Despite the atmosphere of controvercy surrounding diplomacy generally, some members of the foreign services are known to have developed special competence and achieved distinguished careers.
Prominent among them was Eugene Schuyler, who served as consul in Moscow in 1867 and held other posts in Europe, before ending as the American representative in Cairo in 1890.
Another was William Lindsay Scruggs, who served as Minister to Colombia in 1873 and Minister to Venezuela in 1889.
Two other diplomats who developed impressive reputations as regional specialists were Henry White in Europe and William W. Rockhill in East Asia.
And in recent times, despite the general lethargy characterizing foreign policy, some few members of the diplomatic corps have been impressively proactive as well.
Catriona Wendy Campbell Laing CB, Her Majesty’s High Commissioner to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for example, had long been interested in the development of more cordial relations and the expansion of trade with African and other Commonwealth nations.
Catriona Laing was appointed Her Majesty’s High Commissioner to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in November 2018. Prior to this she was the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2014 to 2018.
Catriona has extensive experience representing the UK in many capacities. She joined the FCO in 2012 as the UK’s senior civilian representative to the NATO operation in southern Afghanistan.
Prior to this she was the Director of Human Rights and International at the Ministry of Justice from 2009 to 2012; Head of DFID in Sudan from 2006 to 2009; Head of DFID’s International Division Advisory Department from 2005 to 2006 and seconded to the Cabinet Office as Deputy Director of the Prime Minister’s strategy unit from 2001 to 2005. She was awarded The Order of the Bath (CB) in the 2012 New Year Honours.
Perhaps the most notable proof of Catriona’s exceptional diplomatic wherewithal came with a recent exclusive interview granted the Deputy Managing Editor of Daily Trust in which she speaks on the UK’s support to Nigeria as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic and the global effort to further protect millions of children against infectious diseases by GAVI; the Vaccine Alliance.
In that interview, despite being the first female British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona eminently placed herself in a position to be remembered as a friend and partner working together with Nigerians to achieve mutual objectives and to deepen a longstanding relationship.
In her 18 months as High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona had dutifully visited 11 states across five of the six geo-political zones with a personal target for visiting all 36 states in the federation which Covid-19 has thrown into some disarray for the moment.
One cannot help being impressed by the high diplomatic tone with which she described the United Kingdom as Nigeria’s oldest and closest friend, or the way she pointed at recent high-profile exchanges such as President Buhari’s visit to Dumfries House at the invitation of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in January 2020 ahead of the African Investment Summit in London, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales’ visit to Nigeria in 2018 and His Royal Highness Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex’s visit to Nigeria earlier this year, as a testament to the important position Nigeria maintains in the UK esteem.
She expertly highlighted the UK’s broad range of ambitions including unlocking barriers to development in health, education and infrastructure, supporting efforts to tackle conflict, supporting the stabilisation of the North East of Nigeria and supporting efforts to achieve full gender equality, tackle gender-based violence, work to achieve bold steps on tackling climate change, championing human rights and supporting sustainable development.
Catriona then smartly steered the conversation to the UK’s immediate current focus which she said is on working with the Nigerian government to tackle COVID-19. She intelligently recounted how she is liaising with the Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to support the public health response to the pandemic, both in terms of testing and monitoring the spread of the disease and providing treatment.
She very brilliantly related this to working with the Nigerian government to tackle the wider impacts that COVID-19 is having on society, for example its role in fuelling tensions and conflicts in some parts of the country and in creating the conditions for an alarming rise in domestic and gender-based violence.
Coming from the north east, I personally felt greatly encouraged when Catriona enumerated the UK’s response to the humanitarian crisis in that troubled region. It was quite reassuring to learn that over five years (2018 -2022), £300m of UK aid will deliver: food assistance to up to 1.5m people; treatment for up to 120,000 children at risk from Severe Acute Malnutrition; support to give 100,000 children an education; and safe transport for aid and aid workers as espoused by the dynamic diplomat.
Perhaps even more reassuring was her revelation that the UK’s work in the north east also covers the delivery of a range of defence engagements including delivering train the trainer packages, advice on institutional reform, and pre-deployment training, designed to enhance their ability to engage and defeat enemy combatants, and defend territory, whilst complying with the law of armed conflict and positively engaging with marginalised groups.
Overall, as a public affairs commentator and current affairs analyst, I personally cannot hide my elation at the impression created by Catriona’s wisdom and high diplomatic acumen displayed throughout the interview.
She certainly came across as an outstanding, honest, knowledgeable, competently up-to-date and dynamic diplomatic state actor and an asset to have in Nigeria.
•Jirgi is MD/CEO Triple CEE Media Ltd Abuja; [email protected]