A senator has decried the attitude of the Nigerian government to addressing the problems of the country’s foreign missions.
Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna Central) expressed his displeasure on Tuesday at the budget defence by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before the Senate Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora.
He was particularly angry when Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, despite lamenting poor funding of Nigeria’s diplomatic operations, commended the federal government and the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, after presenting the ministry’s 2018 budget estimates.
The ministry has budget estimates of N62 billion (N62,092,198,465) including an overhead cost of N23 billion (N23,277,621,873).
Mr. Onyeama had lamented poor funding for the ministry as well as diplomats and foreign missions, saying the headquarters and missions “are still heavily indebted.”
After his presentation, the minister said: “I commend the Federal Government…Of course we are not sitting down with our arms folded. We are doing the best we can to improve this situation. We have raised some issues at the Federal Executive Council meeting.
“I have to really thank the Minister of Finance who has really been doing her best and trying to come up with ways to address some issues.”
But the minister’s remarks did not impress Mr. Sani, as he accused the government of not being serious about running foreign missions.
“Before my question, I’ll like to make a few remarks about the overview of what has been said. It is very clear to me and to Nigerians that we are not serious about running our foreign missions.
“I heard you itemize all these problems ranging from unfair funding to neglect to absence of insurance policies to virtual collapse of the state of our foreign missions.
“And then I heard you commending the president and the minister of finance. So we should blame the ghost? Or who, for goodness’ sake?
“When will this problem come to an end? Year in year out, it is very clear that the government is not serious about intervening to adjust the problems of our foreign missions,” he said.
He said the country had every means to do what is right but has chosen not to.
“We are not a country without the resources to intervene. We have virtually turned our staff and diplomats in our foreign missions into beggars, embarrassing our country, disgracing ourselves.
“A country like Cuba has over 160 embassies globally and they take of them. We must solve this problem once and for all,” he said.
Making reference to the government’s recent resolution to use one billion dollars to tackle insecurity, he said, “If the federal government can remove one billion dollars to address the issue if Boko Haram, we need to go to…even if it is the Excess Crude Account and do something.
“When you go to our embassies, there are toilets, you can’t flush. They will live in hotels. Their cars have no fuel, we cannot service the electricity bill, no water bill, no nothing.
“They are giving quit notice to our people. A country that portrays itself as an African giant! We are just not serious about these things.”
The senator stressed that since the beginning of the 8th assembly, all that had been done were nothing but talks.
“From 2015 that I got to this place, we talked and talked. 2016, we talked. Now again, we are talking. They are releasing money to you people as if you’re beggars. Everyday people call me on phone from different parts of the world and we are here on the same ritual again.
“The presidency of Nigeria is not serious about our foreign missions. People are afraid to say it. You’ll say there is problem, this one is bad, that one is bad and then you’ll end it with commendations. Who are you commending?
“This problem is man-made. We are deliberately refusing to release money even for simple things that don’t require money. To even put foreign ambassadors of Nigeria on a schedule to see the president takes four to six months, sitting down in Abuja doing nothing.
“Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda, Seychelles, Cape Verde can all take care of their embassies. What type of giants are we?” he said.
Mr. Sani directed the minister to make a documentation of all the problems that the ministry faces as well as possible solutions.
“Write out a recommendation for this so we can solve this problem once and for all. Let’s have a document which is free from this budgetary grammar; Nigeria’s Foreign Mission: Problems and Solutions, and include all the cost,” he added.