Why President Jonathan’s retention of Adefuye as Nigeria’s Ambassador to USA exposes poor judgment.
By Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye
On June 12, 2012, the world was shocked that Ambassador Adebowale Adefuye, born in 1947, is being retained as Nigeria’s chief diplomat to Washington, DC. The reason is evident: the abysmal record of the Nigerian foreign
mission to the United States on the watch of Adefuye — since he assumed the position in March 2010. The decision of the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, in this regard, reflects the beleaguered state of that Presidency, on the one hand, and the increasingly evolving specter of collapse of the Nigerian state, on the other hand.
As the basic reference point, I submit that the key function of an Ambassador Plenipotentiary is to represent the Sovereign (the Nigerian political sovereignty) in the courts of a foreign Sovereign (the United States Government).
The Nigerian Ambassador to the United States is supposed to represent and project the best image of Nigeria to the Americans. He is supposed to be an example in virtues, diplomatic etiquettes, credibility and integrity. He is supposed to embody the genius of the country of Nigeria. It is also important to reflect that Nigerian foreign mission to the United States is the most important foreign mission for Nigeria. The Nigerian Ambassador to the US ought to be the principal persona, through whom the Nigerian Government engages the Government of the United States.
In choosing an Ambassador for the United States, Nigerian President must consider factors such as:
(a) The strategic significance of the US-Nigeria diplomacy and partnerships in areas such as international and regional peace and security;
(b) Trade, technology and economic development of Nigeria;
(c) Interests of the Nigerian citizens (or its Diaspora community) in the United States;
(d) The need to radically improve the badly broken image of Nigeria and Nigerians in many fields of transborder or other serious crimes and violence such as terrorism, kidnapping for ransom, corruption, rigging of elections, internet fraud/scams, money laundering, narcotics, inter-community violence, etc.;
(e) Cultural and social concerns, in say, fields of music, movies, entertainment, sports, training and education;
(f) The need to truly and fully engage the world in the 21st Century; etc.
Any serious consideration of these factors as a guide in the choice of an Ambassador for the United States would show that the first appointment of Adefuye was a huge mistake; and his retention to continue is a disastrous misstep with serious adverse consequences for Nigeria.
In fact, even at a glance, one will agree that the circumstances that propelled the hasty choice of Adefuye could only have meant that he was to be there for a very short time. To refresh the memory, Adefuye was chosen at a time when the Nigeria’s foreign mission to the United States was in absolute disarray.
The first Nigeria’s Ambassador to the US under Yar’Adua-Jonathan Presidency was a retired Nigerian civil-war actor, Brigadier-General Oluwole Rotimi. His choice in itself was characteristic of Yar’Adua’s desperation to appease or pacify certain elements in Nigeria against a growing outcry for the massive rigging of the 2007 elections. Otherwise, it ought to have been clear to the world that Rotimi had nothing to offer the modern Nigeria. His competencies, if ever they existed, were exhausted in the civil war. And true to this assessment, Rotimi was recalled by Yar’Adua in controversial circumstances.
Then, the Government of Nigeria appointed Professor Adeniran as Ambassador to succeed Rotimi, and Adeniran was cleared by the Nigerian Senate. He arrived in the United States with his letters of accreditation. The United States accepted him initially. But before Adeniran could settle down in office, it was discovered that his son had been facing criminal charges for rape in the United States. Though this was not the fault of Professor Adeniran, the implication of that was obvious – his son could try to evade criminal responsibility or trial in the United States by invoking diplomatic immunity. This was a situation that was so poorly handled by Nigeria. US Government had to reject Adeniran. Then came a really desperate situation for Nigeria. At this moment, Chief Emeka Anyaoku took a barely known Adefuye, whose only prior Foreign Service experience was a stint at the ECOWAS office in Abuja. Though President Jonathan had no prior knowledge of Adefuye, he trusted Emeka Anyaoku’s recommendation. And that was how an ill-prepared and highly unsuitable non-personality was appointed to Nigeria’s most important foreign mission.
President Jonathan’s choice at that time could be excusable. He was an improbable President. He became the Acting President and President in the midst of a national crisis and confusion, and with little preparation himself. It was okay for him to grasp at anything. And Adefuye was one such fortuitous grasping on a water lily.
After three years in office, Ambassador Adefuye’s record stands as the greatest testimony of his unsuitability for the job. First, this Ambassador, unlike the two substantive Ambassadors before him, Jubril Aminu and George Obiozor, understood his position as just another opportunity to make money and stash away funds for his future comfort.
