The MacDowell Colony is about the greatest writing residency program in the United States. Founded in 1907 in Peterborough, New Hampshire where Edward MacDowell — the America’s first great composer — said he produced more and better music, the Colony has supported the creative work of more than 7,900 men and women of exceptional ability from around the world. Some famous people that the Colony has supported include James Baldwin, E.L Doctorow, Alice Walker, Gregory Pardlo, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Almereyda, Meredith Monk, Leslie Robertson, Alice Sebold, Thornton Wilder, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Barbara Tuchman.
The Nigerian Nneka Lesley Arimah, author of the well-celebrated story collection, What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, has also attended the Residency in 2016. The Colony offers 32 studios to artists in seven discipline; that is, it supports: writers, visual artists, composers, filmmakers, playwrights, interdisciplinary artists, and architects. Each year, more than 300 artists come to Peterborough to work. Anyone may apply, and the Colony is noted for its support of both emerging and established artists.
The Fellowship lasts from two weeks to two months; accepted artists are given a studio, accommodations, and all meals. And there are no fees. There are also more than a $1000 stipend and a refund of cost of travel. I spoke with Uchenna Awoke, a fiction writer from Nigeria who has just returned from a five-week writing residency at the Colony. Uchenna has gone to the Colony to complete work on his fiction manuscript, The Liquid Eye of a Moon. His short fiction has appeared in Transition, and Elsewhere Lit. In this interview, he shares his experience at Peterborough and gives information about the process that took him to the MacDowell Colony.
You just flew back to Nigeria from a five-week writing program at The MacDowell Colony, how did the program impact your writing?
I left the MacDowell Colony with a feeling that my writing was in its first bloom. The kinship there is unbelievably friendly, the environment incredibly natural; their connectedness magical. The ideas simply flowed. I arrived the Colony in the middle of winter. You know how it is when you arrive in a place you haven’t been before and it is very cold and the first thing you get is a big smile that’s like a warm spell. That’s a smile that resonates with everybody at the Colony. It’s a culture there; from David Macy, the Director of the MacDowell Colony, to the student helping out in the kitchen, to me, the artist-in-residence that had just arrived. That’s what I call great kinship, and that’s the great warmth you, the artist-in-residence enjoy when you are in your studio working or when you are having breakfast at the Colony Hall; a hall that is really a home. The same warmth stays with you as you are looking through the window at the blue expanse of the sky over the snowfield and the wood beyond, sometimes with a herd of white-tailed deer sunning themselves along the far tree line. These things work together –the friendly atmosphere, the view that is so beautiful it looks surreal, the magnificent meals, and a 24-hour access to the Savidge Library stocked with old and contemporary literature, written by some of the most powerful writers on earth who are themselves MacDowell Fellows. You have the opportunity to read Michael Chabon or Susan Choi and other great writers. Those are not books you easily find down here. That is what I call the magical connection; the connection that inspires the artist to go deeper and deeper in her work.
What were the challenges you faced in the application process and travel to the Colony?
The first step was getting a work sample ready (usually a maximum of 25 pages). And then I wrote a project proposal explaining the plot of the novel and the stage I was in the work. This was the hard part because I had to squeeze it into a very small application field that sometimes may not accommodate more than 500 characters with spaces. Apart from this, I had to work on my writing till I got to a point where I felt that the work sample was ready; this was not easy, because, about 5% or even less of the avalanche of applications is accepted. You can see how tight it is to get in there. I also had to provide a recommender and this, Nandini Dhar, my publisher at Elsewhere Lit, did so well for me. I had a couple of months to wait (I submitted my application on April 14, 2017 and got the offer letter on June 7, 2017) in which period I had woken up every morning with the reality plucking at my mind. Having been accepted, there was the process of getting an American visa. That is a process! But a letter of support written by David Macy (the Director of the MacDowell Colony) himself helped me greatly.
