The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabimila, says the state of Nigerian embassies around the world ”will make its citizens not to be proud of their country.”
Mr Gbajabiamila said this while meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, on Monday over the dispute on the funding of embassies.
He said the poor funding of the foreign missions is responsible for the corruption and inefficiency at Nigerian embassies aboard.
The House had summoned the minister over the allegation that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed embassies to disregard the 2022 Appropriations Act on the funding of capital component of the embassies’ budget.
Section 11 of the 2022 Appropriations Act provides that embassies can spend the capital components of their budget without approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Notwithstanding the provision of any other law in force, Nigerian embassies are authorised to expend funds allocated to them under the capital component without having to seek the approval of the ministry of foreign affairs,” the section reads.
During the debate on the motion on Thursday, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affair, Buba Yakubu (APC, Adamawa), had accused the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of instructing all foreign missions to ignore the clause in the 2022 Appropriations Act.
According to Mr Buba, the move was done to address the rot in Nigerian embassies around the world, which are struggling because of bureaucratic bottlenecks.
He stated that the ministry claimed that clause violates the Procurement Act.
Mr Gbajabiamila had announced that he would meet with the minister to discuss the impasse between the ministry and the legislature.
Mr Yakubu said the ministry claimed that allowing the embassies to spend their capital component will amount to a violation of the procurement law.
The Procurement Act provides the process of procedure of procurement by government entities, with series of steps to be taken to ensure transparency in the bidding process for public procurement.
In addition, section 38 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act provides that “All contracts with regards to the execution of annual budget; shall comply with the rules and guidelines on: (a) procurement and award of contracts; and (b) due process and certification of contract.”
The lawmakers provided in the budget a means to bypass the process to allow speedy procurement of goods without recourse to the headquarters in Abuja.
State of Nigerian Embassies
Mr Gbajabiamila lamented the state of the embassies around the world.
He said the lawmakers resolved to intervene by removing bureaucratic bottlenecks impeding the embassies.
“I have been all over the world for one function or the other, and of course, the first point of call is always the embassy, and honestly—unless we want to kid ourselves, it makes you very ‘unproud’ to be a Nigerian, the state of affairs of where these people are,” he said.
He narrated how diplomats had to endure bad vehicles and poor working environment, and how embassy workers resort to extortion and passport racketeering to survive.
He directed the minister to withdraw the letter asking embassies not to obey the 2022 Appropriation Act.
He also dismissed the argument that the new law will lead to a breach of the procurement law.
“When an ambassador does not have a car or his car is 15 years old, and it breaks down every single day on the road. It has even broken down with me in it before. And they have to roll up the Nigerian flag to avoid embarrassment. You go into an embassy, the toilets there are not working, you ask them why; they say there is no money.
“Perhaps, what your team will say, ‘they will breach the law’. Whatever part of the world you are in, you don’t have to be in Nigeria to be caught by the long arm of the law. But we cannot in the name of ‘they will breach the law’ to allow them and allow Nigerians to suffer. You will hear of people withholding the green passport or visa because they are trying to generate money, taking bribes to give people visas because they are trying to generate money, because money is not forthcoming from their home country.”
Mr Gbajabiamila added, “To hear that a ministry is issuing a directive to foreign embassies to disregard a law that has been made by the National Assembly, that is not acceptable. If you are not comfortable with the law, there is a process. If you are not satisfied with the law that has been made, let the executive present an amendment. First of all, withdraw that latter—an unconstitutional letter. First, withdraw that letter.”
Earlier, Mr Onyeama, in his opening remarks, said he relished the opportunity to interface with the lawmakers on the matter.
After the remarks, the meeting was held behind closed doors.
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