Cost of Cooperation

Nigeria opts out of international groups

Nigeria's decision to opt out of 90 international organizations in one coup raises questions about the value of many such institutions.

Last Wednesday Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun announced that Nigeria would terminate its membership of 90 of the 310 international organizations in which it is currently involved.

Citing financial restrictions, the Minister made the statements while addressing State House correspondents on the outcome of Federal Executive Council (FEC).

This could be the highest amount of international organizations any nation has ever dropped out of in one go.

Officials have stated that an annual bill of USD70 million in membership costs, as well as over USD120 million in missing payments, forced a reassessment of the relevance of some of these organizations for Nigeria’s state interests.

Its continued inability to continue honoring these financial commitments would put Nigeria’s international reputation at risk.

The 90 organizations referred to by Adeosun were recommended by a special committee created for the purpose of evaluating the relevance of Nigeria’s current international commitments.

The committee now has two weeks to come up with a definitive list before Nigeria starts the necessary procedures to exit these organizations. It will also be looking into finding solutions to reconcile the country’s growing debt to these organizations.The decision to back out of its membership of these groups has raised concerns from both sides of the barricade. As supporters of the Buhari government applaud further efforts to streamline the government and cut unnecessary costs, detractors fear that leaving these organizations could jeopardize the image of Nigeria abroad.

Some claim that, depending on the selected organizations, this could represent a way of pushing away external human rights oversight, or even that it could encourage the idea that Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and largest oil producer (depending on the day, it exchanges positions with Angola), is broke.

It is difficult to assess who is right without an actual list of the organizations targeted by the decision. However, some analysts point to structural problems in the way Nigeria has come to be a part of some of these organizations, which could shed some light on the government’s seemingly harsh take on the subject.

Retired Nigerian ambassador Suleiman Dahiru, for instance, was reported commenting on the subject, referring to a consistent lack of connection between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other governmental structures in matters regarding membership of international organizations. “Sometimes, the foreign ministry is not even aware that Nigeria has joined a certain organization which will require her to pay annual dues,” he was reported saying to the Daily Trust, a Nigerian newspaper. The Nigerian foreign ministry has, according to reports, been underfunded for years.

Admittedly, organizations like the “Africa – South America Summit,” a tri-annual event bringing together leaders of African and South American nations to debate cooperation and business partnerships, has done little over the years to push forward Nigerian, or actually, anyone’s interests.

Since it first convened, in Abuja, in 2006, two more summits were organized, in Venezuela in 2009 and in Equatorial Guinea in 2013.

The fourth was scheduled to take place in Ecuador in 2016, but it seems to never have happened. Information on the subject is completely lacking, which in itself speaks for the organization’s relevance.

On the other hand, an argument could be made for focusing financial efforts on allowing Nigeria to take a stronger position in institutions that are most relevant to it, instead of spreading those resources in myriad unnecessary organizations.

Often it is noted, with considerable surprise, that currently Nigeria does not fill any of the eight commissioner, deputy chairperson, or chairperson positions in the African Union Commission.

In contrast, however, Nigeria has known how to flex its muscles in organizations that are closest to its core interests, like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), where Nigeria is applying all its might to prevent Morocco’s membership request from being approved. Nigerian officials fear that Morocco’s entry would dramatically affect its productive sectors as it would provide easier entry to European products.

Just last Friday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, called upon the ECOWAS states to condemn Cameroon’s reported forced deportation of over 4,400 Nigerians that had entered Cameroon to flee Boko Haram, in a demonstration of the use of political influence within the organization.

It seems that to a certain extent, Nigeria knows how to make use of its international partnerships.

All this occurs very soon after the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, which was attended by President Buhari. In his statement to the assembly, he highlighted Nigeria’s and ECOWAS’ relevance for regional security.

“Our organization ECOWAS came together to uphold democratic principles in The Gambia — as we had done previously in Cote D’Ivoire.”

In a resounding statement in support of international cooperation, President Buhari stated that:

“Through our individual national efforts, state institutions are being strengthened to promote accountability, and to combat corruption and asset recovery. These can only be achieved through the international community cooperating and providing critical assistance and material support. We shall also cooperate in addressing the growing transnational crimes such as forced labor, modern day slavery, human trafficking, and cybercrime. Mr. President, these cooperative efforts should be sustained.”

It is uncertain what the future of Nigeria’s foreign policy will look like, but it is certain that any decision of this magnitude taken now could have great repercussions in the future.