What are the opportunities available to creative workers in the Colony?
You have a whole studio to yourself; a clean and equipped studio. You have great meals. You have quiet. You are surrounded by an incredible colony of artists and staff; a lot of friendship. You have the opportunity of an open studio where you share your work with established artists. What else can a writer ask of? I think you have everything!
What advice do you have for up-and-coming story tellers?
Keep writing. Have the courage to send your work out. Get turned down for as many times as should make you want to want to take a walk. But never quit. Be invigorated. Be aggressive. Read to train your imagination. Read those who are writing and getting it right. Write. Do it as if it is the only thing you have come into this world to do.
You went to the MacDowell Colony to complete work on your fiction manuscript, what should we expect soon?
I went to the MacDowell Colony to complete work on my manuscript, The Liquid Eye of a Moon. I hope to get it published soon, but how soon, I can’t say immediately. I have just completed the book and my residency. While I am looking for an agent or a publisher at the moment, I am taking a break from writing to rest.
What makes you to want to pick up a pen and write? And what is the best teaser about The Liquid Eye of a Moon?
It varies. I love stories, whether tales by moonlight or the ones read in books. A well written story inspires me. I could get inspired by a conversation. It could be culture or nature – things happening around me or things coming into sudden stunning views; those things are capable of making me begin or continue a story. And a teaser, yes. The Liquid Eye of a Moon began after I chanced upon a strange form of belief. Let’s say, expect a story about love and human tabooing.
Thank you, Uchenna
Thank you too for this opportunity.
Ejiofor Ugwu conducted this interview for Satellite Times
Nigerian military hero who rejected a briefcase of dollars and arrested Charles Taylor
He is Jatau Alexander; a Brigadier General, now retired, of the Nigeria Army. On 29 March 2006, he was a Lieutenant Colonel and Commanding Officer of 202 Tank Battalion stationed in Borno State. Nigeria was in the eye of the storm. The country had incurred widespread odium for granting asylum to former President of Liberia, Charles Ghankay Taylor. Taylor, a former rebel leader who shot his way to power, was responsible for years of bloodletting and fratricidal wars in two countries – Liberia and Sierra Leone – characterized by mass atrocities, child soldiers, cannibalism, the chopping off of limbs of women and children and a string of other evil inventions. At the height of his terror in 1990, Charles Taylor beheaded three Nigerian journalists, hanging their heads on a post. In August 2003, fugitive Taylor ironically was granted asylum by the same Nigeria. Indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone created by the United Nations and followed by an extradition request, Taylor suddenly escaped from his luxury home in Calabar, Cross River State.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, on a visit to the US in March 2006, was being snubbed by President George Bush. Insinuations were that Nigeria was complicit in Charles Taylor’s escape. It was with elation that Obasanjo received the news of Taylor’s capture. Thirteen years after, the Army officer who made it possible speaks to SATELLITE TIMES, in an exclusive interview.
Manhunt for Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor was captured on 29 March 2006. This took place at the Gamboru-Ngala border crossing point, in Gamboru-Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State, Nigeria. He was captured by soldiers of 202 Tank Battalion, Bama on security patrol duties between Nigeria-Cameroun borders at G/Ngala Custom House crossing/checking point. I was the Commanding Officer of 202 Tank Battalion charged with fortnightly patrols, against bandits, codenamed Operation FLUSHOUT. About a week earlier, the electronic and print media were agog with news of escape from Calabar with calls for his arrest if seen. There was a directive by the Federal Government of Nigeria, that if seen he, Taylor, should be apprehended and brought to the nearest police or any law enforcement office. The international community, particularly the US, did not find the development in Nigeria amusing. Convinced that Nigeria, which had demonstrated unwillingness to hand Taylor over to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), had orchestrated his escape, President George Bush was unwilling to receive a visiting President Olusegun Obasanjo at the White House. The call for Taylor’s arrest was, therefore, a call to save Nigeria from a national embarrassment. I put my soldiers on their toes to be on the lookout for Charles Taylor.
