For two consecutive days recently, the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs beamed its searchlight on alleged incessant malpractices associated with diplomatic postings and alleged deliberate draining of resources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A similar petition is before the Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan wherein some directors and deputy directors are protesting abnormalities in the appointments of consulgenerals/ charge de affairs by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and appealed for a review.
The letter to the Senate was signed by I. A. Imam and A. A. Bolaji (both Directors), N. A. Ella, Dr. Cyprain Heen, Grema Garba Gana, Umaru Kamfut, I. G. Zanna, Ogidan Stephen Ojo, Waje Nasiru, I. Sulaiman, G. Yohanna, M. G. Bello, D.A.B.D. Muhammad and S. N. Tiggi, all Deputy Directors. Others are Joseph Atodo, U. A. Sambo, Y. D. Faruk, D. A. Mohammed, Oliyide Oluremi, A. T. A. Ajayi, and Mustpaha T. Mukaila, also all Deputy Directors.
They stated that the appointment to such posts is usually based on the principle of seniority in service, Federal Character and is lumped under merit, competence and experience of officers.
“Regrettably, while emphasise have often been placed on the first-two principles and were duly followed by the leadership and management of the Ministry in such appointments of Consuls Generals as recently as in 2016 and 2018, no attention was paid to merit,” competence and experience of officers
Even before delving into the issues, Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, lamented the alleged rot in the Ministry and particularly expressed dismay at the number of petitions against authorities in the Ministry before the House.
Gbajabiamila lamented that there was hardly a country he visited that there are no embarrassing stories in our missions, explaining that such was unbecoming of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is uniquely responsible for framing the way the world sees Nigeria.
He said the Ministry, its departments and agencies, including the country’s missions all over the world, exist to promote the interests of Nigeria and protect the wellbeing of Nigerians across the globe.
Where other government institutions have an inwardlooking mandate, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by design, sets its face to the world on our behalf. Similarly, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon.Buba Yakub, said the probe was to beam searchlight on consular services offered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigeria Immigration Service to citizens of Nigeria at home and in diaspora.
He also urged them to ensure that the issues of posting of staff are done in accordance with laid down principles noting that the ministry is the mirror through which citizens see what happens around the world In his presentation, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama reacting particularly to stories in the social media and videos being circulated admitted that the social media was a big challenge to the ministry.
He said: “The point I am trying to make here is that my number is accessible all over the world. I get to see all these videos.
Anytime there is a complaint or I see a video criticising treatment in any mission, the first thing I do is to contact the head of that mission to explain what is happening and ask them to give a report, their side of the story because I know that it is not always what is on social media that is can be taken as fact.
“And invariably, the ambassador will give a full report, which we will have edited and sent to the media people and tell them to print them to let the world know our side of the story. We have done it recently with Atlanta”.
On the incident in Atlanta, Onyeama said “The speaker spoke about this video that has gone viral about Atlanta but when people forwarded it to me and I forwarded them the ministry’s press release, they say, oh if we knew. But of course, our press release does not get the same mileage as a lot of these social media things. That is the problem. That is what we are facing”.
Onyeama said that the $100 they said have been added was voluntary. “It is just for those who want to have their biometrics done without an appointment.
If you wait for your appointment, you will get it and not pay, but if you want it same day, then pay $100. But people will come without an appointment and still expect not to pay anything for it. These are some of the challenges we have been having.
“On the issues of administrative charges, these had actually been stopped for a number of years. You will approve budget, appropriation will not be, the missions will not receive what they are supposed to receive; they will not receive them on time and we face huge challenges.
So, it was decided also that we might restore these administrative charges and I think that is where we have erred in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“These were rolled out too soon without sufficient consultation with Immigration. We have already discussed about it with the Comptroller General and we have resolved to work together and have one harmonised and composite administrative fees for all our missions.
We are now mobilising the funds and setting it up with our ICT people, he said. Speaking at the investigation, the Chairman of the Nigeria in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa said that NIDCOM was working with the Ministry on effective communication, rapid response to these issues. One of which was the Atlanta issue even though when the response came, the damage had been done on wrong information.
