The Senate last week commenced moves to address the humanitarian crises in the North-eastern part of the country. EZREL TABIOWO reports
Disturbed by the rising humanitarian crisis plaguing the North East part of the country as a result of the activities of insurgents, the Senate in its bid to intervene in the situation developed a two-pronged approach towards restoring economic and social stability to the region.
The first approach, which entails ensuring accountability in the disbursement of funds meant for the region, also seeks to cater for all problems arising from the distribution of relief materials meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Charged by its quest for accountability, the Nigerian Senate in September this year expressed its readiness to launch a full investigation into the alleged diversion of relief material meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the North East.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other agencies entrusted with the responsibility of providing the materials were among those listed for investigation at the time.
The President of the Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, had said the report reaching the upper chamber of the National Assembly fingered some officials of the agencies of crossing the nation’s borders with relief materials.
He said the senate, would summon the affected agencies to explain the rationale behind the alleged diversion of materials.
Describing the action as a serious infraction that must be treated as such, the senate president had vowed that anyone found culpable in the gross violation would be severely sanctioned.
Senator Saraki also pledged that the senate under his leadership would not shield any public official indicted for corrupt practices no matter how highly placed.
Probing FG’s spending
Also, the Senate in an unrelenting bid to probe government spending, on October 4, 2016, set-up an Ad-Hoc committee to investigate funds expended on the humanitarian crisis in the North-east in view of the alleged massive diversion of relief materials meant for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The Adhoc Committee chaired by Senator Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna Central), would investigate how funds already committed to ameliorating the plight of the IDPs were spent, and how the fund is being expended by the agencies of government saddled with the responsibility.
The Senators also resolved to donate N32.7million to be contributed by the 109 Senators to support the welfare of IDPS scattered across several camps in the North East region.
These resolutions were reached by the Senate sequel to consideration of a motion titled “Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East sponsored by Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai (Borno Central) and co-sponsored by 18 other senators.
Leading debate on the motion, Senator Garbai noted that the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the North Eastern part of the country has continued to be of concern to the international community and the media.
He noted that according to UNICEF report, about 4.5million people are in dire need of assistance, while one million of the number were in danger of extreme malnutrition.
The lawmaker lamented that about two million people are beyond the reach of aid and presently at the risk of starvation, thereby making Western diplomats to describe the response of the federal government to the crisis as a “disgrace.”
He stated that in spite of the earlier resolution of the Senate that raised the budget for the IDPs from N6billion to N10billion in recognition of the dire situation in the North East, the Presidential Initiative on the North East is yet to show tangible result on ground with half of the appropriated sum released.
Notwithstanding the huge budgetary allocation by the National Assembly, and the various releases by the executive…including significant donations from many donors, the situation on ground is not cheering,” he said.
He further called on the Red Chamber to be “worried that rather than use the money appropriated for the IDPs and the North East to ameliorate the problems, the focus of the disbursement so far made have been used to feather other interests.”
The Senator insisted that the “incoherent and largely fragmented state of procurement in the usage of the released funds so far points to a vague and corrupt scheme that is not in tune with helping our people in the North East out of their present harrowing experience and misery.”
He added: ” the government has made concerted efforts at ameliorating the sufferings of the IDPs, some other people are working towards undermining same efforts; there are some allegations of diversion of 63 trucks of grains released from the strategic grain reserve allocated to IDPs in Borno State by the Federal Government.
“The gap in the state of affairs, where so much money has been made available by government with very little to show for it, has created and overburdened the cash strapped states and local governments in the affected states. Also, the intensity of the crisis was exemplified in August when IDPs took to the streets to obstruct vehicular movement and grounding business activities along the Maiduguri- Kano/Jos Road – the major road leading into Borno, to protest what they claimed was a shortage of food”, he stated.
Passage of NEDC bill
As part of efforts to ensure the return of social and economic stability to the North East region, the Senate in its two-pronged approach, deployed the use of legislation which birthed the North East Development Commission Bill.
Backing words with action, the Senate on Thursday, October 20, 2016, passed the bill to establish the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) to be partly funded by 3 per cent of Value Added Taxes accruable to the Federal Government.
The commission is tasked with the responsibility of rebuilding the North-East region after years of destruction by activities of the Boko Haram insurgents.
The senate also included Kano and Plateau states to benefit from the commission, citing that the two states had also been heavily affected by the activities of the insurgent group.
The decision to include Kano and Plateau in the rebuilding plan was reached following a protest by Sen. Rabiu Kwankwaso (APC Kano Central) that the two states were several times attacked by the insurgents.
The North-East states to benefit from the commission are: Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe and Taraba.
The bill provides that the commission should be located in Maiduguri, the Borno capital and funded by 3 per cent of the federation’s value added tax (VAT) for a period of 10 years.
The other sources of funding of the commission would also include 15 per cent of allocation to the states as well as a 50 per cent deduction of the ecological fund due to the six North Eastern states.
Exposing corrupt public officials
Maintaining a resolute posture to probe spending by the Federal Government, the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on the Humanitarian Crisis in the North East over the weekend vowed to unravel the massive corruption allegedly perpetrated by public officials saddled with the management of funds appropriated for the North East humanitarian crisis.
Chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Senator Shehu Sani disclosed this in Maiduguri during a courtesy visit to Governor Kashim Shettima after the panel arrived Borno last week Friday to meet with state and local leaders, conduct interviews with domestic and international stakeholders in the humanitarian community, and receive testimony from internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps.
Recall that the Ad-Hoc Committee, was inaugurated by the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, in October, following reports of alleged mismanagement of scarce resources by those in charge of managing the North East crisis.
Speaking on the work of the Committee on Saturday, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, commended the persistence of the Senators to complete their investigation, stating that their recommendations will be used to promote accountability and oversight in Nigeria’s efforts to rehabilitate the insurgency-ravaged North-East zone of the country.
“I have seen firsthand the work that needs to be done in the region,” Saraki said, “Now, with the institutional backing of the Senate, we can finally conclude on how best to manage the crisis as we partner with local and international actors.”
The Senate President stated that he was hopeful that the report of the Ad-Hoc Committee will be submitted before the year’s end, so that Nigeria can go into 2017 with an oversight strategy to monitor the government’s humanitarian intervention scheme.
Earlier this month, President Muhammadu Buhari flagged off the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI). PCNI is the organization now responsible for the overall coordination and management of the government’s response in the North East.
“Time is not on our side,” Saraki said, “Each day that we do not get it right in the North East, hundreds of people’s lives are put at risk— many of them children. This is why we are eager to get a strategic framework in place that ensures transparency, accountability and the effective management of the crisis.”