Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir David Lawal, yesterday failed to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) seeking detailed account of how the N1.2 billion allocated to his office for the IDPs in the North East, was spent.
He had been expected to appear alongsides officials of the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE) who were also expected to explain how the sum of N270 million was spent to clear grass, and provide account of the N180 million expended on Nigerian refugees in Minawao, Cameroun.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Sani Zorro, who was visibly irked by the absence of the SGF, said there was an urgent need to investigate why the situation of the IDPs remain dire, despite the billions allocated and released to ameliorate their situation.
“The PINE officials said he is at the villa. But as the Secretary to the Government under whose office the rehabilitation of the Northeast was placed, we had expected him to come to shed light on the financial expenses made by his office and the implementation framework being used to spend money,” Zorro said.
The Chairman added that the committee has been inundated by reports of diversion of materials and funds meant for the rehabilitation of the IDPs, and the North East, with the ensuing embarrassing scandal for the country.
“Given the issues of credibility and integrity raised against the agency in charge of the PiNE which falls under the SGF office, we had expected him to respect the invitation of the National Assembly to shed light on grey areas,” Zorro said.
The Executive of Secretary of PINE, Mr. Umar Musa Gulani, in his submission, said the N270 million was the sum for a contract awarded for the removal of 250km of invasive plant species along river channels and simplified village irrigation scheme (phase II) in Komadugu Basin in Yobe State.
Zorro however harped on the need for the initiative to properly prioritise adding that the contract sum is not justifiable, where the IDPs experience a lack of food, medical care and shelter.
“And again, PINE has no business extending relief materials to Nigerian Refugees domiciled in Cameroon, it’s unacceptable. It’s also against the UN charter on refugees who are supposed to be the responsibility of their host countries”, Zorro said.
“Very recently, the House itself was put on the spotlight for budget padding. And if we can be placed on such spotlight, then bodies like yours are guilty of budget looting, because it takes two to tangle. The President is known for fighting against corruption and we must support him by exposing and sanctioning un-wholesome acts of sabotage and diversion of resources meant to achieve policy objectives”, the Chairman said.
A member of the committee, Hon. Ighariwey Iduma Enwo (Ebonyi PDP) also frowned at what he called a frivolous expenditure.
“We are all in support of the attention Mr. President has given to this issue, but what we will not support is anybody taking advantage of the plight of the people in the Northeast. What you have said in your presentation is that your operation has been very ad-hoc. And there is no clear-cut plan to repair the damage in the North East as yet,” he said.
“How can you tell us that harvesting of grass is part of rehabilitative measures? What I have seen here so far is an attempt to retire money and anybody can do this. It is all about bringing up items and using them to justify amounts spent. But what we see on ground cannot justify what has been spent”, he said.
Hon. Istifanus Gyang Plateau PDP) said PINE lacks a concise policy aimed at rehabilitating the communities and the IDPs, and has been operating on an adhoc basis.
The committee directed PINE to submit details of a framework with deliverables, and time line of delivery of contracts, with detailed of the beneficiaries, and evidences that the awards followed due process.