New Telegraph

Our Diplomatic Missions And Funding

The recurring ugly decimals of financial crisis suffered by several Nigerian foreign missions due to the deliberate delay in the release of their capital and overhead votes by the Federal Government speaks volumes about persisting poor governance in the country. And it also reflects the gross disregard our crop of political leaders has for the nation’s global image.

Only such a position would explain the inexcusable delay in the payment of the overhead vote for the second half of this year which should have been paid since June. Yet, it is still pending, leaving the embassies in serious financial mess, to the extent that some of the staff currently face eviction from homes while others have had to resort to borrowing for survival!

This preventable pain needs urgent intervention by the President Bola Tinubu-led administration. That will certainly save the lives of the traumatised staff from slipping into anomie, many of whom have been compelled to send distress calls to their colleagues at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja. In fact, it is disheartening to know that the diplomats and Foreign Service officers at the 109 Diplomatic Missions may not be able to meet their financial obligations to their staff members in the coming weeks.

These include 97 embassies and 12 consulates all over the world. Also urgently needed is the payment of debts owed the local contractors, including the costs of electricity supply, water, and sanitation bills. Obviously, the implication of the cash crunch is telling on the operation of the missions and of course the staff well-being.

The perilous picture this sad scenario paints, with regards to the significant Nigerian brand in the eyes of the global spectrum is self-decimating. One painful aspect of the harrowing economic situation the foreign embassies and their staff are facing is that this has happened before. For instance, in December 2020, Geoffrey Onyeama, then the Minister of Foreign Affairs, raised the alarm over the terrible embarrassment to the country the neglect of Nigeria’s foreign missions was causing.

But it is apparent that going by their recent travails his words of caution fell on deaf ears. Also, when the Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Yakubu, faulted Nigeria’s lukewarm attitude towards the maltreatment of Nigerians abroad, Onyeama, blamed it on the poor funding of the nation’s foreign missions.

Back then, he stated in clear terms that Nigeria was underfunding its missions abroad, and that the funding deficit was negatively impacting the nation’s foreign policy and diplomatic interests. The analysis of the situation by experts on the

Ever since, the missions have spread to many countries with the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Canada, South Africa and Japan topping the list of Nigeria’s most expensive foreign missions

economy stated that between 2015 and 2020 Nigeria budgeted less than N200 billion for its foreign missions, representing a paltry 0.5 per cent of all its budgetary proposals of N43.98 trillion within that period. It would be recalled that when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposed a budget of N46.5 billion back in 2016, 66.7 per cent was allocated to the 115 foreign missions abroad to cater for diplomatic services. That amounted to N31.2 billion.

While its allocation to foreign missions increased slightly to N48.9 billion in its 2017 budgetary proposal of N7.2 trillion. And in 2018, the foreign missions’ allocation was downsized marginally to N11.3 billion as the ministry proposed N83.3 billion, a 13 per cent cut. At the time, the country’s budget proposal stood at N8.6 trillion.

Early in 2023 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) released $270,000 for personnel overhead to a mission in Asia for January to June. But only $164,000 instead of $270, 000 was remitted to the mission for the second half of the year, representing a shortfall of 41 per cent. The shortfall must have based the remittance on the current exchange rate pegged at about N900 per dollar.

Indeed, the import of the scaling down of budget allocation to the MFA affected Nigerian students who were caught in the war-torn Sudan in early 2023. Unlike their counterparts from Niger Republic, Cameroon and Kenya who were regularly updated on the precarious situation of the war by their respective embassies in Sudan, there was nothing of such that came from the Nigerian embassy, as at when due.

In retrospect, Nigeria first registered its diplomatic service under the Tafawa Balewa-led administration some three years prior to independence. The aim was to address the country’s relations with foreign countries in the areas of economic and administrative cooperation. Ever since, the missions have spread to many countries with the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Canada, South Africa and Japan topping the list of Nigeria’s most expensive foreign missions.

To get out of the woods of both inadequate funding and late release of funds to the foreign missions the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be accountable. That is unlike the accusation of extra-budgetary expenditure running into billions of naira levelled by the Chairman House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Yakubu against Onyeama then as the minister.

The current administration should act fast based on a credible database. Payment should be made in foreign currencies to add economic value. All said, delay is dangerous and a good image matters a lot to us all.

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