As confirmation that even our Ambassadors, High Commissioners and other envoys are trapped into uncertainty, here is the front page of “Saturday Punch” newspaper of September 9, 2023.
Headline: “Nigerian embassies in financial crisis as federal government delays funds.”
“The Nigerian foreign missions are currently facing a financial crisis following the delay in the release of their capital and overhead votes by the Federal Government.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the overhead vote for the second half of 2023 which should have been paid since June was still pending, putting the missions in a dire strait.
Our correspondent reliably gathered that the diplomats and Foreign Service officers at the 109 Diplomatic Missions, which include 97 Embassies and 12 Consulates all over the world, are worried about the implication of the cash crunch on the operation of the missions and staff well-being.
Sources, who spoke to our correspondent on Friday, disclosed that many missions may not be able to meet their financial obligations to their staff members and local contractors in the coming weeks if the situation remains unchanged. It was learnt that various financial obligations, including electricity, water, and sanitation bills, were already piling up.
Worried embassy staff members serving in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world are reportedly sending distress messages to their colleagues at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja.
A source said, “Overhead allocation to missions that ought to have been used for settling various utility bills, chancery rent, staff accommodation, electricity, sanitation, and water bills have not been paid by the Federal Government.
The vote meant for the second half of the year ought to have been paid since June. Many missions have sent dispatches to the ministry but there was no response.”
This newspaper had reported the poor allocation to the diplomatic missions and the widespread complaints about the shortfall in budgetary votes which had severely hindered their operations.
Early this year, our correspondent learnt that the MFA released $270,000 for personnel overhead to a mission in Asia for January to June.
However, Saturday PUNCH learnt that only $164,000 instead of $270, 000 was remitted to the mission for the second half of the year, representing a shortfall of 41 per cent.
Though the foreign affairs ministry did not give reasons for the shortfall, there were suggestions that the government must have based the remittance on the current exchange rate pegged at about N900 per dollar.
“The truth remains that Nigerian Missions are not properly funded but even the gross inadequate funds provided in the 2023 Budget are now affected by the new exchange rate policy of floating the naira introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria,” an official noted.
Explaining how the new forex rate had affected the remittance to the embassies, a diplomat said, “Missions that received $590, 000 and $383, 000 personnel allocation for the first half of the year were given $353,000 and $252,000, respectively, as personnel vote for the second half of the year.
With the prevailing situation, most embassies may not be able to pay salaries and entitlements for officers, locally recruited staff members, and contractors or meet other financial obligations such as payment of rent and school fees for children, electricity, water, telephone, and security bills if the government continues to withhold the overhead and capital allocations.
The implication is that if nothing is urgently done to salvage the situation, staff members of the embassies and consulates abroad would suffer financial embarrassment which would be inimical to the image of our country.”
Due to the inadequate overhead vote, most missions, it was gathered, usually divert the personnel vote to take care of staff accommodation and tuition for their children and wards.
A Foreign Service officer revealed that the FG had yet to pay the capital vote to his mission, noting that this had put the staff in a tight situation as they faced eviction from their landlords.
He explained that while some missions deal directly with the landlords, his mission preferred giving the money to the staff to pay their landlords.
Narrating his predicament on the phone, the FSO who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said, “Staff accommodation rent and their children’s tuition were meant to be paid from the overhead vote but this has not been done because the government has failed to release the money.
Some of us had to borrow money from friends and families in Nigeria so that our landlords would not evict us. We pay rent monthly, so we had to deposit 12 cheques to cover one year and the banks would credit the landlord monthly.
But if you don’t have money in your account, the bank may report you to their regulatory agency because it is a criminal offence to issue a cheque without cash backing. Many of our staff members have been evicted for not paying their rent. It happened in Budapest, Hungary, in 2021 when some Nigerian staff members were evicted from their apartments for failing to pay their rent.
There are cases where diplomats borrow money to settle school fees and rents to avoid eviction. Some borrow from their friends in Nigeria and also from the Nigerian community or the local churches they attend in their country of service.
Some officials have returned to Nigeria, yet they have not been paid their rent. In some situations, the embassies pay directly to the landlords, and some landlords may evict the embassy staff for not paying. In most cases, people use their salaries to pay for accommodation to avoid any embarrassing action from their landlords.”
Continuing, he added, “Most embassy buildings are still in dilapidated condition because of poor funding by the Federal Government. The overhead meant for July to September is yet to be released. The over $150,000 personnel allocation recently released to our diplomatic mission can’t cover expenses from now to October unless the government quickly responds.
