Monday, October 17, 2016 3:37 pm
By Rasheed Akinkuolie
The rumours making the rounds that nine of Nigeria’s diplomatic missions may imminently be closed down is no good news for the stability and implementation of Nigeria’s foreign and domestic policies. A drastic decision of this magnitude is usually taken in extraordinary circumstances, such as in a war situation or when a country’s critical interest is under threat.
In 1961, Nigeria broke diplomatic relations with France, the first time ever, for carrying out nuclear tests in the Sahara Desert. This activity was considered to be dangerous and inimical to the environment and health of the people of Sub Sahara Africa.
France moved the tests to atoll sites in French Polynesia in the South Pacific. This was a major achievement for Africa led by Nigeria using the instrument of pressure diplomacy.
Nigeria also closed its missions in countries which supported secession and the break up of Nigeria during the civil war. These were serious issues which warranted drastic reactions from Nigeria.
The subsequent closures of Nigeria’s diplomatic missions, unfortunately did not involve such serious threats, but were arbitrary and on the spur decisions which did not take into consideration the far reaching consequences.
The first of this kind was in 1984 when several embassies and consulates were unilaterally closed down by fiat and 115 high ranking diplomats were summarily retired or dismissed from the service. The effect of this multiple actions almost crippled the Foreign Service and the negative effects are still lingering till date.
In the United Kingdom, the Consulates in Liverpool and Edinburg were closed down. The officers in the missions were posted to London, some were retired and others sent back to Nigeria. The burden of serving a teeming population of about 2 million Nigerians, over 20, 000 students and the general public was shifted to the High Commission in London. The Public, both Nigerian and Foreign were compelled to come from all over the United Kingdom to London at great cost in time, travelling, lodging and other expenses just to obtain basic documents such as passports, visas, consular assistance and make general enquiries.
The Nigerian Consulate in San Francisco, California was also closed during this period. The closest Nigerian mission to San Francisco is in New York City or Washington which is about 5-6 hours flight away. The inconveniences and costs to the general public in travelling and other costs are better imagined. These missions and several others have remained shut for 32 years and the various calls to reopen them in the public interest have all been ignored.
The round of closures being contemplated now will further weaken the institutions for achieving Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives, and compound the problems of Nigerians in diaspora.
The nine missions slated for closure are : Buea, (Cameroonj) Belgrade (Serbia, former Yugoslavia) Kiev (Ukraine) Prague ( Czech Republic), the High Commission in Singapore, the Consulate in Sao Paulo, Permanent Mission to D 8 in Istanbul, Africa-South America Cooperation Forum ( (ASACOF) in Caracas , Venezuela and the High Commission in Sri Lanka. These missions and indeed all missions were not established for the fun and arbitrarily, but for their strategic relevance to Nigeria’s national interests in unique and specific ways.
The analysis hereunder would throw more light on their importance and the strong reasons to reconsider their closures.
Consulate General Buea, Cameroon:
The compelling reasons for opening this mission in 1961 was to protect the large Nigerian population and assets left behind in Southern Cameroon after the plebiscite of October 1961, when the autonomous Anglophone Cameroon in the Nigerian federation opted to join Francophone Cameroon to form the United Republic of Cameroon. After the break away, millions of Nigerians stayed behind and some migrated there during the Civil War and after, until the population grew to the present level of over 2 million people.
The Consulate General in Buea had been a strong pillar of support for the Nigerian community who have to contend with the challenges of suddenly living in a foreign country, with the constraints imposed by new laws, regulations, residence permit, discrimination and sometimes brutalizations by law enforcement agents of foreigners typical of some African countries. Beyond the issues of the welfare of the Nigerian community in Cameroon, the mission also oversees the Bakassi Peninsula affairs for peaceable outcomes.
The Residence, Chancery building and officers quarters in Buea are Nigerian government properties which cannot be sold for value because they are specific purpose built grand structures which will either be kept at government expense by facility and security companies or go into ruins like the residence in Bonn-Bade Godesborg, Edinburg and Liverpool
The Consulate General in Francophone Douala which is about 2 hours away by road from Buea cannot cover the vast Anglophone provinces which is about 8 times the size of Lagos State or the size of Sokoto State in Nigeria. I know the issues involved as a former Consul in Buea.
Ukraine is a new destination for affordable medical and engineering education for Nigerian students. There are about 10,000.-15,000 students in this category. The ongoing crisis in the country and the uncertainties of a full blown war with Russia demands the presence of a Nigerian mission in the country to address the problems which may arise as a result of sudden escalation of the crisis.
