‘My primary duty is to represent the country’s interests overseas’
It was on one of my visits to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC several years ago when I was introduced to a woman who was the then Economic Minister to the Nigerian Consulate in the United States. I continued to follow her career and the works she had embarked on to promote Nigerian interests internationally and further aid development in Nigeria and diplomacy. Being an inspiration to many from aspirants pursuing careers in foreign policy and diplomacy, to those following their dreams and passions, to women working to excel in their fields and all around people who seek to make a positive difference in their world, Ambassador Okeke’s work serves as an example of when perseverance meets grace. The poised and accomplished Ambassador has not only made great strides for Nigeria at home but has been deployed to Belgium, America and now Austria and Slovakia.
The gracious Ambassador in this interview discusses her work as a Foreign Service official for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, her motivations and goals for her ambassadorship and her responses are as poignant as they are informative.
What made you pursue a career in Foreign Affairs?
Pursing a career in Foreign Affairs gave me the opportunity to make a difference, to be part of an elite club of civil servants whose primary duties are to represent the country’s interests overseas. So one must be very well prepared to do the work well. In any case, my educational background is Political Science as well as International Relations at Bachelors and Masters Degrees levels respectively, as such, one could say that besides my personal inclination for this kind of work, I was also equipped for the job. The Foreign Service gives you an opportunity to travel to foreign countries in the course of your work. I have lived and worked in Brussels, Belgium, United States of America and now I am in Vienna, Austria and Slovakia. In addition, being a Foreign Service officer requires proper training, having inter-personal skills and being a good negotiator so one is able to present the position of his/her country well and win diplomatic accolades for your country.
You were confirmed as the Ambassador for Austria by President Buhari after a long process that took into consideration your diplomatic abilities, career track record and efficiency to represent the nation in the highest office in a foreign country.
Kindly tell us some of your career track records
From 2015 to 2017, I was the Director (America and Caribbean Affairs Division), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Headquarters, Abuja. I was able to facilitate and co-ordinate the holding of Bi-National Commission meetings between Nigeria and Canada and the United States of America, including facilitation of high-level visits and trade missions between Nigeria and to all the countries in the America and Caribbean region. I was the Director, Joint Commission, Trade and Investment Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Headquarters-Abuja. I was able to facilitate the holding of Bi-National Commission meetings between Nigeria and the United States of America and the Republic of Germany as well as Joint Commission meetings with Republic of Benin and the Republic of Turkey. From November 2010 to April 2014, I was Minister (Economic) Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Washington DC, and facilitated the expansion of the investment of Procter and Gamble in Nigeria, as well as that of General Electric and countless others. During that period, I successfully organised Investment fora on Nigeria’s Agricultural Sector, Power Sector and Nigeria’s infrastructure that led to the inflow of FDI from the USA to the tune of 250 million US Dollars ($250,000,000). I also served as the Liaison on World Bank issues, US Treasury and US Export-Import Bank, including many others.
In what other capacities do you represent Nigeria and what are some of your accomplishments since taking office as Ambassador of Nigeria to Austria?
I assumed office as the Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinaire of Nigeria to the Federal Republic of Austria and concurrently accredited Slovakia in July 2017. I am also accredited as Permanent Representative of Nigeria to all the International Organizations and United Nations Offices based in Vienna namely: Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO); International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA); International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Since my assumption of duties, I have taken part in several UN meetings in Vienna, USA and UAE. The major achievements, so far I can say, are Nigeria’s resolution on, “Strengthening Mutual Legal Assistance for International Cooperation and Asset Recovery,” tabled by my Mission on behalf of Nigeria which was unanimously adopted by Member States during the Seventh Conference of State Parties (COSP) to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), in Vienna in November 2017. The adoption of this resolution was a catalyst to the repatriation of $321 million stolen funds to Nigeria, following the signing of an agreement between the concerned parties at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery in Washington DC, in December, 2017.
Similarly, my Mission drafted and tabled a Resolution titled Facilitating Trainings and capacity building on Asset Tracing and Recovery at the 6th Assembly of Parties to the International Anti- Corruption Academy in Sharm El Sheikh Egypt in October 2017. Both resolutions are consistent with the anti-corruption effort of Mr. President’s agenda. In addition, in October, 2017, following series of meetings in Vienna and a subsequent one in Abu Dhabi, Nigeria and Russia signed agreements regarding the construction and operation of a Nuclear Power Plant and a Research Center housing a multi-purpose nuclear research reactor in Nigeria. The parties also signed up to a roadmap for cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear technologies. I was part of the process on the Nigerian side, which was championed by Professor Mallam Simon Pesko, Chairman, Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission. As you know, the high demand for energy supply in the country will be covered partly by renewable energy like solar energy and also by hydro-power energy.
On the Bilateral front, I have been able to raise Nigeria’s image in Austria and Slovakia and I continue to work with the Government as well as business community in both countries to promote the beneficial bilateral economic relations. In this connection, I am organizing a Business and Investment Forum in June this year focused on matching Nigerian businesses to interested partners in Austria and Slovakia and also opening up the potentials of the dynamic Nigerian economy to Austrian/Slovak investors.
What are some of your goals for the Nigerian Embassy in Vienna, Austria?
During the period of my tenure in Austria, my core mandate and preoccupation include strengthening the economic relationship between Nigeria and Austria and promote Nigeria’s economic growth and diversification plans through the renewed drive to attract Foreign Direct Investment with focus on agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, ICT, oil and gas, among others; promote and project the positive image of Nigeria in my host country and country of concurrent accreditation; promote the welfare and interests of Nigeria’s nationals and her diaspora population as well as rendering appropriate and prompt consular services; finding a pathway to mitigate the number of irregular migration in the host country; protecting the person, dignity and interests of the Nigerian Community in Austria and Slovakia; partnering with International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) on their flagship project on Reverse Migration.
As you are an inspiration to many, who motivates you in life?
My greatest motivation in life is seeing accomplished women leaders who have been able to multitask as wives, mothers and heads of their organizations, like Prof. Joy Ogwu, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, late Dora Akunyili and many others. I am married with four children and it can be very challenging but also having the support of my spouse and family makes the work much easier to be able to combine these different roles.
Are you sure you can achieve this onerous task in Austria?
I am proud to say that in my 35 years in the diplomatic service, I have been able to make that difference in the socio-economic development of my country. While serving in USA as an Economic Counsellor, I was part of the team that facilitated the expansion of countless investment in Nigeria. I hope to replicate similar feat in my countries of current accreditation of Austria and Slovakia and we are not resting until this is achieved.
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