Taylor disguised as a rap musician
There was an early morning incident at a law enforcement officials check building, popularly referred to as Custom House at the border at Gamboru-Ngala. The office building was called Custom House because it was the Nigeria Customs Service that first began to use this place as a makeshift shelter to conduct checks and documentation of goods crossing to or from Cameroon. After a permanent structure was erected by the government, other para-military agencies were stationed there. The Nigerian Army used that building as office block and staging point for their patrol activities. There were enough offices to contain all the security agencies. This building was where people crossing the border to Fotocol Cameroun and Gamboru-Ngala Nigeria must go for documentation. Therefore, most of the law enforcement agencies had representatives or offices at the building.
About 6.30a.m., an ash coloured Range Rover approached the final roadblock to a bridge over the river that bordered Nigeria-Cameroun, just before crossing to Fotocol. The vehicle attempted to cross the border to the Republic of Cameroun. There was virtually nobody in the Custom House. However, a Nigerian Immigration Service officer was at the crossing point near the bridge that separated Nigeria and Cameroun. The Immigration officer was trying to see who was inside the Range Rover because the vehicle had dark tinted glasses. An argument ensued between the Immigration officer and occupants of the Range Rover. The commotion attracted the attention of my soldiers who were just coming in from night patrol.
The Immigration officer didn’t know Charles Taylor. Two things would have happened. He would have waved them on, seeing the occupants as some of the respectable travellers that go and come between the two countries on a daily basis. Either that or Taylor’s escort team would have overpowered him. However, soldiers of 202 Tank Battalion recognised Taylor who was wearing on his neck a big rap artiste gangster chain that had a crucifix. My soldiers were thoroughly briefed before going to Gamboru-Ngala on patrol duties, besides the 202 Tank Battalion served in Banga in Liberia during ECOMOG Operation for three years. Banga was
Charles Taylor’s headquarters, as a warlord, during Liberia’s rebel war and ECOMOG Operation Liberty. Therefore, most of the 202 Tank Battalion officers and soldiers knew Taylor. That was why when the patrol team heard the commotion at the Custom House crossing point and went to check, instantly seeing him one of the soldiers shouted “Charles Taylor! Charles Taylor!”, then they seized him.
Immediately, after ascertaining it was really Charles Taylor the wanted fugitive, my soldiers called me and informed me. As my soldiers were arresting Charles Taylor, it was then that other security agencies came to the scene and claimed that they were the ones that captured him.
Indeed, none of them was in the office then, because it was very early in the morning. They were in their beds.
At 7 a.m I had just finished morning physical training exercise at the Colonel Kur Mohammed Barracks Bama when the patrol leader of Gamboru-Ngala called me to say our patrol team had captured Charles Taylor. I immediately informed the Commander 21 Brigade in Maiduguri. He, in turn, informed the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 3 Division headquartered at Rukuba-Jos. That was how the information was transmitted to Army Headquarters, Abuja.
The Commander 21 Brigade then asked me my plan and I told him I was headed to Gamboru-Ngala to take over the escort of Charles Taylor to Headquarters 21 Brigade. Immediately, I informed my patrol team to start coming to Maiduguri with the apprehended former president of Liberia.
Unfortunately, the soldiers’ patrol vehicle was not in good working condition that could carry someone of Charles Taylor’s importance fast and swiftly on the rugged road to Maiduguri. So I directed that the patrol leader should ask the Custom for assistance with their vehicle. The Custom agreed. When I took over the convoy I directed the fugitive to remain in the Custom vehicle with my soldiers as guards.
I left went with two Hilux Toyota vehicles with eight soldiers escorts, fully armed. The distance between Bama and Maiduguri was about 70km and from Maiduguri to Gamboru-Ngala was about 145km. I met the oncoming convoy carrying Charles Taylor between Mafa and Dikwa towns. Instantly, I took over the convoy and directed it to Maiduguri, Headquarters 21 Brigade.
