Corruption in Foreign Affairs Stalls Attaches Posting amid Estacodes Bazaar
Fraudulent activities including delay in attaches posting, diversion of budgeted funds and craze for estacodes by top officials within the top bureaucratic echelons of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have exposed Nigeria’s diplomatic missions in several countries to maladministration and risk of collapse. The massive corruption is thriving under the nose of the apparently ineffective Minister, Mr. Geoffery Onyeama.
Notably, budgetary provisions made for the posting of critical 68 Treasury Accountants (finance attaches) to Nigeria’s diplomatic missions abroad are among the worst affected by the sleaze as only 30 finance attaches have been posted out. The remaining 38 are yet to be posted eight months into the year amid fears that the funds budgeted in the 2021 budget for their posting and allowances abroad might have been diverted, misappropriated or embezzled. Apart from the finance attaches, several other Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) already approved for external posting under the current year’s appropriation are still languishing in Abuja.
Our investigations revealed that the few finance attaches posted out are seriously overstretched and becoming increasingly unable to cope with the volume of finance and accounting works in the foreign missions as some of them are made to serve as accountants to as many as four to six diplomatic missions. Apart from the pressures they face by doing the job of two or three accounts officers in their countries of posting, the attaches also have to ingratiate their greedy bosses back in the home ministry in Abuja.
The source alleged that the forces manipulating and holding back the postings are deliberately doing so to create accounting gaps for fraud and corruption to fester in their favour in the ministry. He said some of the biggest loopholes for siphoning of public funds in the ministry are hefty estacode claims running into several millions which end up in the pockets of big shots in the ministry. Most of the estacodes are on supposed shuttles between countries by few finance and other attaches because one attaché is presently made to service as many as seven countries in some cases.
Last year, the Federal Government pruned down the number of Treasury Accountants or Finance Attaches to handle finance matters in Nigeria’s diplomatic missions abroad from 109 to to 68 with provisions accordingly made for that number in the 2021 budget. The finance attaches are vital and sensitive because they oversee capital, overhead, personnel and revenue accounts in Nigeria’s missions abroad. The double jeopardy of the insufficient number of attaches abroad is that more money is being spent by Nigeria on estacodes while the expenditure books in some of her missions are hardly checked due to acute manpower shortage and COVID-induced travel restrictions in many countries.
Presidential approval and budgeting for the posting of the 68 Treasury Accounts Officers and other attaches among others were the culmination of several memos by the Chief of Staff to the President, the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In her memo to the President through the Chief of Staff to the President (Ref. No. R&I/047/1/302) dated 18th May, 2020, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. (Dr.) Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed sought and obtained the approval of Mr. President for the posting of the attaches. She informed the President in her memo that: “Under this new arrangement, we would have at least a Treasury Accountant for two missions close to each other and few of the critical missions with high volume of transaction will still maintain a Treasury Accountant to supervise its accounting and finance-related activities”.
According to the approved memo, using the services of the approved number of attaches would enable Nigeria to “maintain a dignified presence in the host countries and honour our financial obligations” and at the same time reduce the cost of governance in the foreign missions.
What surprises many is why the MFA is foot-dragging on the posting of the attaches particularly the outstanding 38 Treasury Accounts Officers while the 30 already serving in the missions are ‘overwhelmed’.
“They deliberately left the missions under-staffed with Account Officers under the guise of saving cost (whereas there is a presidential approval for minimum of 68) but the real intention is to create loopholes for frauds. They know there was no way the officers could cope with the volume of accounting works to be done. And that is the situation in all Nigeria’s missions across the globe. They also want to create opportunity for huge estacodes claims through pooling and frequent shuttles between countries,” our source lamented.
The source cited the example of the recent visit of France by the President where serious logistics challenges could not be handled by the embassy staffs there because the finance attache could not travel to France on time ahead of the visit. He equally gave the example of the recent unsavory incident in Indonesia where a Nigerian diplomatic was abused and chained like a common criminal as another fallout of the regime of incompetence in the foreign Affairs Ministry particularly as it relates to postings to diplomatic missions abroad.
Another associated scandalous practice is that some officers already past their retirement periods are still left in service at some of the missions principally due to gratifications being received from such long overdue officers by those facilitating their overstay. Our source hinted that some of the Finance Attaches currently serving abroad have stayed up to seven years. The practice is contrary to the guidelines for pooling of accountants under the Public Service Rules (PSR), the Joint Negotiating Council (JNC), the Foreign Service Regulations (FSR) and the MoU with the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) which provide that all officers posted to the MFA would be allowed to enjoy one overseas posting before they are redeployed to other MDAs.
Non-adherence to the principle of federal character in the posting of officers particularly finance attaches to the nation’s diplomatic missions is another area of abuse by the ministry. The unjust practice is a fragrant disobedience of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into between the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to establish a framework for the posting of Accounts Officers in the pool of the OAGF into and out of the MFA “having regard to the peculiar circumstances of the MFA and the requirements of the Federal Character Principle, as well as the career development prospects of Treasury Accounts Officers”.
The MoU stipulates, among others, that each state of the Federation and the FCT should have a maximum of six officers in the MFA at any point in time, including those serving at Nigerian Diplomatic Missions overseas adding that the Federal Character must be strictly observed. The MoU whose copy was made available to our correspondent was endorsed by the MFA and the OAGF during the tenure of the incumbent Accountant-General, Ahmed Idris. The memorandum was signed on behalf of the Accountant-General by A.G. Mohammed, the Director-Administration in the OAGF. The MoU superseded an earlier memo in 2016 (Ref. No. OAGF/ADM/PMGT/T/71/II of 11th April, 2016).
But it was found that laid down criteria were not being followed in the ministry’s external postings. For example, the provision that the MFA should be giving regular updates to the OAGF of deployment of Accounts Officers to Nigerian Diplomatic Missions overseas has not been adhered to in recent years.
One other challenge facing the ministry is administrative in nature. At the centre of this is the Permanent Secretary, Gabriel Tanimu Aduda who seems inexperienced and unfit to steer the bureaucratic wheels of a large and complex ministry like the MFA. His glaring inefficiency is rubbing off adversely on the performance of the big ministry. For instance, as the overall manpower superintendent of the ministry, the adroit Permanent Secretary hardly lends himself to the advice of the right set of persons especially the career diplomats who are sufficiently nuanced in foreign affairs matters.
Yet another area of corruption in the ministry is the alleged secret cornering of the funds budgeted for clothing and other allowances of officers posted abroad. Our source said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Ministers of State, Permanent Secretary and the Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA) cannot escape culpability in the corrupt deals going on in the Ministry which runs against the policy of transparency, accountability and discipline of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Efforts of our correspondent to reach the Permanent Secretary of the MFA, Mr. Gabriel Aduda or the Chief Press Secretary of the ministry for their comments were unsuccessful as at the time of filling this report.