Recall of Nigeria’s ambassadors and High Commissioners: Matters arising
As the Muhammadu Buhari administration enters its last days, many key stakeholders in the incoming Bola Tinubu administration have commenced diverse schemes to position themselves in positions of reckoning in the next dispensation.
Especially involved in these schemes to bag government appointments are those who were not elected into statutory offices in the legislature or executive branches of government at the state and federal levels.
Nothing unusual. With hundreds of government parastatals, agencies, and departments offering plush positions on their respective boards, there is a lot to go around.
After all, Buhari emphasised that many of the political appointments he made were from the ranks of people he knew so the thinking is that they should be packing their bags as well since Tinubu knows quite a bunch of people as well.
For some strange reasons, perhaps owing to a particular lack of knowledge, Nigeria’s ambassadors and high commissioners serving abroad, especially the so-called non-career ambassadors, have been classified among those that should escort Buhari out of Aso Rock Villa on May 29.
Indeed, some of the All Progressives Congress’ big wigs have demanded that such ambassadors be recalled pronto, ostensibly to create space for those from their ranks to bag such appointments with all the prestige that comes with it even if many have complained of underfunding of our foreign missions for decades.
While it is true that the president has the prerogative to appoint ambassadors and high commissioners, such appointments must be confirmed by the Senate, which means that their appointments are not tied strictly to Buhari’s tenure in office.
If we recall, the last non-career ambassadorial appointments made by Buhari were in July 2020, when 41 distinguished Nigerians were accorded such honours. Foreign Service regulations clearly provide that ambassadorial postings are for a four-year tenure, though this does not preclude the President from recalling any ambassador for sundry reasons.
The problem really is the perception that those suggesting now that ambassadors appointed by President Buhari should be recalled appear not to have studied constitutional provisions guiding presidential appointments.
The provision of the Constitution on Presidential Appointments under Chapter 6, Part I, Section 171 clearly spells out the powers of the President to appoint and remove the persons so appointed under this section.
For clarity, the provision of the constitution as outlined under Chapter 6, Part I, Section 171 on Presidential Appointments is as follows:
171(1) Power to appoint persons to hold or act in the offices to which this section applies and to remove persons so appointed from any such office shall vest in the President.
(2) The offices to which this section applies are namely:
(a) Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
(b) Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.
(c) Ambassador, High Commissioner or other Principal Representative of Nigeria abroad;
(d) Permanent Secretary in any Ministry or Head of any Extra-Ministerial Department of the Government of the Federation howsoever designated; and
(e) any office on the personal staff of the President.
(3) An appointment to the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation shall not be made except from among Permanent Secretaries or equivalent rank in the civil service of the Federation or of a State.
(4) An appointment to the office of Ambassador, High Commissioner or other Principal Representative of Nigeria abroad shall not have effect unless the appointment is confirmed by the Senate.
(5) In exercising his powers of appointment under this section, the President shall have regard to the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity.
(6) Any appointment made pursuant to paragraphs (a) and (e) of subsection (2) of this section shall be at the pleasure of the President and shall cease when the President ceases to hold office; Provided that where a person has been appointed from a public service of the Federation or a State, he shall be entitled to return to the public service of the Federation or of the State when the President ceases to hold office.
Under Section 171 (6) of the constitution, it is clearly stated that the appointment of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and any office on the personal staff of the president are the appointments where the recall of such officers is at the pleasure of the president because they cease to exist when the President is no longer in office.
Ambassadors clearly do not fall within the category of those holding office at the pleasure of Mr. President and one can only imagine how ridiculous it would be for Nigeria to start recalling ambassadors, less than two years after they were posted, and simply because Buhari is going.
Another point is that the categorisation of “non-career ambassadors” and “career ambassadors” by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not found in any law or regulation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and therefore cannot determine which “type” of ambassador should be subject to recall. Appointment of ambassadors is premised on the same constitutional provisions, hence their recall must also follow suit.
The Constitution does not discriminate concerning designation of ambassadors and it is trite knowledge that this recent categorisation was invented by civil servants in the foreign affairs ministry and the National Intelligence Agency to protect their turf from invasion by politicians.
The four-year tenure as provided in the Official Gazette of the Foreign Service Regulations of Nigeria should be accorded to all ambassadors and Nigeria should stop making a fool of herself at every turn of the political clock.
What many do not know is that a premature ambassadorial recall can be damaging to our national interests abroad, which is why an ambassador must be replaced by another ambassador officially designated as an accredited principal representative of the country. That is the norm in diplomatic postings all over the world.
Nigeria has lost out on many occasions by failing to follow her own rules governing ambassadorial postings and by allowing officials below the rank of ambassadors serve as principal representatives of Nigeria abroad. The import of the anomalous practice is that such representatives are not accorded due privileges of ambassadors by the foreign countries. Indeed, it has stripped Nigeria of the leadership of the diplomatic corps in many foreign countries in the past.
As a country, we should desist from certain actions that are not in concert with the spirit of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties guiding diplomatic service. Ambassadors in a “Career” or “Non-Career” designation are not appointees classified as personal staff of the president in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended, and as such, not holding their positions at the pleasure of the President.
President Buhari should just keep to his promise and retire to his farm by the end of the month and not allow himself to be goaded into some last-minute blunders, which the same people whispering to him now will use to haunt him later.
The Tinubu administration should be allowed to make its own choices at the appropriate time but should be guided against familiar blunders of recalling, prematurely, diplomats appointed by the same political party. Those fighting selfishly to create juicy ambassadorial positions can do the nation a lot of good by waiting patiently for another two years.
Emmanuel Aziken is publisher of GWG.NG