9 October 2007

Nigeria: Appraising the Ambassadorial List


In this piece, Nathaniel Jonah examines the list of the ambassadorial nominees which the presidency sent to the Senate for screening and questions the credibility of the nominees, whether they are fit enough to represent the image of Nigeria abroad.

Recently, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua made public the ambassadorial list ready for the approval of the National Assembly. A cursory look at the ambassadorial list reveals that forty-two (42) of the ambassadorial nominees are politicians while the other twenty (20) comprises of career diplomats drawn from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prominent among the political nominees are the outgoing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national chairman, Ahmadu Ali, whom many have variously described as the 'Garrison Commander' of the PDP. Others include former military administrator of Lagos State, Brig. Gen. Muhammed Buba Marwa, former PDP gubernatorial aspirant of Lagos State, Senator Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro, popularly reffered to as "koro," a former commander of the Ecowas Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, Gen. Timothy Shelpidi (rtd), one time minister of aviation under the infamous regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Mrs. Kema Chikwe and a host of others.

Ever since the list of the ambassadorial nominees was made public by the presidency, several reactions and criticisms have continued to pour in.

For instance, pundits have questioned the yardstick used in the selection of the ambassadorial nominees. Does the president really have a first hand knowledge about the character traits and the abilities of the nominees to adequately represent Nigeria abroad?

Questions are being asked by concerned Nigerians, for instance, on the motives that informed the selection process, considering the fact that the political nominees are actually twice the number of the career diplomats who, according to informed sources, appeared to have been short charged. Is President Yar'Adua really of the opinion that his list of ambassadorial nominees actually translate into putting square pegs in square holes? Some concerned stakeholders and political analysts are of strong view that an Ambassador is a representative of a country and her people. It is therefore, in view of the crucial roles and integrity attached to an ambassadorial post that necessitates that an individual who is to serve as an ambassador of his country should be an individual with high sense of moral and personal intergrity, whose character is expected to be above board and devoid of questionable traits.

But if the list of ambassadorial nominees is anything to go by, then it does appear that the entire exercise is deliberately designed as a reward for party loyalists and politicians who have contributed in subverting the nation's democratic culture and values. Prominent on this list, according to many, is the outgoing PDP chairman, Chief Ahmadu Ali, who has, at various times, openly displayed his disdain and contempt for democratic and meritorious leadership.

Critics and political analysts alike have vociferously questioned the inclusion of Ahmadu Ali as part of the ambassadorial nominees. According to Barrister Tunde Ayeno, an Abuja based legal practitioner and human rights advocate, "Nigerians can still vividly recall the treacherous role played by Ahmadu Ali in order to scuttle the April general elections which eventually gave birth to the illegitimate presidency of Umaru Yar'Adua. The nomination of such an individual as an ambassador is suspicious that President Yar'Adua may not be serious about his decision to instill decorum in the country's public service."

While corroborating Barrister Ayeno's position, Innocent Ebere, an Abuja based chattered accountant and public affairs analyst, wants President Yar'Adua to take a trip down memory lane and refresh his memories on the inglorious and highly controversial tenure of Ahmadu Ali when as a colonel in the Nigerian army, he was appointed federal commissioner of education in 1978 under the military junta of General Obasanjo. For Ebere, the 1978 wild students' demonstration which capsized the ivory tower and culminated in the popular "Ali-Must-Go" slogan clearly indicates that Ali's ambassadorial nomination under a government that has preached so much about meritocracy amounts to a sheer act of double standard.

Some Nigerians equally think that if, for instance, what took place under Ali as the federal commissioner of education was a sheer act of youthful exuberance, the conspiracy between Ali and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigeria police under Sunday Ehindero to criminally deprive Nigerians of the opportunity to elect credible leaders of their choices into positions of governance, speak volumes of Ali's obvious incompetence, both morally and otherwise, to represent the image of the country as an ambassador. Also, part of Ali's bankruptcy of integrity is the running battle he recently had with members of the press whom he accused of quoting him out of context when he criticised the privatisation of unity schools and some other aspects of the Obasanjo privatisation programme. Journalists present at the function were reportedly ordered out of the premises while Ali was said to have called them "ignoramuses" and several other unprintable names. All these, some said, clearly shows that Ali does not have the necessary tact and finesse of a diplomat.

According to a political activist who pleaded anonymity, "Equally disappointing is the fact that politicians of cheap reputation like the former gubernatorial aspirant of Lagos State, Sen. Musiliu Obanikoro, was able to make the ambassadorial nominee's list. For instance, Dr. Kema Chike whose tenure as minister of aviation, during the infamous Obasanjo regime, was allegedly characterised by gross administrative incompetency, hazards and air disasters in the sector, is also penciled as an ambassadorial nominee."

According to a staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who spoke to LEADERSHIP, "the ambassadorial nominees list simply implies that president Yar'Adua is merely interested in rewarding party faithfuls who have contributed significantly in the destruction of the Nigerian project or he is equally following the footprints of his immediate predecessor of recycling old and tire hands in the business of governance, while the real intellectuals are allowed to idle away in inactivity."

It is however, instructive to note that given the sensitive nature and high sense of moral and professional depth which a typical ambassadorial position requires, there are fears that the names of ambassadorial nominees as compiled by the presidency is a mere caricature of meritocracy, which is capable international shameful representation.

While few nominees like professor Joy Ogwu, Gen. Oluwole Rotimi and the former Lagos State governor, Brig. Gen. Muhammed Marwa have been hailed and commended as possessing the clout, experience and reputation to merit their nomination, it is the hope and expectation of many Nigerians that the National Assembly will restore sanity in the entire nomination process by critically scrutinising the nominees, with the view of ensuring that they actually merit the nomination. Already, Senate President David Mark, while reading the list of the nominees to the Senate, urged his distinguished colleagues to repeat their high sense of responsibility that was put to the front burner during the ministerial nominee, in the eventual screening of the ambassadorial nominees. In the same vein, the Senate president warned the nominees to resist the urge to bribe their way though the screening exercise as there will be no exchange of "Ghana Must Go" bags this time around.

While there are repeated calls in some quarters that the list should be withdrawn by the presidency and another list that reflects the seriousness and importance that is required of ambassadorial post be prepared, there others who are suggesting that the Senate should reject the list and return it to the presidency for ratification. In the eventuality that nothing is done to the original list, then Nigerians should be ready for misrepresentation of the country.

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