... critics allege fraud,bias against Southern States
By OBINNA EZUGWU
Unknown to many Nigerians because the focus on the Covid 19 pandemic and especially the hardship caused by the lockdown of Lagos and Abuja, the political and economic centres of the country, a major storm broke out recently over the distribution of the promised federal government during a meeting the National Assembly held on the palliatives with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster management, Ms. Hajia Sadiya Farouq.
The leadership of NASS had expressed doubt and reservations over the ability of the ministry to handle the distribution effectively to reach Nigerians in good time to alleviate their suffering. Citing the poor implementation of the Social Investment programme of government which transfers N5000 monthly to the most vulnerable Nigerians, the law makers lamented that after spending over N700 billion in the scheme, the impact cannot be felt in any part of the country.
So the asked for the decentralization of the distribution through the states.
When last year, Ms.Farouq was appointed to head the Humanitarian Affairs ministry by President Muhammadu Buhari – a powerful ministry given the enormous humanitarian challenge in the country – it raised eyebrows, and for the umpteenth time, called to question the President’s much avowed anti corruption stance.
Farouq was in March 2017, accused of diverting five containers of dates fruit weighing 200 tonnes shipped into the country by the Saudi Arabia government meant for people affected by Boko Haram war in internally displaced persons camps (IDPs). And as the controversy and allegations of corruption and possible diversion of billions of naira mapped out for the Social Intervention Programme (SIP), some raised concerned over her ability and transparency in distributing the palliatives.
Senate pointed told the minister that there must be fairness and transparency in the distribution of the palliatives to all states in the country. They leadership of NASS later met with the President and also reiterated their position on the distribution of the palliatives.
“The minister of humanitarian affairs, who supervises the disbursement of the “palliatives,” was reported by the Daily Nigerian to have alleged diverted 200 tonnes of date palms (dabino) donated to internally displaced persons in the northeast by the Saudi Arabian government in 2017,” wrote Farooq Kperogi, U.S. based academic and critic of the Buhari government. “This is COVIK 4-1-9 writ large!”
In June 2017, an online medium, Daily Nigerian reported that Zamfara State born Ms. Farouq, then the Federal Commissioner in charge of National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, had diverted a large chunk of the dates to Zamfara and kept them in a warehouse, while the rest was distributed to traditional rulers.
“As I speak to you, there is a store in Gusau where the Federal Commissioner diverts assorted humanitarian aids, including the dates,” Daily Nigerian had quoted a source as saying.
“The problem is that the director Administration and Finance of the commission, Bashar Ahmed, is also from Zamfara State. These two people are the alpha and omega of the commission and they have questions to answer regarding the diversion of the date to market.”
As the controversy raged, she came out with a statement describing the allegations as baseless fabrications meant to assassinate her character.
“Since the presentation of the dates to us for onward delivery to the Internally Displaced Persons and the subsequent complain by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia to the effect that the Dates have been sighted at the markets, the rumour mills and talebearers went to work spewing all manner of false and unsubstantiated allegations of the Commission’s involvement in the alleged diversion of the dates,” she had said.
“The latest is the attack on my person simply because the persons displaced by cattle rustling and armed banditry in Zamfara state, where I happen to come from benefitted from the distribution of the dates. Curiously, some “reliable sources in the Commission” are being quoted in this desperate campaign of calumny. The “feeding frenzy, “ which greeted the twisted allegation on social media that I have diverted the dates and stored them in Zamfara has remained vicious.
“On the accusation that dates were taken to traditional rulers, indeed they were; primarily because the IDPs live in their domains as host communities. We have no doubt that the royal fathers carried out the assignment of Distribution diligently.”
But her denial did not put the matter to rest. In July, the House of Representatives Committee on IDPs wrote to her office, based on petitions it received, seeking her response to the diversion allegations.
“The committee at its 12th July, 2017 meeting deliberated on two petitions it received from the firm of Alawaye and Co – a Whistle-blowing Against Procurement Activities at National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons dated 27th March, 2017 and from Dr. Abba Saleh on Alleged Diversion and Sale of 200 tonnes of dates from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) dated 15th June, 2017,” the letter, dated July 11, 2017 and signed by the committee clerk, Wali Shehu, read.
“I am directed to forward the petitions (copies attached) and request that you respond to the allegations raised by the petitioners. Your comment should reach the committee secretariat on or before 25th July, 2017 at Room 331 House of Representatives White House, National Assembly Complex, Abuja.”