The convoy to Headquarters 21 Brigade reached its destination around 10.15a.m.
I handed over Charles Taylor to the Commander 21 Brigade who directed that I should be in charge of Charles Taylor’s physical security. I organised and deployed soldiers for physical security around Headquarters 21 Brigade. All unauthourised persons and media personnel were not allowed access to Charles Taylor or the building he was placed in. The only outsider allowed to see Charles Taylor was the Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff.
Taylor was armed and carried a briefcase of dollars
Inside the Range Rover vehicle, Charles Taylor was accompanied by a driver, a bodyguard and a young woman whom Charles Taylor said was his niece. The bodyguard slipped away in the commotion of his master’s arrest. He threw away a loaded 9mm Browning Pistol. The pistol was recovered. A briefcase with money was seized and handed over to the Nigerian government. In addition to the gun were two Nokia cellphones, a wrist-watch, a neck chain with crucifix, two voodoo talisman/amulets and a small amount of cash in US dollars.
Charles Taylor offered us money but we refused to accept feeling our service was to our country first and foremost. Given that he had journeyed all the way from Calabar by road, it was not impossible that he paid money to cross the dozens of police checkpoints on his way to Gamboru-Ngala border post. Had my team accepted the dollars offered to us and allowed Charles Taylor to cross into Cameroon, I don’t know how Nigeria would have washed itself clean before the international community.
Upon receiving the news of Taylor’s arrest, an elated President Obasanjo was quick to speak to CNN about it. About 1 o’clock in the afternoon, a presidential aircraft was dispatched from Abuja to Maiduguri. I was directed by the 21 Brigade Commander to lead the escort of Charles Taylor to Liberia and hand him over to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) representative and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Liberia and Sierra Leone. The presidential aircraft departed from the Nigerian Airforce Wing Maiduguri Airport and the team left for Liberia. We landed about three hours later at Roberts International Airport, Liberia. But before we did, Taylor tried to pull one last stunt.
Three tense hours aboard a presidential aircraft
About an hour after we were airborne, Taylor requested that I removed the handcuff on him so he could go to the toilet. I perfectly understood I was dealing with a dangerous man. I made it clear to him there was no way I would allow him to stand up from his seat. This was a warlord who had caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people in two countries. He was ready to do anything to crash the presidential aircraft and stop it from taking him to Liberia even if it means him dying in the process. I told him that if he wanted to urinate, I could provide him an empty plastic bottle so he could do that sitting down. I did not take my eyes off him till we landed in Liberia.
On arrival in Liberia with Charles Taylor, we were met by the representative of ICJ, who was a white woman. Others were the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General; Forces Commander of UN troops for peacekeeping in Liberia and Sierra Leone (a Nigerian senior army officer – General Obiakor); Liberia’s Army Chief of Staff ( a Nigerian senior army officer – General LN Yusuf). General Yusuf later became Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff. Also, there were two Liberia’s ministers and the Commanding Officer of the battalion proving security at Roberts International Airport. I handed over Charles Taylor to the ICJ representative. She consequently stated him his rights as an arrested felon and handcuffed him. On handing Charles Taylor over to the ICJ Representative, he was also given back his personal effects confiscated from him before boarding the aircraft to Liberia in Maiduguri. He was then flown to Freetown, Sierra Leone in a UN helicopter with another helicopter used as escort.
I returned to Nigeria with my team. The escort team composed of me, a Lieutenant Colonel and five other-ranked soldiers. We arrived Abuja around 7 p.m and were taken to the Command Guest House to spend the night. In the morning of the next day, a Hiace Toyota bus conveyed us to Maiduguri. At the residence of the 21 Brigade Commander, the escort team of Charles Taylor to Liberia was disbanded and I returned to Bama my unit.
