UHOMOIBHI: Career Diplomats Should Have A Separate Foreign Service



Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi formerly Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, currently the Director of Pan-African Institute of Global Affairs and Strategy (PAIGAS). He spoke to JOHN OKEKE on the need to run the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a separate foreign service.

What are your fondest memories since you left the ministry of foreign affairs? I WAS in the ministry for over thirty years. I rose to the highest point any career diplomat would wish in the diplomatic service as permanent secretary.

So, there are good memories and good recollection, particularly an interaction with diplomats and members of international community, who I prefer to call my tribe. It was a great fun to always regard them as my tribe people because we share the same sentiment, mannerism and we have same objective of trying to make the world a better place.

Can you tell us how Nigeria’s foreign policy in the last five years has faired? We have done perfectly well as a nation in terms of foreign policy. In the past four years under this administration, we have a unique experience, which has never happened in 54 years, of returning to Security Council back-to-back in the respect of the mandatory two years of permanent member.

Only few countries achieved that. When the President (Goodluck Jonathan) came to office on May 29, 2011, he made a promise that our foreign policy will be dedicated to ensure the sustainability of democracy.

He has done this with a great credit since 2011. He did this in Côte d’Ivoire, in ensuring that the winner of the election in Côte d’Ivoire was installed as president. We were also in Mali.

And in Mali, we introduced the first commander that helped to chase away the terrorist from the North and ensure that democracy was restored in Mali. You can say that of many other countries like in Sudan, where we were very active, as well as, supporting peace and advancing the course of peace. So, I think we have not reneged in our effort as a major player in Africa.

Our foreign policy has been very robust in defending those core values that underpin our values and our beliefs. Do you wish to see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established as a separate foreign service, free from government bureaucracy? It has always been my position as a career diplomat that we should have a separate foreign service –– a foreign service that is run like a foreign service.

In those countries we like to point at as models, go and find out how their diplomatic service is run. It is run as foreign service because the foreign ministry is a specialised ministry.

The conduct of diplomacy, as well as, the management of diplomacy is a specialised area. You do not pick anybody from anywhere and ask him to go and run the foreign ministry because he was a good journalist or because he was a good soldier.

Just the same way you will not make me, as a diplomat, to go and hold position in the armed forces because I speak English. We should have separate foreign service and am glad that this was agreed to at the national conference. It is good to professionalise the service. It is good to have people who have great experience and who have acquired all that it takes to run the foreign ministry and to manage the foreign ministry. Go and find out what happens in Brazil, India, Britain, France and Egypt.

They have professional foreign services. My colleague, who went on to be foreign minister of Egypt, was with me in Switzerland as ambassador of his country and I was ambassador of Nigeria. So, the point am making is that if you want the best, you must put in the best. If you have a round hole you must put in a round peg. If you have a square hole you must put a square peg.

As a Director of PAIGAS, can you tell us what the institute is all about? The concept of having an institute such as this arose from my general feeling of what I have always experienced and the disappointment many of us feel; having been brought up in the University of Ibadan and having taught there and having lived all our lives in Nigeria; having personified Nigeria; having documented Nigeria; and having refreshed Nigeria.

Having lived over 60 years in this country, my greatest grief is when I see those whom I called prestigious elite, people who have benefitted much from this country, when they abuse Nigeria and abuse themselves. I’m sorry I have no sympathy for them. These are people who have benefitted most from the largesse of this country. Without Nigeria they would be nothing.

And if they step out in this country today they are nothing. If they make anything at all outside this country it is because they are Nigerians. And yet everyday, all they feel about Nigeria is what does not exist in the country. So, the Pan African Institute of Global Affairs Strategy is in to tell the Nigerian story and indeed the African story.

Because if we refuse to tell Nigerian story it means Nigeria is an orphan. Why can’t you tell what is going on in your country? So, PAIGA is an institution that would help in its own little ways with all the fibre that it may have to tell the African narrative, the Nigerian narrative and the Nigerian story.

The Nigerian story that I know is that of a peace loving country. Not rich, but even the little that it has, it share with others across the board. That is the story of Nigeria that I know. A country that was seven days old as an independent country and went to restore peace elsewhere. It has helped the United States in peacekeeping missions.

This is one country which there is no country on the continent that does not owe Nigeria a gratitude. This country was key to the libration of this continent and we have come to pay our widow’s might.

Even primary school students donated from their allowances to help to set this continent free. The story is there, but who is talking about it. This country has been in Liberia and Sierra Leone, projecting its military power to restore peace in those countries, and has done its job and came back; it does not stay there to exploit, dominate and dictate to them.

That is the nature of Nigeria. This country is a big country with the resources and power, but has never gone to war with any other country. The reason is not that we have never been provoked as a people, but because we choose dialogue and peaceful of a way of resolving conflict.

We were even ready to give out our land and our oil for peace as we did in Bakassi and other territories in the northern part of the country. Who is talking about Nigeria? Who can come and lecture Nigeria about peace? Look at our country’s democracy for 16 years; we have continuous democracy and elections.

In this country, whether you are a Muslim or a Christian, you can go and live in Aso Rock once Nigerians voted you in. This is a country that is tolerant with people and no one lectures them or preaches to them.

This is Nigeria. Nigeria is in a trying period fighting insecurity, don’t you think that other Africa countries should assist at this time to end Boko Haram insurgency? Nigeria has made it very clear that all those who support peace, must recognise that there is no option to Nigeria in Africa and West Africa for that matter.

