FG shuts nine for­eign mis­sions

Daily Trust - - FRONT PAGE - By Ab­dul­la­teef Salau & Si­mon Echewo­fun Sun­day

The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has ap­proved the clo­sure of nine for­eign mis­sions and their con­ver­sion to non­res­i­dency rep­re­sen­ta­tion or con­cur­rent ac­cred­i­ta­tion, Daily Trust find­ings have shown.

The clo­sure, our reporters gath­ered, is part of mea­sures to re­duce the cost of run­ning Nige­ria’s for­eign rep­re­sen­ta­tions in line with the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion.

The af­fected mis­sions are those whose ab­sence por­tend no se­ri­ous bilateral or diplo­matic ef­fect sources said. They in­clude the Per­ma­nent Mis­sion to the D-8 in Is­tan­bul, Tur­key; the Africa-South Amer­ica Co­op­er­a­tion Fo­rum (ASACOF) in Caracas, Venezuela; em­bassies in Belgrade, Ser­bia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Kiev, Ukraine; Prague, Czech Repub­lic; the High Com­mis­sion in Sin­ga­pore as well as Con­sulates in Buea, Cameroon and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Also ap­proved for ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion is the num­ber of of­fi­cers at for­eign mis­sions, es­ta­code for lo­cal trav­els and award of honorary con­suls.

The gov­ern­ment also or­dered that post­ing staff of home min­istries to for­eign mis­sions should be dis­con­tin­ued, while For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cers should be trained to carry out mul­ti­ple tasks in­clud­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion, immigration, trade, cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion re­lated func­tions.

Daily Trust learnt that the ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion ex­er­cise will af­fect all 119 Nige­ria’s for­eign mis­sions.

Apart 35 mis­sions, the gov­ern­ment di­rected that all other mis­sions should be run by an am­bas­sador and not more than three home­based staff. The level of lo­cal staffing, it said, must be con­trolled.

A let­ter from the Chief of Staff to the Pres­i­dent, Abba Kyari, ad­dressed to the Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs, Ge­of­frey Onyeama dated June 8, 2016, said the prac­tice of vi­o­lat­ing staffing ceil­ings for each mis­sion must be stopped and cor­rec­tive mea­sures be put in place. Con­se­quently, from it said, there should be a review of the staff strength nec­es­sary for each mis­sion.

“Rules and reg­u­la­tions as well as en­ti­tle­ments (es­ta­code) for lo­cal trav­els at post should be re­viewed down­wards and strict com­pli­ance en­forced. Sim­i­larly, cost and us­age of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and util­ity ser­vices should be re­viewed and dras­ti­cally re­duced, and the cur­rent en­ti­tle­ment of house maids for se­nior of­fi­cers other than the heads of mis­sion and deputy chiefs of mis­sion, where ap­pli­ca­ble should be dis­con­tin­ued,” it added.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment also dis­cov­ered that the award of honorary con­suls was open to abuse by un­scrupu­lous busi­ness­men. The prac­tice, it said, should be re­viewed in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional best practices.

“Some of th­ese mea­sures may have the ef­fect of bloat­ing the num­ber of For­eign Ser­vice Of­fi­cers at head­quar­ters. To ad­dress this con­se­quence, of­fi­cers may be de­ployed to other min­istries, de­part­ments and agen­cies to help co­or­di­nate their in­ter­face with diplo­matic mis­sions/in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“State gov­ern­ments should also be en­cour­aged to re­ceive at least two For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cers on sec­ond­ment to as­sist in pro­vid­ing guid­ance to their in­creas­ing in­ter­face with diplo­matic mis­sions/in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions,” the gov­ern­ment said.

It said the ar­range­ment would en­gen­der greater co­or­di­na­tion and co­her­ence within the of­fi­cial po­si­tions diplo­mats re­ceive when they visit min­is­ters or gov­er­nors who of­ten make state­ments with for­eign pol­icy im­pli­ca­tions with­out ap­pro­pri­ate briefs from the For­eign Af­fairs min­istry.

“Through th­ese For­eign Ser­vice li­ai­son of­fi­cers, not only the MFA HQ, but our diplo­matic mis­sions abroad, will also be suf­fi­ciently briefed on the ac­tiv­i­ties and con­ver­sa­tions of diplo­mats from their host coun­tries serv­ing in Nige­ria.

