The federal government bankrolled the school fees of Nigerian diplomats’ children abroad to the tune of N4.8 billion in 2011, it emerged yesterday as government officials scramble to reconcile past spending, and defend fresh proposals.
Up till weekend, ministries and departments and parastatals are to face lawmakers for the annual budget defence ritual, where frightening details of government’s bogus spending usually meet with lawmakers’ fleeting rebuke.
The House of Representatives foreign affairs committee headed by Nnena Elendu-Ukeje on Thursday expressed shock at the huge bill the foreign affairs ministry spends annually on school fees.
For 2011, the ministry paid N4.8 billion for foreign education of its workers’ wards -an amount that overshot approved allocation for the purpose.
The ministry proposes to spend a relatively lower N5.2 million for the same purpose this year, a figure lawmakers believe will be raised after appropriation.
The amounts foot the fees of children of ambassadors and other diplomatic staff in the nearly 200 missions run by Nigeria across the world.
Lawmakers said ministry officials have been presenting such fees and other expenditures of the ministry in bulk without details, names of beneficiaries, thereby allowing officials a freehand to later adjust the approved figures, and spend same unilaterally.
“You have put votes for security in four different places and that is the issue. You have four different sub-heads showing security votes. That is not acceptable,” Elendu-Ukeje told the minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, at a defense session.
Yet, the legislators have not indicated any plan to block the proposals or to order a discontinuation of the hefty government scholarship.
The ministry’s security votes for 2012 totals a little below N2 billion while it plans to spend N2 billion on transport and travels, another subhead the lawmakers queried.
The minister’s response was simple: “We travel to get the best,” he told the lawmakers”
“You need to get well-trained diplomats. Without training, you will not get good diplomats. Without training, there will be no results. We send some of them to Oxford, some to Italy as they will be competing with the best from the world,” he said.
Nigeria also spent hugely in funding to the United Nations, African Union and the regional body, ECOWAS in 2011.
The house committee branded the lavish levies “ridiculous.”
For 2011, the minister said, Nigeria paid 3.3 billion Naira (16 million US dollars) to the African Union. Contributions to the United Nation was N300 million while N285 million was paid to the Commonwealth.