Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal at the weekend defended the recent Ambassadorial-nominees’ list sent by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Senate, saying the president has constitutional powers to nominate envoys anyway he deems fit.
Recall that the Senate last week suspended the screening and subsequent confirmation of the 47 nominees by President Buhari due to what they said was non-compliance with Federal Character principle.
The senators, therefore, passed a motion to summon the SGF and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama to explain why four states – Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ondo and Plateau – were not represented in the Ambassadorial list.
Justifying the composition of the list, Mr. Lawal, in a chat with newsmen in Abuja, said he was ready to appear before the Upper Chamber, adding that unlike appointment of ministers, which the constitution stipulates each state must be represented by at least one person, the constitution did not specify any criteria for the president to adopt in nominating ambassadors.
The SGF regretted that the Senate suspended deliberation on the list saying the controversy over federal character or otherwise would have been laid to rest with just a phone call.
He said: “Certainly, we will appear, we are law abiding, we respect the National Assembly and we respect the laws of the land. One thing however is clear, the constitution makes it clear that it is the prerogative of the president to nominate Ambassadors and the criteria he will use to do so is also the constitutional right of the President. Whatever criteria he chooses to use is constitutional. We acknowledge also that it is also the prerogative of the Senate to approve or not to approve that nomination.
“Be that as it may, I must say that we are disappointed that the National Assembly took the decision it did but again we believe that the Senate is made up of very responsible and patriotic Nigerians and the Senate is made up of great people including governors who have governed and known the constitution regarding separation of powers.
“We believe that the Senate will not do anything that will bring the country to disrepute because right now Nigeria enjoys tremendous goodwill all over the globe. Countries now have high regard and respect for our president, our ministers and all other representatives of government are treated very well and with respect wherever they go. It is important to have ambassadors to sustain this goodwill”.
Mr. Lawal stressed that having ambassadors in foreign countries will reduce the stress in attracting foreign investment into Nigeria.
“Again, a lot of the travels by the president and government representatives is to attract direct foreign investment into the country and ambassadors are key to sustaining this and ensuring that the goals for these trips are achieved.
“A third reason why we think these ambassadors are key is because of the phenomenal of global terrorism; almost every country around the world is facing it and all nations of the world are now collaborating with each other to fight this international terrorism. It is important that Nigerians have representatives on the ground who will represent its interest and defend it”, he said.
Delaying the screening of ambassadors even by one day, the SGF noted, is not in national interest.
“We believe that senators being patriotic Nigerians will not want to cause undue hardship and put Nigeria at an undue disadvantage in any regard. While we respect their rights and their views on the issues of ambassadorial nominees, we expect that in coming to whatever decision, they will consider patriotism and put into cognizance the interest of their own country and not probably political considerations or even personal considerations to bring undue hardship and disadvantage to their own country.
On the Federal Character principle, he said: “Of course we have read in the newspapers some of their concerns such as federal character and so on. At the last count my recollection is that out of the 47 diplomat nominees, out of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, 32 states were represented. While the constitution preaches federal character, it does not say that every state must be represented in any appointment, except of course in the case of ministers. Not in all other appointments, so the spirit of the constitution has been fully satisfied by having 32 ambassadors out of 36 plus one. I believe that every objective analyst will agree with this”.
Listing some of the criteria adopted in the nomination of the ambassadors, apart from merit and qualifications, the SGF said that it was important not to appoint someone an ambassador that will soon retire.
He said: “So one of the criteria the person must have is that he must not be less than 30 months to retirement.
“If you know the processes of nominating and deploying ambassadors you will know that for example, it is highly unlikely that the Senate will be done with it within the next two, three weeks. These ambassadors will need to be presented to the countries where they are going to be posted for checks and confirmation by those countries.
“We cannot dictate the speed at which they will do it, so it could take in all honesty probably six to seven months for an ambassador to fully be cleared and assume his new post. It will take longer still for him to acclimatize and settle down in his work. There have been a subsisting policy not by this regime alone that it will be good for someone who has 30 months to retire not be posted because then he will just be settling down before retiring, it doesn’t make sense”.
Another criteria considered, according to Lawal, was the accelerating level of the nominee, which must be grade level 16 or 17.
“Due to no fault of this government, not all states have people in the ministry of foreign affairs, in the foreign service department that met this criteria”, he stated.
He also said that the criteria included consideration for specialist areas, satisfying requirement of gender sensitivity, while the nominee must also be change compatible.
The SGF further explained that other ambassadorial appointments will come from outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or related agencies that will provide opportunity for the states that didn’t make the list.