The Federal Government has approved the closure of nine foreign missions and their conversion to non-residency representation or concurrent accreditation, Daily Trust findings have shown.

The closure, our reporters gathered, is part of measures to reduce the cost of running Nigeria’s foreign representations in line with the economic situation.

The affected missions are those whose absence portend no serious bilateral or diplomatic effect sources said. They include the Permanent Mission to the D-8 in Istanbul, Turkey; the Africa-South America Cooperation Forum (ASACOF) in Caracas, Venezuela; embassies in Belgrade, Serbia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Kiev, Ukraine; Prague, Czech Republic; the High Commission in Singapore as well as Consulates in Buea, Cameroon and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Also approved for rationalisation is the number of officers at foreign missions, estacode for local travels and award of honorary consuls.

The government also ordered that posting staff of home ministries to foreign missions should be discontinued, while Foreign Service officers should be trained to carry out multiple tasks including administration, immigration, trade, culture and education related functions.

Daily Trust learnt that the rationalisation exercise will affect all 119 Nigeria’s foreign missions.

Apart from 35 missions, the government directed that all other missions should be run by an ambassador and not more than three home-based staff. The level of local staffing, it said, must be controlled.

A letter from the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, addressed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama dated June 8, 2016, said the practice of violating staffing ceilings for each mission must be stopped and corrective measures be put in place. Consequently, it said, there should be a review of the staff strength necessary for each mission.

“Rules and regulations as well as entitlements (estacode) for local travels at post should be reviewed downwards and strict compliance enforced. Similarly, cost and usage of communication and utility services should be reviewed and drastically reduced, and the current entitlement of house maids for senior officers other than the heads of mission and deputy chiefs of mission, where applicable should be discontinued,” it added.

The federal government also discovered that the award of honorary consuls was open to abuse by unscrupulous businessmen. The practice, it said, should be reviewed in accordance with international best practices.

“Some of these measures may have the effect of bloating the number of Foreign Service Officers at headquarters. To address this consequence, officers may be deployed to other ministries, departments and agencies to help coordinate their interface with diplomatic missions/international organisations.

“State governments should also be encouraged to receive at least two Foreign Service officers on secondment to assist in providing guidance to their increasing interface with diplomatic missions/international organisations,” the government said.

It said the arrangement would engender greater coordination and coherence within the official positions diplomats receive when they visit ministers or governors who often make statements with foreign policy implications without appropriate briefs from the Foreign Affairs ministry.

“Through these Foreign Service liaison officers, not only the MFA HQ, but our diplomatic missions abroad, will also be sufficiently briefed on the activities and conversations of diplomats from their host countries serving in Nigeria.

“While this is only one solution, the MFA should also carefully examined the consequences of overstaffing at headquarters as a result of the planned rationalisation and make other recommendations to address the problem. This may include offering redundant officers redeployment to home ministries or early retirement from service without loss of benefit,” the government said.

Redundancy at post
An official at the Nigerian Consulate Office in Georgia, Atlanta, USA, said some key staff in the various missions had been directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to either do a needs assessment or return home and evaluate various staff strength in the missions ahead of the shake-up.

The official said the need for some staff at post was questionable, adding that there are administrative officers that have been on posting even when some of their services are not needed there.

He said some missions are not needed because there is hardly any serious bilateral trade or diplomatic impact of some of those countries, some in Africa and others in Asia, which the official noted may not have been reciprocating Nigeria’s diplomatic gestures.

It is bad signal- Kaave
A retired diplomat, Ambassador Chive Kaave, said shutting the missions sends a signal to the world that the Nigerian economy is in bad shape.

“There are some missions that exist only on payment of salaries to staff at post. They don’t promote any economic, educational, cultural or even consular relations with Nigeria. Even the staff there do not receive enough funding to meet obligations.

“If we claim to be the biggest economy in Africa and cannot adequately maintain missions abroad, it is absolutely not good enough for the country. However, the federal government should do what is in the best interest of the country,” he said.

Economic insufficient in foreign relations
A professor of Political Science at the University of Ilorin, Hassan Saliu, submits that the argument on economic reasons for downsizing Nigeria’s missions abroad are sound but not sufficient in foreign relations.

He equally argues that the move to reduce the missions would harm the country’s standing in the international community more than the little money that would be saved from such decision.

According to him, foreign policy pursuits are not necessarily determined by naira or dollar, but by prestige.

He therefore urged a comprehensive review of the Nigerian foreign policy which should precede the decision on the appropriate number of diplomatic missions for the country.

“What interest is Nigeria pursuing that closing the missions will jeopardise? It is after recognising the country’s interests in the international system that you can then productively and profitably move to the level of determining how many missions it should have.

“Nigeria has been a regional leader and the current president, in his campaign, assured that he would restore the country’s glory in the international system. My worry is, how do we reconcile the idea of restoring Nigeria’s glory with the closing down some missions?,” he asked.

Prof Saliu called for the review of Nigeria’s foreign policy. “We cannot hold to be successful if we still carry on with the Balewa-inspired foreign policy agenda. Let’s review and arrive at a conclusion whether we want to limit ourselves to issues that concern only Nigeria or be a regional and global actor,” he added.

He said the effect of closing some missions is that Nigeria may not get the support of the affected countries whenever the need arises.

“They will not go along with us whenever we are championing any course at the international level.

Nigeria has been talking about reciprocity, that we have been helping countries in Africa and they don’t reciprocate. I don’t know if the idea of closing those missions would make them reciprocate our gesture.

The government should pursue the policy with caution. We had reduced in the past but we ended up re-opening them at a very high cost. This is an issue we should think of before taking any action,” he said.

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