Eager to make an impression among its peers, Nigeria is needlessly increasing its membership of bilateral and multilateral organisations at a dubious pace. Although it promised to withdraw from various global agencies two years ago because of the financial implications, the Federal Government has refused to follow that logical path. Instead, it has inked more than 10 new membership deals in that span, upping its commitment to more than 320 agencies. In the light of its weak economy, which manifests in Nigeria’s epileptic financial remittances to these bodies, the Muhammadu Buhari administration should get pragmatic.
By 2017, Nigeria had subscribed to 310 international agencies, the then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, stated. This was unmanageable, especially when almost all of them had financial obligations attached to them. Accordingly, Nigeria’s image took a bashing.
In financial terms, it was disastrous. Adeosun had stated that Nigeria owed the organisations $120 million in dues. Government had no clue how to offset the self-inflicted debt, with the economy performing woefully then. This prompted the constitution of a committee to propose the way forward. Ultimately, the panel counselled that government should withdraw from 90 of those agencies.
It is clear government rejected that wise counsel. The Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation states that the country’s membership of these organisations has increased to 324 (from 310 in 2017). It is not that the economy has improved significantly, and the huge debt overhang still looms. It is unfortunate that, under Buhari, the government is getting bigger.
By number, the Ministry of Transportation belongs to 35 organisations. It is followed by the Ministry of Finance, which is a member of 33 agencies and the Ministry of Science and Technology, with 31. The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is in 20 of such bodies; Ministry of Education in 24; Ministry of Budget and National Planning in seven; Ministry of Justice in 14; Ministry of Environment in 18; Ministry of Labour and Employment in six; and Ministry of Sports and Youth Development in nine.
Additionally, Nigeria’s diplomatic missions are entangled in this same web. Citing paucity of funds, the country shut down its embassies in Sri Lanka, the Czech Republic and Serbia, and downsized the one in Ukraine, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, stated on Tuesday. Onyeama admitted that at the current level of funding, Nigeria could maintain only 100 foreign missions. “Every embassy has written to us about their huge financial demands and when we go to these embassies, we see clearly very unattractive state that does not reflect well on the country,” the minister agonised. Plainly, Nigeria is biting more than it can chew. So there is no rationale in adding to the cost centres, since the government is finding it difficult to sustain the current organisations it belongs to.
Undoubtedly, the country is contending with the same chaos on the domestic front. Bizarrely, successive governments have found it hard to reduce the number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, with reports stating that the figure has spiked to about 600. Under the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2011, a committee headed by a former Head of Service of the Federation, Steven Oronsaye, recommended that the Federal Government, out of the 541 establishments it had then, should scrap 102 statutory MDAs, abolish 38, merge 52, and revert 14 to departments in the ministries. They were mere duplications, adding to the high cost of governance, it discovered. Insightful recommendations, but they were not implemented; just as the Allison Ayida (1995) and Ahmed Joda (1999) reports on the harmonisation of the MDAs were abandoned.
This is an unscientific method of running a government. In the face of modern realities, less is better, more prudent and more practical. Since his assumption of office in 2017, President Donald Trump has pulled a rich country like the United States out of several international organisations, his motive notwithstanding. Early in his administration, he took the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-member country agency that took seven years to negotiate. As of June 2018, Trump’s policy direction had seen America dumping its membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation; the UN Human Rights Council; the North American Free Trade Agreement, which linked trade in the US with Canada and Mexico; the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Agreement. The White House stated that it saved $200 million by withdrawing from the UN Relief and Works Agency.
For Nigeria to stop exhibiting itself as an erratic partner in the international arena, the Buhari government has to have a rethink. In this case, getting into more organisations that add to the already high cost of governance is inadvisable. The government should dust off the report and implement recommendations of the committee set up under Adeosun. It should also cut the cost of governance by streamlining the MDAs, using the Oronsaye panel report.