INVESTIGATION: Nigerian embassy in U.S. wastes N100 million on frivolous PR contracts

Nigeria Ambassador to the U.S, Adebowale Adefuye

By Samuel Malik

Just a few months after disclosures about a $1.5 million dollar image laundering contract awarded by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, to an American PR firm, stirred controversy, the International Centre for investigative reporting, ICIR, has discovered that the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC has also awarded two similar frivolous contracts worth over N100 million ($700, 000) in less than a year to another United States-based company to do ostensibly what its staff are paid to do.

According to documents obtained by www.icirnigeria.org, between July 2013 and May 2014, the embassy awarded two contracts to Mercury Public Affairs LLC worth $300, 000 (over N50 million) and $400, 000 (over N60 million) respectively for jobs that have been described as basic diplomatic functions that could easily be handled by the embassy staff.

The first of the contracts showed that in four months, between July 22 and November 22, 2013, the Nigerian Embassy paid $300, 000 for Mercury to: “Provide government affairs counsel and arrange meetings with key Executive and Legislative branch officials and staff on issues of importance to Nigeria; arrange meetings between US and Nigerian officials to further deepen business, economic and security ties, and; facilitate and arrange US visits for key Nigerian officials.”

The contract document was signed on July 22 on behalf of the Nigerian Embassy by Ade Adefuye, the Nigerian Ambassador to the US and Morris Reid, managing director of the PR firm.

Our investigation further revealed that in addition to the $300, 000 contract fee, there was room for additional money to be charged without limit, as the contract provides for “Miscellaneous expenses, such as travel” to be “billed in addition to the retainer.”

The second contract, which lasted five months, from December 2013 to May 2014, cost $400, 000 and saw Mercury engaged for “strategy development; liaised with US officials and relevant organizations to enhance the US/Nigerian relationship” — responsibilities that were again not beyond the capacity of the embassy staff.

While ICIR could not ascertain how much was billed by Mercury to the Embassy as miscellaneous expenses in the first contract, our investigation revealed that the PR firm billed the Nigeria Embassy an additional expenditure of more than N10 million ($67, 383), in the second contract.

This expenditure, it was discovered, was accumulated mainly from numerous travels that came with feeding and accommodation, including participation by agents of the PR firm at the World Economic Forum on Africa held in Abuja earlier in the year.

Also, significantly, both contracts could have been awarded as one as they cover a period of about 12 months; but they were split, probably, to meet the approval limit of the ambassador.

In the filings by Mercury to the US Justice Department, a requirement under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, FARA, the company details the activities it conducted for the embassy to be mainly organising meetings and sending emails. Such meetings were principally between US government officials, including legislators, and Nigerian officials, principally Mr. Adefuye and the minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonko – Iweala.

Speaking on the contract, Seember Nyager, chief executive officer of Public and Private Development Centre, PPDC, which wrote a joint Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, request with the ICIR to the Embassy for details of the contract, including the bidding process, said that not only was the sum excessive, the contract itself was needless.

“It just looks extremely vague to me because, honestly, that is exactly what the contract says, and of course, there is no liability,” Ms Nyager said. “So, anything they do will be meeting the term. And I don’t see why the embassy cannot just write directly to the government officials they would like to meet in the US because that is what diplomatic bodies do.”

“I do not know that diplomatic bodies need to hire PR firms or similar firms to arrange these kinds of meetings by virtue of the fact that those are the core functions of diplomatic outfits, not something that ought to be outsourced and certainly not for $300, 000.”

Ms. Nyager said Embassy staff should have no problem executing the job which Mercury was hired to do.

“It is a key function of diplomacy, I think, to be able to arrange those kinds of meetings and I doubt that if you write a letter saying you would like to arrange a meeting with this and this person, you would be turned down abruptly. It is very unlikely that they would not respond to you. Even ordinary citizens, when they write letters they get responses. So I see no reason why a diplomatic outfit would get no response (since) they already have ties with the foreign governments that host them.”

The open-ended nature of the miscellaneous expenses further makes the contract a sheer waste of public funds, according to Nyager. “It is not supposed to be and that is what makes the contract extremely vague because anything you do can be seen to be acceptable.”

“I believe public institutions, of which an embassy is a part of, have budgets and they can only work with their budget. So if you are entering into a contract, you can’t enter into a vague contract that does not state a limit at all for utilisation of resources. Miscellaneous is too wide and too vague (and) I think it contravenes every form of due process and every form of public resource management in Nigeria.”

Seember Nyager said Nigerians are partly responsible for such misuse of public funds by government agencies because, “By being passive, we encourage it and contribute to the system of unaccountability.” According to her, however, a stop can be put if Nigerians take advantage of the Freedom of Information Law.

