The name Peter Oyedele might not readily come to mind in an everyday setting but the conservative man of style who rose from a humble background to an enviable career in the foreign mission is one of Nigeria`s representatives abroad. In fact, he`s the outgoing Nigeria Ambassador To Jamaica and all through his service years of about three decades, his impressive track records is nothing but sterling. He was a host of honour when Enquirer`s team led by Executive Editor, Tunde Moshood, News Editor, Faith Irabor visited him in his base, Jamaica where he just retired as the nation`s helmsman. He spoke on his life and the basic thing you need to know about diplomatic missions. You would enjoy the excerpts of the interview:
What prepared you for the foreign mission job?
I have always had the feelings that I would be a journalist; that was in my mind originally and I put it in a book. It will interest you to know that I have written a book “My Life’s Adventure- Memoirs of a Nigerian Diplomat” which was launched last year, 2011 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. I went down memory lane when I never knew what I was going to be and where I was going to be in future. At that time I said I will like to be a journalist like Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Ebenezer Williams, and Peter Enahoro. When I was admitted into the University of Lagos in 1969, I was to read Law but that year the University upgraded the Mass Communications department to Degree level; but I had already been admitted to study Law so instead of reapplying when the advert came out; I said well when I get there I was going to change my course. When I got there I went to see Professor Alfred Okubo; I told him am reading Law but I want to change to the Mass Communications department, he then told me there were only two slots left and If those given the offer did not show up perhaps they could consider me. So luckily for me they did not show up, so I and another guy from the Law department Muyiwa Efunnuga who is now a Bishop were admitted to the Mass Communications department. I used to follow Chief Obafemi Awolowo (of blessed memory), everything he did and wrote at that time; he launched a diary “Flashes of Inspiration”. You know he was an idol to the young ones at that time. At that time I started recording my own ambition in life. I put it down that I will like to be a journalist; I will like to be writing like Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Aiye Kooto. So when we were graduating, that was the first year the Civil Service Commission will go round the Universities interviewing graduating students to work in government as civil servants. So after the interview we were told we have to choose from three ministries, according to the order of priorities. Somebody told me that in the ministry of foreign affairs there was a department of information. So I chose the ministry of foreign affairs because I wanted to travel. During the interview I didn’t know anyone at that time but I later found out they came from the Federal Civil Service Commission. They asked me about international affairs; what was going on in Vietnam during the war and stuffs like that, so fortunately before the interview I already read a magazine about the US involvement in the Vietnam War which talked about the war so I passed. So when the result came out I got the job; I was posted to the ministry of foreign affairs and that was in 1972. When I got there they posted me to the ministry of information but within three months they moved me to the African department, so I became a mainstream diplomat not just for information.
At what point would you say you were at the peak of your career or your first posting?
I have had very difficult postings; I have had to cope with a lot of hostile environment. Ivory Coast was my first posting, not as an ambassador but more like a secretary. From the beginning you have to climb for like 20 years or more before you can get to the post of an ambassador. You have to pass through special grade which takes like 3 years which now depends on your performance. So I thank God I was able to get to the highest level before I left in 2006; after which this appointment came in 2008. So I am not a career diplomat anymore per say because I am here appointed by the president as a political appointee. Every state has a non career ambassador chosen by Mr. President.
As a diplomat you must have served in different countries does it mean you must always move with your family?
Of course we need to go with our family. You see, family life can be difficult for a diplomat because we have some of us that could be posted to non English speaking countries. And you have to arrange for your children to go to a place or country where English is spoken so the ministry is very kind in that regard; they allow you to send your children to Britain, US or any English speaking country that is close to your post. And off course free education for your children is one of the privileges you enjoy in the service. For instance I serve most of my career in the French speaking countries I was in Ivory Cost from 1973-1976, Indonesia 1976-1978.
As a diplomat what is your normal routine like?