The controversy eventually died down, with more questions than answers. The dates were alleged to have been sold in the markets.
But with her handing of the Covid-19 palliative fund, Ms. Farouq is once again at the centre of controversy. Much like the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) launched in 2001 by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, aimed at reduction of absolute poverty, but which ended up being hijacked by the rich to their own benefit, the Social Intervention Fund which has seen billions expended ostensibly on the poor, and especially at this period Coronavirus induced lock down, but which has from available feedback, failed to reach the supposed poor as allegations of corruption and lopsidedness continue.
Fortnight ago, Ms. Farouq claimed that 2.6 million vulnerable persons have been identified, and are currently benefiting from the Federal Government’s N20,000 Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), within just few days after the government announced the policy. The ministry subsequently released videos of the said distribution, but, which showed chubby looking women that didn’t cut the image of the poorest of the poor; people with less than N5000 in their bank accounts which she said the funds were meant for.
Many wondered first how such number of people could have been identified within one week. And indeed, most Nigerians spoken to by this medium and many who took to social media to react to the claim by the minister said they neither received any palliative nor are aware of anyone who did.
Fielding questions from journalists in Abuja on Thursday April 2, Farouq said six vulnerable people were identified in each household, and out of the 2.6 million hoseholds, Nasarawa has 8,271; Katsina 6,732; Abuja 5,982 and Anambra 1,367. She said the ministry had 11.4 million households already captured and was working to capture additional 1 million.
But questions remained as to whether there were real people who actually got the funds, the modalities for disbursement and the criteria for identification. On Tuesday April 7, the national assembly summoned Ms. Farouq to a meeting during which both the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila faulted the mode of implementation and called for more transparency, even as they demanded that the disbursement be backed by an act of the Assembly.
“We need to put on our thinking cap and work out some strategies on how to identify the poorest persons in Nigeria. I think we have not been able to reach far out there to get them properly captured,” had Lawan said.
On his part, Gbajabiamila said, “The questions are going to be asked, how do you come about your list, how comprehensive is your distribution list? What are the parameters? What is the geographical spread? So, these are tough questions that are going to be asked but I want you to look at them as frank questions that we need to ask.
“If you really want to define the meaning of representation, if that was being practised in the real meaning of representation, then, we shouldn’t be here, because all the questions we want to ask, we should already have the answers. We should be providing those answers to the Nigerian people we represent.
“But if they ask me, as the Speaker of the House, or ask the Senate President or any of my colleagues here, we are going to be struggling for answers. If we were really representing, then, we will not need to ask, because we will have the answers.”
Following the intervention, Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, disagreed with both the Senate President and Speaker of the House, noting that they both “got it wrong” and were trying to compromise the intervention programme.
Uwais said “it has become necessary to respond to the unfortunate allegations made at the National Assembly on the 7th of April 2020, for the purpose of safe-guarding the entitlements of the poorest of Nigerian citizens, whose benefits are likely to cease, because they are not known or connected to National Assembly members or any other person of influence.
“Protecting the integrity of the NSR, which development has been a painstaking process over the past four years, along with the huge investment and effort expended on data that is critical for development and poverty analysis; and
“Ensuring compliance with the World Bank Financing Agreement (FA) signed by Nigeria and the World Bank, as well as the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Nigeria, the Swiss Government and the World Bank, to facilitate the return of the funds recovered from the Abacha family”.
Her claims prompted another intervention from the national assembly leadership which in a statement by the Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity, Ola Awoniyi advised officials and agencies of government to exploit their access to the legislature in making clarifications before reacting to newspaper reports on its deliberations.
“The comments at the meeting were not made to denigrate any official but to make the scheme more effective in the delivery of its critical mandate and these comments were well taken by the Honourable Minister and her delegation. The minister was honest enough to admit that the NSIP had some ‘challenges’ and also bedeviled with ‘intrigues’ which she was yet battling with” Awoniyi said.
On its part, the House of Reps in a statement by its spokesperson, Benjamin Kalu, rejected Uwais’ claims, noting that, “We are aware that Madam Uwais has on certain occasions, including a TV interview on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily programme, cited Section 14 of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act as providing an exemption by which the FG can refuse to reveal details of the NSIPs to the National Assembly.