“We are going to set up a NIDCOM app, which can be downloaded by all Nigerians in the diaspora to even bring in their complaints. And also, the Diaspora Commission is very soon going to launch an internet radio, where we are going to have communication all the time with our brothers and sisters in the diaspora.
So the key thing is communication. Communications would get better and a lot of things would improve and we would continue to work to ensure that we tap into the enormous resources of our brothers and sisters abroad,” she said.
Responding to allegations of nepotism and favouritism in postings, the Comptroller General of Immigration, Alhaji Muhammed Babandede, explained why such exists, adding that there were Immigration Service in only 47 Diplomatic Missions out of the 105.
He said: “When I came on board, I found out that one of the most interesting places for Immigration Officers to be posted to is the foreign mission, because they earn dollars. When they earn dollars, they are richer than even the CG himself. So the request, the demand, the pressure on foreign posting is much and only 54 people are on foreign missions.
“You can imagine what will happen, they will talk to the Speaker, they will talk to the Senate President, they will talk to all the ministers; they know how to get this done” He added that as a responsible agency they have decided to produce a posting policy which very Nigerian should be proud of. The posting is based on 50 per cent slots for officers who have served as teachers in training schools.
“There are officers who are in the airport now based on the technology we have. It takes three minutes to clear a passenger. If you are able to clear a passenger in three minutes, we know, you have done well. In the area of ability to repair or install machines, we select 40 per cent of them not based on anybody they know but on those qualities.
He said there are those who receive awards under merit while 10 per cent goes to special consideration. Others are nominees of top government officials like the Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to which five per cent has been allocated but they too must be qualified as a professional because we do train and test them before posting. “I’m glad to say that we didn’t send those we know; we send those who can perform.
All officers you find on ground are qualified and trained and who haven’t paid bribe to be posted and anybody who said he has paid bribe let him talk to you or talk to the social media so we can take action on that. “The second area is a consular issue. We are only in 47 locations but we consider them high volume locations and we do two functions; we issue visas and travel documents.
When we came on board we introduced the visa on arrival policy. The Visa on Arrival policy has contributed to Nigeria’s high ranking in the ease of doing business.
High net travellers who come to Nigeria to discuss issues are entitled to go to the website www. immigration.gov.ng to apply for a visa on arrival, pay online, and get approval online without meeting any officer. This is ongoing, you can testify”.
Babandede said the Nigerian Visa Policy 2020 launched by the President was being implemented but there are three issues relevant to the Diaspora. “One, those diasporan who have dual nationality, remember Nigeria allows you to hold citizenship even if you acquire citizenship of another country.
When such people arrive to scan their passport and when they’re returning they scan the USA (foreign) passport. “Travellers who have challenges are Nigerian citizens but who cannot have dual nationalities. It means Nigerians who have renounced their citizenship like those who are in China, Japan, Germany, India, who have acquired citizenship of a country, which doesn’t accept dual citizenship. “The Nigerian new visa policy 2020 allows that person to arrive if he is a Nigerian by birth. If you are a citizen of Nigeria in Japan and you know you have lost your citizenship, you can register in the Embassy, we can give you a single pass, which you can present at the point of entry and you will be admitted because you are already a citizen by birth,” he said.
According to him, the passport is the biggest challenge both to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigerians themselves. He said they have a huge challenge of scarcity of passport booklets despite the fact that all the visa fees, passport fees paid abroad go into the Federal Consolidated Account.
“Last year, because of COVID-19, we generated only $20 million from issuance and renewal of passports and visas the revenue was paid into the account directly,” he said, advising Nigerians to be orderly and behave responsibly when applying for any of the services as the service does its best to insulate its officers from corruption as back end of the missions.
Nigerians await how the National Assembly will resolve the issues of nepotism and rot in the missions when the matters are brought to the plenary, with the view to put round pegs in round holes for better service and improvement on the nation’s image abroad.