By Adedayo Akinwale
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has lamented that Nigeria’s foreign missions are full of embarrassing stories.
Gbajabiamila stated this Tuesday at a 2-day public hearing organised by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to investigate incessant malpractices associated with diplomatic postings and deliberate draining of resources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He noted that the ministry, its departments and agencies, including the country’s missions all over the world, exists to promote the interests of Nigeria and protect the wellbeing of Nigerians across the globe.
The Speaker noted that the House has received petitions and pleadings from Nigerians at home and abroad alleging varying degrees of malpractice and malfeasance in the ministry’s operations and its subordinate departments and agencies.
Gbajabiamila stressed that while these assertions are not conclusions, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs would exercise the House constitutional authority to conduct a thorough investigation and substantiate or refute these allegations, relying on the available evidence and the contributions of stakeholders.
He stated: “Personally, let me say that there’s hardly a country I visited that there are no embarrassing stories in our missions. I visited many, right from my time as Minority Leader to House Leader and I can recall such stories.”
The Speaker assured that it was not the intention of the House to act in a manner that singles out any individual or group; neither is it its desire to take punitive action as a matter of politics.
Speaking, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffery Onyema, explained that the administrative charges reintroduced by Nigerian missions was because of lack of budgetary appropriation.
He explained: “On the issues of administrative charges, these had actually been stopped for a number of years. But as you know, the big challenge that all our missions are getting, you will approve the budget, appropriation will not be made, 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 also decided 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 maybe too soon without sufficient consultation with Immigration. We have already discussed it with the Comptroller General of Immigration and we have resolved to work together and have one harmonised and composite administrative fee for all our missions.”
On his part, the Comptroller General of Immigration, Muhammed Babandede, denied allegations of nepotism in posting officers to foreign missions.
He said due to the fact that only 54 people are on foreign missions, officers of NIS lobby the Speaker, Senate President or even Ministers to influence their postings.
The CG noted that the reason for the lobby was because they are paid in dollars, hence the scrambling for sych postings.
Babandede stated: “I saw the letter you wrote about complaints about posting, that there is nepotism and in posting. When I came on board, I found out that one of the most interesting places to be posted by Immigration Officers is Foreign Mission because you earn Dollars. When you earn Dollars, you are richer than 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 to get this done.”
Babandede stressed that as a responsible agency, the NIS decided to produce a posting policy which every Nigerian should be proud of.
He added that the agency decided to do posting based on the following categories: Officers who serve as teachers in Training Schools were given 50%; Officers who are in the Airport were given 40% slots, merit and special consideration were given 10% slots; while those who can come under special consideration were given 5% slots.