The Acting Head of the Nigerian Mission in Brazil, Amb. Mohammed Sulaiman, has appealed to the visiting House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs to assist the mission from total collapse due to huge indebtedness.
Mr. Sulaiman told Rep. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje-led Committee on oversight functions to Nigeria Missions abroad in Brasilia on Wednesday that the mission activities were being run on borrowed funds owing to backlog of debts.
“The Brazilian Labour Court has threatened to auction mission’s property if nothing was urgently done to pay off the backlog of indebtedness on the Statutory Unemployment Guarantee Fund (FGTS) and the National Institute Social Security (INSS).
He explained that the mission had defaulted in the payment of pension funds in respect of local staff for many years from 1997 till date and on many occasions was taken to court by the local staff to compel payment.
“Mission is presently at the verge of being crippled by debt, some legal actions are pending in court while others are brewing. The mission is practically insolvent,’’ he said.
Mr. Sulaiman said that if the local staff and the companies that the mission owed should go to court, it would create an embarrassing situation for it.
The ambassador puts the total indebtedness of the mission at 1.9 million dollars to date.
He, however, said that the Head of the Mission took various pragmatic steps to solve the financial problems which include sacking some local staff, withdrawal of staff children from expensive schools, construction of residential blocks and plugging financial leakages and wastes.
Mr. Sulaiman said that through various measures, the mission was able to save 40,000 to 50,000 dollars every month and had not accumulated any new debts since 2012.
He told the committee that the mission was unable to remit totally the revenue generated till date due to constraints such as using it to pay judgment debts to avoid the mission being blacklisted.
The ambassador said that due to the embassy’s new status as a Grade ‘A’ Mission, a number of officers were posted to the mission without increasing the mission’s budget while it got zero allocation in its 2012 capital project.
“Distinguished honourable members, with the present status of the embassy as category `A’ Mission, and the extremely high cost of living in Brazil, the current funding of the embassy is grossly inadequate,’’ he said.
Responding, Rep. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje (PDP-Abia) said the huge indebtedness was not good for the country’s image abroad and promised to intervene for the release of funds to the embassy to meet up with its financial obligations.
Ms. Ukeje, however, sounded a note of warning that such money should be properly managed and accounted for in the spirit of transparency and accountability.
She commended the mission for making judicious use of the available funds before it with the construction of staff quarters and other measures adopted to minimise wastes.
Other members in the entourage were Reps. Patrick Ikhariale (PDP-Edo), Zakari Mohammed (PDP-Kwara), Sekonte Davies (PDP-Rivers) and the committee clerk, Haruna Zakari.