As the very chaotic year draws to a close, we look back at how our distinguished Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates fared by our requirements for recognition in our annual service excellence award. The focus for the year 2020 has inevitably been the response to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic in relation to how it disrupted consular services and the ability for our various missions to carry out their public duties effectively. While some of our chancery staff exploited the pandemic as a convenient excuse to avoid the people they are paid and pledged to serve, others did the best they could with the available online tools to continue to serve with dignity and integrity. The results of the two senarios have been obvious, with some Nigerian Diplomatic Missions either being protested against or outright attacked by frustrated Nigerians, while others have continued to enjoy stable or, in some cases, increased approval ratings.
Among those of our consular missions that did their best to accurately inform and serve the public, we selected the five most outstanding ones from five different continents - Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America. We further filtered the missions based on the degree in increase of approval ratings by both Nigerians living abroad and citizens of the host country who have sought information and/or consular service from the mission. We will not publish the entire final shortlist which included Canberra under Amb. Bello Kazaure Husseini as High Commissioner, Singapore under H.E. Amb. Ogbole Amedu Ode as High Commissioner, and Moscow under H.E Amb. Steve Davies Ugbah as Ambassador; But the final result did not come as a surprise. The most outstanding Public Service Mission for the year 2020 is the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Budapest, Hungary, under H.E. Ambassador Dr. Eniola Olaitan Ajayi, Head of Mission, for scoring excellently in most of our criteria.
When she was first appointed as ambassador in 2017, her mandate was simple: Citizen's Diplomacy, Economic Diplomacy and Social Diplomacy, in line with her 3I's philosophy of Inclusion, Investment, and Image Building that she has undoubtedly lived up to, even with the limited resources at her disposal. From the very first day Amb. Dr. Ajayi arrived in Hungary on 23rd October, 2017, she got to work and accomplished a lot in setting up her policies and initiating her three diplomacy strategies even before presenting her letter of credence to the Hungarian Prime Minister on 1st December, 2017. From then on, Her Excellency has built a positive perception of Nigeria through many cultural events featuring the very beautiful Ekiti State Cultural Group, included Nigeria in the Stipendum Hungaricium program providing scholarship opportunities to Nigerians, greatly improved consular services and the relationship between Nigerians and the mission.
Although fairly recent in diplomatic service, Amb. Dr. Ajayi has come a long way in Nigerian public service. The certified optometrist joined the civil service over a decade ago, not leaving behind her clinical caring tendencies and principles of consideration and efficiency. She served as Honorable Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology and later as Honorable Commissioner for Environment in Ekiti State. In both roles as well as others, she has been an examplary civil servant and leader. In her Opinion piece "The Simple Secret to Nigeria's Wellbeing," published in the Guardian earlier this year, Ambassador Dr. Ajayi identifies one of Nigeria's core problems as a lack of consideration for one another. Dr. Ajayi believes that if Nigerians would better consider each other in every sphere of life, the country would flourish especially with the abundance of human and natural resources.
Rightly so, from the first day she resumed her post as Nigerian Ambassador to Hungary, she has indeed practiced what she preached by showing utmost consideration to Nigerians in Hungary and the sorrounding countries accredited to her. Testimonies from Nigerian students, passport applicants, other service applicants and just inquisitive guests of the Embassy are reflective of this truth. "They treat us like family," said a Nigerian student who chose to remain anonymous, referring to the team of staff at the mission. "When she lost her daughter in 2018, you could see how affected she was and I cried real tears for her like she was my own sister even though I dont know her," according to a Nigerian business woman living in Budapest. "but that's how much a part of the family I feel", "I never had such affinity toward any other government officials in naija (Nigeria) but this woman is just different and she carry everybody along," she added. Not an exaggeration as we have watched her excellency's dedication and commitment to the job since she resumed her appointment as Ambassador.
During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Amb. Dr. Ajayi has taken her weekend townhall meetings online, to enable all Nigerians within her region to address their passport issues and other concerns they have living abroad. Her deep consideration to schedule the Zoom meetings outside of normal business hours to create convenience for busy Nigerians to participate, is also a reflection of her dedication to the job. Hence, it comes as no coincidence that Amb Dr. Eniola Ajayi has the highest ratio of approval ratings relative to the number of Nigerians in the host country where an Ambassador is stationed. She even paid a surprise visit to Nigerian businesses in Budapest to learn about their concerns and challenges, a rare positive step taken by a Nigerian Ambassador let alone a politically appointed one. The secret to Ambassador Ajayi's success on her first mandate, citizen's diplomacy, may lie in her social media savviness as more youths increasingly engage effectively through digital platforms. Her Excellency is active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram both on her personal accounts and official embassy pages that racked up thousands of likes and followers within her relatively short period on the post, which is one of the many reasons why Her Excellency's reappointment by President Buhari earlier this year is well-deserved.
However, even with such high approval ratings, not all is well for Amb Dr. Ajayi's mission as Her Excellency faces rent crisis with a landlord threatening to throw the mission out of the property. Just another embarassing chapter of Nigerian excellence tainted and almost derailed by an endemic civil service problem of shortage. Her excellency is currently in tough negotiations to obtain the necessary funds from the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs while the ministry is contemplating on the mission's relevance altogether. Ambassador Dr. Eniola Ajayi has been through thick and thin to serve Nigeria but this one appears to be one of the biggest challenges of her career. Imagine if she did not have to worry about the looming uncertainty of her mission's existence while striving to further its excellence. Imagine if Nigeria would opt for owning a property in Budapest rather than paying rents. If private citizens of Nigeria could afford it, It is unthinkable why/how the Federal Government of Nigeria could not, especially if it would solve the problem once and for all in Nigeria's best Consular Service Mission of 2020.
Will the decision makers show consideration to this outstanding mission to continue to excel in serving our country? Will they consider that the sustainance of the Nigerian mission in Budapest is synonymous to the wellbeing of Nigerians in the region? That remains to be seen. For now, As Amb. Dr. Eniola Ajayi herself stated in her opinion piece : "Let us pause, Reset, and Restart. A GREATER NIGERIA IS POSSIBLE."