As President Bola Tinubu continues to endure the collective backlash of Nigerians over his perceived squandering of scarce federal resources on a junket for climate discussion in which Nigeria was not slated to play any critical or unique role, Peoples Gazette has learnt that some of those on the 1,400-delegation to Dubai saw an opportunity to circumvent the cumbersome and increasingly futile process of obtaining an Emirati visa and took it.
Mr Tinubu’s participation at the so-called Conference of Parties (COP 28) global climate summit has been overshadowed by his profligate use of public funds at a time of untold economic hardship for the vast majority of Nigeria’s 200 million people. The United Nations received 1,411 people from Nigeria at the opening of the event on October 30, official disclosures said, out of which at least 589 people were direct federal employees under Mr Tinubu’s administration.
Nigeria’s delegation surpassed that of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, per UN disclosures, even though Mr Tinubu himself criticised emission cuts being pushed at global climate fora as detrimental to Nigeria’s industrialisation and overall economic growth.
The official list of attendees also indicated an undetermined number of other federal employees attached to the ministry of information and other federal ministries, departments and agencies on the trip. Whereas some people on the list appeared to be genuine climate change experts and activists who were sponsored by private non-profits, an analysis of those on the trip showed the government picked the biggest tab, which easily runs into billions.
Rank and file civil servants also made the trip, including some whose purviews did not cover climate policy, like an interior ministry aide in charge of personnel management. The president’s son, Seyi, who has no official designation and was recently warned by his father to stop meddling in government functions, was also at the conference on public dole.
On Saturday afternoon, The Gazette heard from four different delegates on the trip, who said they hustled their respective departments to be accommodated on the trip in order to escape having to apply for visas to the UAE on their own, which has become nearly impossible for Nigerians over the past year. Three of the delegates are private individuals, while the last person is an official of one of the federal agencies regulating hydrocarbons, The Gazette can report.
The delegates secured guarantees of anonymity from our reporter before agreeing to speak on the controversial issue. Two of them said there were over 3,000 people who secured visas to Dubai on the back of the conference, but many of them did not show up at the conference venue at all, hence the smaller number released by the UN administrators.
“I was informed by a ministry director that the trip was coming up, and he agreed to put me on the trip after I explained to him that my sister lives in Dubai and I would like to see her and stay for Christmas,” the civil servant said. “He quickly asked his secretary to add my name. It was a smooth process for me, so I imagine it was smooth for about 3,000 others who also obtained their visas this way.”
The official went on to introduce our reporter to three other individuals who also made the trip, with one explaining their ties to a bank in Lagos.
“Even as a banker, I couldn’t get a visa to Dubai for so long. Some travel agents said they could get me a UAE visa earlier this year, but it was too expensive, so I had to let go back then,” the delegate said. “So when this opportunity came, I quickly jumped on it.”
Another one said they were not even at the venue of the conference, even though it has been underway since November 30.
“I’ll be honest and say I don’t even know the venue,” the person said. “I quickly got an apartment when I arrived and I will be spending the Christmas and New Year here.”
The individuals sidestepped the ethical questions about gaining the system in this manner, and were also not concerned about whether or not this could potentially complicate Nigeria’s ability to timely resolve the ban with the UAE.
Whether or not the presidency knew that thousands of people were issued visas without any bases remained unclear as of Sunday morning. A spokesman for the president deflected a question about the matter to the federal cabinet secretary’s office, which did not return an enquiry from The Gazette on the matter.
The UAE had, in October 2022, placed a general visa ban on all Nigerians, including citizens of at least 17 other countries. The Gulf giant alleged growing criminal activities linked to Nigerians, capitalising on a viral video of a group of cultists ensnared in a break-in as evidence of rising deviance among immigrants of African origin.
The restrictions had deprived tens of thousands of people with Nigerian passports of being able to enter Dubai, which until last year was the top shopping destination for the country’s upper middle class and political and business elite families.
The president assumed office in late May with a promise to cut public waste and improve the country’s crisis, which economists concluded was exacerbated by the laziness and brazen looting of his predecessor Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr Tinubu, who assumed office on a thin mandate of just 36 per cent of the vote with a record of public corruption, identity theft and drug dealing, saw initial public support when he removed subsidies on petrol upon assuming office. But with six months into his administration and no introduction of any serious welfare policies to sustain the poor, concerns are mounting about whether the Lagos politician sought the highest office strictly to demystify it.
Yet, his administration had sought to end the year-long visa restrictions on Nigerians, and the president himself directly met with Emirati authorities in September to discuss the crisis. A claim by a presidential spokesman that the restrictions had been listed without preconditions was subsequently exposed as a falsehood and also reported to have irritated the Emiratis.