Wednesday, October 14, 2015 10:02 pm
David Oladipupo Kuranga, Ph.D.
With dwindling oil revenues, Nigeria’s foreign missions have fallen under the axe as potential targets in the upcoming budget cuts. While there are a myriad of ways the Nigerian government can diversify its revenue to avert major budget cuts, in particular taxing the rich, Nigeria’s foreign missions have a lot of room for reform in organizational structure and functionality which would reduce a lot of the overhead cost of operating the missions.
The nation’s foreign missions are Nigeria’s window to the outside world, they are the arms and legs of the Ministry of Trade, to facilitate bilateral and multilateral political and economic cooperation to support Nigerian security and economic development. Any measure that reduces the number of missions Nigeria has abroad would weaken both the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and handicap their capacity to deliver on their mandate to Nigeria. Accordingly it would be a catastrophic mistake to revert to reducing the number of foreign missions as a means of cutting costs given the many other measures that could and should be taken to achieve the same ends. The core adjustments that would drastically reduce the cost of operating and maintaining Nigeria’s foreign missions are:
1. In the deployment of officers to foreign missions, the Ministry often deploys officers on the basis of seniority, federal character, and other considerations about their work on desk within the ministry secretariat. These considerations have nothing to do with overhead and operational costs and expenses associated with the deployment of that officer to any particular mission. The personal lives of the officers is often ignored by the current ministry protocols. In a number of instances, officers in the Ministry who met each other on the job, and decided to marry, have been split up in their deployments by the ministry. One spouse would be stationed in one country while the other stationed in another or back at capital. The most cost-effective measure would be to deploy married couples within the ministry together to the same location where they would only require one residence and accommodation. Further many of the senior officers have very large families with a number of children and in some instances several spouses. The standard protocol when deploying a foreign service officer to a country is to send them with their spouse and their children and provide for accommodations for all of them. Further the ministry shoulders the costs of the schooling of all the children of the officer depending on the country they are stationed in. Accordingly, it is not cost-effective to deploy officers with large families to foreign missions especially missions in developed countries where the cost-of-living can be quite high in relation to Nigeria. Re-evaluating and selecting officers for deployment will bring a lot of savings to the ministry and reduce the overhead costs of operating Nigeria’s foreign missions.
2. All of Nigeria’s foreign missions operate in a similar manner. They all have similar desks and provide periodic briefings to the ministry about what they are doing on posting. Many of the officers are idle for most of their posting, and simply draft dry reports about their activities as a required means of justifying their existence. This process is not a good way of managing staff in the foreign missions, or keeping them on-task and/or achieving certain benchmarks. If the ambassador positioned as head of mission does not micro-manage staff and press hard, the officers will seldom meet best-in-practice standards of operational efficiency. As a result of this the foreign missions need to be reorganized in a top-down administration, similar to the organizational model used by many of the nation’s largest and most effective banks.
Just like major banks in Nigeria have done when expanding their banking services nationwide, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to designate “regional hubs” where they will direct all their “branches” or embassies and missions abroad.
Every mission Nigeria maintains is not equal, and thus should not be organized and staffed the same. Further, it is not possible for officers stationed in Abuja, to properly manage the officers stationed far away in other regions of the world. Just like major banks in Nigeria have done when expanding their banking services nationwide, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to designate “regional hubs” where they will direct all their “branches” or embassies and missions abroad.
Accordingly, all European missions should answer to a regional director that will be stationed in the paramount Nigerian mission in that region, most likely London. The same for Asia (most likely Beijing), as well as the Middle East (most likely Riyadh), and Latin America (most likely Brasilia), and North America (most likely Washington). Regional directors should also be stationed in the five major regions of Africa, West (Dakar), East (Addis Ababa), Central (Kinshasa), South (Cape Town), and North (Cairo). The most of the officers stationed abroad should be based in these regional hubs. Officers stationed in other missions in those regions will then answer directly to the regional director at the regional hub mission instead of sending their status updates to Abuja. The regional director will be tasked with overseeing those missions, making unannounced trips and spot-checks to ensure that officers stationed abroad are completing their assignments. Only these regional directors should have regular communication with Ministry headquarters. This type of organisational arrangement utilized in the private sector enhances the service-delivery of all the “branches” while reducing the overhead cost of operation and the overall number of officers required to run the branches.
3. In the consular areas of visas and passports, the Ministry does not need to send officers from Abuja to conduct these services. One officer to administer the scheme is all that is needed. Instead of wasting money sending officers from Abuja, along with their families to any country simply to process passports and visas, the missions should recruit local staff, in particular Nigerians in diaspora to do those jobs. Those already abroad would not require the overhead of housing and accommodation, or require further benefits for their spouses and children. The process of relying on foreign officers to process passports and visas should be suspended and replaced with locally trained staff with all deliberate speed. The standard of service will likely increase and the overhead cost of operation will drastically be reduced.
By employing these measures Nigeria can maintain all its missions abroad, or perhaps even increase the number while at the same time slashing the cost of operating and maintaining them by up to 50%. These measures should be implemented first before any decision is taken to permanently close down any of Nigeria’s foreign missions. Trade and investment conferences that focus on Africa frequently occur in number of cities around the world. Nigeria, and its missions need to be present to take the case of Nigerian investment opportunities at all these venues. This will not be possible without the existence of the foreign missions.
The process of relying on foreign officers to process passports and visas should be suspended and replaced with locally trained staff with all deliberate speed. The standard of service will likely increase and the overhead cost of operation will drastically be reduced.
Further, promoting tourism and encouraging Nigerians in diaspora to return to Nigeria to invest and visit will be adversely affected if tourists and Nigerian nationals do not have access to consular services. Accordingly the Ministry of Trade and Investment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will negatively be affected if any of Nigeria’s foreign missions were to close. The new directors of both ministries need to come together to devise a plan to overhaul and salvage the nation’s foreign missions.
*The author is the Managing Director and Principal of Kuranga and Associates, a full-service investment, political and economic risk consultancy, and asset management firm that specializes in Africa.
*He is also the author of The Power of Interdependence with Palgrave Macmillan Press.Kuranga and Associates Limited is an investment management advisory firm and an asset manager with a principle practice area of Africa. To learn more about Kuranga and Associates go to www.kaglobal.net.
*This article was originally published here: All of Nigeria’s foreign missions operate in a similar manner