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‘B/Haram survivors didn’t get food on which officials paid N800m demurrage’

•The Reps’ case against Osinbajo, NEMA DG on N39.5b IDP intervention funds
•Claims are a hatchet job – VP’s associate

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

Nigerians are at it again. A feeling of déjà vu has engulfed the polity. Public funds had been wasted, misappropriated or embezzled.

Investigations had also been conducted and reports of indictment made public. Same arms of government had always traded claims, but, this time, the number two citizen of the country and the lower chamber of the national parliament are the dramatis personae.

The first segment of the face-off was between a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr Babachir Lawal, and the Senate. Senators had launched an investigation into the expenditures of the Presidential Initiative in the North East (PINE) and alleged a fraud of over N200 million said to have been perpetrated by Lawal in a grass cutting contract for the Boko Haram ravaged North-East and recommended his sack.

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But the Executive arm of government pooh-poohed the recommendation. The development led to a verbal exchange between Lawal and then Senator Shehu Sani-led investigative committee. It was not until the exchange became a public embarrassment for the federal administration that the Presidency set up a committee, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to further investigate Lawal.

Though the report of that investigation was not made public, President Muhammadu Buhari eventually fired the SGF.

About one year after the incident, Osinbajo, a professor of law and pastor, is at the centre of another corruption allegation. This time, it is about the approval of N5.8billion for various humanitarian exigencies in the North-East. Also fingered in the corruption allegation is the Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, Mr. Mustapha Maihaja, who has been accused of failure to account for over N33billion. Osinbajo and Maihaja are battling to extricate themselves from the accusations concerning the funds totalling N39.8billion.

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And like the Lawal/Senate face-off which the upper chamber pronounced on, the VP and the NEMA DG’s fate was decided by the House of Representatives Committee on Disaster Preparedness and Emergency which had launched investigation into NEMA’s activities in the North-East. The Committee was headed by Hon. Ali Isa representing Balanga/Biliri Federal Constituency of Gombe State.

N5.8billion contract!

Ordinarily, Osinbajo would have had no business in the episode were it not for the health challenges of Buhari that took him away for most of 2017. During the period, the VP acted as President and the emergency situation in the North-East arose. Osinbajo did what he thought was legally and administratively expedient. But in the eyes of the federal lawmakers, then Acting President erred in law as Isa said he has questions to answer.

At Thursday’s plenary, the House considered the report and recommendations of the Isa Committee and agreed that the VP actually erred.

The House recalled that the sum of N5, 865, 671, 939.26 was approved and released in June 2017 via a memo raised by the Office of the Vice President, directing then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and the Accountant General of the Federation to so act on the emergency intervention of food security to the North-East to support the population ravaged by insurgency.

The memo further specified a directive to the Governor of the CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefile, from the Ministry of Finance to pay the sum from the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account which the AGF was to raise a mandate for.

But the House said that this was in contravention of the approval of the National Assembly on the issuance of Euro Bond from which then Minister authorized the payment.

According to the lawmakers, the Euro Bond is for specified infrastructural projects and not for discretionary intervention, adding that there was no specific appropriation by the National Assembly.

Section 80 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, states, “No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly”.

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Relying on the constitutional provision, the House pointed out that the money, paid to six different companies for the supply of food items to the North-East, was not approved by the federal parliament.

Public trust 

Same day, the House adopted the recommendation of the Committee that the NEMA DG should be relieved of his duties for the alleged loss of N33 billion and violation of public trust.

The House also mandated the anti-graft agencies to further investigate the DG and apply appropriate sanctions where necessary.

The areas where Maihaja was allegedly found culpable include the issue of the donation of 6,779 metric tons of rice by the Chinese government to IDPs in the North-East; the issue of the receipt and utilization of N1.6 billion for flood victims in 16 states; the issue of the funds released for emergency intervention of food security in the North-East and the issue of the release of N3,153, 000, 000 to NEMA for food intervention in the region.

Others are on the matter concerning the evacuation of Nigerians from Libya and the question of the unaccounted N17, 889, 050, 401 released from the Ecological Fund to NEMA.

Punitive measures 

On the issue of the donation of 6,779 metric tons of rice by the Chinese government to IDPs, the Committee made the following recommendations:

* That the House condemns in strong terms the negligence and inefficiency of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and NEMA for the long delay in the collection of the rice from the port terminal.

*That NEMA and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Budget and National Planning should account for the rice which was never received by the beneficiaries.

* That the ICPC, the EFCC and the Nigeria Police should conduct further investigation and prosecute where necessary.

* That the ICPC, the EFCC and the police should ensure the recovery of about N800m paid as demurrage from the concerned officers of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Ministry of Agriculture and NEMA while they should further investigate the conflicting testimonies of the agencies and determine whether there was multiple payment for the demurrage.

