The Foreign Affairs Ministry Is Enmeshed In A Crisis Of Power As Career Ambassadors Are Recalled Without Presidential Approval But With Denial Of Statutory Payments
So soon after the former permanent secretary of Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry lost his job over his usurpation of the duties of the president in his recall of Nigeria’s envoy in South Africa during the infamous xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, history is about to repeat itself as another brewing crisis that has the potential of opening a can of worms of some untoward activities in the Ministry rears its head, The UNION has learnt.
Our correspondent has stumbled into another major crisis brewing at the Ministry following a recent recall order by the permanent secretary, ordering all the foreign affairs officers, including career ambassadors, who had retired from service, to depart their missions and return to Abuja on or before the last day of this August.
The UNION is in possession of a copy of a 13th July 2015 circular issued by Ambassador Ozo Nwobu on behalf of the permanent secretary to all Nigeria’s missions abroad, noting that some retired serving foreign affairs officers, “including career ambassadors”, instead of coming back to Nigeria, are staying back at their posts while awaiting the “payment of their outstanding entitlements or passages back to Nigeria.”
The circular further claimed that the continued stay of such officers at their posts after their retirement “had been repeatedly cited by the Head of Service as a violation of Civil Service Rules on retirement…” The Permanent Secretary, therefore, directed all retired officers, including retired career Ambassadors to return to the headquarters in Abuja on or before the 31st August 2015, after which date all the allowances and entitlements of such officers would no longer be paid them.
However, investigations by our correspondent found out that most of the affected officers and their sympathizers in the Ministry are not taking the directives very kindly as they claim that it was a clear departure from the procedures and the terms of the contract of these categories of Foreign Affairs Officers.
According to an expert on Foreign Affairs, who spoke to our correspondent, every ambassadorial appointment in the Ministry has its own terms of engagement, which specifies the tenure of a serving Ambassador as being at the discretion of the President as well as the emoluments due to such an ambassador while at post.
According to him, “these conditions and terms are clearly spelt out in the ambassador’s letter of appointment and automatic recall after retirement is not one of those conditions”. The source further submitted that if the Ministry had felt so strongly that the continued stay at post of any career ambassador after retirement is in violation of any section of the CSR, it had all the time in the world to process the recall of such an ambassador, in line with due process by sending a memo to the president seeking his approval in that regard “Rather than doing that”, the expert claimed, “the Ministry arrogated that power to recall ambassadors to itself, and to make matters worse, through a general circular”, insisting that, “since the power to recall serving ambassadors is still vested in the President, the ambassadors should be accorded the right of being recalled by him”.
He further claimed that, “any departure from that course would amount to impunity and lawlessness as well as the usurpation of the powers and authority of the President as it relates to the recall of serving Ambassadors”. It also violates the rights of these Ambassadors, he claimed.
Further investigations by this paper found out that when a foreign affairs officer retires whilst serving abroad, the Ministry usually issues a formal letter/notice of recall to such an officer at least six weeks ahead of the date to return to the headquarters, to enable the officer arrange himself/herself for departure.
It was also found out that while the Ministry has the power to recall other officers, the recall of Ambassadors will have to be approved by the President. It would be recalled that the former permanent secretary lost his job during the twilight days of the Jonathan administration for recalling two envoys from South Africa for consultation without recourse to the president.
It was also found out that it is in the regulation that the Ministry would complete the payment to the officer for the cost of shipping of his/her personal effects back to Nigeria, as well as the payment for one-way air ticket to Nigeria for the officer, spouse and other accompanied dependants.
The freight cost and air fares are usually paid at post before the officer departs and this regulation applies to any officer who is being recalled after completing his/her duty tour at our Mission abroad or after retirement, including ambassadors, as well as for officers who are dismissed from service while at post.
Accordingly, as our correspondent learnt from a very senior officer at the Abuja headquarters office of the Ministry, in line with the Foreign Service Rules, until the Ministry meets these obligations, the officer would continue to remain at his or her post at government expense, working and drawing his/her allowances. “As you can see”, according to the officer, “from the circular, it is clear that the Ministry has not fulfilled its own part of the contract and therefore should not expect its officers to comply with the forced recall order.”
Our investigations further found out that when the recalled officers arrive home, they are paid some allowances to enable them settle down, even though, as we were reliably informed, some officers who came back as far back as in 2013 are still being owed their entitlements at headquarters.
Curiously, apart from this group of retired officers, there are said to be other officers who were recalled for the past nine to 10 months but who are still stranded at their posts for lack of funds to finance their recall, in line with the Foreign Service Rules, pointing to what seems to be a more serious ailment of the Ministry which is the chronic paucity of funds.
It was revealed that the Ministry is so broke that it cannot finance most of its basic operations such as the posting of officers, and instead of accepting that fact and trying to seek solutions, many officials who spoke to our correspondent are irked that the Management opts to shift their frustration to innocent officers who have nothing do with the management of the Ministry’s resources which they claim, that brought it to this deplorable financial condition.
The UNION was told by a very senior officer in the Accounts department that the Foreign Affairs Ministry has a debt of over N9 billion owed to service providers and officers’ claims. The source also claimed that one of the victims of the Ministry’s parlous financial state is the Global Communication Network (GCN) project in the Ministry which he claims has gulped over N8 billion over four years but has collapsed even as the Ministry is said to be keeping quiet about it.
The same sources also informed our correspondent that the Ministry is currently mired in several crisis which involves its administration and staff at different levels, and which as we learnt are putting the Ministry and the Federal Government into some serious embarrassment. The UNION learnt that just two weeks ago, a former officer of the Ministry was awarded a whopping sum of N84million by the industrial Court.
It was a disgraceful spectacle as the officer, Obinna Nnamah, accompanied by the police and court officials held up traffic where he went to the Ministry’s premises to execute the judgment, carting away vehicles and other property after the Ministry had failed to pay him, after one year of the judgment. The UNION contacted spokesperson of the Ministry, Mr. Amedu Ogbole Ode, on telephone, for comments. Rather than respond to issues raised he said: “My standard practice is that I only react or respond to questions by journalists who are duly and properly accredited to the Foreign ministry.”
Talking further, Mr. Ode said “You are claiming who you are and I cannot be sure of who you are because you are talking on phone.” Asked if he had seen The UNION previously, the Foreign Ministry imagemaker said “I am not too sure.” He refused to comment on the allegations.