WITH more than 6,000 Nigerians in foreign jails, we thought President Goodluck Jonathan would have added their matter to charges he gave Nigeria’s 93 new ambassadors. He did not.
How these Nigerians became prisoners is as important as the fact that they, in most cases did not receive consular care. In many countries with Nigerian missions, Nigerians are jailed without getting assistance that could have kept them out of jail. What “national interests” then do these missions serve?
The President gave a hint. “You are posted to your designation to represent the President and not your state or your ethnicity, and project Nigeria as a united and indivisible nation. You must encourage Nigerians abroad to have solid unions,” he said.
Ambassadors are representatives of the President. Few will debate the position. However, this point can be stretched to a breaking juncture. Missions should serve Nigerians, who elected the President. What is happening in our foreign service is an aberration.
Our missions have been reduced to providing comfortable passage for the President, politicians, and other VIPs on their trips round the world. The same neglect ordinary Nigerians suffer at home is replicated in their relations with their missions. It is to be expected; you cannot neglect your people at home and treat them well abroad.
A common complaint from the missions is that Nigerians do not seek their services; they do not even bother to register when they arrive abroad. It is a strong argument that is weakened by the poor services that Nigerians abroad receive when they apply for renewal of their passports. Our missions, with a few exceptions, do not care for Nigerians; they treat them as distractions to their brief.
The standards of concerns for Nigerians fluctuate, depending on the head of the mission. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no expectation of such care from the missions which operate as they deem fit.
Economic diplomacy remains at the core of the nation’s foreign policy, according to the President. He should substitute the welfare of Nigerians for “economic diplomacy” and other fanciful words that mean nothing.
More words: “To build and sustain a corps of staff that can excel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must accord priority to recruiting the best and ensuring the regular training of its diplomats.” Nepotism infects the service’s recruitment; excellence is not a consideration.
An overhaul of the foreign service is overdue if it is to serve Nigerians. It starts from attitude of the missions to government’s provision of resources for their operations. Our missions do not have the resources to do more than organising state visits and issuing visas — both are even proving too challenging.