Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja
Apparently concerned by the Federal Government’s determination to ensure that the fight against corruption succeeds, the Senate on Tuesday urged the foreign missions to be the government’s watchdogs against money launderers, who make countries abroad their safe haven.
Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, gave the charge when the Foreign Affairs Ministry, led by the Minister, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs to defend its 2016 Budget.
Ndume, who also frowned at the cost of running foreign missions abroad, one which he described as “relatively high”, emphasised the need for ‘change’ in the affairs of governance.
Out of the almost N50 billion allocated to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, N33 billion was proposed for running foreign missions, with N13.5 billion going to the Ministry, and N3.5 billion allocated for agencies under it.
According to him, the high cost of running foreign missions, is fast becoming a worrisome trend, which should be addressed immediately by the Ministry by looking at ways of bringing down costs.
”We all know that change cannot be overnight. However, Nigerians are worried as to why 70 percent of the Budget will be used to fund 5 percent of the entire country’s population.
“This is becoming to much on them. And I can tell you that if nothing is done about it, a day will come when they would turn against us. So, I urge the Ministry to look at ways of cutting down on some of the costs of running these missions,” he said.
Earlier, Chairman of the Committee, Senator Monsurat Sumonu, expressed worry at the working gap existent between the National Assembly and Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Ndume, while agreeing with the Chairman on the lack of synergy between the Foreign Affairs Ministry and National Assembly, advised the Ministry to engage in consultations with the apex legislative body so as to get its input over bilateral agreements reached with other nations.
On the issue of money laundering, Ndume urged the Foreign Affairs Ministry to task foreign missions abroad on the need to keep records on the entry and exit of every visiting Nigerian citizen.
“They should have information on the movement of Nigerians into countries where there are foreign missions. In fact, foreign missions must be government’s watch dog in keeping an eye on the movement of Nigerians into countries where it has entered into such agreements,” Sumonu said.
He assured that the National Assembly will assist in providing legislation that would assist whatever bilateral agreements the foreign ministry may come up with.
Responding, the Minister, while agreeing with the issues raised by Ndume, stated that the Ministry would undertake rationalisation of the service.
On bilateral agreements, he promised that the foreign affairs ministry will liaise constantly with the National Assembly towards achieving best results in the overall interest of the country.
On the issue of money laundering and the role of Nigeria’s foreign missions abroad, he disclosed that the Ministry is presently engaged in the recovery of over $300 million laundered money from the State of Jersey in the United States.
He added that the Nigerian government was in between agreements with the United Arab Emirates in getting a list of all properties owned by Nigerians in the UAE.
According to him, with the presence of the new APC government and the ‘change’ mantra that comes with it, same would in great measure affect Nigeria’s diplomatic missions in the way things are done going forward.