There was righteous anger in Nigeria when the news broke that a mammoth crowd of 1,141 officials, enough to fill three plane-loads, were on their way to Dubai to represent the country at the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (COP28).
The thought of the cost of having that number of officials on that delegation was enough to make suffering Nigerians wonder, not just about the insensitivity of government, but also the sheer wasteful inclination of the ruling elite. Their rapacious proclivity to take advantage of any opportunity to further milk the nation dry leaves most of the citizens in awful dread.
That feeling of outrage was not helped, in any way, by the comment of the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, who claimed that the government sponsored “only” 422 officials. If he meant to assuage the disappointment of Nigerians with the seeming spendthrift propensities of this government, he surely did a terribly poor job of it. It would have been better he kept quiet.
Nigerians are still reeling over the billions spent by the National Assembly on bullet-proof cars, the N1.5 billion spent on cars for the office of the First Lady, the N5 billion on presidential yacht all from loans borrowed from foreign donor agencies with repayment terms that are asphyxiating the economy of the nation. Now the same people of Nigeria, who are barely existing, are being asked to yet bear with this needless jamboree.
We recall that in the United States of America under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, issues of national importance came up that required an interface between the White House and the House of Representatives. Tip O’Neill was the Speaker at that time. On the scheduled day, Reagan summoned the entire White House bureaucracy while the Speaker showed up with just his personal assistant. At the end of it, Reagan knew he met with the House of Representatives.
In making this reference, we are persuaded to argue that delegations to conferences of the nature that is going on in Dubai, or anywhere else, are not effective because of their number. It is not a competition. They are considered impressive by the quality of their representation. On that government team, 1,141 or 422, we can bet on our integrity that some of them will not leave their hotel rooms throughout the session except to go on shopping at the various malls in that enchanting Middle east country.
So as not to be misunderstood, any forum put in place to discuss issues relating to climate change is important enough to warrant the Nigerian government’s effective participation. By all means, it does not require that the whole country should be there to make the point. Or that the country needs to trivialize the event by bursting the treasury to finance such otherwise important international engagement.
Nigerians are clamouring for a lean government in order to reduce the cost of governance. It appears that this administration is either not paying attention to that demand from the people or it is indulging in benign neglect of the citizens who brought it into office. Whichever is the case, we are compelled to assert that a change of attitude is necessary at this time. Nigerians are going through excruciating pain just to eke out a living. The least they expect from their leaders is for them to demonstrate empathy. That feeling is lacking if the behaviour of the ruling political class is anything to go by.
The authorities cannot begin to give the impression that they are not aware that many youths are out of job; that the cost of living is unacceptably high with food security under severe threat; that inflation is at a level that is exceedingly harmful to the nation and; that security of life and property in the country is not guaranteed. These are issues that, under normal circumstances, ought to engage the attention of all the arms of government.
Also, we are of the opinion that the challenges in the country, security, socio-economic and political are so urgent and warrant that the leaders stay home and seek solutions to them. We are aware that the President needs to interact with his counterparts from other countries and that will entail appropriate travel schedules with adequate attention paid to cost. We are also aware that, as President, his first job is to govern the country in a manner that will justify the confidence reposed in him by the electorate.
If, indeed, he had to be at COP 28, he did not need that large contingent of hangers-on. We are using this platform to appeal to the administration, the President, in particular, to stay home and take charge of affairs. Similarly, we urge the administration to be more cost-conscious in these hard times. That large delegation to Dubai was decidedly ill-advised.
For the sake of it, we consider it pertinent to ask, what did Nigeria come back with from COP 27 to excite anyone to be part of COP 28?