And now that ambassadors have been recalled, they may feast on the available funds. Some may want to use the money to celebrate their last Independence Day in office.”
An official complained that the government has also not been paying the relocation allowance to officials newly posted to foreign missions from the MFA headquarters.
“The relocation fund meant for newly posted staff called ‘first 28 days allowance’ has not been paid. Most chanceries which were rented risked eviction if the rents were not paid,” he cautioned.
In November 2020, when the Chairman, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in the 9th Assembly, Yusuf Yakubu, lamented the maltreatment of Nigerians abroad, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, blamed it on the poor funding of the foreign missions.
Onyeama said the small budgetary allocations were affecting their effectiveness in responding to the expansive structure of diplomatic services.
In the 2023 Budget, the ministry and the missions were allocated N98.11bn for their operations. Of the total amount, N62.30bn was for personnel cost, N31.12bn for overhead cost, and N4.68bn for capital expenditure.
In 2022, the personnel cost for the ministry and the mission was N49.22bn with 98 per cent releases made to the ministry. The sum of N23.01bn was for the overhead of which 58 per cent of the ministry’s component had been released and the mission had received 100 per cent.
Also, 50 per cent of the N7.61bn earmarked for capital expenditures had been received by the ministry and the missions. The MFA in 2021 earmarked N65.1bn for foreign missions, which was 78 per cent of the ministry’s N83.4bn budget.
In the preceding year, about N62bn was initially earmarked in the ministry’s N75.4bn budget for 2020 but the vote was revised downwards to N60.2bn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the foreign missions’ allocation was N4.1bn out of the country’s proposed budget of N8.9trn, and in 2018, the foreign missions’ allocation was N11.3bn as the ministry proposed N83.3bn, a 13 per cent cut. At the time, the country’s budget proposal stood at N8.6trn.
Due to insufficient funds, the Federal Government announced it was shutting down its embassies in Sri Lanka, the Czech Republic, and the Republic of Serbia while another one was downsized.
When Saturday PUNCH contacted the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amb Yusuf Tuggar, on the matter, his Special Adviser on Media and Communications Strategy, Alkasim Abdulkadir, reached out and asked our correspondent to get across to him during the week.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs sent me your message regarding this inquiry. You can reach me during the week for feedback on this,” Abdulkadir wrote in a message sent to our correspondent.
Also, the Permanent Secretary, Amb Adamu Lamuwa, and the spokesperson for the ministry, Francisca Omayuli, did not respond to phone calls and messages seeking their comment on the financial challenges facing the missions.
But a retired diplomat, Mr Rashid Akinkuolie, advised the government to denominate the missions’ budgetary allocation in dollars instead of naira, noting that this was the only way to resolve the issue.
Describing the financial crisis at the missions as a perennial issue, Akinkuolie said many officials and diplomats were often owed backlog of salaries and other entitlements.
He said, “It is a perennial issue, it is not something that is just happening today. The problem is that their vote is converted to dollars, euros, pounds, and other foreign currencies and this causes devaluation and a lot of issues. Sometimes, they can’t pay salaries for two or three months. They can’t pay utility bills, local workers and meet other responsibilities.
The only way to address the issue is to pay them in foreign currency. The solution is that the vote should be denominated in dollars but where you use naira, you face problems. The salaries are fixed, and the cost of running the mission is fixed, so, the allocation to the mission shouldn’t be denominated in naira.
The cost of running the headquarters should be in naira while the cost of running the missions should be in dollars so that the value would not come down.”
Meanwhile, speaking on Arise News TV recently, a former Minister of External Affairs, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, also noted that Nigerian embassies were badly financed.
Speaking against the backdrop of the BRICS Summit in South Africa and the need for Nigeria to strengthen its foreign policy and engagements, he stated, “South Africa has got two of the superpowers (China and Russia) on its side. Now, they intend to use that to checkmate Nigeria. This is the time we are saying that we should close down embassies. Our embassies are badly financed.
There are good people in that ministry (of Foreign Affairs) and there are good ambassadors, who are prepared to do their best, but you cannot clap with one hand; you cannot perform your functions when you are not properly financed. South Africa continues to open embassies, continues to provide food but we are the ones who continue to be our enemy.”
It was left to “Saturday Tribune” newspaper of September 9, 2023 to showcase “permanent uncertainty” on its front page.
Headline: “I beg for alms to send my kids to school.”
