Mr Danjuma Nanpon Sheni has been Nigeria’s Consulate General in Hong Kong since 2012. His tenure was recently cut short under the best of circumstances: a promotion to the top of Nigeria’s government.
Mr Danjuma Nanpon Sheni Consul General Nigeria Interview
Mr Sheni recently became the Permanent Secretary representing his state at the highest levels of Nigerian government. In a country where power must be seen to be shared evenly among its 36 states, each state has one Permanent Secretary who is appointed the head of a major government department, the highest ranking civil servant. In grueling exams that take months to complete and are only open to the most senior bureaucrats, Mr Sheni came out on top for his home state of Plateau. He has since been appointed to Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (Cabinet Secretariat) and will be installed by the time this article is published, working directly with the President, Mr Goodluck Jonathan.
Dr. Sheni is now the Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (Cabinet Secretariat).
Even though he is now moving to the capital, diplomacy was a first and early love. He recalls, “I always admired diplomacy…[and] wanted to be a diplomat. Even when I was offered two other jobs, I was always waiting for an opening in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” His father was an Oxford educated career civil servant who took over from the Europeans when they left. He inculcated a love of education and public service in his son. Mr. Sheni got his first degree in Nigeria, and proceeded to obtain a second and third degree in International Relations and Law respectively. He is currently working towards his fourth degree, a masters in International Business Law.
Mr. Sheni has had an illustrious career serving Nigeria. Before Hong Kong, he also served in Singapore, Ghana, Gabon, Brussels, Washington and New York. Out of all these places, Mr. Sheni, speaks fondly of his time in Ghana between 2003 and 2005.
“In terms of my diplomatic career, I think that was the best time in my career,” shared Mr. Sheni. “(It was) because of the robust relationship Nigeria had with Ghana. The accessibility for me up to the highest level was very, very easy.” Ghana and Nigeria were two of the most important members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and had close ties with regards to security issues and issues of economic development and sustainability in the sub-region. During Mr. Sheni’s tenure in Ghana, an ECOWAS commission was deeply engaged in negotiations to end the second Liberian Civil War. “For around 90 days, everyday we were involved in negotiations that finally got (then Liberian president) Charles Taylor out and then put a political structure in Liberia,” Mr. Sheni remembers.
The chairman of the commission was from Nigeria, former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the headquarters was in Ghana. Mr. Sheni’s role was to ensure the whole thing did not collapse. “We had to get all the political parties from Liberia to come and talk to them, oversee the process, and then put together an interim program. Being the head of the Nigerian mission there, of course I had to work closely with (the chairman),” explains Mr. Sheni. “That was one of the high points of my stay, when I look back.”
They decided the most effective threat would be to send in naked older women.
Sometimes, extraordinary measures were required to make things happen. At the time of the negotiations, parties would sometimes threaten to and sometimes actually walk-out on the meetings. This angered many Liberians who were keen for peace. A group of women organised and came at negotiators with an unusual threat. According to these groups, the negotiations took too long because the men were camped out in luxury hotels and having a great time. They then decided the most effective threat would be to send in naked older women. “They would say “if you guys don’t sit down and finish this thing within X amount of time, we are going to go in naked.”
This is not a threat without precedent nor lacking in power. It has recently been used to protest lack of support in the face of on-going warfare in Ogun State and against the Boko Haram schoolgirl kidnapping. In Liberia in May, naked women stormed the National Legislature to protest mistreatment of veterans’ widows. In conservative African communities the scandal of such a display and the shame it would bring its targets is a powerful motivator. In this case, the end result proved the effectiveness of this tactic. Mr Sheni says with a chuckle, “We made the deadline.”
Know the rulebook
During the mid-1990s, Mr Sheni represented Nigeria as part of the ACP-EU development cooperation.(Africa, Caribbean, Pacific – Europe). He remembers fondly, “We often held these meetings in different parts of the world. The ACP group of counties were usually seeking funding from the EU. The interesting thing was, you find more often than not, European ministers in economic class, and ACP ambassadors flying in business class on the same flight. We used to laugh over it.”
Nigeria was threatened with expulsion from the EU-ACP and his job was to keep them in. “You must read and read, and read the rules!”
His time in Brussels was far from fun and games, though. Mr. Sheni reckons that it was one of the greatest challenges he faced as a Nigerian diplomat. Tensions had risen between Nigeria and the global community during a period military rule in Nigeria. When nine environmentalists including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa were executed in the fall of 1995, Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth. “For us diplomats in Europe, it was a very challenging period,” recalls Mr. Sheni. “We had lots of challenges from European partners who were all calling for the ostracization of Nigeria. We were facing a lot of visa restrictions for officials. It was really a part one would not want to remember.”
Nigeria was threatened with expulsion from the EU-ACP and his job was to keep them in. “You have to master the rules.” A vote was to be held as to whether Nigeria should remain in EU-ACP. If they had gone directly into a plenary meeting where all EU and ACP members voted together, Nigeria probably would have been voted out. “What we did was to invoke one of the rules which called for different votings between the ACP as a group and the EU as a group. The groups allowed [this] and then the two groups would have to have the same vote for it to pass.” It was clear the other countries within ACP would not vote for Nigeria’s suspension. Dividing the voting kept Nigeria in the group. “We succeeded,” Mr. Sheni proudly declares. “You must read and read, and read the rules!”
Hong Kong and Nigeria
Mr. Sheni’s mandate in Hong Kong had been to attract investors into Nigeria. Hong Kong businesses have been in Nigeria for at least 60 years and include firms in manufacturing, textiles, construction, and the hospitality industry. “We have at least 12 very big Hong Kong companies that have been in Nigeria for more than 60 years.” Last year, a conference was organized by Nigerian business community and the mining industry to open the door for Hong Kong and mainland Chinese companies into Nigeria. “This led a couple of countries to actually open offices in Nigeria.”
Mr Sheni also revealed that a free trade agreement between Hong Kong and Nigeria has actually been mooted but is still in the concept phase.
Hong Kong and Nigeria have curious ties that date back to the 20th century. In 1907, Frederick Lugard was appointed Governor of Hong Kong. He is best remembered as the founder of the University of Hong Kong, and during his tenure, almost struck a deal with China that would might have lead to Hong Kong being under British rule forever. The very same Lugard would then become the Governor who oversaw the unification of the Northern and Southern Nigeria Protectorates into the country now defined as Nigeria Thanks to Lord Lugard, Nigeria entered 2014 celebrating the 100th anniversary of its unification. The colony was unified on 1st January, 1914. The nation gained independence on October 1, 1960 and will celebrate its independence on the same day as China celebrates its national day in two weeks.