The federal government is spending at least N2.7 billion to sponsor delegates to attend the United Nations’ annual climate summit, COP28, which started in Dubai last Thursday and will continue until at least 12 December.
Nigeria has 1,411 delegates, ranking third among countries with the highest numbers of delegates at the meeting. Only the host country, UAE (4,409), and Brazil (3,081) have more participants than Africa’s most populous country.
Other delegations surpassing 1,000 participants include China which registered 1,411 people just like Nigeria, followed by Indonesia with 1,229, Japan with 1,067 and Turkey with 1,045.
Parties to this Convention from Nigeria include government officials, representatives from the private sector, civil society, the voluntary sector, state governments, media, multilateral institutions, representatives of marginalised communities, and many others.
Nigerians, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, have been outraged by the size of the government’s large delegations at a time the country’s inflation rate is 27.33 per cent and the government is planning to borrow more than $9 billion to fund its N27.5 trillion 2024 budget.
As the outrage grew, the Minister of Information, Mohammed Idris, released a statement on Monday saying the federal government-sponsored delegation “is made up of a total of 422 persons,” not 1,411 as widely speculated.
He broke down the figure as 167 participants from all Ministries and 73 persons from Federal Parastatals/Agencies. The Presidency has 67 officials – the National Assembly – 40; the Federal Ministry of Environment – 34; the National Council on Climate Change – 32; and nine participants from the Office of the Vice President.
PREMIUM TIMES analysis shows that the government will spend an estimated N2.7 billion to sponsor these delegates while the citizens grapple with a cost-of-living crisis. Nigerians are yet to recover from the shocks of petrol subsidy removal and devaluation of the local currency, the naira, which has pushed it to record lows against the dollar, leading to even more price spikes and greater hardships.
The N2.7 billion estimate
Of the 1,411 delegates, 422 were sponsored to attend the conference by the federal government, according to the minister of information. On average, the estimated cost of a to-and-fro flight ticket from Nigeria to Dubai is N2 million.
At this rate, the cost of a two-way flight ticket for 412 people will amount to N824 million. President Tinubu and at least 10 officials travelled with the presidential jet while the rest of the 412 delegates are estimated to have taken commercial flights. The figure could be higher given that a number of officers travelled on business-class tickets, which are more expensive than economy class tickets used for our computation.
PREMIUM TIMES arrived at the cost using flight rates from airline operator Wakanow.
Sources in the aviation sector also told this newspaper that some senior government officials sponsored by the federal government used private jets to travel to Dubai. But this claim could not be verified by our reporter as of press time.
Leadership newspaper reported that the main delegation of the federal government travelled to Dubai in three planeloads – chartered flights. Sources say the federal government rarely charter local carriers when attending conferences outside the country. The government prefers to contract international flight operators and pay them in foreign currency for charter services. This is despite having local operators with approvals to fly directly to some of the countries.
According to data released by organisers, the list of the Nigerian delegation includes the president and two of his children, 26 ministers, the chief of staff, 14 director generals, several directors, deputy directors, assistant directors, and several officials with different titles. Gilbert Chagouri is part of the delegation listed as ‘Confidante of the President.’
“This number of aides and officials is too many for just a meeting. President Tinubu keeps wasting our resources on frivolities. How many people will speak on behalf of Nigeria, that is if Mr President will be allowed to climb the podium,” Adewale Damilare said on his X (formerly known as Twitter).
Billions spent on Estacode
Aside from the cost of a flight ticket, the federal government gives estacode to each traveller depending on their level. Ministers are paid $900 per day as estacode which amounts to $11,700 per minister for the 13-day period the conference would last.
At the official market, one dollar is currently exchanged for N816. This means a minister will get N9.5 million as estacode during the conference. About 26 ministers are attending the conference, according to official data from the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
This means the government will spend at least N248 million on allowances to ministers.
The federal government is also sponsoring 40 members of the National Assembly to Dubai. The estacode for a senator is $950 per night while that of a Member of the House Representatives is $900.
On average, this also amounts to $11,700 per lawmaker for the 13 days the conference would be held. This will cost the government N381 million on estacode for the National Assembly participants.
Then, there are 13 Special Advisers to the president on the delegation. The president’s advisers are entitled to $800 estacode per night, meaning each of the special advisers attending the conference will receive $10,400 for the period of the conference. Using the official rate of N816 per dollar, this amount is equivalent to N110 million.
The list contains 14 Director-Generals of various agencies including the National Council on Climate Change, the National Intelligence Agency, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, the National Emergency Management Agency, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, and the National Agency for Great Green Wall.
The estacode of a Director General is $500 per night. This means each of the 14 DGs attending COP28 will receive $6,500 for 13 days, totalling $91,000. At current prices, this amount is equivalent to N74 million.
Permanent secretaries get estacode of $500 per night; Officers of levels 15-17 receive $425; Levels 7-14 get $381; and levels 1-6 get $206, according to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, which determines and fixes public officials’ remuneration.
Aside from the categories mentioned above (ministers, special advisers, director generals, and members of the National Assembly), more than 300 other government officials will receive estacode including the chief of staff, ambassadors, permanent secretaries, several directors, deputy directors, assistant directors, and other officials with different titles on the attendance list.
Assuming we have 100 officials on levels 15 – 17 attending the conference in Dubai, the government will spend $5,525 on each of them in estacode for the period. The total of this amount when converted to naira is equivalent to N450 million.
Then, if there are 100 officials on levels 7 – 14, the government will give each of them $381 per night, totalling $4,953 for the period of the conference. The total amount for this category is equivalent to N404 million.
If there are 100 officials on levels 1-6 as part of the delegates, then each of them will also get $206 per night, totalling $2,678 for the 13 days of COP28. This amount is equalled to about N218 million.
The Federal Government has since defended the large delegation, dismissing the protests by opposition parties and citizens.
“As the biggest economy and most populous country in Africa, with a substantial extractive economy and extensive vulnerability to climate change, Nigeria has a significant stake in climate action, and our active and robust participation at COP is therefore not unwarranted,” Mr Idris, the minister of information, said.
At COP28, government representatives and climate experts are participating in negotiations around climate change mitigation. At the same time, they also assess each country’s progress in recent years, amid growing worries that world leaders remain too slow to respond to the crisis.
Ideally, delegates with the Party badge should be negotiators representing their countries in the different negotiation rooms and who report back to the UNFCCC country focal point person. “In Nigeria, however, many of the Party delegates are believed to have no understanding of COP negotiation procedures or the complex climate negotiation processes,” an environment ministry official told PREMIUM TIMES in Dubai.
COP28’s official published list says more than 97,000 participants are attending the garthering in person. This year, also for the first time, 3,000 “virtual-only” participants are named, which takes the overall provisional delegate total for COP28 to more than 100,000.
In Africa, Morocco sent a delegation of 823 persons to Dubai, Kenya, 765; Tanzania 763, and Ghana, 618.
At the other end of the scale, the smallest delegations were registered by North Korea (two), Nicaragua (six), Eritrea (seven) and Liechtenstein and Moldova (both eight).
For the third year in a row, both Afghanistan and Myanmar have not registered a delegation to the COP, while San Marino is also not present on the provisional lists this year.