The news that emerged at the end of a meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) last Wednesday was not that Nigeria planned to resign from 90 international organisations. The scandal was that we did not know how much we owed in subscriptions to 310 international organisations to which the country belongs. Worse still, we did not know the officials who had the authority to commit the country to membership of international organisations. These are troubling revelations that came straight out of the mouth of the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun.
How could a country be governed in such a haphazard, unsystematic and chaotic manner? How could officials assume powers they do not have to commit the country to financial obligations to international organisations? This says a lot about how our governments operated in the past. The shoddy practice has been sustained over decades across the terms of previous governments.
Addressing journalists last week, Adeosun exposed the extent of the disorder in government. First, she said it had just been discovered that previous governments had reneged on Nigeria’s financial obligations to some of the international organisations. This meant the country has now accumulated huge debts through inability to pay its subscriptions. For that reason, she announced the government would henceforth prioritise its financial obligations in order to save the country’s image.
Furthermore, the minister said a report of the committee examining Nigeria’s debts to international organisations revealed the country currently owed about $120 million, with a commitment of $70 million yearly subscription to the organisations. Against the background of rising debts, Adeosun said resigning from some of the international organisations would help Nigeria to meet its obligations and save the country the embarrassment in which it has found itself.
Adeosun said: “Basically, Nigeria is a member of 310 international organisations and a committee was set up to review the rationale of our continued membership of such a large number of organisations, particularly in the light of the fact that in many cases, we are not actually paying our financial obligations and subscriptions, which is causing some embarrassment to Nigeria and our image abroad, in particular… It was discussed that there are some commitments made to international organisations by former presidents, which were not cash-backed. So, when our delegations turn up at those organisations, we become very embarrassed.”
It is odd that former presidents would commit the country to membership of international organisations without working out the financial implications to the country of joining those organisations. This suggests that presidents made ill-informed policies on the run. The policies ought to have been subjected to scrutiny or preceded by serious discussions at various government ministries and departments. Presidents don’t just go about announcing policies that commit Nigeria to membership of international organisations without finding out from the Finance Ministry whether the country had the capacity to pay its dues.
The most overwhelming aspect of the briefing was when the finance minister revealed that no one in government knew the exact amount that Nigeria owed to international organisations. The minister said: “Particularly, there was a dispute as to the figure of how much is owed. The committee had a figure of about $120 million but we are clear from Ministry of Finance and other ministries that it is far more than that. Our subscriptions are in arrears in a number of major organisations.”
It was not only the former presidents, who committed Nigeria to membership of international organisations. Other categories of senior officials also committed the country to membership of international organisations. Shockingly, no one knew who they were. The finance minister said: “Also, circulars needed to be issued on who can commit Nigeria because it was discovered it would be a director or an ambassador who attended the meeting who committed subscription on behalf of Nigeria. The international organisations begin to chase us for their money.” What a shame! We do not even know who has the right, power, or authority to commit Nigeria to membership of international organisations with the consequent financial obligations.
We live in a country in which government officials who have absolutely no authority or expertise on international organisations take decisions that have financial ramifications for the country. The decisions were taken without due and respectful consultations with officials who were in the best position to advise on the benefits and disadvantages of belonging to various types of international organisations.
Sometimes you feel like crying or laughing mockingly over the slapdash way government officials took decisions freely without proper supervision. If there was appropriate oversight, the blunders would have been avoided. Clearing the stupendous debts and quitting from 90 international organisations won’t be easy. Nigeria signed up to join those organisations.
By taking instant decisions without contemplating the implications of their actions, without considering the framework for implementing their decisions, and without considering the country’s capacity to service its financial obligations to international organisations, government officials exceeded the limits of their powers.
Now that the scandal has blown open in our faces, the government is struggling to find a way to exit the organisations in an honourable way. This is the price Nigeria has to pay because it allowed some officials to roam freely and take ill-informed and uneducated decisions that committed the country to financial obligations to international organisations.
The government says it wants to save money by leaving 90 organisations. Before that would happen, we need to find money to clear our debts. This is not going to be easy. Economically, the times are bad. The country is sitting on the debit side of the ledger. It is a tight spot for the government to be in. The longer the country remains in the 310 organisations, the more debts it will accumulate.
Whatever happens now, there will be consequences, whether the government clears its debt and quits the international organisations or whether the country behaves like a renegade and leaves with huge debts hanging on its neck. Nigeria’s membership of 310 organisations is an albatross. Whether the strategies mapped out by the minister to solve the problem instantaneously remain uncertain.
Effective repositioning of Nigeria’s membership of international organisations cannot be achieved without a thorough overhaul of the system that allows just about any official of government to commit the country to financial obligations to international organisations. It is this lack of supervision and the lack of discipline among senior officials and the Presidency that have contributed most inexcusably and appallingly to the country’s ghastly image in the international community. Surely, a government that rode into office on the platform of promises for change should be able to rectify this abnormality swiftly.