Last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffery Onyeama, said the federal government was to review the operations of some of the nation’s embassies and high commissions abroad.
He pinned the review on the dwindling resources of the country and the harsh socio-economic realities occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The minister said although government had earlier considered closure of some of its embassies, the embassies are now to be rationalised rather than closed.
Last year, Onyeama had announced closure of its Czech Republic, Serbian and Sri Lankan embassies.
For the embassy in Ukraine, it was to be downsized.
Currently,Nigeria maintains 97 embassies and high commissions abroad as well as 12 consulates and two other representations.
Onyeama noted that government opted to rationalise as it discovered that the process of closing foreign missions is actually more expensive than to actually keep them going.
So, with the cost of closing being very high, it was forced to revisit it.
The minister said, “When you put into a balance our interest in having presence in countries around the world to promote our economy, security and other vital national interests and our budgetary realities and limitations, we are looking at just rationalising those embassies rather than outright closure – having a lot of smart missions.
“We feel that would be more cost effective than outright closure.”
Operations of diplomatic missions do not come cheap and the Nigerian government is known for complaining of shortage of funds.
A report noted that in the 2019 budget, the allocation for overseas missions is about 64 percent lower than that of 2018.
This has resulted in reports of ambasadors and diplomats not being able to pay their children’s school fees and utilities, among other things. This situation is common.
Much as there is need to prune down the number of foreign missions, the rationalisation must be seen for what it is.
This is Nigeria’s season of diplomatic recession.
Unfortunately, this may be the focus of the future because of current realities.
But it has its own implications which are making the country to be less visible in most parts of the world.
Yet, it is important that the nation refocus its own diplomatic efforts towards advancing its own interests.
There is no need maintaining diplomatic presence in countries with no major functional trade or other bilateral cooperation.
So, let the minister streamline the number of embassies and high commissions in line with the nation’s diplomatic gains and focus.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should use this opportunity to clear the issue of dysfunctions between the various branches of government agencies working in the foreign missions as attaches.
The issue of funding which has been the perennial complaints among the nation’s ambassadors has to be resolved as it is better to have a few funded and functioning foreign missions than to have such a large number as we do now that is not meeting its own and the expectation of Nigerians.
A situation where many of the foreign missions find it difficult to pay for their rented properties, school fees and utility bills due to non-remittance of Foreign Service Allowances exposes Nigeria and the diplomats to ridicule, risks, compromise and embarrassments, which negatively impact on the image of our country.