WE are at a loss as to why it is taking the relevant government agencies more than six months to secure the release from the ports of a consignment of rice donated by the Chinese government for distribution to Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs.
We are even more puzzled that, according to Mustapha Yunusa Maihaja (the Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA) the Agency paid a whopping N400 million in demurrage to clear the said rice valued at N414 million. Maihaja is also under the House Committee’s radar for allegedly awarding N1.6 billion contracts to non-existing companies.
Also confounding is the claim that the N400 million excludes the cost of transporting the rice from the ports to the warehouses of the Agency. This is apart from claims that about half of the goods are still at the ports accumulating more demurrage.
With tongues already wagging over the possibility of a shady deal, NEMA and other agencies have been taken to task to explain their respective roles in this baffling transaction before the House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. The Committee accused NEMA of handling the China rice donations inefficiently, leading to unnecessary expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
The lawmakers particularly raised issues in respect of documents submitted to the Committee by the Federal Ministry of Finance dated July 20, 2017, which indicated that the total quantity of the rice is 6,779 metric tonnes valued at N414.8 million while the Federal Ministry of Agriculture paid another N272.5 million as duty.
What the Committee found most worrisome was the fact that in spite of the Ministry of Finance procuring waivers and the Ministry of Agriculture paying for the clearing of the rice and providing warehouses for storage, no consignment had been received.
But while the NEMA DG continues to insist there is no cause for alarm over the delay and the controversial demurrage there is still reason to ask: What exactly is going on? Why should a humanitarian donation by a friendly foreign country to help address the food challenge in the IDPs camps in Nigeria become a subject of this embarrassing drama? Why should it take six months to administratively process the release of this rice to help feed the hungry and starving IDPs?
While we commend the House of Representatives for its effort to get to the root of the problem, we call on the Federal Government to mandate the anti-graft agencies to thoroughly investigate the matter and sanction anyone found culpable of seeking to profit from the pains of fellow Nigerians.
We must adopt zero tolerance to corruption in our humanitarian services by ensuring that only public-spirited individuals purely motivated by service to humanity are placed in sensitive positions.