Time to act is now, Transformation in Ministry of Foreign Affairs MUST go on

Recently, I had the pleasure of writing the memoirs detailing the decades spent in active service by a retired distinguished senior officer in the Nigerian Foreign Service. It was a most informative and educating exercise, to say the least. The discourse that ensued is best narrated in his own words.

The purported letter dated May 4, 2021 addressed to Mr. President by some unknown persons has created an opportunity for the need of some anomalies ongoing in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be brought to the open. One of the most resisted things in organizations or most establishments has always proven to be change. Change from the way of doing things and change that tend to bring about transformation and betterment of the establishment; resulting in the curbing of waste and injecting of new ideas into the system. The classical example of this analysis is what is currently playing out at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs especially as it relates to foreign service officers, a firsthand information of retired staff.

The slogan “Soldier come, Soldier go, barrack remain” has shown to be apt and accurate, even so beyond the military circles. For many of us who know the inner workings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and by extension, the Foreign Service operations, the expectations that things will improve in areas of service delivery to Nigerian citizens in the diaspora, continue to get dashed as things continue to be recycled in a business as usual manner.

Having served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Ambassador, now retired and in the position of a highly informed observer, he gets numerous calls from friends and former colleagues who are still in active service, every time on issues both those that affect Nigerians and the staff of the Ministry generally. The insanely high levels of corruption in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) over the years begs for urgent attention ranging from over-inflated ticket costs and passages of officers, using official resources to ferry family and friends not covered by official travel, is a well-worn tale that needs not be rehashed. The resultant effect is that the crop of young officers who do get recruited periodically are speedily initiated into the cesspool, leaving not much hope for any systemic change, irrespective of the lofty ideas these younger ones may have held upon entering the service. It has become imperative that the time is now for that drastic change and holistic overhaul of the Ministry, in order to rid it of this deep-rooted systemic corruption.

The high level of indiscipline inevitably characterizes any such work environment, and directly for the work culture as well. Numerous cases readily come to mind over the course of years spent on active duty, where undisciplined officers at Nigerian foreign missions were never sanctioned, but instead they got cross-posted to other stations, in order to calm frayed nerves and cover up their criminal acts and misdemeanors.

Most times one would be forgiven if you find yourself wondering whether there is a Code of Conduct to guide actions by the officers. This is due to the way Public Service Rules and Extant Circulars get flouted at will. In the end, operations become subject to the fancies, whims and caprices of the most senior officer on ground, and his inner circle. Quite unforgettable is one such case where principal officers of the ministry were known to be collecting 5 Million Naira (5,000,000.00) per month for sundry issues without recourse to any financial guidelines bordering on such spending.

Most of these misgivings are done within the staff with no knowledge of the Hon. Minister whom one would imagine turns a blind eye to all these happenings. Equally deserving of note is the firebrand approach of the new Permanent Secretary, who is currently unearthing and suspending unjustifiable spending, thereby curbing wastages of the Ministry’s limited resources. However, I will quickly add that with the caliber of Foreign Service Officers we have, who are desperate and bent on using Aso Villa connections or “my Oga at the top” to clip his wings, and thwart the efforts of the permanent secretary as a result of all his well-intentioned reforms, so that they can continue in their nefarious ways unchecked.

Over the years, things have truly fallen apart, as can be seen in the breaking down of facilities in the MFA Headquarters such as elevators, generators, working materials, even when money was duly voted, disbursed and expended as clearly shown in the financial records and books of the Ministry. One inevitable effect of these decades of decay is that Foreign Service officers lack capacity for effective representation abroad. Nigerian owned mission houses are known to be abandoned in order to justify rent of alternative houses at very ridiculous and exorbitant costs. Your guess is as good as mine as to where the padded monies from such real estate deals are headed. Presently, we see situations where the current minister cannot stamp his authority to whip this hydra-headed monster into manageable shape. Staff of the MFA lament openly that he is being too much of a gentleman while dealing with hardened law-breakers who only see personal profits, not minding the far-reaching damage being done by the day. They feel he is too laid back for the good of the ministry; the time to act is NOW.

There have been some tough stances as it is echoed in the Ministry from the desk of the Permanent Secretary in dealing with matters under his purview, and the heat is building up thereby making these elements uncomfortable. The firebrand approach he brings to work is starting to give some hope for sanity. Most insiders who try to be neutral are quick to tell you that the caliber of Foreign Service Officers who populate the rank and file of diplomatic missions abroad will not hesitate to deploy ‘Federal might’ underhandedly through known Aso Villa ties, if push comes to shove. Recently, the usual grumblings are starting to well up from various camps of entrenched interests, that he is threatening their illegal sources of slush funds by his insistence on carrying out operations in the most professional way possible, devoid of sentiments as he is widely known to be a stickler to extant rules and regulations.

The sovereignty of every land upon which the foreign missions are located is called into question when one realizes that the citizenship services which Nigerians are routinely denied in these foreign mission offices, can be easily gotten from offices located near the same missions and are often run by Nigeria’s retired foreign service officers. These services have become so openly brazen that they now advertise online in US cities, obviously orchestrated in connivance with mission staff who get their regular cuts, or even own these business centers out rightly. This is the so-called ‘express service’. The presence of operations such as these, effectively usurps the sole responsibilities of Nigeria’s missions abroad. Suffice to say that they are now running parallel government services without due authorization from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The ministry which has a penchant for fighting dirty especially against non-career Permanent Secretaries, in order to sustain their looting game, are already at it again. This was done to their last Permanent Secretary who lasted only 31 days in office at the ministry. Her only wrong doing was wanting to do things right. If Nigeria must see effective and competent foreign service representation and a return to the good old days of global significance, when Nigerian missions abroad were well respected, had the requisite clout and caliber of persons, then we must deliberately embrace a new paradigm shift towards respect for extant rules and regulations, training and re-training, entrenchment of discipline, amongst others within the Ministry and its foreign service operations.

As a keen follower of the happenings in the Ministry, I am very confident of some achievements of the current Permanent Secretary, Mr. Gabriel Aduda who is barely 4 months in the Ministry, and should be encouraged to sustain the reformation ongoing at the Ministry. When my attention was drawn to the publication of May 4, 2021, it was not the least bit surprising for me to understand that corruption is fighting back with the sponsored “non-note” written by unknown concerned Foreign Service Officers and purportedly forwarded to Mr. President. The Federal Civil Service under the leadership of Dr. Yemi Esan, must by all means rise to the occasion and identify this faceless group, towards applying the appropriate sanctions in line with Extant rules. The impunity in the Ministry must be addressed headlong in the interest of the country. The orchestrated blackmail against non-career Foreign Service Officers posted to serve as Permanent Secretary, must be effectively addressed. The Service is beyond an individual or group of people who are benefiting from the deeply entrenched corrupt system.

The era of sacrificing competence on the altar of selfish interests and resistance must come to an end. Waste in the Ministry must be investigated, the unfathomable spending must be investigated and culprits brought to book. The publication has indirectly unearthed their sordid gimmicks, however unknown to them, and the time to act is now. The anti-corruption agencies as a matter of urgency, should beam their searchlight into the affairs of the Ministry and the assertions contained in that publication should be completely ignored as the attempt is to distract the attention of the new management, who have made bold moves to change the state of affairs at the Ministry by challenging the usual norm for the sake of what is right and proper. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must not die, and the much needed transformation has just begun. The Ministers and the Permanent Secretary should be allowed to do their work.

Long live Nigeria’s Foreign Missions!

Long live the Ministry of Foreign Affairs!

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!