Time Magazine, October 20, 1961, carried an opinion titled ‘The Pride of Africa.’ The piece chronicled the 1st Foreign Affairs Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the late Jaja Wachuku of the Ngwa royal dynasty. With all due respect, the Nigerian Foreign ministry has since groped for direction and – with a few exceptions – has been largely unimpressive.
As my heart retains the last vestiges of Nigerian finesse on the diplomatic front, I write this groaningly – what a time to be born!
The Foreign affairs Minister ought to be the 3rd most powerful cabinet member as Jaja Wachuku was in the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa government. That’s also the case in countries after which we have modeled our democracy such as the United States of America, where the Secretary of State – their own foreign affairs minister – comes only after the VP in Executive relevance.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, Foreign Ministry or diplomatic representative assignments are being allotted as some form of political compensation for election losers, mediated step-downers or some high stake game of political demystification – a form of exile for heavyweights possessing capacity to wrestle and control incumbent power structures. We don’t want him here – Send him abroad Shikena!
This is responsible for the number of unprepared and unserious diplomats this country has churned out in recent times. A story of a Nigerian Ambassador in an European Country was once told, and boy he was loved for the quality of parties or Owambes he threw hence the title of my piece as similar tales of Nigerian diplomats have been regaled likewise.
I opine that our Foreign Affairs Ministry if properly leveraged is more important than the Nigerian Petroleum Ministry as it holds the capacity to drive the Economy in terms of Trade, Investment and Infrastructure, uphold Nigeria’s Sovereignty by maintaining Peace and Security both internally and regionally ensuring stability and prosperity, which is a must if Nigeria must succeed.
What must we do?
The most important thing for Geoffrey Onyeama, the new man in charge of Foreign affairs is to protect the dignity and rights of a Nigerian citizen on foreign soil; this includes the various embassies and visa processing centers in Nigeria where our citizens are being disrespected and dehumanized on a regular basis. I get upset reading and hearing stories of extrajudicial murders, wanton arrests based on suspicions and profiling, maltreatment and exploitation of Nigerian students and workers in the diaspora – all of these without intervention or corresponding action by our foreign representatives. This nonchalance is attributable to the widespread belief that ‘Nigerians are unruly’ and deserve to be treated so, except of course ‘you be big man pikin’. Nigeria will never attain any meaningful progress on the foreign front without recognizing and demanding respect for the least of its citizenry.
The recognition of this observation was the beginning of the rise of the Philippines diplomacy. The story of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina domestic helper in Singapore who was hanged on unproven suspicions of murder by the Singaporean government led to the enactment of the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 which revolutionized their diplomacy forever, making it a worthy reference for any country in our context that is desirous of Change in approach to diplomacy and of respect.
This must be backed by a strong statement of purpose and circulated to our citizens as well as missions of other States. The last time the Nigerian government proved worthy was unfortunately because the South African Immigrations seemingly harassed a Nigerian Senator. And I have heard a lot of reports of exploitation and disrespect to Nigerians by their consulate.
Secondly, the Nigerian Foreign affairs ministry must engage the Nigerians in Diaspora more strategically. As currently structured, engaging the Nigerian Diaspora through a very politicized NIDO (Nigerians in Diaspora Organization) is not the best approach. An audit of Nigerian groups in the diaspora from Faith, to Scholastic fora and Student bodies, Ethnic Support unions, or Amala, Akpu and Suya food spots must be conducted and key contact data collected and mainstreamed. Nigeria cannot afford to overlook the Diaspora in National Development.
According to a Word Bank report the Nigerian Diaspora in 2010 sent $20 billion back home. This remittance amount represents a greater GDP than over 30 African countries with a peerless 26% annual growth rate.
There are 3 categories of our diaspora in my opinion; The Economically empowered settler, the settled but economically struggling, the unsettled either empowered or disempowered – they all in one form of the other contribute to the economy – efforts could be made to aid return and reintegration, urge economic assistance over non impactful handouts with business support initiatives, Skills transfer and inclusively managed diaspora fund raising initiatives (Bonds, Philanthropy) for infrastructural and socioeconomic development.
Thirdly, Nigerian soft power must be leveraged. I grew up convinced by the falsehood that we are the giants of Africa. I am sorry we are not and we need to see ourselves more as Davids than the Goliaths on this continent. We don’t need spears; we have our stones and sticks. The Foreign affairs minister must be obsessed about the Nigerian Culture – I mean to say the Hip culture, which dominates Africa through Nollywood and the Nigerian Music Industry. He must be obsessed about the Nigerian Faith – not juju, our unique form of religion that is attracting adherents from all over the world – The Adeboyes, Oyedepos, Oyakhilomes of this world. He must work directly with these ones to leverage their influence and presence on the continent. I believe with such followership they can drive the adoption of Nigerian food, fashion and style, ideas and taste, writings and art etcetera. We all can imagine what potentials this holds for Nigerian businesses and our ‘imperialism’. You can start to imagine the Nigerianization of our Products.
At an African store in the UK – I once saw packaged Ghanaian Jollof, imagine that! Me I no gree! Hides from Kano tanneries are labeled Moroccan Leather in the global commodities market. This has to stop before Togo claims our Ofada. Nigerianization must begin now.
So much can be said about Economic soft power such as matching our aid, grants, loans and assistance to economically disadvantaged neighbours to our advantage but this is a topic to be discussed another day,
Finally, our missions do not portray Nigeria rightly, not at all. This has to change. I can’t but agree with President Buhari on the need to close some Nigerian Missions especially if considered unviable. The few ones left must be effectively equipped, funded and rehabilitated aesthetically. We are not a war torn county. We want investments not aid. However, a proximal presence for our well-dispersed citizens must be guaranteed. Nigeria should explore designating proven foreigners as our honorary consuls in these regions where our missions are to be scrapped as well as parts of the world where Nigerians are present but our government is not.
I wish our new foreign affairs minister a good time in office and if I may ask; will you rock native wears, will our missions use Innoson cars?
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