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Nigeria, Malta bilateral relations under threat

Nigeria, Malta bilateral relations under threat

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Indications are that the hitherto cordial bilateral relations existing between the Nigerian government and its counterpart in Malta may be under severe strain due to an unresolved crisis, which experts within the diplomatic circles say is capable of causing irreparable damage to both countries.

Malta is one of the world’s smallest countries in Europe occupying a landmass of over 316 km2 (122 sq mi) with a population of about 475,000 and lies 80 km south of Italy, 284 km east of Tunisia, and 333km north of Libya. Like Nigeria, it is a former British colony which gained independence in 1964, with a GDP estimated at $19.721 billion and a per capita of $45,127 according to 2018 estimate. It has been a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations since independence, and joined the European Union in 2004 as well as became part of the Eurozone monetary union in 2008.

At issue is that the Maltese Government’s request to the Federal Government to ratify the appointment of a new Honorary Consul designate for its home mission in Nigeria has been rebuffed by agencies of government, a development that Maltese authorities considers a slight on its sovereignty.

The Nation can authoritatively report that the Maltese home office in Nigeria, which used to be in Abuja ceased to be in existence four years ago.

Further checks by The Nation revealed that the Maltese Government has since appointed a new Honorary Consul designate, one Prof. Chris Onalo, another Nigerian but was still awaiting the approval of the appointment by the Federal Government over two years after the appointment was made.

According to a statement obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated December 8th, 2016 and signed by a representative of Malta, the one-time Honorary Consul of the Republic of Malta, Mr. Otunba O. A. Lawal acted in that capacity for some time until his appointment was terminated in October 27th, 2014 under unpleasant circumstances.

However in its determination to renew ties with Nigeria, the Maltese Government had appointed Prof Chris Onalo as the new Honorary Consul of the Republic of Malta in Nigeria after various interviews, assessment and evaluation by the Maltese Government in October, 2016.

The appointment was and still conditional to the approval of Nigeria’s Federal Government. In this regard, a request was sent from the government of the Republic of Malta to the Nigerian Government via the Nigerian High Commission in Tripoli in October 2016.

The appointment of a Honorary Consul is usually done by the sending country (in this case, Malta) to the receiving country (in this case, Nigeria) and is non-political; it does not involve the receiving country spending any money or making any form of budgetary allocation; the sending country does not spend a dime nor make any budgetary allocation in whatever form to cover any expenses or support the office of the Honorary Consul that they have appointed; the Honorary Consul himself bears totally all the financial costs involved as he sets up the consulate office and represents the sending country. This is why it is called Honorary Consul.

Further investigation by The Nation revealed that Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in December 2016 transmitted the Security Clearance request to the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), who in their submission on May 23rd 2017 maintained that the new Honorary Consul designate was not worthy for the appointment without giving any tangible reason and therefore, denied the approval of the Nigerian Government.

The NSA’s report came after the Nigerian police had earlier on carried out a rigorous “Character Integrity” test on the person of the Honorary Consul designate as part of the requirements previously sent to Maltese Government’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

But the Office of the National Security Adviser submitted its opinion to Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who in turn forwarded to the new Honorary Consul designate, Prof Chris Onalo in Lagos, requesting that he should transmit the NSA report to the Maltese Government.

It is the contention of the Maltese authorities that the remarks of the NSA is at variance with that of the security agencies of the Republic of Malta which formed the basis of the appointment of the  new Honorary Consul designate in Nigeria.

Consequently, the Maltese Government is worried that Nigerian authorities action could undermine the thorough investigation and background check its carried out on the Honorary Consul designate, thereby denying its citizens including prospective investors from both countries the opportunities of benefiting from its diplomatic ties.

The ongoing impasse, diplomatic experts have observed, is capable of causing irreparable damage to the socio-economic interest of both countries especially her citizens with vested interest across frontiers.

Attempts to get the media aide of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Elias Fatile, were futile as he was said to be away on official assignment outside the country.

Calls and text messages sent to him by our correspondent were yet to be responded to as at press time.

When our correspondent also contacted the spokesperson for the Department of State Security, Mr. P.N. Afunanya, his response was still being awaited as calls and text messages sent to him were not returned or answered.

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