* That the suspension of six staff members of NEMA by its management is an abuse of power, against the extant public service rules and a gross violation of Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

On the receipt and utilization of N1.6 billion for flood victims in 16 states, the Committee recommended that the ICPC and the EFCC should further investigate the matter and recover N700m from Maihaja.

On the funds released for emergency intervention of food security in the North-East, the Committee indicted government officials involved in the approval, processing, release and diversion of the N5.8billion for the emergency intervention of food security in the North-East, as it contravened S.80(2) and 80(4) of the Constitution and constituted an infraction on due process for the procurement and loss of government revenue and the flouting of the terms of the Eurobond loan, saying relevant security agencies should take steps to recover the money from them.

On the release of N3,153, 000, 000 to NEMA for food intervention to the North-East, the Committee stated that the ICPC and the EFCC should recover N1,150, 000, 000 being subsidised cost of 5, 000 metric tons of rice from the Director General of NEMA who claimed to have donated same to the World Food Programme (WFP) when the agency was ready to pay for it or import same.

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On the matter concerning the evacuation of Nigerians from Libya, the Committee recommended that the Federal Government should make available adequate funds to relevant agencies for their rehabilitation in order to prevent them from going back.

It added that the process, procedure, method and cost of the evacuation of the Nigerians stranded abroad was opaque and should be made more transparent in order to ensure better accountability.

On the unaccounted N17, 889, 050, 401 released from the Ecological Fund to NEMA, the Committee said the agency should submit, through the appropriate authority, all the money accruing to it yearly to the National Assembly for Appropriation in order to meet constitutional requirements.

The Chairman of the Committee, Isa, told the House, “From the investigation, it has been established that the Federal Government lost N33billion as a result of mismanagement or outright embezzlement of funds occasioned by the actions or inactions of the Managing Director of NEMA, Engr. Mustapha Yunusa Maihaja.

“It is hereby consequently recommended that the Director General of NEMA be relieved of his duties by Mr President and handed over to relevant authorities for prosecution.

Defence

The controversy on the issues continued outside of the House last week when Ikem Isiekwena of APNA, a political action committee supporting the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and believed to be Osinbajo’s associate, defended the Vice President while the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Kola Ologbodiyan, and the National Secretary of the Social Democratic Party, Shehu Gabam, took sides with the lawmakers.

Isiekwena, Ologbodiyan and Gabam spoke on Channels Television Sunrise programme.

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What do you make of the disbursement of the N5.8billon to NEMA?

I think there is a misconception to start with and it is essentially what you would call a hatchet job because we need to separate facts from fiction or innuendoes. The first point to note is that there was an emergency situation and the law provides for a process, whether by procurement or how money gets disbursed from government coffers, to address the situation.

Now you have a report which, at best, is haphazard and, at worst, is a ploy to tarnish the image of persons in government. So you find out that what had happened in May 2017 was that there was a food crisis which the United Nations Food Programme said they were unable to deal with, and there was going to be a reduction of food to about 85% of the persons in IDP camps in the North-East; so the administration was confronted with an emergency, how did they deal with it?

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A meeting was convened and the Vice President who, at the time was Acting President, sat with relevant ministries.

They had the Ministers of Budget and Planning, Finance, Agriculture and Rural Development and the CBN Governor which constituted a Presidential Committee on Food Security and it was clear that they needed to send 45,000 metric tons of grains to the North-East so that people don’t die of starvation. So it was a people-oriented action taken in good faith and they sat around and, in that meeting room, this report did not indicate, as was eloquently expressed in the House, that the CBN, in the consultations, said we had a price stabilization process where we are in a PPP arrangement with the most renowned agriculture aggregators, Flour Mills, Dangote Rice, etc, and they had grain reserves such that it contained any shocks from pricing.

So cumulatively, there were almost 31,000 metric tons of grains. So, there was a pricing system at the time that allowed procurement process in an emergency situation to occur. Now you hear that there is unconstitutionality, illegality which is false.

You have the NEMA Act and, if you look at Section 16 Sub-section 2, it clearly specifies the authorizing body for the award of any contract by NEMA in an emergency situation and it is the President and remember that the Vice President, at the time, was the Acting President. So he was acting in accordance with the law and here you also have Section 43 of the Procurement Act which provides that there is a departure from the general bidding process and you can do single sourcing or you can undertake the process that was undertaken in each instance.

So Section 43 was followed, Section 16 and Sub-section 2 of the NEMA Act was also followed. Now you have a report that came out and I am shocked that this report specifies that Section 16 of the Procurement Act was infringed. How can there be an infraction of the general principle of law, when there is a specific Section of the law that says in an emergency situation this sort of process that was followed could be followed? So it shows you that it is a hatchet job.

So what you are saying is that in the report that the House of Reps put forward, there is no iota of truth anywhere?

There is no truth in it. There is something in the report that is tagged branding and packaging.

You are not concerned about the fact that accountability is what the legislators are asking for here. The Office of the Vice President stated some of the things that the money was supposedly used for.

