The Muhamamdu Buhari-led federal government last year approved the closure of nine foreign missions and their conversion to non-residency representation or concurrent accreditation. This closure is part of measures to reduce the cost of running Nigeria’s foreign representations in line with the economic situation. The affected missions are 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.
There has been threats recently by some host countries to revoke building permits of some property belonging to Nigerian missions. The threat of revocation of the permits was said to have been informed by the buildings’ poor structural conditions, which constituted hazard to the communities they were located. It is also worth noting that Nigerian diplomatic missions are facing several challenges, including their inability to pay home-based officers allowances, local staff salaries, rent for residences, chanceries and other staff official quarters, in addition to the dire lack of funds for other sundry expenses such as visits to Nigerians in jail and provision for other consular services.
Also, the government approved for rationalisation the number of officers at foreign missions, estacode for local travels and award of honorary consuls. It was learnt that the rationalisation exercise will affect all 119 Nigeria’s foreign missions. Apart from 35 missions, all other missions have been directed to be run by an ambassador and not more than three home-based staff. 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. A letter dated June 8, 2017 from the chief of staff to the president, Abba Kyari, 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,” the letter read
Reacting to the closure, a retired diplomat, Ambassador Chive Kaave, said shutting the missions sends a signal to the world that the Nigerian economy is in bad shape. “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. Also speaking, an official at the Nigerian Consulate Office in Georgia, Atlanta, USA, 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. He 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. On his part, a professor of Political Science at the University of Ilorin, Hassan Saliu, said 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, the effect of closing some missions is that Nigeria may not get the support of the affected countries whenever the need arises. “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. He called for a comprehensive review of the Nigerian foreign policy, saying, “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.”