Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, last week announced the intention of the Federal Government to begin a process to pull Nigeria out of 90 international organisations. She addressed State House Correspondents in Abuja at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari at which the country’s huge debt to those organisations was discussed.
To effect the exit, a committee has been set up and given two weeks to review an earlier recommendation that the country should retain its membership in 220 organisations instead of the current 310. The country has a backlog of $120 million in membership dues and other financial commitments. The annual commitment of Nigeria by virtue of its membership in the organisations is $70 million.
We commend the Federal Government for demonstrating some prudence, and trying to rationalise the country’s membership in those organisations. We once more appreciate the Finance Minister’s abiding commitment to justify the country’s expenditures at a time like this. It is hardly worth the trouble to begin to question how we got admitted into all those organisations, knowing that not too long ago, we were in such easy circumstances that the question in Nigeria was not money but how to spend it. Most of those commitments were entered into by past governments whose officials are no more in a position to explain their decisions; and we are not the best record-keepers in the world. Yet, we all know that government is a continuum and those previous commitments must be honoured, and if they must be repudiated, reasons must be given, and the normal processes must be followed. It is one of the virtues of ‘poverty’ and having less to spend that we are now returning to first principles of prudence and thrift which we seem to have forgotten long ago.
The membership of international organisations is like belonging to any club. It comes with responsibilities, including monetary commitments at a time costs are rising. The commitments are often akin to treaty obligations in which the international convention of pacta sum servanda must apply. Thus when Nigeria is a signatory it must respect the rules; it must pay its bills because sanctions might apply.
At first sight, pulling out of 90 global organisations seems like pulling out from a lot of places. But membership of 220 organisations looks even more burdensome if not an over-reach. Is the country not over-extending itself and assuming more responsibility than is vital to its interests? We suggest a further review of these memberships with a view to further trimming them down to manageable numbers. This can be done through a process of prioritisation in line with our foreign policy objectives and priorities. We, therefore, suggest a much more thorough, diligent rationalisation. And when we are exiting as we must, we should also do so cautiously, tidily and follow the regular processes.
It must also form part of the work of the committee to set new guidelines on how the country can be dragged into membership of international organisations. Clear parameters must be set and the relevant ministerial heads of departments and agencies must approve before we sign the dotted lines for membership. Our regional responsibilities in West Africa are not in doubt. We do also have obligations on the continent. It is an over-extension to go beyond those frontiers unless our vital national interests can manifestly be seen to be involved.