Beyond the social issues, Ukraine was the second largest Republic in the defunct USSR and an economic power house in nuclear technology, agribusiness, iron and steel. Ukraine is the principal partner in Nigeria’s Iron and Steel program, an important project for Nigeria’s industrial take off.
Belgrade was the capital of the defunct Yugoslavia and non aligned countries which is an important power bloc in the International community. Yugoslavia has broken into seven countries to which the mission in Belgrade is concurrently accredited. The Nigerians in Serbia and these countries would face the same challenges as the Nigerians and public in California. The mission had been closed on two previous occasions and compelling circumstances have forced its reopening.
Developing 8 countries Forum (D8) in Istanbul, Turkey:
This is an economic community of 8 developing countries viz. : Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran and Egypt representing more than 930 million people, which is about the population of Africa. This is a collective with enormous potentials for trade, political power, social integration, cultural understanding, and capacity to compete with other economic giants such as : the G20, BRICS (Brazil, India, China, South Africa) Developing countries can only expect to break the shackles of dependency and underdevelopment, if they come together as a unified force.
Nigeria’s interest in Turkey is growing with Turkish companies active in manufacturing, construction, specialist hospitals, education and other interests. A D 8, office manned by two-three officers could also serve as Nigeria’s consular, trade, protocol and information centers for the region.
The Africa/ South America Cooperation Forum ( ASACOF) in Caracas, Venezuela. This economic forum is the brain child of Nigeria and Brazil, a visionary program aimed at promoting political and economic cooperation between Africa and South American countries. The dearth of information and knowledge about the potentials embedded in the two continents had hampered a greater cooperation between them.
ASACOF was established as a one stop shop organization which will pool information about areas of possible social, political and economic cooperation between the two continents. The volume of trade between Africa and South America rose dramatically from 10 billion to 55 billion usd since the establishment of ASACOF in 2006, which is an encouraging development. These transactions had undoubtedly boosted the economies of both continents. The closure of the missions may literally mean opting out of the organizations which will not be in Nigeria’s interest
The Consulate in Sao Paolo:
Sao Paolo is the economic capital of Brazil and the municipality accounts for 15 percent of the industrial output of the continent of South America. With such potentials, Nigeria would be missing out on the enormous opportunity this city has to offer in terms of trade and investments in Brazil..
Brazil is a vast country, which is about 8 times the size of Nigeria and the mission in Brasilia and Rio cannot cover such a huge territory. Nigerians by nature are adventurous and several thousands are in Sao Paulo and adjoining states. The presence of a small consulate could make a lot of difference for the welfare of the Nigerian community.
The Nigerian High Commission in Singapore: Singapore is the economic and financial power house of the orient almost at par with HongKong. The closure of this mission may shut out or jeopardize the huge investments in Nigeria of this small but financially powerful country.
All said and done, the closure of a mission is not cheap. There are financial obligations which must be met immediately. The local staff must be paid off and compensated, especially, if the disengagement is sudden. The home based officers must be repatriated with their families. The files, cypher machines must be repatriated or disabled in a special way. The vehicles, furniture must be disposed off or shipped to the nearest mission or back home. The Chancery, Residence and other government owned buildings must be sold or leased out which is usually difficult. The challenge is that these structures are purpose built and expensive. Where they cannot be sold, security and facility companies must be engaged to protect them from vandalization, an arrangement which may last for decades.
In conclusion, Nigeria is not an ordinary country. It is politically the most powerful and influential country in Africa. The world expects Nigeria to lead and take decisions for Africa. The closure of these diplomatic missions could give the impression that Nigeria is a weak, dysfunctional and distressed country which lacks the capacity to function internationally. Difficult times don’t last forever and action taken in panic may inevitably lead to a worsened and irreversible situation. There should be a long term policy which would make the running of the embassies as cost effective as possible. The bulk of the running cost of missions is in rents. The chancery and residences are usually located in the most secure parts of town where the rents are very high. There are properties which have been rented for three decades in some countries, whereas the rents would have offset the cost of buying the properties twice over. The policy of acquiring properties abroad which started with missions in Africa some decades ago should be extended to other continents.
Finally, the Foreign Service should not be regarded as a necessary evil, but an important organization which had contributed to the socio-economic development of Nigeria and a tower of strength and refuge for the millions of Nigerians in different parts of the world.
Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director of Trade and Investment in Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs can be reached on email@example.com