“There is ample provision now for all of us to demand that we know how our public resources are being spent and when we see that somebody has done it (uncovered misappropriation) I think people should be angry enough to agitate against any of such kinds of practice because it is wrong.

“We need to see that punitive measures are taken so that people are discouraged from doing these kinds of things and know it is an open system and we cannot be exploited or taken advantage of,” she concluded.

The award of PR contracts to US firms has become a trend by Nigerian government ministries and agencies in the last few years. The first outcry against such a contract was a $1 million PR contract awarded by Ojo maduekwe, then minister of Foreign Affairs to Patton Boggs, one of America’s most priced public relations companies. That contract was awarded in January 2010.

Recently, there was also outrage over a contract awarded by the News Agency of Nigeria, the nation’s official wire service, in June this year to Levick Strategic Communications, a Washington – based public relations for an amount in excess of $1.5 million.

According to the contract document, part of Levick’s brief was to provide “government affairs and communication counsel” to shape international and local media perception about the Nigeria government’s efforts to rescue the more than 200 girls from Chibok, Borno State, kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents in April.

When civil society groups asked NAN for details of the contract, the agency dodged, referring them to the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, which it claimed had the information.

All attempts to get the Embassy to respond to several queries on the contract such as whether due process was followed, what specific services Mercury has delivered and costs proved abortive as neither the Ambassador nor other embassy staff responded to our email sent over two weeks ago.

Also, the FOIA request jointly written by PPDC and ICIR, which was hand delivered to the embassy’s offices in Washington DC has not elicited any response.

Similarly, Mercury did not respond to our email as at the time of filing this report.  When our reporter phoned the PR firm’s Washington DC offices, he was told by the lady who answered the call that questions relating to contracts could not be handled on the phone.

She, however, availed our reporter the personal email of the managing director. However, another email requesting information sent to Reid’s email address last week has also not been replied until the time of going to press.

This report was first published by icirnigeria.org. We have their permission to republish.


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  • debbeljo

    It is finished!! GEJ for 2015 whether you like it or not.

    • akin-UK

      You see your stupidity. Was that a good and reasonable contribution from an intelligent person?

      • Wale

        What makes you think he has any?

    • Sword of Damocles

      “It is finished!! GEJ for 2015 whether you like it or not.”
      My friend, you really want to tell me that this is all the grey matter in your dome could come up with? A peer-reviewed research paper should be undertaken on HOW & WHY some Nigerians are devoid of cognitive capacity/rational thinking? without this study there can be no hope for Nigeria to rectify her ailments. Is it that the people have been betrayed by the ruling elites for so long that it becomes something of a “Stockholm Syndrome”?

      • Rommel

        Hmmmn! I am glad you are beginning to understand that the reasoning of many Nigeria has been taking prisoner by constant bombardment of failures and underdevelopment that it has become accepted by the victims as the will of God and many have now become sympathetic towards these vices,without a docile populace,this type of leadership cannot emerge.I am sure you have noticed how Nigeria have become experts at venting their anger on anyone that appears to show evidence of cranium activity,it is a psychological problem and requires that re-orientation begins to take place immediately at least from those still free from the corruption matrix of NIGERIA so that what is left of the country can be rescued from the clutches of these cannibal politicians, unscrupulous religious leaders and their collaborators in the private sector

  • Dr. Kay

    Wether you are Yoruba , Igbo or Hausa ,or any other tribe the common denominator in this Dumbo government is corruption . It is what binds them together , what makes them blind to the ineptitude , out of depth and clueless posturing of this blind government .

  • Mamapikin

    they want to perfume shit….

  • debbeljo

    Before you abuse Jonathan!! GEJ will not be everywhere. You don’t expect him to do the Yoruba man’s job. If the guy feels like defrauding his country, it is between him and his God.

    • tundemash

      GEJ can’t be everywhere but what is he supposed to do when such corruption issues are brought to his notice ?

      I guess this is mere stealing and not corruption . isn’t it ?

      • debbeljo

        You have the right to your thinking as a follower, but any leader with an atom of wisdom knows that allegations has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt before contemplating to send off his subordinate. This accusations must be proven before GEJ fired the Ambassador. You may not know this because you ain’t in leadership position.

        • segun

          Why do you get yourself into un-necessary contradictions. Your first post you dubiously raised the ethnic issue of “Yoruba”. On this one you are raising “due process” . If PT does not expose this one, you will say PT is covering up some people. Se your yeye self? So we can see how dubious you are. GEJ should sack any officer he appointed and who is found corrupt-okay? If your GEJ is clean he will not hesitate to sack any corrupt officer. But your GEJ IS NOT CLEAN.

