A crisis has hit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the funding of ambassadors who were recently appointed by the President, Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
Workers in the ministry, under the aegis of the Joint Negotiating Council, in a communiqué, obtained by one of our correspondents on Sunday, alleged that the ministry through the Permanent Secretary, Mr Gabriel Aduda, had written a letter to the President requesting N8.1bn to fund the posting of the ambassadors.
Faulting the request of the ministry, the workers said it (the ministry) had not accounted for the money it received in the last three years when no ambassadorial posting was made.
They gave the ministry seven days to address the resolutions contained in their communiqué dated May 7, 2021.
The resolutions , which were titled, ‘Communiqué issued by the Joint Negotiating Council sequel to the congress held at the rotunda of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja,’ were signed by the JNC Chairman, Ali Saidu and the Secretary-General, Charles Chimaroke.
The PUNCH on Sunday learnt that ministers in the ministry would on Tuesday meet the workers to avert any strike they could paralyse the country’s foreign missions.
Recall that the President recently appointed 95 career and non-career ambassadors after getting the approval of the National Assembly.
On Sunday, it was reliably gathered that about 48 out of the appointed 95 career and non-career ambassadors had not assumed duty at the Nigerian missions abroad due to the delay in receiving of agremo from the countries of assignment.
Those who have yet to depart the country include the former service chiefs-retired Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, ex-Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas and former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar
It was learnt that the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Aduda, got the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geofrey Onyeama’s approval to request N8.1bn from the Presidency.
However, the workers in their communiqué alleged that N4.7b out of the N5.2bn released to the ministry for staff postings in the last three years had not been accounted for.
Our correspondent learnt that the ministry had informed the new diplomats that they would bear the cost of settling down for the first 28 days at their new posts.
But the workers’ Joint Negotiating Council said the ministry had not carried out postings of staff in the past three years despite receiving N5.2bn from the Ministry of Finance.
Investigations by The PUNCH indicated that this was a violation of Regulation No. 26, item 3 of the Public Service Rule which stipulates that “general posting exercise shall be carried out annually; such staff movement shall be at levels that will keep reasonable continuity in the operation of missions.”
The JNC said the ministry received N2,499,042,405 in 2018, N1,240,569,061 in 2019 and N1,533,645,459 in 2020 without carrying out any foreign posting. The MFA is also expecting N2,450,844,548 in 2021 for staff redeployment.
The communiqué, addressed to Onyeama and his minister of state counterpart, Zubairu Dada, demanded an investigation into how the releases for the past three years were spent.
It was learnt that the total number of foreign service officers awaiting foreign mission deployment at the ministry was 479 against the backdrop of the shortage of manpower in many Nigerian missions abroad.
The communiqué read, “Consequent upon the maladministration, dwindling levels of productivity occasioned by leadership apathy in the ministry, the JNC has been engaging with the management without corresponding improvement.
“The combined amount of unspent posting funds received by the ministry from 2018 till date are N2,499.042,405 in 2018, N1,240,569,061 in 2019, N1,533,645,459 in 2020; total, N5,225,059,068.
“While the ministry did not post officers for three years, (2018-2020), it claimed to have spent N4,789,059,068 leaving a balance of N436 million as at May 4, 2021 from the above-mentioned releases (N5.2bn).’’
The council further stated that N5.5bn was released to the ministry as intervention fund in the last quarter of 2020, adding that N1.2bn was claimed to have been spent to settle outstanding travel liabilities from the fund.
The communiqué noted, “In spite of the N4,516,000 in the ministry’s coffers and the expected N2, 450, 844, 548 for 2021 posting exercise, the management is unwilling to post officers; instead, the Permanent Secretary misrepresented information to the management to forward a request to Mr President for the sum of N8,110,951,111.95 for posting, including first 28 days in the calculation; yet, seeking to deny heads of missions and officers alike the first 28 days’ payment.
Ministry got N10bn for ICT, department battles obsolete equipment – Workers
“It should be noted that the House Committee on Foreign Affairs disclosed during the public hearing of March 2021 that over N10bn was released to the ministry over a period of three years–2018,2019 and 2020–for ICT projects which the ministry failed to account for while the ICT department was equipped with obsolete computer systems bought 10 years ago.”
Faulting the N8.1bn demand made to the Presidency, the workers union observed that N1.5bn was sufficient to cater for the tickets of about 300 officers, including their spouses and maximum of four children “even if all the tickets are for Canberra or Tokyo.”
“Furthermore, AIEs (Authority to Incur Expenditure) for first 28 days for same number of officers amount to N2.3bn. The cost implication for the above projection amounts to N3.8bn. This amount is still less than what the ministry has in its coffers as explained by the DFA (Director, Finance and Administration) of the ministry,’’ the joint council explained.
Noting that the Nigerian diplomatic representation abroad was inadequate, the congress stated that officers had been issued letters to embark on foreign posting since December 2020 “but the ministry is hiding under the guise of paucity of funds not to execute the posting exercise.
“The missions are currently dominated by sister agencies (National Intelligence Agency, Nigerian Immigration Service) where sensitive diplomatic decisions are being taken. This is against the established diplomatic practice and is inimical to the sovereignty and national interest of the country.’’
It was also gathered that the Foreign Service Officers had not been going for training. The union cited the case of officers of the 23th and 24th Regular Course, Foreign Service Academy, who had been grounded at the ministry since graduating between 2019 and 2020.
No fewer than 250 officials from other ministries, departments and agencies have been deployed in the ministry as of April 2021 while 479 FSOs due for foreign posting are idling away at the Tafawa Balewa building in Abuja.
The MFA spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, referred inquiries on the various issues raised by the union to the permanent secretary. “The permanent secretary is the chief accounting officer of the ministry and he is in the best position to answer questions regarding all financial matters,’’ he stated.
But Aduda could not be reached for comment on his phone. He also did not respond to the series of text messages sent to his phone.
The foreign affairs minister similarly did not respond to request for comment on the alleged financial impropriety in the ministry.