Most Nigerian missions/embassies abroad are broke and unable to meet their obligations, investigations by THISDAY have revealed.
Nigerian diplomatic missions are faced with several challenges, chief of which include their inability to pay their workers, delays in the issuance of visas and passports, lack of funding for day-to-day operations, and inability to pay the rent of embassies and workers’ residences.
Sources at the Nigerian embassy in the United States informed THISDAY that even before the demise of Ambassador Ade Adefuye, Nigeria’s last ambassador to the US, the mission had been bugged down by paucity of funds.
They added that the Nigerian Embassy in Washington D.C. often incurs and pays for its bills on credit and it takes a long time before the embassy is reimbursed by the federal government.
Presently, the sources volunteered, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has not been forthcoming with respect to meeting the funding needs of the mission in Washington.
Aside from official engagements, many Nigerians abroad who spoke to THISDAY, also accused some of the country’s missions of lacking the capacity to address their problems.
Several Nigerians in the diaspora complained of the incompetence exhibited by Nigerian embassy officials overseas.
They complained of their inability to get either visa or passport appointments, gain access to the missions promptly or even get assistance from them, adding that it is never the case with missions of other countries that treat their citizens as their number one priority.
Some also spoke of alleged demands for gratification by Nigeria embassy officials for the simplest of requests, which also compounds the negative image of Nigeria abroad.
Efforts to speak with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the parlous state of Nigeria’s missions overseas hit a brick wall as calls and texts to the ministry’s spokesman, Mr. Akinremi Bolaji, were unanswered.
When contacted, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Ojo Maduekwe, declined to say much on the issue, stating, however, that all that the ministry needs is the support from all Nigerians in the diaspora, adding that the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Geoffery Onyema, has the experience, capacity and will to ensure that all the problems being faced by the missions are resolved.
Last September, Buhari had ordered a review of the country’s missions overseas with the aim of pruning the number and improving the quality of services being rendered.
Currently, Nigeria has a total of 119 foreign missions which the president said would be too expensive to maintain due to Nigeria’s economic challenges.
The president made the statement after he was briefed on the activities of the foreign affairs ministry by its Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Bulus Lolo, noting that it would be counter-productive operating missions all over the world “with dilapidated facilities and demoralised staff” when the need for some of the missions was questionable.
Despite the challenges, some former envoys have challenged Buhari’s plan to reduce Nigeria’s missions abroad.
In separate positions against the plan, they asked the federal government to rescind its decision by allowing the existing 119 missions to remain.
They, however, pushed for a review of the structure and management of the missions to reduce cost and make them more vibrant.
In recent reactions to the move, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi; Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), Ambassador Umunna Humphrey Orjiako; and Ambassador Joe Keshi, urged the government not to close any of the missions but to adopt other measures to cut costs.
They argued that the closure of missions by Nigeria could be misinterpreted by the host countries, and reminded Buhari of the critical position the country occupies in Africa and the global community.
However, Onyema, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday, allayed their concerns, saying that the federal government has no intention of reducing the country’s foreign missions and embassies, but would “rationalise” them.
He said the rationalisation of the foreign offices would be with a view to maximising the use of resources, adding that the government was planning to establish a “one-stop shop” for Nigerian businessmen in 119 countries where the country has foreign missions.
“Reducing our foreign missions abroad, it is not a total contradiction of our ambitions outside… I think rather than reducing, I will say rationalising.
“You know it is how we use our resources to optimum levels… That is really what we are going to be much more engaged with rather than a reduction in missions,” Onyema said.
He disclosed that the government was going to target the few missions that “are really not serving a great purpose at the moment”, noting that there were few that might be targeted for rationalisation.
“But there will not be any sort of large scale reduction of our missions and embassies abroad,” he said.