    • segun

      Shut up! I am Yoruba. GEJ should sack any corrupt officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria regardless of the person’s ethnicity or religion. But GEJ will not sack anybody because GEJ is corruption personified. Who knows what GEJ would have gained from each of the sleazes. That is how you unintelligently intorudyce ethnicity and religion to things in order to save GEJ. Now one thing you cannot take away from Yoruba middle class is that they will NEVER do some shameless CAMRADERIE or LINE up behind the corrupt ones among them. Example? The Yoruba middle class led the way in the fight against OBJ. You hear.? We are here to take any one like you on who talks without common sense. Again, I say SHUT UP YOUR MOUTH. Why? The bulk stops on GEJ’s table, and that table IS CORRUPT. You cannot pass the buck. Your GEJ earns a salary from us Nigerians. We Nigerians pay GEJ, let him do his job by supervising his corrupt officers he appointed. Again SHUT UP and FACE THE FACT ON GROUND.

    • akin-UK

      DebbeIjo; why are the likes of you always shift blames? What has “Yoruba man’s job” needs to do with this?
      Jonathan is the Principal & Adefuye, the Agent. Can your agent go against your wish? If he does, will you condone him or retain him for flouting your wish?
      You even stupidly asked if Jonathan can be everywhere? Ah ah, that question surprised me from a supposedly intelligent mind.

  • zacchaeus Akinleye

    This is governance by sleaze. The road to Nigeria;s redemption must bypass PDP territory.

  • Okonofua

    “Perhaps, we are expecting too much from President Goodluck Jonathan.
    For, it may be that he is not, by natural disposition, imbued with an ardour
    to initiate revolutionary change in the purpose, pace and tempo of governance,
    and that he is not naturally fitted to lead the social and ethical revolution the country
    so desperately needs to take it out of the messy quagmire. If such be the case, should he
    not make way now, or, in 2015; for someone so imbued – since such a revolution is Nigeria’s
    best hope for salvation in the present circumstances?”

    …….Professor Ben Nwabueze

    (June 12, 2013)

  • Chris1408

    GEJ administration stinks of corruption and incompetence at all level. This administration is the worst in Nigeria history, if not the world. It’s a shame he wants another term.

    • Tunsj

      Brilliantly said and always on point.

  • Truthometer

    Can Dumbo’s henchmen stop stealing under different guise? NO, is the answer. Stealing is one of their cardinal transformation agenda. Corruption is their solemn creed. Dumbo and his men stinks to high heaven, with both stealing and corruption. Next time, vote wisely Nigerians. Over to you, Dumbo’s E-rats.

  • the truth

    I would urgently want the nigerian ambassador to respond to these allegations. The last time i visited the atlanta embassy, it was the same old nigerian factor. Waiting for his reply

  • Dr Pat Kolawole Awosan

    Ambassador Adebowale Adefuye is a staunch PDP man and PDP led Federal government of Nigeria is noted for imprudency,wasteful public expenditure and living above their mean looting,stealing and embezzling our national commonwealth,hence it should not be a surprise that Nigeria embassy in USA led by a PDP-appointed ambassador Adefuye engages in wasteful expenditure and imprudent spending of our scarce national funds allocated to the America.

  • Dr. Roberts

    Editor Premium Times:

    GOODLUCK JONATHAN’S ADMINISTRATIVE ABILITY IS IN DOUBT

    No Nigerian Ambassador can have access to any money that’s not been approved by President Jonathan and passed to the Embassy via the Foreign Affairs Minister for the diplomatic post to spend as specified. If the specified purpose is wrong, the fault would lie with President Jonathan.

    It is not a secret in Nigeria that President Jonathan is not administratively savvy. He’s not made an impact on administrative processes for effective and accountable governance. In effect, corruption thrives in Nigeria’s administrative snafu.

    For the most part, in-appropriate persons are appointed on tenuous basis to head government agencies without the cognate knowledge for their remit. That’s not governance – but bumbling. Indeed, there’s not a single appointment President Jonathan made since the year 2010, when he took office, which received approval of right thinking people or was later justified by results as well-considered.

    Over against these sordid facts President Jonathan lacks awareness of what to do as redress to get out his government out of a cliquish cocoon and make it begin to run sensibly, even if belatedly; as his 5-years in office winds up without bracing initiative brought to bear on the rickety and mostly thievishly corrupt non-system of government he’d inherited.