The patrol team at Gamboru-Ngala was composed of men of integrity. Their discipline and honesty averted a bad record for Nigeria. They were a team of seven soldiers. They represented Nigeria and the 202 Tank Battalion very well by rejecting dollars offered by Charles Taylor. The names of the soldiers were Sergeant Saleh Shuga, Corporal Yohanna Yelmi, Trooper Sadiq Omuya, Trooper Ado Abdulsalam, Trooper Aliyu Manu, Trooper Utibe Ukpa and Trooper Garba Danbaba.
After the incident, the soldiers asked me whether their honesty would be recognised. We waited for commendation but nothing came from a higher authority. One day they asked me whether they made a mistake by capturing Charles Taylor. I told them we did the right thing by putting our country first and foremost above any other thing. They did what I, their Commanding Officer, had always instructed them to do – to be honest and discipline at all times. That was the character of my leadership.
A few days after the incident, I was summoned to the Headquarters 21 Brigade and asked to write a report and answer some questions. Members of the Department of State Security (DSS) were the interrogators. After about two hours we completed the exercise. They said it tallied with the report they got from other security agents in Gamboru-Ngala, when they went for investigation of the incident of the apprehension of Charles Taylor. Many Nigerians did great service to their country and were commended. My team was not fortunate to be commended. On my personal initiative and capacity, I recommended the seven soldiers for promotion to their next rank.
My fight overseas to stop the closure of 80 Nigerian embassies
For years he has fought on the international stage to save the Niger Delta environment, now Comrade Sunny Ofehe has picked up a new fight to stop the closure of 80 Nigerian embassies overseas. Founder and Executive Director of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign based in The Netherlands, Ofehe was a governorship aspirant for Delta State in the 2019 general elections under the national ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). In an online press conference, the Nigerian born environmental and human rights activist who has travelled around the world spoke from his base in Rotterdam
Nigeria is set to close down 80 Foreign Embassies around the world due to lack of funds from the Federal Government. What is your take on this?
As we speak right now, Nigeria has 110 foreign missions and Embassies around the world, so if you are shutting down 80 Embassies and foreign Missions, it, therefore, means that we are left with only 30 foreign Embassies around the world.
Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world with a population of around 180 million people. Nigeria has a huge Diaspora population living within Africa, Europe, The Americas, Asia, Caribbean, and the Middle East.
Nigerian is currently Africa’s largest economy, Africa’s largest producer and exporter of crude oil and a leading African global player in world politics. Nigeria is a member of several regional, continental and international organizations such as ECOWAS, Africa Union (AU), the United Nations (UN), Commonwealth, OIC, OPEC, OPCW, ICC, ICJ, and the list goes on and on.
A country like Nigerian that enjoys this robust global acceptability and respect must not afford to compromise and diminish its international diplomatic posture before the world. It is therefore imperative that as a country, we must ensure adequate representation in global affairs and at the same time serve our citizens and promote our core socio-economic values around the world.
In other to stand out in the comity of Nations, we must retain all the current existing 110 Foreign Missions and Embassies.
Africa has 54 countries and Nigeria being a leading country in the continent has foreign missions and embassies in 42 African countries. I have carefully reviewed the location of our African foreign missions and can’t see why any of them should be shut down or merged.
The 30 countries that will be left should Nigeria shuts down 80 foreign missions will not be sufficient to serve our citizens and foreign interests in the continent of Africa alone.
How important is the Foreign Missions and Embassies to the growth of a country such as Nigeria?
To understand the importance of Foreign Missions and Embassies, we must know the purpose for the establishment of Foreign Missions.
The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations came into force in 1961 as an international treaty setting out the framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries. It specifies the privileges of a diplomatic mission which enable diplomats to perform their function without fear of intimidation or provocation by the host country.
This treaty ratified by 192 countries is considered the cornerstone of modern international diplomatic relations. As a signatory to that convention, Nigeria established her first diplomatic missions in the early 60s after independence.