As a diplomat you are to represent the affairs of your country; you liaise with the government of that country. Ambassadors have representational duties, they represent their countries. Any ceremony by the government which is of high level, an ambassador must be there to represent his country. And other diplomats from other countries when they are celebrating their national day you are invited and you fly your country there too. Of course you have other duties such as reporting the political, cultural and socio-economic situation of your country; those are reports that can only be seen by your government. You are not supposed to tell lies. If the government where you are serving is not doing well you have to express this to your government to let them know. And then some special duties such as sports, those that want visas they come to you, we try to bring Nigerians together. In Jamaica for instance, we have Association of Nigerians in Jamaica. I believe we have over 2000 Nigerians here but not everyone will want to register, so officially we have like 600 Nigerians in our record.
You have passed through many governmental administrations in Nigeria, which administration would you say have benefited the mission job?
As an insider, am not supposed to talk on that.
Okay which government between Military or Democracy has paid off?
The military don’t really interfere in issues of diplomats; in fact in some cases the ministry of foreign affairs is eased out because of their form of government. But in the case of a civilian government, career diplomats are not very happy because at a point where they have served their country for so many years; at a point where they are to be named ambassadors the civilian government appoints their loyalists just to appease them if they can’t get ministerial post.
What is the crime rate of Nigerians in Jamaica?
I can say there is none because most of them are professionals. In 1988 when the TAHS programme Technical Assisted Health Scheme was introduced by the government; it was a scheme whereby Nigerians were recruited to go and serve in African and Caribbean countries. When Nigerians came here they were brought here under that scheme, some were Doctors, Nurses. So most people here are professionals, we even have professors in the Universities here that are Nigerians.
You have mingled with different people around the world; what has life taught you?
Life has taught me that humanity is zeal. We have a lot of things in common no matter who you are or where you live; there are certain traits that you can identify that are also common in your own society at home. The way we all are brought up and the way we live in the world is actually the same, it is just the skin that is different; that is my belief.
What is your watch word?
I am a Christian; I try as much as possible to do what the scripture tells me. Although we are not perfect but I try to reach perfection in anything I do.
What do you think about the security issue in the country and has it affects us in the international community?
They have really damaged our image to a great extent. The greatest mistake the Boko Haram do is to have attacked foreigners. We still depend a lot on foreign assistance in Nigeria. There are many areas in which we are short of qualified personnel and we don’t have enough funds. Every society has its own problem; what is happening in Nigeria is not different from what is happening in Mexico, Colombia or India.
As a stakeholder, if you are asked to proffer a solution to this problem; what will be your say?
I will say we need to revamp our security system. Do we have absolute confidence in our intelligence service? Intelligence is very important in tackling this problem and if you don’t have the commitment of those in charge of the intelligence, you will have problem. Are we sure these people are not getting help from people who are actually supposed to be defending us. This is what I will tell Mr. President he should be sure of our intelligence service.
What is your belief about life and death?
Everybody must die; the time is when we do not know. And when you are on this phase of the earth, be good. Do not plan to harm anyone. Some people will like you some will hate you; you can’t please everybody in life but just make sure your conscious is clear. Do not do evil to somebody you know is even doing evil to you.
If you are asked to describe the Jamaican community in a single breath as an Ambassador how will you describe them?
They are nice and friendly people.
Do you have anything to say to Nigerians at home?
There should be peace in our community because we are being watched by the international community. And we know the western press and others go after the negative things, the good things that are happening do not interest them because the bad press is what will make them sell their papers so that is what they concentrate upon. Nigerians should please give this government a chance, the peace it needs to organize the situation and other things that they have promised to do. I hope peace will reign in our country and also the unemployment rate will be reduced drastically so that people can get more jobs. But under the atmosphere of insecurity we may not be able to realize this. We should put all our grievances on the table and discuss a peaceful solution. There is nothing we can gain through violence; diplomacy is the only way we can settle dispute not through war.
Thank you so much sir. It’s been nice chatting with you.