Babachir Lawal, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), says President Muhammadu Buhari followed due process in drawing up a list of ambassadorial nominees, contrary to the fears of the senate.
Last Wednesday, the senate had suspended the screening of 47 ambassadorial nominees whose names President Muhammadu Buhari sent for confirmation on June 9.
The upper legislative chamber cited irregularities in the process of selecting them, and summoned the SGF and Geoffrey Onyeama, foreign affairs minister, to explain the reason for the alleged irregularities.
But speaking at an interactive session with journalists at the weekend, Lawal explained that there were criteria set by the government to pick the nominees and that four states – Plateau, Ebonyi, Ondo, Bayelsa – without nominees did not have career diplomats in the foreign service.
Lawal said the issues raised by the senate were minor, and that they could have been settled over a telephone call.
He, however, added that he would honour the invitation of the senate on July 11, the date set aside by the senate committee on foreign affairs to “interrogate” him and Onyeama.
“Certainly, we will appear; we are law-abiding,” he said.
“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.
“I must say that we are disappointed that the national assembly took the decision, but at the last count, my recollection is that out of the 47 diplomat nominees, the 36 states were represented.
“Out of 36 states and the federal capital territory, 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 (FCT). I believe that every objective analyst will agree with this.”
Lawal expressed regrets that four states didn’t make it one way or the other, but maintained that it was “not necessarily on the criteria of seniority”.
“There are criteria and qualifications that are required to post you to go and represent Nigeria, not just because while in the foreign service or the civil service you were able to make grade level 16 or 17. Quite a number of qualifications are needed. So even if you make that retirement criteria, service length or rank criteria, there are other criteria,” he said.