Sorry Nigeria Foreign Missions Status
REFLECTING the widespread culture of maladministration in the country, reports of the dilapidated state of Nigerian embassies and missions abroad further tarnish the country’s international image and deserve decisive corrective action. The sad state of foreign missions was illustrated by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who, when meeting with Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, lamented their insufficient funding, unsanitary environment, poor conditions of work and their crumbling infrastructure. It is a challenge for the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired), and Onyeama to project a favorable image for the country.
An embassy or foreign mission is the main diplomatic representation of a country in another country. Serving as the main channel of communication between two countries, an embassy performs important governmental functions, including formulating various treaties between the countries, arranging visits by high-ranking officials, and more.
Furthermore, embassies or consulates are responsible for disseminating their national culture and foreign policy in the host country. Sadly, the rot and poor governance at home is being replicated in the country’s missions abroad. Gbajabiamila said, “Even in Africa or outside of Africa, we call people ambassadors. I think the meaning of ambassador is very clear. They are a reflection of Nigeria. But when an ambassador doesn’t have a car or his car is 15 years old and it breaks down every time, the car has even broken down with me in it. And they had to hastily roll up the Nigerian flag and put it in their pockets to avoid embarrassment. You go to an embassy, the toilets don’t work. You ask them why? They say there is no money. You enter an embassy where the air conditioners are broken. I can go on and on.
Onyeama confirmed the funding shortfall, recalling that most of the country’s more than 100 foreign missions had complained of insufficient funding. This prompted the government in 2019 to close three embassies, those in Prague, Czech Republic; Belgrade, Serbia and Colombo, Sri Lanka. That of Kiev, Ukraine, has been reduced.
Ironically, in the same year, around 80% of the country’s foreign missions were not funded in the 2019 finance bill submitted to the National Assembly. It has been revealed that many Nigerian ambassadors were unable to pay school fees, rent, electricity, medical bills and other bills for their children. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs allegedly owed the volunteers and its staff more than 4.9 billion naira.
In addition to poor working conditions, many embassies reportedly lack good vehicles and other common facilities, which would have allowed embassy employees to engage in passport extortion and racketeering. Many mission buildings and common infrastructure are reportedly in disrepair, with some landlords embarrassing the country over rent.
Unpleasant results appeared. In February 2020, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office disclosed that the Nigerian High Commission owed over £7 million resulting from 58,102 unpaid charges in 2018 alone.
Last month, a former deputy chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Shehu Sani, claimed that 60% of the buildings used by Nigerian embassies abroad were rented. He said this not only resulted in high costs for the country, but also created a way for diplomatic staff to defraud the treasury through inflated rents. Gbajabiamila agreed that insufficient funding of foreign missions had spawned corruption and inefficiency.
Buhari and Onyeama must act quickly. Nigeria’s international image is at an all-time low, rivaling the quasi-pariah status it sank to during Sani Abacha’s brutal military dictatorship from 1993 to 1998. Its rankings on corruption, freedom, development indices human rights, crime and terrorism are among the worst in the world. Its economy, although the largest in Africa, is disjointed and has lost its appeal as an investment destination, falling behind Egypt, South Africa and Ghana.
With the poor state of public finances, realistically, the number of missions should be further rationalized. Countries may be grouped under a main embassy covering certain foreign regions. First to go should be the missions in world religious bodies; they have little practical value for the country. Priority in staffing and funding should be given to Nigeria’s major trading partners and countries that best serve Nigeria’s economic and development interests.
Beyond the lamentations, the NASS must quickly rescue the foreign missions by ensuring adequate budgetary allocations for their revival as the international face of the country. The 2022 Appropriation Act allows embassies to spend the capital elements of their budget without ministry approval. This should be enforced, but under strict supervision. The country must increase its income to be able to finance this important international mission.
At the heart of the rot is the government’s lack of vision in articulating clear strategies in maintaining the nation’s foreign missions. Despite years of international diplomacy, Nigeria has no department that oversees the construction or maintenance of embassies. Although there is an inspection unit within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its impact is questionable. The scourge of foreign policy is compounded by the appointment of unfit politicians and cronies to career diplomats.
The U.S. Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, for example, provides safe, functional, and resilient facilities that represent the U.S. government to the host nation and advance U.S. foreign policy objectives abroad. Mission facilities should represent American values and the best in architecture, design, engineering, technology, sustainability, art, culture, and construction execution in the USA. Since the start of the US State Department’s Capital Security Building Program in 1999, it has completed 171 new diplomatic facilities and currently has more than 50 active projects in design or construction worldwide. This is the model Nigeria should aspire to emulate.
The objectives of attracting foreign investment, opening foreign markets to Nigerian goods and services, and forging mutually beneficial cultural and political ties should be paramount. Safe, secure, functional and well-funded embassies are key to making this happen.
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