If there is any instability here, it will affect not only the entire country but also other African countries and indeed the world. That is not because who Nigeria is, but because of the role that this country has played in our sub-region, continent and the world at large. It is absolutely impossible that Nigeria is unstable.

I can assure you, from what I have read, that Nigeria has all it takes to be stable; and indeed in the entire continent. When we fought the civil war six years after independence, who came to support us? Nigeria took the right decision to fight that war. At the end, the war ended.

Today, we have faced five years of terrorism. This is of the most vicious kind. Go and check the history of those that encountered the same and see where they are, but even in the midst of that struggle, Nigeria’s economy has grown.

It continues to grow from strength to strength. What a strange thing? Nigeria is capable of defending its territorial heritage. So, what we intend to do in PAIGA is to encourage Nigerians to tell our story and to document it. We must do strategic thinking and reflect this in our action and our words. When the civil war ended it was back to the normal.

If Boko Haram ends today, we must not allow the lesson of this war to be lost. It has to be documented. PAIGA will document the lesson and we will ensure we contribute to being part of the line of telling our Nigerian story.

Who are those expected to be members of this institute? It is going to be open to Nigerians. The funding is going to come from this country –– deliberately. We are not hungry people. We are not an NGO that we will go out begging for funds. We are self-made and self-confident people who believe in the course of our country and we will do our best to document our country’s activities.

If there is anyone who wants to help; who wants to tell us what to do, that person will be welcomed. Can you tell us about the books you have written and the purpose you have in mind writing them? I have authored, co- authored and edited several works.

This is natural because my first occupation was as a university lecturer, immediately after my first degree, after which I got a fellowship to pursue a decorate degree in Human history and international relation.

I did that for three and half years and I returned to Ibadan to continue my teaching. I taught in Ibadan for seven years before I was seconded into diplomatic service, where I spent over thirty years One thing that I enjoyed in the academia was always been able to reflect and to look through and see through what one did on the field.

In other part of the world it is called the marriage of the town and of the gown. The town being befitting and the town the book that you wear in the university. I have been able to blend the two lines; can and the gown.

I have been in the university as a teacher, but also be a practitioner, being a field person. For what I have studied I’m one of the best practitioners and I was able to take to the field and see whether they make sense or absolute nonsense.

I am happy to tell you that I made a whole lot of sense and it makes me a better person in the data analysis. My fondest book was the book  I wrote and co-authored in the late 80s; three volumes of Nigerian history in the eighteen, nineteen and the twentieth centuries. They are currently compulsory for all secondary school students preparing to write their exams.

So, for me that was the greatest contribution that one has made. But thereafter I have a lot more other works. Let me talk about what happened in a last couple of or years I was the permanent secretary. I found out in the ministry, and indeed in our history, we have no intellectual heritage.

Ministries in our government do not document activities and that is a big shame. As a student in England, I had cause to use the public library, you will find works and messages by government officials dating back to the sixteen century –– hand written. Unfortunately, in the ministry of foreign affairs and in our service we do not have the habit of documenting our works and keeping our record .

So, I promised myself when I was the permanent secretary I was going to build an archive for the ministry and I did. Today you can go to that ministry there is a digital archive and also a documentary archive.

You will find both visual and audio of every major events that took place in the ministry for the last five years that I was a permanent secretary. They are there and anyone can go there and request for them.

When you lack intellectual heritage others will write your history for you and they will tell you what you think you are and I can tell you they will not be  the most pleasant things you want to hear about yourself.

So, we have to help to develop a culture of documenting our activities. We do not have to go to record outside of our country and look for how we lived hundred years ago. When we can be our own writer and documenter of our own activities . And you are bound to be very fruitful and thankful when you do those things. So, I was able to document our activities.

There are several volumes of our record in different form in our library, archive and in the ministry. I have some for myself and I am happy for what we have done. So, these are like fun for men and I just hope those thing will be sustained even after I depart. The world is looking at Nigeria to see the outcome of the general elections; if the elections will be free and fair. What is your opinion? Well, the pathological narrator, those who only see the glass as half full, will always say negative things about our country. They will go on living in their pathological, water-heightened kind of existence and the interpretation of events in Nigeria. I see what is going on in Nigeria as very healthy and not unnatural of a country as complex and as big.

Here in Nigeria, we 376 ethnic nationality, 376 nations. We have 170 million people inhabiting this place. All of them imperial people. We are not peripheral people. You can name a number of empires and kingdoms that were brought together for administrative convenient and restore exploitation under the colonial rule to make one nation. But I will now say that we have made a good nation out of Nigeria. We are have had both Muslim and Christian leaders in the 16 years of return to democracy –– President Obasanjo; eight years, President Umoru Yar’adua; two years and the incumbent President Jonathan; six years.

Look at the quantum of the democratic spaces that have opened in the last few years in this country. There is no one single political prisoner in this country as we speak. We have seen the signing of the Freedom Of Information act . Our soldiers have gone to Mali to help to restore peace. We are vanquishing Boko Haram now to create safe environment for the conduct of elections. Our press is vibrant, our people are talking without relenting. And so those who only see doom about Nigeria can go on living in their dream, but I have said a number of times that the destiny of Nigeria is not in the hand of the small gods but in the hand of God Almighty .

And I Know Nigerians love God. So, that is what will happen on March 28 and we pray that those who predict doom and disaster in Nigeria we live to get testimony and be converted.

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