Thanks to the country’s economic boom in the early 70s, we were able to acquire choice properties in prime locations of our mission’s countries capitals. Today, majority of our foreign missions and residences of the Ambassadors are owned by Nigeria.
There are several strong cases to be made in support of maintaining a diplomatic presence overseas. This case rests on the premise that the outlays are necessary and will produce a return over the long term.
The role of Nigerian diplomatic missions abroad is to function as the channel of communication between the Nigerian Government and that of the host country, to act as the official representative of Nigeria interest in general, and in respect of specific public agencies with local interests in the host country. Also importantly, to promote the interests of Nigeria and its citizens in that country.
In order to carry out their work, diplomatic missions must have a strong grasp of the host country’s politics, society, and culture. They must be able to explain Nigerian policies, identify potential threats to and opportunities for Nigerian interests, and provide political and economic analysis of local conditions to inform decision-making back home. Much of the day-to-day work carried out by diplomatic missions involves promoting Nigerian trade interests.
The consular section of our foreign missions attracts huge number of Nigerians in the Diaspora who visits the embassies to sort out all their immigration-related matters. The Nigerian embassies in The Hague, Berlin, Brussels, and Paris each attract a minimum of 100 visitors daily for passport and visa applications even though these four countries share borders.
Why should Nigerian spend foreign currency to maintain 110 foreign Missions at a time when our economy is struggling and our currency has depreciated against the dollars? Don’t you think that shutting down some foreign missions will enable the government to divest such funds to other sectors like education or healthcare back home?
I clearly understand the challenges that our economy back home is facing but you must remember that these problems are peculiar with all countries around the world today. Despite the need to cut spending and prioritize government expenditure, we must set our priorities straight.
The education and healthcare sectors you have mentioned are critical areas that require government funding. The country need to boost its economic revenue in other to be able to fund these critical sectors.
One of the impacts of the global recession is that it has compelled a number of countries to scale back their diplomatic representation overseas by closing some of their embassies; even some advance countries have taken such step.
The Netherlands scaled down their diplomatic representation in Nigeria when there was a cut in the foreign ministry budget. They expanded their economic unit and delegated the consular services such as short term visa applications to Belgium and France. The economic unit is significant to sustaining and expanding bilateral business and trade.
Faced with the economic and financial realities of our current economic downturns, governments often have little choice but to cut back on the spending that is involved in maintaining and operating embassies overseas. At a time Nigeria is facing issues such as poverty, serious income inequality, battered economies and poor quality of life for average citizens, it can be quite difficult to justify the allocation of limited government funds to maintaining embassies.
However, Nigeria as a developing country will require foreign direct investments and increased market access for their goods and services to help grow the economies, and embassies play key roles in bringing these into the country. I am aware that our embassies usually send profile of foreign companies willing to invest and do business in Nigeria to the relevant ministries and government agencies after properly vetting the legality and legitimacy of such companies.
Viewed from this context, devoting significant percentage of our GDP to improving the chances of securing much-needed investments, broader market access overseas and developmental aid seems to constitute a worthwhile outlay.
During the foreign ministry defense of its 2019 budget before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, the permanent secretary, Mustapha Suleiman spoke on the cost-saving and survival measures the ministry had embarked upon to keep the missions afloat.
Suleiman said that there was a rationalization of local staff and their conversion to contract workers as a cost-saving measure to reduce personnel cost and avoid huge terminal benefits. He said that staff who are worried that they can hardly pay their health bills, are adopting the Global Health Insurance Scheme to address the situation. The approval of the scheme according to him will provide health insurance facilities for officers in the missions at an affordable cost.
He also said that engagement with Nigeria Sovereign Wealth Fund for the redevelopment of the federal government properties abroad; rehabilitation and renting of properties not in use through public-private partnership arrangement; sharing cost for utilities with other agencies occupying the missions’ building and the provision of intervention funds for missions under the service-wide vote.
