For a country grappling with economic chaos, shabby infrastructure and mass poverty, President Bola Tinubu’s jumbo delegation to the Climate Change Conference in the United Arab Emirates is grossly insensitive. According to media reports, Nigeria, with 1,411 participants, has the largest contingent from Africa and the third largest in the world. Given that it services debt with 98 per cent of its revenue, the trip is a provocative waste of public resources and offensive to the millions of Nigerians grappling with poverty. Tinubu should act more responsibly.
Since his May 29 inauguration, Tinubu has demonstrated an unsettling love for overseas travels, having already visited 10 countries, all at public expense. His extravagant entourage to the 13-day Dubai conference has attracted more public anger.
This entrenches the prevailing culture of waste, insensitivity, and lack of focus in Nigeria’s government circles. It clearly demonstrates the prevailing ‘it is my turn’ motivation of the country’s current political class. Public service and self-sacrifice often count for little; enjoying the luxuries and perks of office matter more.
In its lame defence, a presidential spokesman, Temitope Ajayi, explained that the Presidency is only sponsoring “a few officials.” Another official later said 422. His argument that Nigeria should have the largest African delegation at COP28 because “it is Africa’s largest economy,” is hollow.
Tinubu, like his predecessors, does not fully grasp the enormity of Nigeria’s multiple crises. Here is a country where 1,197 medical doctors have relocated abroad since he took office. Some hospital units are reportedly shutting down across the country for lack of medical personnel.
Moreover, inherited conditions and his own economic policies will add at least 7.1 million more persons to the 133 million Nigerians living in multidimensional poverty as aggregated by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2022. On Monday morning, the naira exchanged officially for N953 to $1, and N1,169/$ at the parallel market.
Food items are currently priced out of the reach of majority of Nigerians due in part to insecurity. There were 555 violent killings by criminals in Tinubu’s first 45 days in office, stated SBM Intelligence. Eight National Youth Service Corps members and many others are languishing in kidnappers’ dens months after their abductions. Many states are under the siege of assorted criminals. While Nigeria’s problems require an attentive president, Tinubu, like his immediate predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, travels around the world. In Buhari’s eight years, Nigeria lost 22,431 citizens to violence.
Tinubu has no convincing defence for his jumbo-sized COP28 contingent. Current financial realities rather dictate that Nigeria should drastically cut down the cost of governance. Trips like this can be handled by the relevant public officials attending with a lean size.
The United States, one of the world’s three largest polluters behind China and India (jointly accounting for 52 per cent of the global total per World Carbon Atlas), is attending COP28 without President Joe Biden. The US delegation is led by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry; Vice-President Kamala Harris will attend for only two days. The US has a bigger stake, but a more sensitive and accountable leadership.
Tinubu should be different, a hands-on leader. Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly travelled overseas 103 times to 97 countries in his first presidential term. Excluding his medical tours, Buhari was in 40 countries during 84 trips. The excuses of looking for investment and mobilising against insecurity have fallen flat.
These trips are mostly wasteful. Tinubu should understand this and build the home front first, and make it attractive for investors. The National Assembly, which is complicit in these jamborees, should prune the provisions for overseas trips in the 2024 budget estimates before it.