Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Snapshot of a Hardship Post: US Mission Nigeria

The Department’s OIG office has recently released its inspection report of Embassy Abuja and Consulate General Lagos, Nigeria (ISP-I-08-25A) from July 2008 Living conditions in the country are difficult and the work is not easy.  By one estimate I've heard, post there receives about 150 complaints per day on Nigerian scams alone.  Both Lagos and Abuja are 25% hardship differential posts.  Excerpt from the report below:        

Living conditions in Nigeria have changed little since OIG teams conducted inspections in 1997 and 2002. Traffic is congested and dangerous, the infrastructure is dilapidated, and public utilities function irregularly. Short-term leased properties are expensive, constructed poorly, and require frequent repair. Goods procured locally are of an inferior quality and sometimes counterfeit. Access to rest and recreation is limited and expensive. Crime is also a major issue. Unescorted travel for U.S. personnel is restricted to two islands in Lagos city; in other areas they must travel with armed escorts. Personnel have been subjected to mob attacks and armed robberies even in the “safe” zones. In fact, during the inspection, armed assailants robbed the Marine house and shot a marine and local security guard. It is reportedly not uncommon to see corpses in the street, and, in fact, a headless corpse was found floating in the lagoon close to the consulate general boat dock during the inspection. In Abuja, the living conditions are better, but safety is still a concern, and there is a sense of isolation due to a lack of amenities.

Despite a robust package of incentives and Nigeria’s strategic importance to the United States, it is hard to find at-grade officers interested in serving in Nigeria. U.S. direct-hire staff is characterized by a disproportionate number of officers on their first tours, in stretch assignments one or two levels above grade, working out-of cone, or on Civil Service excursion tours. Often, positions are simply left unfilled.

The inability of Abuja and Lagos to attract interested and qualified bidders hurts diplomatic readiness. Officers filling entry-level positions, in stretch assignments, and on Civil Service excursions too often lack depth of knowledge in their functional areas. There are few mid-level managers to mentor the inexperienced officers. Senior staff spends a significant amount of time on resolving operational issues rather than on planning, policy, and coordination. Morale is frequently low, and there are complaints about poor administrative services and quality of life. The inevitable backlog of work sometimes overwhelms new officers. These issues are not exclusive to Abuja and Lagos but are common to hardship posts.

Unfortunately, there are no clear solutions or recommendations for addressing staffing shortages at hardship posts. Possible solutions include more directed assignments, enhanced incentives, improved training, proactive leadership involvement in recruiting, and additional study and focus on resolving global staffing problems. At a minimum, the Department has to improve facilities and the quality of life for personnel serving in Nigeria, or recruitment woes are unlikely to improve.

The tour of duty at Embassy Abuja and Consulate General Lagos is two years (with two authorized rest and recuperation trips). The hardship differential is 30 25 percent in Abuja (as of 1/3/2010) and 25 percent in Lagos. Both posts are historically difficult to staff and are 15 percent service needs differential posts. Twelve employees are currently participating in the service needs differential program. The cost of living allowance is 42 percent in Abuja and 50 percent in Lagos. Abuja receives a $2,500 consumables allowance. A separate maintenance allowance is authorized for EFMs who choose not to accompany the employee.

Related Item: 
OIG Report No. ISP-I-08-25A, Inspection of Embassy Abuja and Consulate General Lagos, Nigeria - July 2008 | PDF

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