This clearly shows that the ministry itself has marshalled a plan to help the government deal with the paucity of funds.
I was very impressed with the position of some members of the Senate Committee like Senator James Manager who said that there were reasons for opening those missions. He said, the number of missions increased to 110 but the total National budget is increasing every year but the foreign ministry’s budget is reducing. He made a promise that they will look at the budget holistically and find a way to fund the gap.The vice chairman of the committee, Senator Shehu Sani also said no responsible country will deliberately underfund its mission. Year in year out, budgets are presented and defended but things remain the same. Our diplomats have been subjected to all kinds of humiliation because we cannot or refused to fund our missions.
Small countries are funding their missions but ours are not funded. No resources to pay the diplomats children fees and others. Sixty years after independence, we are still renting apartments for embassies. You can’t claim to be the giant of Africa if you can’t fund embassies.
I am completely in support of measures to reduce cost of funding foreign missions rather than shutting them down. As it stands today, Nigerian foreign missions have around 2,000 diplomats who are gainfully employed. What happen to such staff when the missions are shut down? Will they return to the foreign ministry in Abuja redundant?
There has been discussion or debate as to whether embassies and diplomats are still needed or relevant in the 21st century. Globalization and rapid advances in information and communications technology have connected billions of people. Do we really still need foreign missions since cost of running them are high?
There have been arguments made in favour of eliminating embassies, particularly for governments facing harsh fiscal and economic realities like Nigeria. The call for modern technology replacing foreign mission is laughable. The US with all the advance technology in the world and running trillion dollars in deficit still see the need to expand and widen their foreign missions.
In The Netherlands, the US has two Ambassadors with one on multilateral and the other on bilateral. The Ambassador on bilateral is permanently handling the OPCW whereas we have one Ambassador covering the embassy and OPCW.
In Switzerland, the US has three Ambassadors whereas we have only one who covers the embassy and the UN. While the call to shut down most embassies for lack of funds is on, many Nigerian citizens living in Germany, Spain and Italy are calling on the Nigerian government to open consular missions outside of Berlin, Madrid and Rome respectively to serve their consular needs.
In addition, having people on the ground provides added value in terms of obtaining insight into what is going on in the host country. While it is plausible that the information gathering and country assessment functions of an embassy can be done remotely using modern technology, the quality is not the same.
Consolidating and aggregating information is not enough. Analyzing local developments is a key part of a diplomat’s work and requires a deep understanding and appreciation of the issues, culture and pulse of the host country and its citizens. While our globalized world is increasingly interdependent, competition for access to markets and resources remains. A country with people on the ground is more likely to get a more accurate assessment of local opportunities, risks and developments. That is a competitive advantage.
Another advantage of having people on the ground is the extensive people-to-people contact it allows the host country. While communication may be maintained via phone and e-mail, and air travel makes it easy for officials to fly in for crucial meetings, these tools cannot replicate the relationship that can be established through constant personal contact and interaction.
Particularly in countries like China, India and the Middle-East whose cultures put a premium on personal relationships as part of doing business, a lot more is usually achieved over former and informal meetings compared to constant exchanges of e-mails or phone calls.
If you are completely against the shutting down of some of our foreign missions, how can we maintain the 110 foreign missions with the drop in the Ministry 2019 budget as presented to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs?
Please just take a look at the size of Nigeria and her population living outside the country, is 110 foreign missions and embassies too much for Nigeria? I don’t think so if you truly understand the benefits of those missions to our nation’s development.
Any government who understands how Nigeria is respected around the world will not starve its foreign missions of funds. Let’s look at the numbers, For instance, in 2018 the federal government allocated N11.333billion to capital votes for the missions but cut it to N4.123billion in 2019, representing a reduction of N7.209billion or 64 per cent.
