Defying logic, and objections from lawmakers, the Nigerian government has channelled nearly a quarter of a billion naira this year to fuelling and maintaining electricity generators in its embassies abroad, when many of the missions have no such need, as their host nations provide stable power supply.
These missions include those located in the United States, the United Kingdom as well as China and several dozens of developed, or emerging nations.
Despite paying 523 million Naira (USD 3.3 million) for electricity charges in 2013, the embassies will spend an extra N170 million to power generators they have no need for, in a bizarre spending spree that surprises even ambassadors who are expected to deploy the cash.
The figure is expected to cover N117 million for fuelling and N51.9 million for maintenance of plants in some 100 foreign missions. This is more than double what would be needed if strictly deserving nations were considered as has been done in years past.
An extensive review of previous federal budgets, and interviews with government officials show how the allocation, now part of the 2013 Appropriation Act, brushed aside a policy that previously ensured such funds went only to missions with electricity troubles- mainly in Africa, and other third world regions.
That effort saved costs, PREMIUM TIMES investigations show, and officials and lawmakers vigorously pursued it, denying generator funding to missions in African nations with relatively improved power supply like Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt -a restriction that spread across Europe, America, Asia and Australia.
But somehow, in 2013, these same officials have pulled a bazaar of sorts, dishing out millions of naira to every Nigerian mission around the world, from Bangui to Washington, to London, to Russia, to Tokyo to Tehran, for generator servicing and fuelling, even when many of those stations appear unaware of the monies at their disposal, the review shows.
A shocked Nigerian ambassador to the United States scrambled a denial when pressed by PREMIUM TIMES on why the Washington embassy should draw such funding, when it apparently has no need for it.
“I’ve been here for three years and we don’t have generator and diesel here in Washington. And that means we don’t budget for generator and diesel,” the ambassador, Adebowale Adefuye, told PREMIUM TIMES last week.
Mr. Adefuye’s denial sheds light into what appears to be a thinly-concealed scheme by government officials to dubiously insert self-serving clauses into the federal budget books.
Two key offices relevant to giving such funding official approval-the Budget Office of the Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs- denied knowledge of these allocations, stoking that concern.
A spokesperson for the foreign affairs ministry, Ogbole Odeh, said while he cannot confirm the allocation or its need, the ministry abides by a government policy that demands unused funds, should those appropriated for generators turn out to be so, be repaid to the treasury.
“That I can confirm, beyond that I do not know for now,” Mr. Odeh said.
But the nation’s well-known history of unspent and unremitted budget funds, and the seeming secrecy surrounding the generator funds, cast doubts as to how such refunds may be possible when even the diplomatic offices that should utilize the funds appear unaware of their existence.
For instance, the Washington embassy, which Mr. Adefuye insisted has no need for a generator and has not been given money for same, received N718, 485 for that purpose this year, possibly unknown to the ambassador. The Atlanta consulate got a triple of that, while Nigeria’s mission in New York got more than N8 million, also for a generator.
An examination of past budgets confirms the ambassador’s assertion that at least in the past three years, none of those offices got such funding.
Mr. Adefuye speculated about the possibility that the controversial allocation was not for his domain since he knew nothing of the sum.
“Maybe they are talking about other embassies. That does not affect us,” he affirmed.
Repeated telephone calls to the Nigerian consulate in New York were unanswered. An official, who eventually answered the phone after several calls, said the consular general, Habib Habu, and the Information Officer, called I. Jack, were unavailable to comment.
The US “fuel and maintenance” bonanza are only a part of an extensive, questionable allocations to dozens of missions abroad-funds which can help address pressing projects back home.
London, for instance, has the highest allocation for plant/generator fuel costs. Despite approving N20.4 million for that mission’s electricity bill, the Foreign Affairs ministry approved practically the same amount (N18.3 million) for running plants/generators in the power-stable capital of United Kingdom.
While the permanent mission in New York has N33.8 million for electricity, it also has over N8 million for generators.
The Nigerian diplomatic post in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, with no stated allocations for electricity charges, budgets N712, 341 for plant/generators fuel charges; suggesting the office will run solely on generators in 2013.
Similar allocations are spread across all missions abroad, PREMIUM TIMES’ interactive analysis of the budget shows.
Yet, for all its puzzling details, more troubling is a somewhat slapdash placement of the funding for different missions regardless of their peculiar economic realities.
