The recent controversy over Nigeria’s 1,411 delegates at the ongoing COP28 climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, UAE, has raised serious concern about the current administration’s commitment to cutting the cost of governance amid rising inflation and economic hardship.
This is coming at a time the government has consistently appealed to the citizens to make sacrifices and endure the pains of the hardship in the country.
But the citizens say the government is not walking the talk.
DAILY POST reported that President Bola Tinubu arrived in Dubai with 1,411 delegates, according to the UN Climate Change list, making him the leader in Africa with the highest entourage and the third largest representation among global countries attending the conference.
Many Nigerians have criticised the high number of Nigerian delegates, the third highest at COP28, amid the economic suffering of millions of citizens due to government policies.
The development came amidst the administration’s recent claim that it inherited an ‘empty treasury’ and ‘bankruptcy’.
The claim followed public outcry over rising inflation, which has continued to bite harder, pushing more citizens into poverty, as cost of living and purchasing power shrink under the current dispensation.
This is also coming on heels of the report by the World Bank disclosing that Nigeria spent over 96 per cent of its revenue in 2022 on debt servicing as its total debt stocks rose to N87.38 trillion in the second quarter of 2023.
Before now, many Nigerians had called on Tinubu to follow up on his announcement that petrol subsidy is gone with measures to cut the outrageous cost of running the government.
However, despite the hardships faced by Nigerians, the government has not taken visible steps to reduce the cost of governance.
Instead, it recently allocated a staggering N5 billion for acquiring a presidential yacht, over N19 billion on state house vehicles, and renovating the President and Vice President’s lodges amidst untold hardship.
Reacting to the criticisms that greeted Nigeria’s high number of delegates to the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, the Presidency clarified that only a handful of the 1,411 Nigerian delegates were sponsored by the Federal Government.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and publicity, Temitope Ajayi, disclosed this in an article shared with newsmen on Sunday morning.
According to him, a bulk of the contingents comprised private sector players such as business people, Civil Society Organisations and delegates from Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region.
“It is important to state here that delegates from all countries, whether from government, private sector, media and civil society groups, attend COP summits and conferences as parties, and the number of attendees are registered against their countries of origin. This does not mean they are sponsored or funded by the government.
“This does not mean that they are sponsored or funded by the government. It must also be said that the fact that people registered to attend a conference does not mean everyone who registered is physically present.
“As the biggest country in Africa, the biggest economy and one with a bigger stake in climate action as a country with a huge extractive economy, it is a no-brainer that delegates from Nigeria will be more than any other country in Africa,” part of the statement read.
However, on Monday, the federal government further clarified that it funded 422 delegates to the ongoing climate summit.
The clarification was contained in a statement issued by Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris on Monday, arguing that President Bola Tinubu and other officials were in Dubai for ‘serious business’ and not for jamboree.
Idris pointed out that “The overall Nigerian delegation to COP-28 consisted of Government-sponsored (Federal and State Governments) and non-government-sponsored participants (from Private Companies, Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations, media, academia, etc).”
According to the breakdown: “32 delegates were from the National Council on Climate Change; 34 from the Federal Ministry of Environment; 167 delegates from All Ministries; 67 from the presidency; nine from the office of the Vice President; 40 from the National Assembly; and 73 from the Federal parastatals/agencies.”
Meanwhile, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Mr Peter Obi, via his X handle on Sunday tackled the administration over the development.
Obi lamented that the huge contingent was out at public expense when most Nigerians could hardly afford food and basic needs due to economic hardship.
According to him, most of those in the Nigerian delegation to COP28 were either non-relevant civil servants or relations, friends and hangers-on of high government officials, claiming they hardly understand or have anything to do with climate change.
The former Anambra State governor questioned why Nigeria matched China in the total number of contingents when it has more people living in ‘Multi-Dimensional’ poverty than China.
“This huge contingent is out at public expense at a time when most Nigerians can hardly afford food and basic needs as a result of economic hardship.
“I pray earnestly that a day will come soon enough when we can focus on competing with China on productivity and the miracle of migrating the highest number of its citizens out of poverty over a relatively short time.
“As we have kept emphasising, we must stop waste as a tradition of our government and nation. We urgently need to cut the cost of governance and invest in production.
“We need to de-emphasise unnecessary ceremony and showmanship as a mode of government behaviour. We need to tie spending to necessity and national Priority. A New Nigeria is possible. We only need to do the reasonable and the necessary,” Obi said.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, also reacted by knocking President Bola Tinubu over what it termed an “over-bloated delegation of about 1,411 individuals to the Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates”.
PDP, in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, held that the development further validated insinuation that “the Tinubu-led APC administration is wasteful, frivolous and reckless in the application of the scarce resources of the nation, especially at a time Nigerians are yearning for prudent management of resources to achieve the desired infrastructural regeneration, job creation and revamping of the economy”.
