Okonjo-Iweala’s WTO Appointment:Nigeria currently undergoing a new wave of resurgence, limelight internationally — Amb Olumoko


* President Buhari should take advantage of the goodwill President Biden have to combating insurgency effectively.

* It’s sad how the political classes continue to dump political appointees on the Foreign Service.

* Let’s revert to heydays; let fewer political appointees head important but not strategic posts.

By Olayinka Ajayi

Olufunso Olumoko is a former Nigerian career Ambassador to Thailand
Olufunso Olumoko is a former Nigerian career Ambassador to Thailand

Ambassador Olufunso Olumoko is a former Nigerian career Ambassador to Thailand with current accreditation to Myanmar. In this interview, Amb. Olumoko decried the excessive appointment of non-career Ambassadors over trained Ambassadors. He urged the government to revert to heydays by allowing less political appointees head important but not strategic posts among other issues. Excerpts:    

What is your view on America’s new policy on LBGT and pushing to other countries like Nigeria for bilateral relations?

 It is within the prerogative of the Biden administration to articulate whatever social policies that are in tandem with the Democrats’/Liberal philosophy in the USA. However, Biden should not try to force or coral any other country that does not share the same outlook to follow the same doctrine. Biden should respect the different cultural, religious and social systems of other countries and not willy-nilly tie them to US preferences.

To try to sanction Nigeria over her policy on LGBT will be wrong-headed and Nigeria will resist it to the hilt as same sex marriage and other LGBT peculiarities are anathema to the basic grains and mores of the Nigerian society. It will be a wrong start and will definitely strain US/NIGERIA relations that otherwise promise to be resurgent and robust under a Biden administration.

On Okonjo-Iweala election as DG of WTO

Her recent confirmation is not only a pride to Nigeria and Africa but also to womanhood. Ngozi, in terms of intellect, sagacity and bravura, is an amazon of a lady who can stand her own any day and anywhere has been so amply demonstrated in the course of her high wire campaigns and the subsequent global “politicking” that only delayed her confirmation. It’s impossible to cover a shining star!

This brings up an important issue. Nigeria should always put her best foot forward. If she puts on her best candidates she’ll always excel. Just imagine if Nigeria had not wisely substituted her original candidate for this position and fielded a more formidable and better qualified Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala? Nigeria is currently undergoing a new wave of resurgence and limelight internationally because she’s fielding her “first teams” and its yielding results. A few examples will suffice: Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General(UN D/SG), Akinwunmi Adesina at the African Development Bank(AfDB), Benedict Oramah at the African Export Import Bank(Afreximbank)  Bankole Adeoye, AU Commissioner for Political, Peace and Security and now Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the WTO!

As for the performance of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, there’s no doubt she’ll acquit herself creditably in her new position. She comes well prepared, intellectually and with very good experience both internationally and nationally being twice Nigeria’s Finance Minister.

Both in her campaign debates and acceptance speech, she has set the tone and clearly outlines her priorities at WTO. Given her track records, I have no doubts at all that Ngozi will do impressively well and make Nigeria exceedingly proud that come 2025 when her current term ends, she’ll be re-elected for a second term. Mark my words!

But some are of the view that Joe Biden’s administration support for Okonjo-Iweala’s WTO election could give a soft landing for reconsideration of LGBT in Nigeria?

Such perception is puerile, and it underestimates the quality of Nigeria’s foreign policy decision makers and Nigeria’s stature in the comity of nations.

Agreed, Nigeria may have its internal problems, but she cannot be taken for suckers by the US. Support for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for soft landing for reconsideration of LGBT?

As I already stated the issue of LGTB is so basic and fundamental and an anathema to the two major religions systems in Nigeria that it’s laughable that a go-ahead by the US for Ngozi is in exchange for Nigeria softening its LGBT stance!

Nigeria refusing LGBT, how do we strengthen the US, Nigeria bilateral relations stronger than the Trump administration?

