Geoffrey Onyeama, minister of foreign affairs, says Nigerian foreign missions are now a terrible embarrassment to the country abroad.
Nigeria is underfunding its missions abroad, and the funding deficit is negatively impacting the nation’s foreign policy and diplomatic interests, according to a review of government budgets and analyses of the situation by experts.
In the last five years, Nigeria budgeted less than N200 billion for its foreign missions, representing a paltry 0.5 per cent of all its budgetary proposals of ₦43.98 trillion in that period.
Poor funding has seen the nation unable to meet some diplomatic obligations as routine as keeping up with the rent at the Nigerian embassy in Hungary. It has also affected the welfare of Nigerians abroad, officials say.
In November, when the House committee on foreign affairs chairman, Yusuf Yakubu, faulted Nigeria’s lukewarm attitude towards the maltreatment of Nigerians abroad, foreign affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, blamed it on the poor funding of foreign missions.
Mr Onyeama lamented how foreign missions were becoming a “terrible embarrassment” for the country at the global stage as small budgetary allocations are affecting their effectiveness in responding to the expansive structure of diplomatic services.
“For the size of a country, the giant Africa, we are supposed to defend the interest of Africa and the black race around the world,” Mr Onyeama said.
“We have a vast network of technical assistance programmes to the pacific, to the Caribbean and to other Africa countries, and we want to be a big player, which sits at the table as one of the countries running the world, and to be able to do that, we just need many resources.
“Nigeria cannot get its international image to fit into the acceptable module of the international community, if its foreign missions remain underfunded,” the Foreign Affairs minister said.
While Nigeria maintains missions in almost all corners of the world, some of its most expensive missions remain in Europe, the Americas and some parts of Asia- with the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Canada and Japan topping the list of Nigeria’s most expensive missions.
Nigeria first registered its diplomatic service under the Tafawa Balewa administration three years prior to independence to address the country’s relations with foreign countries in the areas of economic and administrative cooperation.
The embassies were established in host countries to facilitate communication and regular interaction between the Nigerian government and foreign leaders, as well to defend Nigeria’s interests in the host nations.
When the ministry of foreign affairs proposed a budget of ₦46.5 billion in 2016, 66.7 per cent was allocated to the 115 foreign missions abroad to cater for diplomatic services. That amounted to ₦31.2 billion.
The whole ministry’s budget proposal was only 0.05 percent of what Nigeria budgeted – ₦6.08 trillion — that year.
While its allocation to foreign missions increased slightly to ₦48.9 billion in its 2017 budgetary proposal of ₦7.2 trillion, it was 73.3 percent of the ministry’s ₦66.6 billion budget.
In 2018, the foreign missions’ allocation was downsized marginally to ₦11.3 billion as the ministry proposed ₦83.3 billion, a 13 percent cut. At the time, the country’s budget proposal stood at ₦8.6 trillion.
Again in 2019, the foreign missions’ allocation fell to ₦4.1 billion with the country’s proposed budget of ₦8.9trillion.
When the minister of foreign affairs presented the ministry’s ₦73.6 billion budget proposal for 2019, he announced the country would be shutting down its embassies in three countries — Sri Lanka, Czech Republic and the Republic of Serbia — and downsized another one due to insufficient funds.
In 2019, when the 2020 proposed budget of ₦10.9 trillion was presented, the foreign missions were looking up to a robust year. About ₦62 billion was initially earmarked in the ministry’s ₦75.4 billion until the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Nigeria was forced to revise its budget to shore up its economy hit by the pandemic and the fallout of oil price reduction at the global market.
In the revised budget, the ministry’s total allocation stood at ₦60 billion and the country’s, ₦10.8 trillion. The foreign affairs ministry’s budget was cut to ₦60.2 billion.
By 2021, the proposed budget earmarked ₦65.1 billion for foreign missions, 78 per cent of the ministry’s ₦83.4 billion budget. The country’s proposed budget stood at ₦13.08 trillion.
Not that Nigeria’s amount for foreign missions is too low compared to other countries. On the average, South Africa spends about 20 million rand on each of its over 126 foreign missions. This is about N63 billion annually for all the embassies. But it is insufficient for Nigeria’s size, experts say.
Analysts told this newspaper that the ministry’s poor funding is detrimental to the long-term ambitions of a country, which ought to be optimising its foreign engagements.
“One should not see it as a reflection of the state of a country’s economy. How you handle your foreign policy can result in a creative economy,” a professor of history and international studies, Olutayo Adeshina.
He said the underfunding of the ministry is part of “the cavalier handling of the country’s political economy.”
“The embassies rather than serving as tools of economic and political progress are rather used to give cronies and others sinecure positions,” the head of the History department at the University of Ibadan told PREMIUM TIMES.
The university don said as the government now sees embassies as anachronism, the embassies do not serve adequate economic or espionage purposes that would ensure the country’s progress.
“The government itself has now seen the embassies as anachronisms. I am not surprised that they are falling into disuse. They constitute part of the restructuring that we must attend to,” he said.
The Nigerian embassies, he said, are riveted with problems beyond being underfunded, adding that misconduct of diplomats are disincentive to the nation’s interest and progress.
“We are not saying embassies should start generating their own incomes to survive but they must serve a better national purpose.
“The attitudes of our diplomats and career officers have also proved a disincentive to progress. Their cavalier handling of visa and passport issues both for Nigerians in the diaspora and foreign have equally denied so much revenue,” Mr Adeshina said.
He enthused that “the government put round pegs in round holes and give our officers a new orientation for a new Nigeria.”
On the question whether Nigeria should adopt the modern style of opening trade or innovative hubs where embassies may not necessarily be there, the don said such may not be the case for Nigeria as embassies are needed in maintaining useful relationships with foreign governments and smoothening the path for citizens and businesses in foreign markets.
“We still need the embassies in our own case. This is because we are yet to satisfy the preconditions for a take-off as a modern country and economy. We need the embassies for coordination as hubs for industrial and economic espionage. Developed economies won’t tell you but these are part of the things they use their embassies for.
“But in our case we send diplomats abroad to enjoy themselves, create future homes for themselves and their children and then leave the country shortchanged. We have a lot to understand and more things to be done,” he said.
The director of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign based in The Netherlands, Sunny Ofehe, said as it stands, the huge Nigerian diaspora population across Europe, the Americas, Asia, the Carribean and the Middle East would be left unserved in promoting the country’s core socio-economic values.
He added that the government must act and save the country from global disgrace.
“Any government who understands how Nigeria is respected around the world will not starve its foreign missions of funds,” he said.
For the deputy director, Institute of Peace and Governance, Ekiti State University, Azeez Olaniyan, the underfunding of the embassies is a sign of unseriousness from the Nigerian state that pitches its tent on the primacy of Africa.
“Poor funding means a lot. It is a sign of unseriousness on the part of Nigeria. It also shows the idiosyncratic nature of the president. Foreign policy is within the domain of the president. The vibrancy of foreign policy implementation depends on the nature of the president.
“Also, it means Nigeria is not yet ready to play the game in international politics. Embassy is the territory of a country in another country,” the political scientist said.
But he agreed that reducing Nigeria’s diplomatic footprint in some countries where they are not viable would be a wise option of cutting costs.
In all, analysts say the streamlining of embassies and high commissions should be in tandem with the country’s diplomatic gains–based on major functional trade or other bilateral cooperations –and focus.