The paltry, pitiable pension of plenipotentiaries
By Bala Ibrahim
By definition, a plenipotentiary is an ambassador extraordinary, or a diplomat of the highest rank, accredited as representative to another country.
Ambassadors are therefore plenipotentiaries appointed by a state or an intergovernmental institution to conduct diplomacy with one or more other states or international organizations.
Because of the pre-eminence of the office of an ambassador, he or she carries the prestige of a President.
Ambassadors are people of high integrity, with strong analytical, organizational and leadership skills needed for good judgment.
One literature puts the main functions of diplomats as: “representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state; initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements; treaties and conventions; promotion of information; trade and commerce; technology; and friendly relations”.
Seasoned diplomats of international repute are used in international organizations, as well as multinational companies for their experience in management and negotiating skills.
For long, I have been having a strong feeling of wanting to be a diplomat, and that feeling was strengthened in the time of late President Shehu Shagari, when he appointment Mr. Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe, or K.O. Mbadiwe, as, Ambassador Extra-Ordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. K.O, popularly known as, Man of Timber and Calibre, was one politician I loved because of his dictum and uncommon political lexicon.
He was a celebrated Nigerian nationalist, Pan-Africanist and statesman. And the first and so far, the only Ambassador Extra-Ordinary and Plenipotentiary Nigeria ever had.
I took time to elaborate on the position of an ambassador and the uncommonness of the person that is fit to be called a diplomat.
It’s all clear that to be an ambassador, one must posses the quality of being particularly good and worthy.
In short, because an ambassador is one that knows his onions, he or she deserves praises while in service, and high rewards in retirement.
This should be the norm in a country that appreciates the importance of those who served in sensitive positions at high levels.
I would now go into the basis of writing this article, which is the manifest neglect, or display of disrespect, in the recognition of retired ambassadors, by the powers that be in Nigeria.
Yes, Nigeria seems to have a special contempt for it’s ambassadors in retirement.
And this was implied from the submissions of some of such retired ambassadors, who attended the launching of a book, written by one of them, Ambassador Mohammed Ibrahim, at the weekend in Abuja.
The book, titled: “With Heart and Might”, detailed the 33 years experience of the writer in the Foreign Service. The book reviewer, Ambassador Brownson Dede, who was Assistant Secretary General for the Organisation of African Union and Ambassador to Ethiopia and Eritrea, said: “After 35 years and representing the country at the highest level in the international fora, career ambassadors retired on a paltry pension of between N50,000 – N100,000.”
Dede, also the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to OAU, and one time Director General in the Ministry of Integration and Cooperation in Africa, added that: “This is unthinkable for people who have served their country meritoriously, with heart and might, sometimes putting their lives and that of their family in danger, as contained in the memoirs of Ambassador MK Ibrahim.”
Ambassador Pius Ayewoh, who was Ambassador to Algeria and the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN in Geneva, also noted that the situation has placed some of the retired ambassadors in embarrassing situations, like not being able to pay for medical upkeep and maintaining accommodation.
For a country like Nigeria, with a GDP of nearly $500 billion, and holding the position of the richest country in Africa, paying retired ambassadors between the equivalent of $100 to $170 as monthly pension, is indeed pitiable and pathetically painful.
How can you crown someone as Excellency, which the dictionary describes as outstanding or valuable in quality, and be paying him such pittance as pension? It is belittling, beggarly and dreadfully disgraceful.
While some are of the opinion that the salary structure of the civil service in Nigeria is the most hopeless, methinks the payment of such pittance to plenipotentiaries is pitiless, hard-hearted and harsher than hopeless.
The primary purpose of pension is to help the pensioner maintain a certain standard of living in retirement.
Through such guaranteed monthly income for life, one makes financial security in retirement much more achievable, particularly for those without any savings, that could serve as supplemental income for unforeseen expenses.
In service, people put in their best at young age, with the hope of getting a befitting reward at old age. That reward is pinned on pension.
There is an unauthenticated story credited to late Robert Mugabe that, “When your salary comes in time, you eat chicken. As the salary reduces, you eat products of Chicken (Eggs) and subsequently, you begin to eat chicken’s foods like maize & millet. Finally, when the salary is finished, you become chicken itself, spending your time walking around just looking for what to eat”.
The same applies to pension, which is just a bus stop away from salary.
In order not for our retired diplomats to be reduced to the position of walking around looking for what to eat like chicken, Nigeria must do something quickly on the paltry paid to them as pension. And the time to do so is now, so that PMB can add it to the shopping list of his good legacies.
The paltry, pitiable pension of plenipotentiaries