How To Harvest Okro
First, I wish to commend President Goodluck Jonathan for what appears to be a new bent in Nigeria’s foreign policy, one with the deeper participation of our women, and focus on the potential of Nigerians abroad.
In May 2004, his predecessor but one, similarly sending out new ambassadors as Mr. Jonathan did last week, specifically directed them to be wary of Nigerians abroad.
"They may even come to you and request that you give them money to go back home,” President Olusegun Obasanjo said. Tell them you have not got such money."
Mr. Jonathan’s message last week was refreshing: He tasked the new ambassadors to engage Nigerians in their various countries to support and make contributions to national development.
Jonathan seems to have some strong consciousness of the importance of this issue. Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu, one of the new appointees, began life with the Jonathan government two years ago as his Special Adviser on Diaspora Affairs, so there is some kind of respectable continuity there.
But then, our new Ambassador to Canada is our former Foreign Minister, Mr. Ojo Maduekwe. His is an appointment that raises serious conceptual, policy, ethical, moral, political and philosophical questions.
To put it mildly, Maduekwe’s tenure as Foreign Minister was one of our most disastrous, with Nigeria’s engagement with the world ranging from the empty, through the chaotic to the cantankerous. While Maduekwe traveled at will and reportedly made up foreign policy positions on flights and in front of microphones, Nigerian diplomats abroad complained about everything: from paltry and unreliable funding to mismanagement to lack of guidance from Abuja.
When he was removed in March 2010, the outgoing Foreign Minister confirmed this chaos, and left in a flurry of contradictions. First, he lampooned the financial recklessness and lack of transparency of the Ministry itself, and then—as if he could already hear the voices of his critics—he took “full responsibility for all the shortcomings and mistakes” of his tenure.
“Zero tolerance policy on corruption should not just receive lip service by rank and file but must receive a more robust implementation," Maduekwe said.
He managed to sound as if he was talking about an enterprise other than the one he had been in charge of for three years. He called for five of our foreign Missions to be probed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Over two years later, that malfeasance has not been addressed. In other words, it is to the ethical and administrative wasteland first supervised and then repudiated by Mr. Maduekwe only two years ago that he has now returned as ambassador.
For those who are keeping count, it was just one year after Mr. Maduekwe left Foreign Affairs that the Ministry’s headquarters which had been in the making for over 20 years was finally declared open. That Ministry building is one of Nigeria’s most mysterious scandals, the object of repeated re-budgeting by government after government; fire after fire, contractor after contractor.
Mr. Jonathan did last year’s opening ceremonies. Apparently uninterested in the sands of manipulation on which the building was constructed, and the N13 billion to N20 billion it cost our unfortunate country, he described the edifice as a “masterpiece of great Nigerian architectural design and a monumental diplomatic statement…a natural complement of our true image which should now be projected relentlessly."
Our true image which should now be projected relentlessly.
As I said in this column at that time, that claim was completely unclear to me, as it suggested the return of our failed and misplaced rebranding policy. It is even less clear today with Mr. Maduekwe being sent out as President Jonathan’s representative.
I make that remark cautiously: when Mr. Jonathan presented the ambassadors with their letters, it was troubling that he told them they were going out to represent him. Diplomats normally represent their countries, and nobody is the same as his country.
But ever the opportunist, Mr. Maduekwe, who spoke for the ambassadors, seized the moment. "We will be the little Jonathan wherever we are,” he said, dripping with sycophancy. “We will meet a more secure, more safe and more prosperous nation by the time we come back.”
Now, I eat more okro soup than most people. I confront more egusi than most. I am familiar with every style and nuance of cooking both dishes. The one thing I can categorically assert is that there is no way of using okro to cook egusi, or egusi to cook okro.
Mr. Maduekwe, by his own admission, presided over a chaotic and corrupt Ministry, and he did so at a time that—with President Umaru Yar’Adua sick and abroad and Nigeria teetering on the edge of chaos—our country needed men and women of strength and patriotism.
Who during that time, was Mr. Maduekwe? He was the one arguing ignominiously on foreign television with journalists about where the President Yar’Adua was and exactly what was going on in Nigeria.
He was the one who appeared in a scandalous press conference at the United Nations, and, confronted by SaharaReporters, simply fell apart. I know people who, when they need a laugh, still go to YouTube to watch Mr. Maduekwe’s argument with SaharaReporters’ Omoyele Sowore. And he was the one who, by his own admission, headed a maggot-infested Ministry.
Soon after Mr. Jonathan became President, Maduekwe was removed from the government. The question is: what has happened in the past two years to convert the former Foreign Ministry failure into a Foreign Ministry star?
The Ministry may have a brand new building, but the very problems identified by a departing Maduekwe in 2010—and other problems he did not—remain in the place. How does his return resolve problems that we have ignored? Does a filthy toilet clean itself?
If the objective is that “Our true image which should now be projected relentlessly,” or even simply for our country to be taken seriously, it is counter-productive for people who have clearly been part of the problem to be re-introduced as part of the solution. How do you use okro to cook egusi?
The truth is that Mr. Maduekwe, who seems to have an unfailing formula for slipping into every government, no matter its character or lack of one, would have to work 10 times as hard as anyone else to be remotely acceptable to Nigerians in the Diaspora. He is seen as a part, even a symbol, of our collapse. Are we so short of people that men such as he must be recycled?
Nigeria does need foreign investment. Nigeria ought to be able to count on her diplomatic missions to attract investments, as well as to try to open foreign markets to Nigerian products.
But our “little Jonathans,” have little hope of achieving any success abroad if we neglect to close the gap between our domestic crises and our foreign policy objectives, or if we offer the impression that whatever we do does not matter.
As we found out during last year’s Wikileaks revelations about Nigeria, it is not what we say, it is what we do. We cannot continue to play the same old game and expect different results.
This means it is not true that when our “little Jonathans” come back, they will meet “a more secure, more safe and more prosperous nation.”
That depends on what we sow. You cannot plant okro and reap egusi.