OPINION: How Politicians Bastardised Nigerian Diplomatic Service

By Ambassador Saleh M. Abdulwahab, Mni

Member, National Institute for Policy & Strategic Studies

 In many mega cities around the world, the slogan is ‘Si ves algo, di algo’, if you see something, say something to protect the cities. In our own beloved mega country where many things are going wrong, it is necessary and timely to say something in the national interest. In a country where injustice, corruption and impunity prevail, it is very difficult if not impossible for that country to attain peace and greatness and become a member of the comity of prosperous nations. Nigerians at home and abroad today, continue to suffer from insurgence and terrorism of Boko Haram due to injustice perpetrated by some unpatriotic greedy Nigerian Leaders. That injustice is still prevalent today. For example, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about 85 seasoned Career Diplomatists have been unjustly rendered redundant and pushed aside in favor of non-career political ambassadors. The political loyalists are unjustifiably favored to take over the job of professional Diplomatists who have been on the line of succession for the past 30 to 35 years to reach the pinnacle of their chosen profession and to be appointed ambassadors of this great nation. These are not just ordinary officers, they are fine extraordinary diplomats who have been trained, tested and trusted in the strategic diplomatic business for over three decades either in bilateral or multilateral fora. Some powerful politicians just decided that they should be grounded like Nigeria Airways without any blemish or fault of their own. But we should note according to George Washington that ‘The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.’

 In normal circumstances, those officers should have been appointed ambassadors when on Grade Level 16. Therefore, no officer is expected to attain Grade Level 17 before being appointed ambassador.  But due to injustice, nepotism and irresponsible negligence since 2000 to date by the political class, these officers have been allowed to suffer the consequences of aberration in the appointment of ambassadors. This class of civilized Nigerians have been disappointed, demoralized, dehumanized and demotivated. As a result of this unprecedented accumulation, it was recommended that officers who have been affected since 2007 to date should be conferred with the exalted title of Ambassador-in-situ to fulfil their lifelong ambition and in appreciation of their long but loyal service to the nation. This appointment has no financial commitments for the government. To prevent such accumulation in future, there was a decision by the Federal Executive Council in which it was approved that officers should be appointed Ambassadors on Grade Level 16. Unfortunately, this was not fully implemented. In 2013, instead of clearing the backlog, President Jonathan appointed only a few of them mostly working then in the Villa promising to do the rest in batches and there was never another batch. Regrettably, some of these officers have died while waiting for the appointment. I therefore, strongly appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari as a leader who stands firmly for justice and fairness to kindly approve with immediate effect the appointment of all the affected officers as Ambassadors-in-situ. May the Lord of Justice give him the wisdom and strength to do it. We should stop rewarding the evil and punishing the good. Nigeria should be a grateful country to its patriotic citizens.


It was a great shock that while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was anxiously waiting for this approval, the government forwarded the names of 47 nominees to the Senate for appointment as NON-CAREER Ambassadors. This is a diplomatic disaster for Nigeria. In a country where the rule of law is abused and applied to pervert the law in the interests of the law makers themselves and against the interests of the nation and its citizens, what do we expect from such a country in interpretation and application of internationally recognized guideline on the appointment of NON-CAREER Ambassadors?  The guideline is indeed very clare. It is to regulate the appointment of few prosperous, noble and honest Nigerians for a specific purpose and certain target.  Unfortunately, the appointment of Ambassadors became highly politicized since 2004 requesting career professional officers to go back to their States and kneel down in front of their Governors to facilitate their nomination. What a diplomatic mess! The Governors saw themselves as tiny gods, seized the opportunity of this aberration to nominate their political loyalists, cousins, housekeepers and other sycophants for appointment as Non-Career Ambassadors. The rest is history: we witnessed in some of our Missions ‘Kabukabu’ Diplomacy while in others, there was ‘Area Boy’ Diplomacy. The question is why don’t we appoint non-career pilots, doctors and generals to fly our planes, manage our hospitals and fight our wars???  The demobilization of highly qualified diplomats and mobilization of non-career inexperienced political nominees send wrong signals of contradiction, confusion and complication. And the implication is that Nigerians who want to become ambassadors simply need to join the politics instead of joining the diplomatic service where they must remain on line from 30 to 35 years only to be deactivated and disappointed. Today, our diplomatic service is proud of highly graded scholars from the best universities in the world. That will no longer be the case if this problem is not addressed.  Trust Nigerians, by finding an easy way of becoming ambassadors through the back door, they easily join the politics and remain loyal sycophants to a political leader who nominates them ambassadors from two to three years only and these are the ones posted to plum missions leaving the hardship posts for the careerists.


To be sincere, we had in the past some non-careerists who performed creditably well.  Some of them were patriotic and honest Nigerians who had done many great things for the country. They brought various experiences of academic excellence, maturity, intelligence into the Foreign Service. While those were very successful, many others did not either because they were not ambassadorial materials or they were ‘foreign bodies in the foreign service.’  For goodness sake, when will the Nigerian political class be able to differentiate between textbook diplomacy and functional diplomacy or between nominal ambassadors and practicing ambassadors? The truth is bitter and constant. The point is that are those in charge interested in the truth? Are they listening and reasoning?   It is worthy of observation that diplomacy is a serious business in which there is no room for mediocrity.  Diplomacy is the same but it’s mode of practice has changed due to information communication technology ICT and other phenomenal factors. So, non-career appointees based on experience, cannot understand the role of a modern Ambassador within a short time and perform effectively or face the challenges of modern diplomacy with efficiency and efficacy. They are probably more interested in the aura of elegance of the ambassadorial job, the exotic social life and the coveted title than in its risks and challenges. In a country where people are obsessed with various titles, they steal public money to purchase titles. With this title inflation, care should be taken to prevent corruption and attenuation of the ambassadorial title.


It will be highly rewarding that government should implement the decision of the Federal Executive Council on this issue. As it is within the prerogative of Mr President, we humbly appeal to our President who stands firmly for justice and fairness to confer without further delay the exalted tittle of Ambassador-in-situ on all affected officers from 2005 to date. Regrettably, some of them have died while waiting for the approval. We also urge the Senate to work together with the Executive to accelerate the appointment of Career Ambassadors to enable them assume duties in our Missions abroad as soon as possible. It is unintelligent and uneconomical to leave our Missions without substantive Heads for so long in this critical history of our country. This is a time our diplomats should be very busy to promote and project our national image throughout the four corners of the world and pursue development diplomacy.  It will also be in the national interest that the Executive should withdraw the current long list of non-career nomination for a downward review to 10 percent only. As witnessed in the past, some nominees themselves who did not like to be ‘foreign bodies in the foreign service’ honourably decided to withdraw their names to protect their integrity.

 In order to meet the burgeoning needs and our rising diplomatic responsibilities all over the world especially in reasserting our role as leader of Africa and the black race, it is necessary to initiate legislative proposals by the National Assembly to establish a separate Nigerian Foreign Service and set a limit to the ambassadorial appointments by Mr President from outside occupations to 10 percent only. The arguments and recommendations which I made to this effect in my Thesis in 1987 are even more relevant today than ever before.  (Abdul-Wahab, M.S, Management of Human Resources In Nigerian Foreign Service: Motivation & Reform, A.B.U. Zaria, 1987 Unpublished,  pp. 162-165)    In some other studies, it is indicated that countries like America, Britain, Egypt, India and China had similar challenges in their diplomatic services but were able to resolve them in the interest of the institution without corrupting the system.

 With the high calibre of APC Party leadership, no one expects this kind of long list of outsiders for the best diplomatic positions to find its way to the Senate and render many senior officers idle in our Ministry!  Where is the positive change the world has been waiting for? You are singing change while you are doing the wrong things over and over again. Whether you are APC or PDP members, it does not matter. We should all come together to fight for the soul of Nigeria. Where are our elders? What is your legacy? Where are members of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Foreign Relations and Retired Ambassadors?  This is a great challenge to members of the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria, all diplomats who are members of the National Institute for Policy & Strategic Studies, and the Defence College. We should all come together. This is a battle we must all fight and win if necessary in a court of law. If Nigeria succeeds, Africa will succeed. We will not attain greatness until Nigeria as a nation starts to do the right thing, by the right person, at the right time, at the right place, in the right manner. That is Nigeria’s path to greatness. God bless Nigeria.

Ambassador Saleh M. Abdulwahab, mni

Goodness is Good,


WhatsApp + 1 347 495 6009


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