On Tuesday, President Goodluck Jonathan suspended the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Danjuma Sheni for having prompted the ‘recall’ of Nigeria’s envoys in South Africa, Acting High Commissioner in Pretoria, Ambassador Martin Cobham, and the Deputy High Commissioner in Johannesburg, Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke, without due authorisation.
The Ministry in a statement credited to the Minister, Ambassador Aminu Bashir Wali, had summoned the envoys, in connection with the xenophobic attacks targeting African migrants.
South Africa was reportedly “shocked” that Nigeria would take such a drastic step in diplomatic relations, over the attacks which were already under control at the time.
A statement issued by the spokesperson of the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Mr. Clayson Monyela, expressed shock that Nigeria would take “such an extraordinary diplomatic step to express outrage at actions or behaviour of another government”.
The Presidency may have been particularly pained at the embarrassing jab thrown at it over its inability to stop the Boko Haram attacks and to rescue the Chibok girls. South Africa also made reference to the shoddy handling of the repatriation of the bodies of its 84 citizens who died in the Synagogue Church collapse.
“… .we did not blame the Nigerian Government… or for the fact that when these bodies eventually returned, they were in a state that they could not be touched or viewed as required by our burial practice.” It added that it would raise its concerns over the recall through diplomatic channels with the incoming administration of President-elect Muhammad Buhari.
The Foreign Ministry later issued another statement clarifying that it did not ‘recall’ the envoys, but rather ‘summoned’ them for routine consultations, terms which have different meanings in diplomatic parlance. It blamed the media for the wrong use of language. It also noted that there were satisfactory indications that the South African authorities had taken firm measures to stem the tide of attacks.
The Presidency, perhaps, irked at this misstep at a rare time when the bilateral relations with South Africa seemed to be going smoothly announced the suspension of Ambassador Sheni.
But Sheni’s suspension may just be a case of someone having to pay the price for the ineptitude of the Foreign Ministry in recent times. The Ministry was also recently embarrassingly disowned by the Presidency in NigeriaMorocco diplomatic phone call spat, where the Ministry had insisted that a telephone conversation held between the Moroccan Monarch, Muhammed VI and President Jonathan, leading to Rabat recalling its Ambassador, Mustafa Chereoqui, for consultations.
The Presidency had inaugurated a committee, headed by Ambassador Wali to get to the root of the statement issued by the Ministry that the conversation had held. It remains unclear whether the committee ever held a meeting, or what the results of its investigations were. But critical questions arise over the two incidents: Why would the Permanent Secretary be the scapegoat when he could not have acted without authorisation from the Minister? The statement announcing the summons of the envoys clearly credited the decision to the minister. Shouldn’t the minister be fired for the missteps of his Ministry?
The Minister should be fired either way for the infractions because its either he takes decisions without consulting his principal, or he is not in charge of his ministry.
A government official who spoke with THISDAY in an informal off record conversation said Wali should be the one fired. “This is a clear case of misdirecting anger. But again this is what happens when a politician is asked to head a Ministry as sensitive as the Foreign Ministry, which requires core professionals. Even if the Permanent Secretary or anyone aises the Minister wrongly, he would be able to take the right decisions if he was a diplomat. In any case, there was no reason for the Ministry to have made such noise about its decision to summon the envoys, especially after the attacks were under control,” the official said.
“This particular Minister seems more interested in politicking anyway, than in foreign policy. This is what you get when a round peg is put in a square hole. The Ministry has gone noticeably quiet since he took over. I even heard only his floor and lifts are powered by the generator when there are power outages. Other offices remain idle until power is restored. Can you imagine that in a foreign Ministry which manages the image of the government?
A diplomat who also spoke with THISDAY off record said no statement can be issued by the Foreign Ministry without the authorisation of the Minister, therefore the Minister should take the blame for the statement issued over the Morocco phone call and the fall out of the recall of the envoys.
Source : This Day