“Many years ago, Muhammed Sani, took ill, because it was way back in the years. He was not taken to the hospital to seek conventional treatment because there were not many hospitals around. He was only treated with herbs. Then one thing led to the other and he lost both legs – a possible victim of polio.
His past experience which led to his present condition motivated him to leave his home town, Misau Local Government Area in Bauchi State to Jos, the Plateau State capital, to beg in order to cater for his four children and also send them to school.
Sani who started begging in front of a supermarket in Ahmadu Bello Way in 2007, said he made a living from the little he gets from people.
I was hale and hearty, I even had two younger siblings before this predicament befell me. I became sick and you know, during out time there were no vaccines or immunisation but now everything has changed and there are now vaccines. None of your children would grow with any issues leading to a situation like this.
It is now that there are hospitals everywhere and we are now wise. We now take our children to the hospital and sometime they bring the immunization to us,” he said. Sani travels for about 19 kilometres every day to beg since 2007 when he came to Jos leaving his family behind in his home town.
“I join the bus from Bukuru every day to come here. I have been begging here since 2007 when Jonah Jang became the governor of Plateau State. People help us according to their strength and we in turn go back to help our children.
I have four children and they are all schooling in my home town, Missau Local Government in Bauchi State. One of them will be in Senior Secondary two (SS2) by September while I just enrolled the rest last session. I came here just to find something to take care of them and it is what I make from here that has been taking care of them,” he said.
He believed that if he took care of his children now and provide them with education, they would take care of him when he is old and that is part of the reason he is willing to suffer. Sani also said he is thankful because since he started begging, he had never encountered any challenge and he is thankful for the little he makes daily.
If I take care of them like I am doing now and God preserves them till they are all grown, they will in turn take care of me when my strength is gone and one would die easy. That’s why we are suffering now for them. If not because of them you would not see us here. We are here mainly because of them.
I thank God for this place, I’ve not encountered any challenge here since I started begging. Once you leave your house and you can get something little to take care of your family with, then that is enough to thank God for,” he said.
Sani added that he has had a lot of unforgettable experiences but he chose not to keep record of any because he had left everything in God’s hands.
“I have had lots of unforgettable experiences but I choose not to hold any of them in my heart. Everything is in God’s hand. He made everything this way so there is no need to hold anything to heart,” he said.
He hopes that one day, his situation would be a thing of the past and he would share the story of how he thrived to provide for his children to have a better future so that they can take care of him.
I am always praying for my children and also doing my best that they finish their education and get something doing to take care of me. If that happens, all of these would become a thing of the past and I can tell stories of how I begged to send them to school and it paid off because education is really important,” he said.
For those who remain unshockable in the midst of uncertainty, here is the front page of “Saturday Vanguard” newspaper of September 9, 2023:
Headline: “Sasha Obama, 22 models very skimpy bikini top as she puffs on a cigarette outside Labour Day party in Los Angeles – days after her dad barrack became embroiled in gay sex controversy.”
Former First Daughter Sasha Obama was spotted smoking a cigarette with friends while donning a skimpy bikini at a Labor Day party in Los Angeles on Monday – days after her dad, Barack Obama, became embroiled in a scandal over claims made by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the former President had been involved in relationships with men.
The recent University of Southern California graduate, 22, certainly appeared to be enjoying the federal holiday.
Photographers caught the youngest daughter of former President Barack taking some puffs from a lit cigarette as she stood on the street with her pals.
He credited his eldest daughter, Malia, now 25, with helping him to quit smoking, writing that seeing her ‘frown’ at him after she ‘smelled it on his breath’ made him determined to stop.
Malia has been seen puffing on a cigarette numerous times in recent years. The spotting comes days after Fox alum Tucker made a slew of accusations about Sasha’s Dad.
During an appearance on the Adam Carolla Show, Tucker claimed that Barack had a gay love affair in the ‘90s, but that the media failed to report it after it came to light in 2008 due to threats from the Obama campaign.
Back in 2008, a man named Larry Sinclair alleged that he had sex with Barack in 1999, and witnessed him buying and smoking cocaine. The allegation emerged while then-Senator Barack was gearing up for the presidential election, and was roundly condemned as an attempted political hatchet-job.
But Tucker claimed Wednesday that it was ‘really clear’ that Larry was telling the truth and that news outlets didn’t give it enough attention because Barack’s team ‘threatened them.’
In 2008, it became really clear that Barack Obama had been having sex with men and smoking crack, he said. ‘A guy came forward, Larry Sinclair, and said “I’ll sign an affidavit” and he did. “ I’ll do a lie detector” and he did.