholy exception to this universal rule. In this regard, it recalls the vision that our Foreign Service, at its establishment, was expected to exemplify the best global traditions and be able to hold its own anytime. It was into this young Service but with already fully established norms of management and operations that 12 pioneer career Foreign Service officers were carefully selected and recruited in 1957 from all the three Regions of the country. The solid foundation that this band of men subsequently laid for the Nigerian Foreign Service through their extraordinary zeal and commitment to the national cause remains exemplary. Later generations of Foreign Service Officers have continued to walk in the trails and paths that they charted, even though the acknowledgment and honours that they richly deserved for their valiant exertions on behalf of the country are still largely in abeyance.
ARCAN has noted with disappointment that from 3rd March to 14th April, 2017, the FCSC placed an advertisement for recruitment and transfer of new staff to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from SGL 13 to 16 to fill vacancies for non-existent “Succession Gap” needs of the Ministry. We find this rather curious and surprising because the Commission cannot feign ignorance that a Committee set up in 2015 by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and chaired by the then Vice President, Arc Mohammed Namadi Sambo, and of which the FCSC Chairman, Deaconess Joan Ayo, was a member, had conclusively proven that there was no ‘succession gap’ in the Ministry to be filled from outside. Other members of the Vice President’s Committee included the former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF), the then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Principal Secretary to former President Jonathan. ARCAN’s own Ad-hoc Committee set up to look into this problem of ‘succession gap’ came to the same conclusion as that of the former Vice President’s Committee.
ARCAN knows that President Jonathan agreed with the Committee that the Ministry’s staffing needs could and should be addressed through the normal promotion or advancement exercise with adequate manpower planning. He, therefore, approved that officers be allowed to fill vacancies in the Ministry through normal promotion or advancement, guided by extant regulations. The President also directed the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chairman of the FCSC and the Head of Service of the Federation to give effect to his directive. As far as we can tell, this presidential order has not been reversed.
Indeed, ARCAN is aware that the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Aminu Wali, had in a very comprehensive letter to the FCSC Chairman on this subject matter in 2014, cogently argued the case against transfers into the Ministry. In spite of this, the Chairman, Deaconess Joan Ayo, appears unrelenting and has not stopped transferring officers into the Ministry. One wonders what her motives could be.
ARCAN, like all well-meaning stakeholders and concerned citizens, therefore hardly needs to state that the present regrettable actions by the FCSC to flood the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with unwanted and unsuitable personnel must be reconsidered and stopped.ARCAN firmly holds the view that all the issues in contention can be effectively dealt with in a drastically restructured Ministry of Foreign Affairs within the framework of a totally separate Foreign Service with a separate Foreign Service Commission that will be responsible for the recruitment, discipline, promotion and other matters pertaining to the smooth and efficacious operations of the Ministry.
ARCAN firmly holds the view that all the issues in contention can be effectively dealt with in a drastically restructured Ministry of Foreign Affairs within the framework of a totally separate Foreign Service with a separate Foreign Service Commission that will be responsible for the recruitment, discipline, promotion and other matters pertaining to the smooth and efficacious operations of the Ministry.
While we await the early achievement of this objective we request and urge that, as an interim measure, a Special Unit should be created within the FCSC to be manned by persons with Foreign Service background and experts in international relations which will handle all matters relating to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We recall here that this Unit was approved during the administrations of both President Babangida and President Obasanjo. We believe that the nation’s foreign policy will benefit immensely if this long outstanding Federal Executive Council decision were to be immediately given effect. We, therefore, appeal to the Government to direct the relevant government institutions to immediately implement this extant decision and create the Unit for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the FCSC.
Finally, the import of all that has been said so far is that the country must have a well thought out and self-regenerating staff policy for the Foreign Service. We feel that we must evolve and adopt a policy that facilitates the recruitment and retention in the Service intellectually strong and smart young men and women who have the potential to grow and blossom into versatile, skilled, capable and wise diplomats, able to vigorously and adroitly protect and advance our national interests on the world stage. And we feel there must be an untainted structure and guidelines not open to manipulation that support the earnest engagements of our diplomats.
ARCAN, as an undisputed stakeholder in this dialogue, has given much thought to the issues under discussion. We feel confident that we are on the right side of this argument or debate on how the nation can build and sustain a virile and competent Foreign Service that will carry out with confidence and dignity its designated role and thereby help to provide that restorative impulse for our diminishing pride of place in the international state system.
– This article is written by the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN)