Osinbajo Replies House, Says N5.9bn EmergencyApproval Not Illegal

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

• Says approval sequel to CBN request to forestall starvation in North-east

By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday described as false and misleading, the report by the House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness that he illegally approved N5.865 billion for emergency intervention in food security challenge in the North-east.

The House committee in its report on Thursday, had alleged that the Vice-President in his then capacity as the acting president approved N5,865,671,939.26 through a memorandum directing the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, to act on the approval.

The committee also reported that the payment made following the approval and release of the money contravened the National Assembly approval. It also alleged that the food items for which the approval was made were not delivered to the expected beneficiaries.

But a statement by Osinbajo’s spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, yesterday, said the approval was made following a request by the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, as the facilitator of the National Food Security Programme.

According to him, the CBN boss had made the request in view of the urgent need to distribute grains such as rice, maize, soya beans and sorghum, to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North-east through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

He also said the only way to secure the quantity of grains required at the time was to make a recourse to the National Food Security Progamme which he said had been earlier established by the federal government with a view to shoring up its strategic grain reserves.

Akande further explained that prior to the request made by the CBN governor, the United Nations World Food Programme (UN WFP), which he described as a major aid organisation and food supplier to the North-east, had on April 15, 2017, issued a warning that it would reduce its humanitarian support to about 1.8 million IDPs by as much as 85 per cent following a reduction in funding by the donor countries.

According to him, at about the same time, the United Nations Commission for Refugees in Geneva warned against the growing risk of mass deaths from starvation among the people living in the conflict areas.

He said it was in a reaction to these warnings that the federal government swiftly moved to prevent imminent disaster by establishing a strategic food intervention plan for the affected states adding that a Presidential Committee on Emergency Food Delivery to the North-east was quickly constituted to put machinery in place to arrest the menace.

Consequently, the statement said the federal government’s decision to urgently purchase stored grains for onward distribution to IDPs prompted the CBN to make proposal for the approval of 30,905.08 metric tonnes at the cost of N5,229,685,333.26 out of which he said Osinbajo approved N5,036,644,933.26.

However, the statement explained that a subsequent request by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for N829 million for general logistics, branding and packaging, among others, as well as contingent costs for movement of grains from various locations to the North-east eventually raised the total approval to N5.865 billion.

The statement also faulted the allegation that the food items were not delivered to their expected beneficiaries, saying Osinbajo personally monitored the deliveries electronically.

Akande insisted that the approvals made by his principal were not illegal, pointing out that they were done within his constitutional authority as the then acting president as necessary emergency steps to avert acute food shortages in the affected states.

The statement read: “Our attention has been drawn to a report of the House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness issued on Thursday, November 8, 2018, particularly in respect of funds released for “emergency intervention of food security to the North-East” in June 2017, when the Vice President was Acting President.

“In its report, the Committee alleged that a sum of N5,865,671,939.26 was approved and released in June 2017 vide a Memo raised from the Office of the Acting President, directing the Honourable Minister of Finance and the Accountant General of the Federation to so act. The House Committee also concluded that the payment made was in contravention of approval of the National Assembly. This conclusion is both false and misleading.

“To start with, it is important to understand the context of the transaction. This was at a time when internally displaced persons and their host communities faced very severe food shortages throughout the North East, as a result of successive poor harvests and abandoned farmlands, minimal cross-border cash crop trade and lost economic opportunities.

“On 15th April 2017, the United Nations World Food Programme (UN WFP), a major aid organisation and food supplier to the region, had issued a warning that it would be reducing its vital support to about 1.8 million IDPs by as much as 85%, due to corresponding reduction in funding by the donor countries. Around the same time, the United Nations Commission for Refugees in Geneva also warned of the growing risk of mass deaths from starvation among people living in the conflict areas.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) moved urgently to prevent the looming disaster by establishing a strategic food intervention plan for the affected States. A Presidential Committee on Emergency Food Delivery to the North East was convened and the Committee met on the 13th of May, 2017 to kick off the process, with the then Acting President as Chairman. Other members of the Committee included:(i) Minister of Finance; (ii) Minister of Budget and National Planning; (iii) Minister of State for Budget and National Planning (iv) Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (v) Governor of Central Bank (vi) Deputy Chief of Staff to the President; and (vii) Senior Special Assistant in the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President.

“Resulting from the deliberations of this and subsequent meetings, the approval referred to in the House Committee’s Report was, in fact, based on a request raised by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria as facilitator of the National Food Security Programme, vide a letter dated May 25, 2017.

“As explained in the said letter, there was an immediate need to distribute grains, including rice, maize, soya beans and sorghum, to Internally Displaced Persons through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). The only way to obtain the quantity of grains required was to resort to the National Food Security Progamme (NFSP) earlier established by the Federal Government as a means of shoring up its strategic grain reserves.

“It was in consequence of the Federal Government decision to urgently purchase the stored grains for distribution to Internally Displaced Persons that the CBN made the proposal for approval of 30,905.08 Metric Tonnes at N5,229,685,333.26. Of that amount, the then Acting President eventually approved N5,036,644,933.26, after excluding bagging costs. This was pursuant to the recommendation that bagging, transportation and other logistics were best handled by NEMA.

“NEMA also originated a request to the Acting President, dated May 25, 2017, requesting the sum of N829,026,456.00 for general logistics, branding & packaging, tracking, security, personnel, media & publicity and contingency costs of taking the grains from their respective locations in Kano, Kaduna, Funtua, Ibadan and Gombe to Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Jigawa States.

“These presidential approvals were well within the clear constitutional authority of the Acting President, who needed to take emergency steps to forestall acute food shortages in the affected States and there was nothing illegal or unconstitutional about them. The approvals were duly communicated by the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor of Central Bank, Director General of NEMA and the Minister of Finance for implementation.

“On account of the emergency nature of the procurement, the House Committee’s assumption that the ordinary rules of procurement would apply was wrong. Section 43 of the Public Procurement Act makes provision for emergency procurement, in which case the procuring entity is allowed to engage in direct contracting for goods and file a report thereafter with the Bureau of Public Procurement.

“It is also wrong to assume that taxes and interests accruable to government from these transactions in food items were deliberately ignored or waived by neglect. Of course, we expect that any loans advanced to any of the companies would be recovered with the agreed interests, and that any profits made by such companies would be liable to tax in the usual manner.

“The suggestion that the grains were never delivered to the target States is also blatant falsehood. In actual fact, in order to ensure effective distribution of the grains, an Emergency Food Intervention Project Team was established, consisting of the Director General of NEMA and representatives of the National Security Adviser, Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Department of State Security, Nigeria Police and the Presidency.

“The Committee also worked with respective State Emergency Management Agencies, as well as humanitarian agencies such as World Food Programme, International Committee of the Red Cross, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Deliveries were publicly made directly to the intended beneficiaries.

“In fact, the then Acting President personally inspected the electronic truck-tracking unit established in Maiduguri for the purpose of monitoring the transportation, and flagged off the food distribution on the 8th of June, 2017. Besides, there was the integration of a robust monitoring and evaluation system into the operation in order to facilitate a transparent and accountable process.

“Therefore, all insinuations on this matter regarding purported indictments and perceived violations of due process or the constitution are baseless and totally false. Such interpretations are flawed and should be utterly ignored.”