Within days of his arrival in Washington, he began to complain that the new residence of the Ambassador in Potomac, Maryland, (an estate formerly owned by the founder of the Pavizian business empire, Abedi Pavizian) was not suitable for the Ambassador, and that they would have preferred the former residence at Connecticut Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Ambassador Adefuye failed to read and understand the security reports and concerns that prompted the Government of Nigeria since late 1980s, particularly after September 11, 2001, to want to relocate the residence of the Ambassador from Connecticut Avenue location, which was only about 12 feet away from a major street. Ambassador Adefuye reportedly complained that they were forced to live in a “remote bush” (which was how they described one of the most prestigious residential areas in the whole of Washington DC area), according to them, because “the Igbos” (Dr. George Obiozor and attorney Emeka Ugwuonye) sold the former residence and “pocketed the money” and then left for them a house in the jungle.
In private reception dinners organized by friends and relatives of Ambassador Adefuye in Washington and Nigeria after he was appointed, he openly complained against me and Ambassador Obiozor, resulting, in one occasion, in a minor confrontation between the Ambassador’s friend and another dinner guest who challenged the Ambassador on the veracity of such claims. The following words were uttered by the Ambassador’s friend: “If this was in Nigeria, would you speak to the Ambassador like this? Would you even open your mouth to speak to a Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, if this were in Nigeria?”. Of course, such sentiment reflected Ambassador Adefuye’s understanding of the freedom of speech and human dignity. He operates with the remnants of military era mentality where everybody should cower for him just because he is in the government.
Apart from the above undiplomatic behaviors, Ambassador Adefuye handled so poorly the E-passport program whereby Nigerians in America were meant to pay unlawful fees and many still never got their passports back, and those that got theirs suffered endless delays and humiliation. Passports that had not expired were forced to be renewed at exorbitant fees without any credit for the unexpired time on those passports. According to the reports we have read recently, Ambassador Adefuye has mishandled aspects of the Nigerian Embassy bank accounts, in part, resulting in the closures or blockings of two Embassy accounts by US banks.
On Adefuye’s watch, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria was denied visa, reminiscent of the standoff between Abacha’s regime and US Ambassador Walter Carrington.
To crown it all, in November 2010, Ambassador Adefuye submitted Nigerian Government to the jurisdiction of the US courts (in the case between the Embassy and my law firm) without consultations with the Nigerian Attorney General. At the same time, he conspired with former boss of the Nigerian EFCC Mrs. Farida Waziri and others to arrest and torture a US-based lawyer after suing the lawyer in Washington.
And now, Adefuye is the first Nigerian Ambassador to be sued for torture in the United States. Indeed, if there is anything good for the retention of Ambassador Adefuye, it is that he will remain available to answer to those charges for torture in America.
At a time that Nigeria’s image is sinking further into the abyss in areas such as corruption and violence, it would have been an opportunity for Nigeria to find a Nigerian of integrity and credibility to represent the country in America. It would have been an opportunity for Nigeria to draw a new beginning and show the world that it is willing and ready to turn a new page. Indeed, from any angle it is seen, the retention of Adefuye is one of the dumbest things Nigerian Government could do.
From a strategic point of view, bringing a new man in Washington would have given the Nigerian Government an opportunity to reposition its various initiatives and engagements with Washington by simply saying: “Hey, we
have a new man on the stage. Give him a chance and the benefit of doubts”. But this opportunity has been squandered. Adefuye will still be removed from office by the sheer weight of his numerous shortcomings. But that would mean again that President Jonathan will not really be in charge of these events: the President will be reacting rather than pro-acting.
Seen from another angle, it is fair to say that the clear errors of judgment as reflected in the decision to retain Adefuye only shows the heightened desperation on the part of the Nigeria’s federal government. With an almost complete failure to deal with Boko Haram, resurgent threats of militancy in the Niger Delta, broadening and unnerving sagas of monumental corruption over the fuel subsidy regime, and many more unnatural disasters that Nigeria faces today, it is most unfortunate that the President of Nigeria should shy away from leading the nation.
The President seems to believe that he could preserve his administration by doing as little as possible. Leaving Adefuye in office is just a crystal example of the President choosing to do nothing and, by implication, choosing not to lead at a time that leadership is so critically needed.
•Emeka Ugwuonye, Harvard-trained attorney and public policy analyst, is based in the Washington, DC area. He wrote for USAfrica on June 21, 2011, a commentary titled: Why the refusal of Nigeria’s President Jonathan to assign portfolios to ministerial list is unconstitutional.” Follow him at facebook.com/Emekaugwuonye.
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