Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Corruption scandal hits Foreign Affairs Ministry

Indications have emerged that some staff members of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be corruptly enriching themselves by inflating the cost of authenticating documents for prospective students or other Nigerians planning to travel abroad.

Most of the victims in their quest to get timely and quality service devoid of the bureaucratic hurdles which creates endless delays in public institutions, have played into the hands of racketeers in the ministry who extort money from them.

THISDAY investigations revealed that a document authenticating racket is currently churning in millions of naira for its operators in the Legal and Treaty Division of the ministry in Abuja, thereby defrauding the government of legitimate earnings.

Normally, it costs N300 only per page to get a document authenticated. But this racket charges as much as N2,500 per page, which takes only 24 hours, as against one week when done through the formal channel. Some other documents which are not school related cost as much as N5,000.

Sometimes, the racketeer collects N10,000 from unsuspecting customers, pockets N5,000 and remits the remaining N5,000 to the racket kingpin inside the ministry. Some of the footmen used by the group station themselves at the gate of the ministry were they corner customers.

THISDAY gathered that documents that are usually presented for authentication include age declaration, school transcripts, certificates of incorporation for companies and marriage certificates among others.

The cartel involved in the illegal business include a level 13 or 14 officer in the Legal and Treaty Division who has the seal used for authentication. The customers do not receive any receipt for the service which proves that the money is not paid into government coffers.

It was learnt that only one person has the seal which authenticates all the documents that comes to the ministry. When people travel from all parts of the country to Abuja for that purpose, they are asked to drop their certificate and come back a week after. For those desperate to have it done earlier than that because of the cost of travelling, they are offered the choice of using the illegal channel.

A source told THISDAY that the fact that only one person has the seal in the entire ministry is a huge problem, because it has resulted into abuse of office. Also, men attached to the ministry from security agencies act as footmen. These footmen get the clients by convincing them that they would get the service within 24 hours, it was learnt.

This newspaper reports that its correspondent posed as a potential traveller seeking document authentication. When she reached the gate of the ministry, she asked the security men to give her directions to the Legal department where the service was offered.

The security men told her that it could no longer be done on that particular day (a Wednesday) as the unit in charge offers the service once a week, on Tuesday. She then pretended to be sad. Immediately, one of the men (name withheld) asked her to stand aside so that he could talk to her privately.

He said he could help and then asked to see the documents. He advised the correspondent to go to the Ministry of Education to authenticate her university certificate and statement of result. She asked how much it would cost when she returned. He said the official price is N300 per page through the normal channel.

But quickly added that it would cost N15,000 for the six pages. The correspondent pretended to be alarmed, and then he went on to explain that even though she came on a day other than Tuesday, he could get the job done within 24 hrs. To buttress his point, he mentioned the name of the Assistant Director who was in charge. The reporter asked to see her but he said that was not possible.

At that point, the correspondent promised to return when she had finished the first step at the Ministry of Education.

THISDAY contacted the spokesman of the Ministry, Mr. Ozo Nwobu, who said the allegations would have a bad effect on the government's current campaign against corruption and the ministry's diplomatic engagement which borders on Citizen Diplomacy. Ozo in a text message said an investigation had already been launched to get to the root of the matter.

"I have brought this allegation to the attention of the authorities so that an in-house investigation would be carried out...These are not issues to be taken lightly and therefore need to be properly investigated before definitive conclusions are reached."

According to a source, "the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has to look into this massive fraud going on in the ministry. It cannot be allowed to continue under this administration which claims to be fighting corruption and adhering to the rule of law."

This Day

Related stories: Video report on the EFCC crackdown on corruption in Nigeria

Foreign Affairs Minister on CNN 

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