Already, many of the ambassadors serving in most of the missions are said to be unable to pay their children’s school fees, rent, electricity, medical and other utility bills due to the paucity of funds.
The situation is even worse at the headquarters of the ministry in Abuja where both volunteers and permanent members of staff are owed the sum of N4.9billion as entitlements.
The permanent secretary also disclosed that agencies under the ministry have various challenges such as inadequate funds to renovate dilapidated building structures, epileptic power supply and lack of adequate capacity building for staff. The foreign missions are facing inadequate funds for their officers’ quarters which are in a dilapidated state, adding that “they have old representational cars begging for replacement; inadequate funds to pay school fees, medical and utility bills, rehabilitate/renovate residences, and insufficient funds to complete ongoing projects; insufficient funds for the payment of returning officers who have finished their missions.”
I have visited the headquarters of our foreign ministry in Abuja a few times, do you know that even printing papers and other normal office items are not available? A friend of mine who is a French journalist told me last year that he was at our foreign ministry headquarter in Abuja and was disappointed with what he saw. He even told me that Nigeria is gradually losing skilled career diplomats because the ministry cannot fund training of its staff.
I have so many friends who have served and are still serving in the foreign ministry and foreign missions, I must tell you that they are sound and well trained but when you deprived them of the basic needs to function you kill their motivation.
This was the pathetic picture presented to members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We must not allow our country to degenerate to this level of diplomatic disgrace.
Embassies have existed for centuries and it is very likely that they will be around for a long time to come. The way they will operate and conduct their work will necessarily change and evolve to keep them relevant and responsive to global developments, but in one form or another, the embassy will continue to be key to the conduct of international relations.
President Mohammadu Buhari understands the benefit of international shuttle diplomacy and that is why he travels around the world on State visits and international engagement to promote Nigerian exports and seek foreign investments in our economy. I will, therefore, appeal to Mr. President to provide sufficient funds for the foreign ministry and see the ministry as a critical sector in the quest to build a stable economic nation that is respected in the League of Nations.
Exclusive: Real reasons Bauchi Deputy Governor resigned – Aide
Yakubu Adamu, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, to former Bauchi State Deputy Governor, Nuhu Gidado has revealed to SATELLITE TIMES the reasons which forced his boss to resign.
Adamu confirmed that it didn’t come to him as shocking news that his boss unceremoniously dumped his common ticket with the Bauchi state governor because he plays a less significant role as a deputy.
The media aide averred that Governor M A Abubakar’s style of leadership and that of his former deputy differs, even to handling such issues when it comes to delivering their campaign promises.
However, there are speculations that Engr. Gidado may be eyeing Bauchi’s governorship seat come 2019, but believes that from the way he sees the APC administration moving in the State, he may be unable to reach his destination.
Another rumour circulating over Gidado’s resignation centers around speculations that he may be dropped as Gov Abubakar’s deputy come 2019.
It would be recalled that the former deputy governor who travelled out of the state 5 weeks ago was on his two weeks annual leave. During his trip, he used the opportunity to see his doctors and also performed the lesser Hajj before returning to Abuja last week.
Gidado’s resignation letter dated 16th May, 2018 and was acknowledged by the Governor on the 23rd May, 2018.
Efforts to find out who received the letter to the state governor proved futile when our correspondent in Bauchi reached out to the Government House through the Special Adviser, Media and Strategy to the state Governor, Malam Ali M. Ali who confirmed thus: The executive Governor of Bauchi State Mohammed A. Abubakar (Esq) has accepted the resignation of Engr. Nuhu Gidado as Deputy Governor and wish him well in his future endeavors.
He further described his tenure and service to the state as meritorious and therefore, deserving commendation. The Governor particularly commended the former No 2 citizen of the state for the remarkable manner of his resignation, Ali proffered.
He expressed optimism that the former Deputy Governor will avail the State of his vast wealth of experience to the state anytime he is called upon in the future.
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