“This suggests a deliberate attempt by Madam Uwais to conceal information pertaining to the financial activities of NSIP from the elected representatives of Nigerians as we especially recall that she blatantly ignored a letter of enquiry from the House Committee on Public Account addressed to her in her capacity as Special Assistant to the President on NSIP dated August 6, 2019 with reference number HR/SCO5/52/XX/400 requesting a brief of the activities (including income and expenditure profile) of her office from the year 2014 to 2018.”
A day after the meeting with the leadership of NASS, where the claimed that the documents for the disbursements of the Social Investment programme, which has allegedly cost the nation the sum N700 billion, were in the office of the Account General of the Federation, AGF, a mysterious fire gutted the office of the Director of finance, in the building and purportedly destroyed everything. The fire which started at about 10 am raged on for several hours because of the lockdown before it was eventually put out.
Although the AGF and other officials of the agency claimed that the damaged did not affect critical documents, many people wondered how that could be possible given that the office of director of finance is where all disbursements are made. Therefore, they alleged clear attempt to cover up fraud, which is common practice in Nigeria through arson.
Questions being asked are, how the NASS would raise issues concerning the implementation of the SIP and demand for proof of payments and the next day the office of the named custodian of such documents was burnt. It sounds like the witch cried at night and the baby died in the morning.
Allegations of corruption and nepotism
The Humanitarian Affairs Ministry has continued to claim and roll out figures of those who have benefitted from the N20,000 cash transfer in various states. But many say they are yet to confirm that anyone got the funds, even as the state by state figures smacks of lopsidedness and nepotism.
“It’s an unfortunate scenario. For the poor and downtrodden, it is now double jeopardy in the sense that they are now contending with poverty, hunger and the threat of infection,” said Aare Oladotun Hassan, President Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide (YCYW).
“The poverty aspect which ought to be managed by the government in form of palliatives, they have failed. What we are witnessing is unfortunate. I can tell you that as the president of the Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide, Secretary of the Ethnic Nationalities Youth Leaders Forum in Nigeria and Assistant Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association Lekki-Epe branch, I stand in position to interact with youths and know what is happening. But I can tell you categorically that the funds we are talking about has not got to anyone I know.
“Again, it is neither even nor national. The only thing we see is cosmetic display of money being shared in some pockets of areas. It’s like going to one locality in Kano to give few people money, then coming out to say you have shared money in Kano, that’s unfortunate. It is corruption at the highest level.”
While Lagos and Ogun states, as well as Abuja, are the only states locked down by the federal government as part of measures to contain the virus, the states have benefitted little, if at all from the said transfers, which, like everything else under the Buhari government, has favoured mostly the North.
According to an infographic published by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting on states captured in the CCT scheme and their respective number of beneficiaries as of April 9, 2020, Katsina, President Buhari’s home state, with a total of 133,227 beneficiaries is the highest recipient so far, while Lagos, Delta and Borno states had zero beneficiaries.
Data from the infographic showed that Katsina had the highest number of beneficiaries, followed by Zamfara and Jigawa. The infographic, which was created on April 11, 2020, stated its source as the National Cash Transfer Office and revealed that 1,126,211 households were currently benefiting from the CCT programme.
Zamfara, Jigawa, Kano, Plateau, Kebbi, Kogi, and Benue states had 130,764; 99,044; 84,148; 78,430; 76,026; 62,129; and 58,943 beneficiaries respectively; while Nasarawa, Kaduna, Kwara, Gombe, Akwa Ibom, Yobe, and Bauchi states had 48,687; 35,384; 32,218; 26,532; 24,929; 24,814; and 23,305 beneficiaries respectively.
The number of beneficiaries in the Federal Capital Territory, Niger, Taraba, Adamawa, Osun, Oyo, and Cross River states were 20,129; 19,898; 17,803; 16,988; 15,572; 13,811; and 11,998 respectively.
For Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Abia, Anambra, and Imo states, the number of beneficiaries is 11,368; 9,805; 9,596; 9,347; 8,105; and 7,220 respectively. Again, the Southeast remains the least captured zone with less than 30, 000 for the whole zone. It’s already a pattern.
“The government has shown its parochial and nepotistic intent. The Igbo particularly have been told that they don’t belong to this country, because even the woman in charge of the money being given to people, Sadiya Farouk, was reported to have said that the Igbo can go and fend for themselves,” noted Dr. Bongo Adi, senior lecturer at Lagos Business School.
“So, she is telling the Igbo that they don’t belong in Nigeria and that Nigeria doesn’t work for them.”