By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA —THE Fed-eral Government, yesterday, announced the withdrawal of the country from 90 of the 310 international organisations whose membership it holds.
Government also identified countries in which the nation’s looted funds were stashed, saying it was making efforts to ensure that the monies were returned.
It also alleged that the United States was eavesdropping on some telephone conversations of members of the previous government and private sector people about investments made in the United States.
Briefing State House Correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting, presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said exiting some of the international bodies would help the country meet its obligations and save it from the embarrassment it was currently subjected.
Adeosun said it was discovered that previous administrations had not been meeting the country’s obligations to some of the international bodies, adding that FEC decided that Nigeria should prioritise its obligations to save face.
She said already, the report of the committee reviewing the country’s indebtedness to the international bodies showed that it was owing about $120 million, with an obligation of $70 million to be paid annually to the organisations.
Asked to mention the names of the international bodies Nigeria was pulling out of, Adeosun said that would be known in two weeks, after the committee set up on the matter would have completed its assignment.
She said a memo to that effect was extensively discussed during the FEC meeting, based on recommendations of an inter-ministerial working committee on the status of Nigeria’s membership of international organisations and associated financial obligations.
The minister said: “Basically, Nigeria is a member of 310 international organisations and a committee was set up to review the rationale of our continued membership of such a large number of organisations, particularly in the light of the fact that in many cases, we are not actually paying our financial obligations and subscriptions which is causing some embarrassment to Nigeria and our image abroad, in particular.
“It was discussed that there are some commitments made to international organisations by former Presidents which were not cash-backed. So, when our delegations turn up at those organisations, we become very embarrassed. So, that was what drove the committee.
“The committee made some recommendations that of the 310 organisations, 220 should be retained, while we withdraw our membership from the rest. But council directed that more work needed to be done.
‘’Particularly, there was a dispute as to the figure of how much is owed. The committee had a figure of about $120 million but we are clear from Ministry of Finance and other ministries that it is far more than that. Our subscriptions are in arrears in a number of major organisations.
“So, the directive of the council was that we should go and reconcile those figures and come back to council and have a payment plan for those figures to avoid Nigeria being embarrassed internationally.
“Also, circulars needed to be issued on who can commit Nigeria because it was discovered it would be a director or an ambassador who attended the meeting who committed subscription on behalf of Nigeria. The international organisations begin to chase us for their money.
“We need to tighten up the procedures of committing Nigeria to any form of subscription or donations to international organisations. The committee is due to come back in the next two weeks with the final figures.
“Ministers were then asked to look at the recommendations of those international organisations which we want to withdraw from and ensure that they are in support of those decisions before we will finalize the work on this issue.
“So, basically, this is just prudence and value for money. Nigeria doesn’t need to be a member of every organisation but those whose member we are, we have made a decision as FEC that we must prioritize and pay our obligations because that is part of the nation’s image.
“That is what gives Nigeria as a country the right to sit up very straight at international meetings. When you haven’t paid up your subscriptions, you can’t necessarily do so.
The subscriptions is $70 million per annum and there are lots and lots of arrears.”
‘Switzerland, Panama, UK, UAE, Leichenstern, Germany safe haven for looted funds
Also briefing journalists, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the presence of President Buhari at the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, brought a lot of respect to the country and projected the President as an international figure.
He faulted critics who said the President failed to highlight the country’s matters, unlike other Presidents that focused most on their countries, stressing that Buhari brought to the fore, programmes of the government and at the same time, international matters.
He said further that President Buhari spoke at the UNGA on stolen funds stashed away in foreign countries and the frustrations the country was faced with in recovering the funds as well as the issues of good governance.
Asked how much was stolen from the country, he said it was an on-going thing and that new discoveries were being made.
He said: “The sophistication that there is today in hiding money around the world is amazing. Even Western countries themselves have a lot of problems and it takes them a long time in discovering all the time.
“The Panama people, for instance. Nobody knew about all those funds illegally stashed until you suddenly have the revelations under the Panama people (papers). So, it is really an on-going thing and a new thing coming up all the time.
‘’You saw recently we never knew, for instance, that the US was eavesdropping on some telephone conversations of members of the previous government and private sector people about investments that were made in United States. It just suddenly came out like that. So, it is an on-going thing.”
On the strategies the country was using to ensure that looted funds were recovered, Onyeama said President Buhari has made frantic efforts to that effect.
He said: “On the strategies we are putting in place, that is a good question. The strategies are precisely what Mr. President has been doing.
“Number one, he cooperated with David Cameron when he was the Prime Minister of the UK to organise a global conference on anti-corruption. For a very long period of time, it was not a priority for a lot of industrialised countries to worry about money flowing from developing countries into their banks because as far as they were concerned, they had the image of rulers of Third World countries.
“So, Mr. President’s strategy was to put it on the international agenda for it to be something that Western leaders buy into. But I think Mr. President has succeeded in doing that.
‘’When he met former US President, now talking specifically in terms of strategy, President Obama told him at that time we were spending a lot of monies hiring lawyers to help trace or to help us go to court.
“Remember that in US, for instance, some lawyers were claiming that they should get a percentage of the amount that was to be returned to Nigeria, he (Barrack Obama) said no, let’s arrange it, where you will be dealing directly with the Justice department.
“So, a strategy is to get that permission from these heads of states to deal directly with the justice agencies in not only identifying but the legal process of restitution of recovering those funds.
“So, we are engaged with a number of countries in that process, including Switzerland, the UK, Jersey Island of the UK, the United States government as well and the United Arab Emirates, where we have identified funds.
“Also, Germany in the past has restituted some funds and Leichenstern is another country that we are working with in this context.”
On the gains of the President’s visit to other countries, the minister said: “The good will is the tremendous gain. The good will that will come from that visit will really be a major, not always immediately quantifiable, gain.
“Of course, we have a road map with Jordan, but I think that the most important gain, the one that really affects this country is the perception of Nigeria as a place for doing business and as a place for investing because the world sees now that this is a country that has a leader, it is championing anti-corruption as a crusader across the continent and here is a leader that speaks about democratic institutions, about good governance, about humanitarian issues.
“So, it is a new brand for Nigeria and we can leverage on that in so many different areas. Of course, economics (trade) is one of them but also cultural and social.
“He talked about Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, and when you have at the highest level that commitment and buying to a UN programme, Sustainable Development Goals, it also means that the UN itself is going to come and invest in the country and partner with Nigeria in achieving those goals and it will be for the benefit of the whole country.”
Int’l bodies Nigeria belong to
Some of the international organisations Nigeria is a member, include African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, ACP; African Development Bank(ADB); African Union (AU); Commonwealth of Nations; Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Group of 15; G-19; Group of 24 and Group of 77.
Others are International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD); International Chamber of Commerce, (ICC); International Civil Aviation Organisation, (ICAO); International Criminal Court (ICC); International Development Association (IDA); International Finance Corporation (IFC); International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO); International Labor Organisation (ILO); International Monetary Fund (IMF); and International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Also, International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO); International Olympic Committee, (IOC); International Organisation for Standardization (IOS); International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IRCRCM); International Telecommunications Union (ITU); Interpol; Non-Aligned Movement; Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); Permanent Court of Arbitration; United Nations Organisation (UNO); United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR); United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO); United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM); United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITR) and United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNIAMK).
Others are United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (UNMRWS); United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMBH); United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT).