Last week, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had cause to lament the poor funding of the ministry which has led it to contemplate a drastic reduction in the number of foreign missions and our membership of international organisations.
Mr Onyeama made this known during the ministry’s Budget 2021 defence at the House of Representatives. He stated that the ministry is faced with the challenge of meeting its obligatory financial contributions to those international organisations. “We are owing a lot, and in the Federal Executive Council (FEC), there is a process to rationalise and cut down on the international organisations we belong to,’’ he said.
The minister further said one of the major challenges the ministry is facing is the cost of moving ambassadors, officers and their families which he put at a total sum of N5.3 billion. This is outside of the cost of such overheads like rent and utilities for running the missions. The minister mentioned the particular case of one of the foreign missions where the landlord is at the verge of ejecting the embassy from the building to the embarrassment of the image of Nigeria. This, he said, was the case with a number of our foreign missions making it imperative that some drastic measures be taken to save the image of the country.
We believe that as the minister, under whose purview the running of our foreign missions is, Mr Onyeama’s assessment is spot on. There have been recurring reports over the years of the poor state of our foreign missions due to poor funding.
But it must also be stated that the conduct of some of our heads of mission and Foreign Service officers also contributes to some of the problems at the missions. Very often, our diplomats abroad like to live large and engage in activities and ventures that cannot be supported by the lean resources available for running the missions. In many cases, some of the missions have been known to rack up debts in the purchase of vehicles and embark on projects that are of little or no relevance to either the missions or Nigeria.
In the case of our membership of international organisations, it is also often the case that some of these organisations have no real relevance to Nigeria and its quest for development. In this regard, our membership of such organisations is clearly unnecessary in the first place and must be discontinued.
Accordingly, we agree with the minister that there is an urgent need to rationalise our membership of international organisations and foreign missions. We also believe that the ministry should not just stop there; it should embark on a total review of the rules and conduct of our foreign service to reflect the current economic realities of the country.
Our ambassadors and Foreign Service officers should as part of that review be instructed to strictly observe the need for prudence and cost management with the resources given to them to run the missions. It should no longer be business as usual. The ministry must as of necessity compel the missions to seek approval for expenditures beyond a given threshold to rein in the recourse to reckless spending.
Our membership of international organisations should also be restricted to only those that are of direct relevance to our development aspirations. Such organisations that are relevant to our regional and continent roles and expectations should of course be spared. Also, those that come under the United Nations which render humanitarian, technical and social needs for our teeming population should be retained.
The Foreign Service should not be seen as a jamboree and ego trip. It is a privilege to serve one’s country in the eye of the world. Diligence and prudence, especially in these trying economic times, should be the watchword for our foreign and diplomatic officers.