“While this is only one so­lu­tion, the MFA should also care­fully ex­am­ined the con­se­quences of over­staffing at head­quar­ters as a re­sult of the planned ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion and make other rec­om­men­da­tions to ad­dress the prob­lem. This may in­clude of­fer­ing re­dun­dant of­fi­cers re­de­ploy­ment to home min­istries or early re­tire­ment from ser­vice with­out loss of ben­e­fit,” the gov­ern­ment said.

Re­dun­dancy at post

An of­fi­cial at the Nige­rian Con­sulate Of­fice in Ge­or­gia, At­lanta, USA, said some key staff in the var­i­ous mis­sions had been di­rected by the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs to ei­ther do a needs as­sess­ment or re­turn home and eval­u­ate var­i­ous staff strength in the mis­sions ahead of the shake-up.

The of­fi­cial said the need for some staff at post was ques­tion­able, adding that there are ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cers that have been on post­ing even when some of their ser­vices are not needed there.

He said some mis­sions are not needed be­cause there is hardly any se­ri­ous bilateral trade or diplo­matic im­pact of some of those coun­tries, some in Africa and others in Asia, which the of­fi­cial noted may not have been re­cip­ro­cat­ing Nige­ria’s diplo­matic ges­tures.

It is bad sig­nal- Kaave

A re­tired diplo­mat, Am­bas­sador Chive Kaave, said shut­ting the mis­sions sends a sig­nal to the world that the Nige­rian econ­omy is in bad shape.

“There are some mis­sions that ex­ist only on pay­ment of salaries to staff at post. They don’t pro­mote any eco­nomic, ed­u­ca­tional, cul­tural or even con­sular re­la­tions with Nige­ria. Even the staff there do not re­ceive enough fund­ing to meet obli­ga­tions.

“If we claim to be the big­gest econ­omy in Africa and can­not ad­e­quately maintain mis­sions abroad, it is ab­so­lutely not good enough for the coun­try. How­ever, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should do what is in the best in­ter­est of the coun­try,” he said.

Eco­nomic in­suf­fi­cient in for­eign re­la­tions

A pro­fes­sor of Po­lit­i­cal Science at the Univer­sity of Ilorin, Has­san Saliu, sub­mits that the ar­gu­ment on eco­nomic reasons for down­siz­ing Nige­ria’s mis­sions abroad are sound but not suf­fi­cient in for­eign re­la­tions.

He equally ar­gues that the move to re­duce the mis­sions would harm the coun­try’s stand­ing in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity more than the lit­tle money that would be saved from such de­ci­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to him, for­eign pol­icy pursuits are not nec­es­sar­ily de­ter­mined by naira or dol­lar, but by pres­tige.

He there­fore urged a com­pre­hen­sive review of the Nige­rian for­eign pol­icy which should pre­cede the de­ci­sion on the ap­pro­pri­ate num­ber of diplo­matic mis­sions for the coun­try.

“What in­ter­est is Nige­ria pur­su­ing that clos­ing the mis­sions will jeop­ar­dise? It is af­ter recog­nis­ing the coun­try’s in­ter­ests in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem that you can then pro­duc­tively and prof­itably move to the level of deter­min­ing how many mis­sions it should have.

“Nige­ria has been a re­gional leader and the cur­rent pres­i­dent, in his cam­paign, as­sured that he would re­store the coun­try’s glory in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem. My worry is, how do we rec­on­cile the idea of restor­ing Nige­ria’s glory with the clos­ing down some mis­sions?,” he asked.

Prof Saliu called for the review of Nige­ria’s for­eign pol­icy. “We can­not hold to be suc­cess­ful if we still carry on with the Balewa-in­spired for­eign pol­icy agenda. Let’s review and ar­rive at a con­clu­sion whether we want to limit our­selves to is­sues that con­cern only Nige­ria or be a re­gional and global ac­tor,” he added.

He said the ef­fect of clos­ing some mis­sions is that Nige­ria may not get the sup­port of the af­fected coun­tries when­ever the need arises.

“They will not go along with us when­ever we are cham­pi­oning any course at the in­ter­na­tional level. Nige­ria has been talk­ing about rec­i­proc­ity, that we have been help­ing coun­tries in Africa and they don’t re­cip­ro­cate. I don’t know if the idea of clos­ing those mis­sions would make them re­cip­ro­cate our ges­ture. The gov­ern­ment should pur­sue the pol­icy with cau­tion. We had re­duced in the past but we ended up re-open­ing them at a very high cost. This is an is­sue we should think of be­fore tak­ing any ac­tion,” he said.

Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs, Ge­of­frey Onyeama

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