The main opposition party questioned why a country “whose citizens are dying daily from the inability to purchase necessities would be willing to fritter its resources and scarce foreign exchange in such a manner”.
According to PDP, Tinubu conveying many individuals to the event only “points to the fact that this administration is not interested in the good of the generality of our citizens but for a select few positioned to fleece the nation’s resources”.
The party challenged the Presidency to “come clean by making public the names of the official delegation sponsored by the Federal Government to the Conference”.
Speaking on the matter during the Arise Television Morning Show programme on Tuesday, a news analyst, Dr Reuben Abati faulted the statement issued by the Minister of Information.
Abati said he considered the minister’s statement ‘absolutely unnecessary, surplus to requirement’ because it contradicted the earlier statement issued by the presidential spokesperson.
‘‘This is a second reaction from the federal government. This first was by Mr Tope Ajayi, the special adviser. Then the second one by Mohammed Idris, the minister of Information.
‘‘I consider the response by the minister of information absolutely unnecessary, surplus to requirement because what is indicated is that the spokesperson in the villa is saying one thing and the minister is saying another thing.
“And there are contradictions in the statement by the minister. He said over 70,000 people are attending the COP28 when the organisers are saying over 97,000 people. Is it so difficult for the minister of information to get the right information?
‘‘And then, he does a breakdown – a breakdown that he has provided is different from the breakdown that the spokesperson at the Villa provided. And that is why I say, look, when you have a communication strategy and you have different spokespersons, what you just need to do is simple: as dictated by common sense, coordinate.
‘‘So, I have a problem with lack of coordination and giving the wrong impression.
‘‘What people are complaining about is the size of the delegation. And the minister comes and says, ‘it is not 590, it is just 422’. Okay, what is the difference between 422 and 590?
‘‘If people say it is 590 and you are adjusting and spinning it is 422, even 422 is quite large because what we have seen is that some of the people, as we reported yesterday, have not been seen in any significant event. Many of them did not even show up at the Nigerian pavilion,’’ Abati said.
Also, reacting to the development, the President of the Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), Olu Omotayo, told DAILY POST that it was not proper for the government to sponsor such a large number of people to Dubai when not many could afford three square meals in the country.
Omotayo opined that if there is going to be sacrifice, it should be from the government including the executive, legislature and judiciary.
He said, ‘‘If the government says it is 422 persons, it is still on the high side. Why is the government sponsoring 422 persons to go to Dubai when an average Nigerian cannot afford three square meals?
‘‘The per capita income is going down everyday. We are now running an elitist government. It is not proper this time in the country. It is not only the masses… you continue saying ‘the masses should sacrifice’, ‘the masses should sacrifice’. It should be from the top, if there is going to be sacrifice, it should be from the top – from the executive, legislature, judiciary.
‘‘So, it is not that the people from the ruling party should continue to feast on the economy and they are advising the masses to continue to sacrifice. That means we have not actually got it right.
‘‘We hope that this government will look at it, try to curtail wasteful spending and take care of the public and guarantee our safety in this country.’’
Also speaking to DAILY POST, a Public Affairs Analyst and Communication Scholar at Peaceland University, Enugu, Nduka Odo said that there was no moral justification for having such a number of delegates to the COP28.
According to him, the nation has a situation far more critical than climate change, lamenting about widespread poverty and hunger caused by mismanagement of national wealth.
Odo further advised the government to cut out frivolous expenses.
He said, ‘‘Yes. Truly, climate change is a critical global issue. We can’t pretend not to feel the impact when the Sahara Desert is rushing towards the Atlantic.
‘‘The question I have for the Nigerian government is, what is the stake of Nigeria in climate change that we had to fly more than 1000 people to Dubai when citizens find it hard to feed?
‘‘How many industries do we have running in the country?
“How do we contribute to carbon emissions when we have failed to harness our coals?
‘‘There is no moral justification for having that number of delegates to the COP28. This happens in a country where the government keeps urging the citizens to endure the economic hardship unleashed on them.
‘‘The most painful part is that there are names of individuals who obviously have never had anything to do with climate advocacy. That’s pure wastage in the face of languishing citizens. If the government encourages citizens to endure or have faith, they should also wear a human face.
‘‘My advice is that the government should start from now to cut down and cut out frivolous expenses. What will remain for development projects if we keep flying thousands and hundreds around to the world for one event or the other? Nothing.
‘‘Every action so far is calling on the leadership to retrace steps. Climate is an important course, we must pay attention to it.
“But as a nation, we have a situation far more critical than climate change. That situation is widespread poverty and hunger which originate from mismanagement of national wealth.”