Foreign Affairs ministry and Nigeria’s stinking image

Published Sunday Jan. 11, 09

Casmir Igbokwe

No doubt, Nigeria’s image abroad stinks. This is largely because one major commodity we have exported in large quantity is fraud. A Nigerian traveller knows that he is not a friend to immigration personnel anywhere in the world. They are always suspicious of us. Ordinarily, the first group of people that should have done something about this ugly scenario are officials of Nigerian embassies abroad. They are our first point of contact with the outside world. But what we see and hear about our embassies or the Foreign Affairs ministry indicates that a snake will always bear something long.

Last Sunday, media reports indicated that Nigeria House in New York was in disrepair. According to the report (see SUNDAY PUNCH January 4, 2009), the 21-storey building was already sinking and might be shut down by the New York City authorities. The only thing that has saved the building for now is said to be the diplomatic status of the House.

The report adds, “Currently, a new but temporary housing has been found on rental basis for the Nigerian ambassador on a rental of $200, 000 for two years due to the inhabitable conditions at the sprawling ambassador’s residence in Tarrytown.” The building reportedly has poorly maintained toilets, leaking roofs, dirty walls and so on. The condition is such that even the Nigerian diplomats reportedly informed the Foreign Affairs Ministry that the House could damage Nigeria’s image at the United Nations.

The question is: why will a nation vying to have a permanent seat on the Security Council of the UN leave its House in such a deplorable condition? The answer is simple. It would have been out of character if we had done otherwise. We are very good at building edifices because oil money is still flowing. But we lack the capacity to maintain such structures. Today, most of our airports, schools, hospitals, roads, and some other public institutions are in a terrible state of disrepair.

We are also very good at chasing shadows. Although we could not muster enough resources to maintain our building in New York, we had $500, 000 (N70m) to donate to the dictatorial regime in Myanmar. Cyclone Nargis devastated the country last May and Nigeria’s donation last December was said to be in response to the UN’s call for assistance to the Asian country.

This is how we delude ourselves as being a big brother to other African nations. For many years, we had Africa as the centrepiece of our foreign policy. We contributed to the fight against apartheid in South Africa. We supported the independence struggle of Zimbabwe. We did many other things to many other African countries believing that as the most populous country in Africa, we owe it a duty to protect our brothers.

Apart from Zimbabwe, which has a mad man called Robert Mugabe as President, can we say we are better than those countries we helped? We even have to learn the tenets of democracy from some of them like Ghana, which inaugurated its new President, John Atta-Mills last week. It was when Ojo Maduekwe came on board as Foreign Affairs Minister that we started hearing of citizens diplomacy. But beyond mere sloganeering, how have Nigerian citizens benefited from this policy?

One way, perhaps, is through the N4.5bn the ministry returned to the treasury as unspent fund from the 2008 budget. Spokesman of the ministry, Ayo Olukanmi, told newsmen last week that they returned the funds because they could not meet the due process procedures. “The ministry is one of the most responsible when it comes to fund management and remittances to the treasury. In the period under review, the headquarters generated over N44m while our missions abroad also generated a little above N1bn that were duly remitted to the treasury,” Olukanmi reportedly said.

Good. But it would have been better if part of such money were used to rehabilitate our House in New York and elsewhere. This year, the ministry presented N46.7bn budget. The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs wants Maduekwe to come and defend the budget. So far, the minister has not been able to do so.

Even, the House committee doubts the authenticity of the budget proposal. The Chairman, Bature Umar, was quoted to have said that the ministry’s claim to have renovated foreign embassy buildings was false. There are allegations that there are syndicates, cartels and cliques holding the ministry to ransom.

Could this be true? There is need for proper investigation of that ministry. Similar cartels, I presume, hold sway in many other ministries and parastatals. Early last year, the illegal sharing of the N300m unspent 2007 budget of the Ministry of Health led to the resignation of the erstwhile Minister, Prof. Adenike Grange and her junior counterpart, Gabriel Aduku. It was also reported that the Ministry of Works allocated about N40bn to already completed roads in the 2009 budget. When questioned, officials of the ministry reportedly claimed it was a mistake.

With this type of image, how can other nations take us seriously? What claim do we have to the permanent seat of the UN Security Council beyond the fact that we are the most populous country in Africa? We have become a big-for-nothing nation; a nation whose citizens troop out en masse to escape the harsh realities at home; a nation where civil servants are among the richest; a nation that cannot conduct a simple election; and a nation where many laudable projects have either been abandoned or failed outright.

This is the time our legislators should perform their oversight functions. I’m happy the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is scrutinising the budget of the Foreign Affairs ministry. I’m also happy that the House generally is critically examining the entire 2009 budget with a view to blocking loopholes where they exist.

The legislature in states and local governments should emulate the Reps. State governors and their commissioners should be able to justify their budget proposals. Local governments should not just be content with paying salaries and allowances. They should embark on some capital projects that have direct impact on the people. Let’s hope that this year will be better. Let’s hope that President Umaru Yar’Adua will engage the speed gear as he promised this year. And let’s pray and believe that the Nigerian House in New York and other decaying public institutions will experience a facelift.

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1 Comment »

  1. 1
    MONICA SHARMA Says:

    RESPECTED SIR, COMPLAIN FROM INDIA

    I AM MONICA SHARMA FROM INDIA. I AM 2ND WINNER OF

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    MR. EMEKA ONWUKA MANAGING DIRECTOR OF DIAMOND BANK

    PLC LAGOS NIGERIA. TEL:+2348060998559.

    MR. EMEKA ONWUKA FRAUD AND BLACK-MAILING WITH ME.

    MR. EMEKA ONWUKA SENT ME E-MAIL AND ASK ME IF YOU

    WANT YOUR LOTTERY PRIZE THEN SEND ME ALL REQUIRED

    FOREIGN TAX. WHERE I HAVE ALREADY PAID HIM 26, 83, 950.

    INDIAN RUPEES. THROUGH ICICI BANK (PUNJAB) INDIA.

    TO VERIOUS ICICI ACCOUNT’S AT MUMBAI. AS PER MR. EMEKA

    ONWUKA INSTRCUTION. BUT HE DID NOT PAY A SINGLE PENY

    TO ME. I HAVE EVERY PROOF’S ICICI BANK SLIP’S AND

    DOCUMENT’S ALSO. MR. EMEKA ONWUKA FRAUD WITH THE

    INDIAN GIRL.

    SIR PLEASE HELP ME. IT IS MY HUMBLE REQUEST TO SOLVE

    MY PROBLEM. I AM TRUST IN YOUR GOVERNMENT. SIR PLEASE

    HELP THE INDIAN GIRL.

    THANKING YOU

    MONICA SHARMA


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