At the senate plenary on the 14th of December, the Senate made a startling revelation – that an official within the President’s government was siphoning money meant for the IDPs in the North East.
The Senate, through the Interim Report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North East, made this damning indictment. The report noted that there is a serious humanitarian disaster ongoing at the IDP camps. It revealed that the IDPs are neglected and suffer from want, disease, hunger and live in squalor.
According to the report, a projected number of 5.1 million people face imminent famine due to the lack of food and the inability of farmers to grow food for the third year running due to the insurgency.
Another revelation made by the report was that the government is doing little to cater to the IDPs. The Ministry of Health is nowhere to be found at the IDP camps and the National Emergency Management Authority runs skeletal services. The bulk of the aid provided is done by NGOs and international donor organizations like UNICEF, The Red Cross and the Dangote Group.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation was that contracts meant for the benefit of the IDPs were overinflated by the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) who gave out these contracts. These were suspicious contracts which did not have any bearing on the welfare of the IDPs in any way whatsoever.
One such contract is the payment of over N223 million for the removal of “invasive plant species” along the Yobe Water Channels. The contract was awarded to Global Vision Ltd., an ICT company, in March 2016. It was further revealed that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal was a director of the company at the time the contract was given but resigned in September 2016 even though he remains a signatory to the company’s account up till this moment.
The Senate rightly called for his immediate sack by the President and his prosecution by relevant government agencies for his fraud and corruption.
The President has to, as a matter of urgency, immediately relieve Lawal of his appointment. He is not a fit and proper person to serve as SGF. He has proven to be unabashedly tainted. To steal funds meant for people who have suffered the most from the terrorism of Boko Haram defies human empathy. From a man who is from the North East, it is unthinkable. One would have thought that he would be in a prime position to know just how much displaced persons in IDP camps are suffering.
Lawal is the face of corruption in Buhari’s government.
The President’s much-touted “war on corruption” will mean nothing if he does not come down hard on Lawal. The President cannot, in good faith, fight a war on corruption when his government contains corrupt elements. He needs to spring-clean and get his government in order. The authorities have gone after members of the opposition in the past on allegations of corruption without public outcries moving them to act. This should be the same concerning Lawal. This corruption scandal will be a determining factor in the public’s perception of Buhari’s government. It will decide whether the public will believe he will truly walk the talk on corruption or whether, like previous governments, his corruption fight is an imaginary one.
An investigation of the activities of PINE and all the contracts awarded by it must be undertaken. All funds that have been budgeted for the IDPs must be scrutinized. This is even more important considering that $412 million in humanitarian funds are unaccounted for according to Senator Ali Ndume.
The President needs to act, fast.