LGBT should be the least of US interests in Nigeria. Even in the US what proportion of the US takes the issue as fundamental? Only a minority. So, why do we carry it over our heads as if the whole heaven is coming down? We should be careful of people with religious agenda in Nigeria.

There are more important areas for US/Nigeria relations such as security, military cooperation, cooperation in fending off Boko Haram,  kidnapping and pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, immigration, economic(investments, renewal of AGOA, cooperation in revamping  the power sector, cooperation in the areas of 21st century digital and knowledge based economy etc), strengthening the US-Nigeria Bi-national Commission.

On Insurgency

In terms of Nigeria/US cooperation in fighting insurgency, I think Nigeria should take this aspect extremely seriously because insurgency and general insecurity are posing existential danger not only to Nigerians but to Nigeria herself as a corporate entity.

Nigeria should enter into a robust, focused and transparent collaboration with the USA in securing the hardware, logistics support, maintenance and training support to confront decisively this menace. 

Under the Trump administration, Nigeria entered into an agreement to buy about 12 “Tucano” attack aircrafts from the US. President Buhari should take advantage of the goodwill President Biden seems to have, presently, for Nigeria and ensure he firmly secure this deal and get these aircrafts delivered without any further delay with a view to combating the insurgency effectively. I will also urge the Nigerian government to also explore ways of securing drones from the US, for instance, to track the Sambisa forest and the Lake Chad region, which have been identified as havens for the terrorists and effectively neutralize them.

All these efforts would not only deal decisively with the Boko Haram insurgency internally, but also deal a devastating blow to key ISIS and ISWAP cells operating in the region. 

From the apparent friendly disposition of President Joe Biden towards Nigeria about four Nigerian-Americans have been proposed for important positions, including cabinet Nigeria should seize this opportunity and develop a close rapport with President Biden’s administration. This is rather different from the Trump administration that was negative towards Africa and referred to African countries as “shitholes”!

How would you describe the proposed appointments of retired Service chiefs as non career Ambassadors?

 It is extremely saddening that in Nigeria, in particular, the political classes continue to dump political appointees on the Foreign Service. These political appointees are often offered plum diplomatic postings  as Ambassadors at the expense of Career Officers, who through their entire career, have been professionally trained with a view to attaining the rank of Ambassador as the nadir of their careers.

A couple of months ago, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed initially 53 Non-Career Ambassadors to only 40 Career Ambassadors. The sadder aspect is that about a quarter of these Career Ambassadors are being sent out as Deputies to political appointees!

Now, with the subsequent appointments of the 5 ex-service chiefs as Ambassadors, the proportion of political appointees to the professionals was 58 to 40.It was even worse under OBJ’s first term, when the proportion was 80:20!

For me, whether the appointment of the five ex-service chiefs as Ambassadors was justified or not, is not the issue. I perceive it within the larger context of using the Diplomatic Service as a political dumping ground at the detriment of the Foreign Service, not only in terms of denial of opportunities for deserving Career Officers but also in terms of quality of representation. Let me be clear. Agreed, many countries have political appointees as Ambassadors, but they appoint just a handful. In fact, some countries, such as Italy do not have political appointees as Ambassadors at all!

It’s also my view that Nigeria’s key Missions like in the UK, USA, France, Russia and China should be manned by Career Ambassadors. It would be recalled that in the golden years of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy, our key Missions were headed by top notch Career Ambassadors like Ambs. Olu Sanu, Olujimi Jolaoso and Ignatius Olisemeka at different times Ambassadors respectively (Washington, DC), Aminu Sanusi(Peking, China) George Dove-Edwin(London, UK), Hamzat Ahmadu(Moscow, USSR) and P.L Udoh(Paris, France).

We should revert to those heydays and let fewer political appointees head important but not strategic posts. All these key posts, especially Washington and London have consistently been headed by political appointees whose performances have often been subpar!

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