    • Ighodalo

      Dr Roberts:

      Jonathan’s appointees just brandish olden certificates but they lack character, whereas, character is decisive.

  • Engr Michael Goodluck Bassey

    The functions of a any diplomatic mission consist of so many things.. it ranges from representing the sending State in the receiving State; protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State; ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations….this duties are not done on peanut…

    Hilary clinton spends over 20million bucks of state department fund on social media advert. Every foreign mission spends money on PR…LET ACCEPT THAT FACT..the question we should ask ..is the PR contract yielding positive results on positive reportage?

  • MushinSpeaks

    The song: “I will vote for Goodluck Jona…” I guess they have voted him and are planning to do same come February 2015. Well, this is a tip of the iceberg as more may come our way if we all do not vote right in the next 2015 Presidential election.

  • TAWANDA INCOMMUNICADO

    RUBBISH !!Any person who understands how a modern day Embassy functions will agree that all these expenses are quite in order. The real problem here is that the positions of the Nigerian Ambassadors to the US and UK are strictly regarded by the Fulani as their birth right. A Nigerian from Yoruba land is regarded as a lesser being not worthy of the position.
    Playing politics with the born-to-rule Mallams is a creepy affair !!

    • Patrioticana

      One can only pity you. Every other comment is the opposite of yours. So if your brother or child is stealing it is ok, abi. Is ethnicity the issue here? You are dumber than Dumbo, the elephant’s husband.

      • TAWANDA INCOMMUNICADO

        Your are not honest at all…..comments on this issue are in my favour !

  • Guguru

    Money laundering is an issue for this administration. They are using these PR companies to move money around the world.

    • TAWANDA INCOMMUNICADO

      Perverted reasoning……are you by any chance involved in criminal money laundering ?

      • Guguru

        How is this perverted reasoning? Was money not found in a jet the administration used to launder funds into South Africa to buy weapons? Do you suppose the $15 million grew legs and ran to South Africa or do you think $15 million is a certified pilot of a private jet?

  • Wähala

    Where’s @Maria, the Iya Oloja of Premium times to come and defend her Yoruba ethnicity and disparage Ndigbo for a little hooker’s attention. Where is she… eh?

    • African Cinderella

      Oga Wahala, pls if u do not have anything useful beg disappear from this forum….ethnic racism is not welcomed…does d article say anything about Yoruba or Igbo ?..where adults r talking children like u should shut up…

      • Wähala

        Never jump into a dispute you know nada about, are you @Maria?
        You need to disappear back to kindergarten and learn how to construct simple conversational English before deciding who the adults and children are. “African Cinderella”…inferiority complex is a mental health disease, get some treatment before mouthing-off with morning breath at me. Next time, I won’t be polite. I’ve never seen you around here so, I’m deferring my respect to others. Throw another tantrum at me and see what happens to your ugly ass. Olodo!

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  • osogbo

    Nigeria government is so huge and vast it consumed over 90% of the nation revenue leaving little for infrastructure and creation of enabling environment for thriving private sector ecomic development. Government does not exist for itself but where it consumed resources meant for the country infrastructure development it existed for itself and no longer justify. Too many duplications. The entire cost of governance should be reduced to 30% of the nation revenue. Federal, state and local government. The remaining 70% should be devoted to massive infrastructure development.
    PDP or APC the current system and government structure is a burden and not sustainable. Where is the money for development? Very soon the country will be unable to borrow to fund development because as GOVERMENT expand disproportionately it will choke the entire economy. Kaduna state governor commission 9 billion Naira governor’s office yesterday for example. This is common all over the country. How does this impact the people economically? They are building monuments for themselves at the expense of infrastructure needed for economic development. Everyone wants to be in government and politics because that’s where the government concentrated over 90% of the nation revenue.

  • John Smith

    The root problem of all of this is Islam. It has proven to be a deadly religion whether Sunni or Shiite

  • Chukwuka Okoroafor

    Some of us in Igboland can use this lesson as well. We have gotten to a state where some Nigerians believe they are the next Iran in the case of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. Some in the Northern establishment believe they are the next Saudi Arabia and do everything (to the smallest detail) like them. Some neo-Biafrans believe they are the second coming of Israel. This is a people who have lost all sense of themselves (have self-hatred) and want to be people who they will never be. Instead, we will become the ultimate morons in this new scramble for Africa that we are in the midst of (and believe me, this is worse than the first scramble) and once again be happy to be raped and pillaged by outside forces trying to give us these new and strange identities. We are Nigerians and black Africans first and foremost. We must stand for that, because if we don’t, we will fall for anything and the consequences for that this time around will be even more painful than colonialism ever was.