Nigeria is delinquent in paying UN fees, unlike Syria and Zimbabwe

By Eromo Egbejule, in New York

Posted on Wednesday, 9 October 2019 14:47, updated on Friday, 11 October 2019 11:35
Do things get awkward in the UN canteen for Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed? REUTERS/Mike Segar -

Despite having Nigerian officials at the top of the United Nations system, including a deputy Secretary-General, Abuja has not yet paid its dues.

Nigeria is yet to pay up its assigned annual contribution to the UN some 10 months into 2019.

Every nation needs to pull its weight as the international system is under siege from an aggressive US administration.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has admitted that the body might not be able to pay staff salaries next month. 

Cash-strapped Zimbabwe and most recently, conflict-riven Syria are two of the 129 of the UN’s 193-member states to have paid their 2019 dues as of October 7.

  • This amounts to $1.99bn, equivalent to 70% of the total assessment for the year, with a balance of $1.3 billion still needed to offset expenses of the body.
  • According to Guterres, this is probably “the worst cash crisis facing the United Nations in nearly a decade. The organisation runs the risk of depleting its liquidity reserves by the end of the month and defaulting on payments to staff and vendors.”

He urged defaulting countries to pay urgently and in full. “This is the only way to avoid a default that could risk disrupting operations globally,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

  • “To date, we have averted major disruptions to operations,” Guterres said in a statement, adding that “these measures are no longer enough.”
  • “We are now driven to prioritise our work on the basis of the availability of cash, thus undermining the implementation of mandates decided by inter-governmental bodies,” Dujarric said, adding that the Secretary-General had noted the issue  was a recurrent problem.

Things are so bad that Guterres had to enforce large spending cuts at UN affiliates worldwide beginning this January or the global body would have been unable to organise the 74th General Assembly debate and the high-level meetings last month.

Short on cash, big on aesthetics

Nigeria suffers its own difficult debt profile as it continues to pursue an overhaul of its infrastructure nationwide and service outstanding loan repayments amidst declining oil revenues.

But Nigeria’s failure to pay contrasts with its strong presence in the UN system.

Abuja sent a multitude of delegates to this year’s UN General Assembly sessions, led by foreign affairs minister Geoffrey Onyeama, and President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the gathering of world leaders in late September.

  • At least three governors and half a dozen ministers were on the trip accompanied by a retinue of aides and carry-ons racking up thousands of dollars in estacodes (travel allowances).

Two Nigerian nationals are also currently among the organisation’s most high-ranking officials including;

  • UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, and
  • The current president of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Bande whose yearlong tenure runs from this September to  September 2020.

Big (bad) brother

Nigeria is following in the footsteps of large states like the US, Brazil, Israel and Iran, who are also delinquent.

Interestingly, of the opening five speakers at the UN General Assembly debate this year, only Turkey and Egypt have paid up.

  • According to the Financial Regulation 3.5 of the UN, member states ought to pay their contributions to its budget within a 30-day period at the beginning of every year – 31st January 2019, in this case.
  • By January 31 this year, only 34 countries had followed through with their financial commitments.
  • The amount allocated to each country is decided by the General Assembly, on the advice of the Committee on Contributions which takes into consideration the gross national income, population, and debt burden.

The US is the largest contributor to the global body’s budget, doling out 22% of the annual budget, now capped at $2.5 billion in recent years thanks to American law.

Why this is important: Humanitarian, political and social services across the world, including crisis hotspots like northeastern Nigeria, could grind to a halt if the debtors refuse to pay. Penny wise, pound foolish?

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