By Abbas Jimoh, Baba Martins, Terkula Igidi & Muideen Olaniyi
The Federal Government has come under fire over the huge number of Nigeria’s delegation to the ongoing COP28 Climate Change Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Nigeria was reported to have sent 1,411 delegates, the third highest at the summit.
Nigerians yesterday flayed the high number of the Nigerian delegates to the conference amidst the biting cost of living crisis largely blamed on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration’s policies, including the petrol subsidy removal and the currency floating.
The Presidency, however, clarified that of the 1,411 delegates, those funded by the federal government, across Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), were less than 100.
Commenting on the issue, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in this year’s elections, Atiku Abubakar, accused President Bola Tinubu of turning the climate change conference into an owambe party at a time Nigerians were demanding probity and accountability.
Atiku, in a statement yesterday by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, alleged that Tinubu neither “understands nor appreciates the enormity of the economic ruin that the country is facing.”
“How will the head of a government turn a conference of climate change to a jamboree, all-comers and ‘owambe’ party of over 1,400 delegates? It is ridiculous and a confirmation that he is still in a slumber as far as governance is concerned.
“The economic dire straits that Nigeria is facing demand that its leaders cut their coats according to the cloth available. It makes no sense for us to continue to borrow money to throw a street party outside the country.
“The leader of the Nigerian delegation should be reminded: COP28UAE is about improving lives, about clean air and water, healthy food, for all people, for nature, for a safe and secure future, and not for a jamboree of over 1,400 Owambe delegates,” Atiku said.
In the same vein, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the 2023 elections, Peter Obi, described the large number of Nigeria’s contingents as a waste of resources.
In a post on his X handle, he said the vast majority of the Nigerian delegation were either non-relevant civil servants or relations, friends and hangers-on of high government officials “most of whom hardly understand or have anything to do with climate change.”
He said the huge contingent was out at public expense at a time most Nigerians can hardly afford food and basic needs as a result of economic hardship.
“In a twist of sad irony, let me congratulate the giant of Africa, Nigeria, for matching the great China, with the same number of contingents at the ongoing COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nigeria’s contingent to COP28 totaled 1411, the same number as the Chinese contingents.
“While China’s budget for 2024 is about $4 trillion, about $2,860 per head; Nigeria’s budget is about $33bn, about $165 per head. China has a high Human Development Index, HDI, with a ranking of 79 out of 191 countries measured, and Nigeria has a low HDI, with a ranking of 163 out of 191 countries measured,” he said.
Obi said Nigeria had more people living in “multi-dimensional” poverty than China, despite China having seven times Nigeria’s population.
He urged the government to de-emphasize unnecessary ceremony and showmanship and tie spending to necessity and national priority.
“I pray earnestly that a day will come soon enough when we can focus on competing with China on productivity and the miracle of migrating the highest number of its citizens out of poverty over a relatively short time.
“As we have kept emphasizing, we must stop waste as a tradition of our government and nation. We urgently need to cut the cost of governance and invest in production,” Obi stated.
Reacting, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Temitope Ajayi, in a statement yesterday, explained that not all Nigeria’s 1,411 delegates at the COP28 were government-funded.
He said the Nigeria’s delegation included civil society actors, business leaders, environmentalists, climate activists, journalists as well as officials of government agencies and parastatals.
The presidential aide, however, did not specify the number of delegates funded by the government amidst speculations that over 600 were government-funded.
“In Nigeria, like so many other countries, interested parties, comprising government officials from both the federal and sub-national governments, business leaders, environmentalists, climate activists and journalists, are present in Dubai. “Also participating are agencies of government such as the NNPC and its subsidiaries, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, NIMASA, NDDC.
“Many youth organisations from Nigeria, especially from the northern and Niger-Delta regions whose lives and livelihoods, are most impacted by desert encroachment and hydrocarbon activities are also represented.
“The president of Ijaw Youth Council, Jonathan Lokpobiri, leads a pan-Ijaw delegation of more than 15 people who registered as parties from Nigeria. Among delegates from Nigeria are also over 20 journalists from various media houses,” Ajayi said.