Missions in different capitals in different far-flung continents, with varying currency values and inflation rates surprisingly turned up with same allocations for fuelling and maintenance, many to the last kobo. For instance, Bangkok (Thailand), Bangui (Central African Republic), Athens (Greece) and Atlanta (USA) missions have the same generator fuel costs of N1, 573, 932.
The eerie similarities also showed up for Washington and Windhoek (Namibia) (N518, 611); as well as for Johannesburg and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (N1, 445, 921).
For electricity charges, Abu Dhabi, Accra, Addis Ababa and Algiers have the same N9, 899, 409 charge for a year’s supply of electricity.
The same situation applies to Washington and Windhoek (N3, 123, 787); Abidjan and Ankara (N5, 899, 409); Johannesburg and Jeddah (N5, 921, 260); Bangkok, Athens and Baghdad (N4, 445, 486).
The budget for “Maintenance of Plant/Generators” is just as uninspiring: our foreign missions in Abidjan, Abu Dhabi, Accra, Addis Ababa, Algiers, Beirut and Ankara all need the same fee of N366, 982 to keep the lights in Nigeria’s embassies on.
The same incoherence go for Athens, Atlanta, Baghdad, Bangkok and Bangui missions, in which each need the sum of N606, 599 for generator maintenance. Find out more for yourself by clicking on our interactive charts.
No one knows about the funds
A spokesperson for the federal budget office, Afolabi Olajuwon, told PREMIUM TIMES that while it was possible to have generator budgets for some missions, he had no immediate response for the apparent impracticable numbers. He referred inquiries to an individual he called a “schedule officer” in charge of foreign affairs. The staff could not be reached.
The foreign affairs spokesman, Mr. Odeh, also declined comment when asked whether the surprising unanimity of the sums does not suggest the allocations were more routine, and maybe unsolicited for, rather than a necessity.
A troubled history
Despite its huge annual allocations, Nigeria’s budgets have endured decades of troubled performance; and remain a sticky point between the federal officials and lawmakers who often accuse each other of manipulating figures for personal gains.
How the 2013 allocation for generators in foreign missions got approval, appears to reflect how that bickering and at times, dubious alliance, leave a telling effect on the nation.
The generator fuel costs came under stern scrutiny from the Senate appropriation committee late October 2012, during one of the budget defence sessions with Foreign Affairs officials.
“These are areas that we should be looking at. A situation where N200m is voted for generators and fuelling in countries where power is stable is not fair,” Chairman, Senate appropriations committee, Mohammed Maccido, told the ministry’s staff then.
Somehow, that query ebbed away, and the contentious generator funds received approval. Attempts to reach Mr. Maccido were not successful as he did not answer or return calls to his phone.
But in passing the budget, officials jettisoned a practice that saved more than half of what they spent this year-badly needed cash that could help with pressing education and health needs at home.
Past budgets show that up to 2010, all the embassies listed this year as beneficiaries of generator and fuel allocations were specifically denied this. The government spent only N71 million that year for fuelling and maintenance of generators, compared to this year’s N170 million.
It is not clear though, how the monies were voted in 2012 and 2011, as allocations were provided in lump sums without subhead details.
Wasted funds can cover lots of ground
On paper, the 2013 figure is less than 0.004 per cent of Nigeria’s entire 2013 budget; but its apparent squander appears as striking at the heart of a nation seeking funding, and at times, bilateral aid for key programmes, while what is available is frittered on non-existent projects, that could possibly end up in officials’ pockets.
The N170mn allocated to generators for use overseas could, for instance, cover all the following projects in the 2013 budget:
- Six furnished classroom blocks for primary school pupils in Cross River State costing N15million
- Studies for a new drug for the management of malaria in children and pregnant women by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research Yaba worth 25.3million
- The completion of a N111.5million Children Emergency Centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital
- A malaria, tuberculosis and HIV preventative/research programme by the Ministry of Health, Abuja costing 27million
Away from specifics in the budget, N170million could pay for vaccines for between 13,000 to 70,000 children. This is based on government estimates which state it costs the country $15 (N2, 380) to immunize a surviving child but could rise to $80 (N12, 696) per child by 2015.
This sum is also the equivalent of the Kogi state government’s investment so far in a rice production scheme covering 1,500 hectares of land and expected to produce 4,000 metric tonnes of the food crop as well as a means of livelihood for residents.
For the many Nigerians who still rely on chloroquine as the drug of choice for treating malaria due to cost constraints and endanger their lives in the process, N170million would buy at least 160,000 doses of the more effective artemisinin-based combination therapy.
Exchange rate: $1= 158 Nigerian Naira (N)