That is not an extract from the report and it is a bagging process, there was no branding here. It was to bag grains that were in silos and having 707 trucks to deliver the grains from four different locations.

In this emergency situation, according to the lawmakers, there was no bidding for any of these jobs that were given out.

That is not true, it is inaccurate to say no company bid because the procurement process that was followed under Section 43 of the Public Procurement Act says that in an emergency situation and I told you that before the consultation process started, the CBN identified that we had a grain reserve programme. Where are you going to get 15,000 metric tons of grains from?

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Do you agree that it is a hatchet job?

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I do not agree that it is a hatchet job. The young man was acting on behalf of the Vice President and he came to act a script but he failed to deliver on it. Affected state governments were represented at the public hearing.

The representative of Yobe State was a Perm Sec and he declared that no grain was received, no intervention was done and I believe that the House of Reps was very thorough both in the public hearing and the report that emanated from the public hearing.

The House of Reps consists of 360 members across party lines and not a single objection was heard on the floor of the House. So it is strange for anybody to come and say it was a hatchet job. A hatchet job that the Vice President, as Acting President, did not approve of the N5.8billion as some form of intervention on the food crisis in the North-East? A hatchet job that the money was not expended? I truly do not understand his position.

He cited some parts of the Procurement Act which he thinks the members of the House did not look at, particularly Sections 14 and 80 of the Constitution; he believed that the lawmakers did not look at these sections of the law effectively before they came up with this report.

One recommendation of the committee is that the action of NEMA, chaired by the VP, contravened the provisions of Sections 82 and 84 of the Constitution and the act constitutes an infraction of due process particularly on procurement and a loss of government revenue, these are the basic issues.

For instance, the Chairman of the committee, Hon. Ali Isa, said there was no bidding for contract. Yes, there is a Section of the Procurement Act that says that in an emergency, NEMA can act but the Act doesn’t say that you can go and do contracts without following procurement rules. And so you cannot turn around and say that because it is an emergency you did a contract of N5.8billion without due process, you withdrew money from the Consolidated Account without taking it through the National Assembly? This is not a banana republic, this is country guided by a Constitution and the VP is a professor of law.

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Do you agree that this is a hatchet job?

I think we need to understand the processes that are involved in such a very important exercise that touches the lives of people that are stranded. Government has three arms: executive, legislature and judiciary. Lawmakers have an independent way of investigating issues that the executive has addressed. The National Assembly, apart from the Speaker and the Senate President, has Committee Chairmen who function as ministers in their own rights, and they have the powers to investigate and write reports on issues.

Those investigations do not mean that somebody is being witch-hunted; it is a process of accountability, to ensure that issues of perceptions, allegations are dealt with thoroughly and anybody who has visited IDP camps will come to terms with the reality that the people are desirous of immediate attention at all times because the life they live is very pathetic, it seems that there is no intervention anywhere. So, sometimes, the necessity of what you see creates that desperation especially when the large chunk of the N5.8billion is going into the IDP camps and no result to justify that kind of thing.

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So, when I look at it from the responsibility of the National Assembly, it is an oversight function of that committee to do a thorough job and we are a government that is governed by laws and we operate within the parameters of laws and I believe that what they are doing is what needs to be done.

One of the things the legislators talked about has to do with accountability and Section 16 of the Public Procurement Act talked about processes being carried out with clarity and transparency so that there can be accountability. Do you think they are right in saying that there are questions that need to be answered as regards this emergency situation in the North-East?

They are absolutely right; they have the powers to investigate. No President has unlimited powers and as Acting President he had operate within the law and once there is an Act that makes provisions for an emergency situation, there are processes and those processes have to be followed.

I am not saying there is absolute violation of that process and their investigation is ongoing but I am saying that, as a matter of fact, this should not been seen as a deliberate act to witch-hunt anybody but as process that will explain to Nigerians what happened because issues were raised and perhaps Nigerians are not aware the exercise had taken place until the National Assembly raised it.

The Presidency has not explained to Nigerians that they were carrying out this exercise in the overall national interest in an emergency situation. I have been in the executive and I know sometimes how frustrating the executive can be given the situation but at the same time if there is a good relationship between the executive and the National Assembly some of these gaps wouldn’t have been there.

And let us as Nigerians back a process that will take care of future reckless behaviour in terms of managing a process and nobody should feel he is above the law and the law must be complied with at all times.

We must allow institutions to function properly and I think the institutions should continue to function properly and if they do as they are supposed to and as lawmakers, they ought to have done this a long time ago, not now at a point election is approaching and it is subject to a lot of interpretations and so on.

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The National Assembly should be allowed to function properly and Nigerians have the mindset to know whether they are being rational or otherwise and Nigerians should judge at the end of the day. So this is not a pre-emptive exercise in terms of demeaning the process. They have fundamental responsibility backed by law to exercise their oversight function.


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