Asked to state the exact number of delegates funded by the government, Ajayi, in a chat with one of our correspondents, simply responded: “I don’t know exact number, but it is less than 100 across important MDAs that have roles to place in the negotiations.”
PDP demands refund of estacodes
The PDP asked Tinubu to be ready to refund any government funds improperly spent to sponsor any individual who has no relevance at the conference.
PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, in a statement, said such funds should be channeled to projects that have direct bearing on the wellbeing of Nigerians.
He said the development was a further validation that the present administration “is “wasteful, frivolous and reckless in the application of the scarce resources of the nation, especially at a time Nigerians are yearning for prudent management of resources to achieve the desired infrastructural regeneration, job creation and revamping of the economy.”
He said the PDP dismissed as feeble, attempts by the Presidency to “rationalize the over-bloated delegation by trying to hide under genuine sub-national officials, businesses, journalists and civil societies who are travelling at their own expense to cover the baggage of cronies, mistresses and other hangers-on associated with the Presidency who are reportedly attending at government’s expense and have no relevance whatsoever at the conference.”
“Our party and all well-meaning Nigerians are appalled by the level of profligacy inherent in the APC administration whose actions and policies so far are skewed towards the promotion and institutionalization of corruption.”
He challenged the Presidency to “come clean by making public the names of the official delegation sponsored by the federal government, the relevance of such individuals to the conference and the total cost of such sponsorship on the nation.”
He said the PDP also called on the National Assembly to immediately commence investigation into “this embarrassing revelation and impose appropriate sanction on anyone or Institution found culpable in that regard.”
Huge number of contingents justified–NNPP
The National Publicity Secretary of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Yakubu Shendam, said the large delegation of Nigeria to the COP28 was justified because climate change posed existential threat to all Nigerians and all humanity.
He said, “Well, when issues affect the whole of humanity on a global scale; it’s always good for stakeholders to put their hands on deck to know what they can do to solve the problem.
“So, for us at the NNPP, we’ve always maintained that humanity is very precious to us, and the conference in Dubai has to do with climate change which poses existential threat to humanity. Nigeria’s delegation to Dubai are part of the stakeholders.”
Pressed further on whether the large delegation and the accompanying expenditure was necessary in the face of the harsh economic situation in the country, he maintained that “humanity comes before economy. There won’t be economy without humanity.
“So, no expenditure is too much when it comes to tackling climate change which threatens the very existence of all Nigerians and humanity generally.”
It’s outrageous, insensitive – CSOs
Commenting on the large delegation of Nigeria to the COP28, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, tongue-lashed Tinubu’s administration, accusing it of prioritising reckless spending.
He alleged that many of the delegates went there for shopping and not adding any value to the nation.
“This number of people that President Tinubu has taken (to COP28 in Dubai) appears to be very outrageous and looking at the economy of the country, we cannot sustain this flamboyant spending,” he said.
He asked the government to ensure prudent management of national resources, saying “You cannot be spending money just for consumption that has no value for the country, for the economy and for the people. It’s important that government stops this reckless spending and waste,” Rafsanjani said.
Executive Director, Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said the huge delegation showed lack of clear focus and planning in terms of how government approaches representation at international conferences.
“At a time government is complaining of paucity of funds and proposing belt tightening measures, it is also allowing expensive jamborees, which will drain the treasury. What does Nigeria intend to say at the COP28 that cannot be said by a delegation of not more than 50 people?
“It is all about frittering away scarce public resources. From all indications, the government is not really serious about cutting waste and inefficiency in public expenditures,” Zikirullahi said.
Similarly, the spokesman of Yiaga Africa, Mark Amaza, said if the administration is really serious about cutting down the cost of governance, it should demonstrate it in every way, including the sizes of delegations for official trips.
“This is also especially the harsh economic times when citizens have to tighten their belts. It comes off insensitive to have the third-largest delegation to the COP28,” Amaza said.