Beyond the jamboree abroad – Thisday

Many foreign trips by our leaders rarely pay their way. Instead, they drain the economy
Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Aminu Wali, said recently that majority of the officials who travel annually for the United Nations General Assembly have no business being there. As the immediate past Nigerian Permanent Representatives to the UN, Wali’s statement is a confirmation of the general belief that official foreign trips have become another byword for waste and corruption in our country.

“The size of Nigeria’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly last year was 567; that is something that is certainly way out; certainly it is unacceptable. On that basis I asked that they send me the list of three countries: Germany, South Africa and Egypt, to compare with what we in Nigeria have. None of them is up to one third of our own delegation,” Wali said.

According to the minister there is an urgent need to address the situation: “It is not a question of having a jamboree, but indeed, it is more like a jamboree. I happen to have observed for four years the delegation of Nigeria to the UN General Assembly. So, I know and if we are going to be honest to ourselves, I know that 80 per cent of the delegates that go from Nigeria do not add value to our team to the UN.”

While Wali spoke candidly, it came as no surprise that his ministry would make “clarifications” a few days later, apparently because the candour might have embarrassed some senior political figures. Yet, it is a notorious fact that Nigeria usually sends the biggest delegations to every international event, including those that are actually not important. Incidentally, former President Olusegun Obasanjo set the tone for this, with his cumulative record of spending more than one year outside the shores of the country during his eight years in office. While he was at it, he always assured Nigerians that his trips were undertaken in the quest for foreign investment. More than seven years after his exit from office, Nigerians can hardly see any positive evidence to justify his numerous travels for foreign investments.

Unfortunately, the tradition has continued with President Goodluck Jonathan who has joined the game of expensive travels that yield almost next to nothing in terms of investment. Beyond the executive, members of the National Assembly also spend billions of naira annually on foreign trips at the federal level. The nation’s 36 governors have also continued to set records in infamy. The situation is such that at any given period in the last 15 years, it was always difficult to have up to 20 governors within the country.
The indices of poverty everywhere make it difficult for us to understand the recklessness that drives this junketing across the globe. Indeed, some of the trips are out-rightly bizarre in conception and clearly irresponsible in terms of the funds expended on them. And the excuse that they are to seek foreign investment sounds hollow in the face of reality.
Given the state of insecurity in our nation today, it is self-deception for our public officials to imagine they can convince foreigners to come and invest in our economy. Clearly, these trips are not driven by investment needs but rather as a conduit for all manner of economic mischief. Many unscrupulous foreign entities, sometimes acting in concert with some Nigerians in the diaspora, have made an industry out of this by feeding the vanity of our public officials many of whom are conferred with dubious awards in the course of these trips.

It is therefore time Nigerian leaders stopped these meaningless and wasteful trips. These trips add nothing to the quality of lives of the citizens, have become a source of financial drain and international embarrassment and are proof that the real issues of governance are still lost on our leaders.

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