NGOs taking advantage of crisis in North East to get richer — Ndume

Ndume

Lawmaker representing Borno South Senatorial District, Senator Ali Ndume, tells LEKE BAIYEWU about the insecurity in Nigeria, Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East and the crisis in the Senate

T he Senate recently met with the leadership of security agencies in Nigeria where it was resolved to provide a ‘special fund’ to fight insecurity. Is money the only solution to the security crises in the country?

Yes, it is not only money but I don’t think we have spent enough on security. The main business and purpose of government, as stated in Section 14 (2) of the Constitution, is security and welfare of the people. Nothing is too much. No amount is too much to spend on security. If you put more money into education but children cannot go to school or if they go to school they are not safe, what is the reason for putting the money there? And if you put the money in agriculture but farmers cannot go to their farms or if they go to the farm they get killed, what is the essence? If you put the money into roads infrastructure and you construct all the roads, but when people travel from one point to the other, they get killed, what is the use of the road? There are roads now in Nigeria that are well constructed but because of the insecurity there, people cannot use them. So, there is no amount that is too much to be spent on security.

Any country that is counted as a great country is secure. If the country is not secure, then, there is no country in the first place. So, the issue of too much money spent on security does not arise. If you look at it, our expenditure on security compared relatively to other countries, our spending on security is one of the lowest when compared to the population. Our population is approaching 200 million and we have less than 500,000 policemen and less than 200,000 soldiers. When you look at a country like Egypt, which has a population of less than 100 million, and more than one million policemen and soldiers. Now, that the security threat is getting bigger again, Nigeria should put in more money and get more people involved. Nigeria needs not less than one million policemen and one million soldiers. Nigeria needs more security hardware and the security agencies need to be more equipped.

The fear expressed in some quarters is that the security agencies are not immune to corruption and that providing more money without the commensurate results might breed diversion and embezzlement. What is your take on this?

In the countries where they are spending a lot of money on security, corruption exists there. But why would you fear something you have not done? Anybody who steals money can be charged, punished or prosecuted. But is it right to say because of the fear of money being stolen, it should not be released because it would be stolen? It does not make any sense.

The bill establishing the North-East Development Commission was your brainchild. The National Assembly passed it and President Muhammadu Buhari has since assented to it. What is the state of the commission now?

Honestly, we have done everything from our end for the establishment of the North-East Development Commission and the President assented to it around October (2017). We are still waiting. I am also surprised that the NEDC has yet to take off and I am thinking that maybe they are waiting for this budget to pass.

Was it mentioned in the 2018 appropriation bill?

No, but there is money for the Presidential Initiative for the North-East. The funding for it (NEDC) can be supplemented but the composition of the commission is what we are waiting for now. I must confess to you that I am still wondering why it is taking this long.

Do you think the delay is political?

No, I think there are some issues hindering it. I have personally talked to the President about it and we are waiting.

The Nigerian military recently revealed that some people are benefitting from the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East under the guise of non-governmental organisations pursuing humanitarian causes. Have you been able to confirm this claim?

I have been taking this battle on my own. Let me clearly tell you that I have been tracking. I work with a financial tracking system where I track the amounts donated by international development partners and countries like America, United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, France and others. I know that they have contributed over N280bn. Now, this money was paid to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It is true that they spend 80 per cent of this money on overhead and personnel expenditure. They rent houses, buy vehicles – bullet-proof vehicles. They spent this money, 80 per cent of it on logistics, flying helicopters. They spent a lot of money on helicopter services, their foods, protection and rents. These NGOs are milking or parasiting or benefiting from our unfortunate situation. And the fault is with the Nigerian system. As the NGOs come into Nigeria, they must be accredited by the military.

I personally think that there is connivance between some of them and government officials because they are supposed to be monitored, not only the UNONCHA, but also by the Nigerian government, and then, report back to the UN. If they are not doing well, the way we want, we have the right to stop them. But the problem is that, it is the government officials in Nigeria who clear them; none of them goes to the North-East undiscovered and without clearance from them. Also, the countries that are donating these monies are also concerned and interested (in the humanitarian crisis), not that they are conniving with anybody. But these NGOs are taking advantage of our situation and laughing all the way to the bank.

The Senate investigated the PINE under the supervision of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, and the ex-SGF was indicted. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo also led a presidential panel that indicted him again and recommended his sacking. He has not been prosecuted after his sacking. What do you think is happening?

He was accused but he has not been convicted. The allegations against him have not been proved. What is the allegation? I will be a wrong person to be asked. The Senate made its findings and they said they found out that there were abnormalities or breaches in the procedures under his supervision then. They recommended that he should be relieved of his position and he was relieved. That does not mean that he has been convicted. If the investigation came out with something they could take to court, that again is not my job.

You have been campaigning for the rehabilitation of the North-East, where you come from, and the funds allegedly mismanaged were for the purpose. Why don’t you think Lawal should have been tried?

I know but I don’t think the funds were misappropriated. What happened was that the (sacked) SGF awarded contracts to companies that he had interests in, which is against the law. It is different from saying that he stole the money. He awarded contracts to companies that are related to him.

Is that not a punishable offence under the law?

That is the problem but that is not my business again. I am not a prosecutor; I am not an investigator and I am not the police; I am not the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Even the Senate, what it recommended was that he should be sacked because he did what he was not supposed to do, and that he should be prosecuted. But that is not my responsibility.

You are part of those who formed a splinter group in the Senate…

We called it the Parliamentary Support Group and you are going to hear more from us outside the issue of the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill.

The bill, which seeks to reshuffle the order of polls during a general election, led to the emergence of that group. Now that the bill has suffered a setback, has the group achieved its aim?

No, it was not that we went for a win or lose war. We were just talking to our colleagues and saying that what we (the Senate) were trying to do was not the right thing and that it was not in the interest of the general public. We had more important things then, like the 2018 budget and other legislative responsibilities that we needed to concentrate on. When the issue (bill) was eventually stepped down, we felt that the Senate – the National Assembly – did the right thing. But now, it has resurfaced. I believe that it is more or less an exercise in futility because of so many issues. One, the rancour will continue. Two, the time is not on our side. Three, the bill still has to go to Mr. President and if the President is not satisfied and he refuses to sign (it into law), then, we will go into another cycle of trying to override him which will be a waste of time. We have the elections by the corner and the law says this law must be ready six months before the election or it cannot be implemented.

What are the other objectives of the PSG apart from the bill?

Apart from this, we will do anything to support this government. We will support the government instead of sabotaging the government. We will support the government by all means. We will stand with the government based on the principles of our party so that the government will achieve what the people voted us for.

But some other APC senators have criticised your group as self-serving, that they are also backing the Buhari-led administration. Why do you have to form a group outside the caucus to support the government?

Our group is not exclusive. We even have Peoples Democratic Party members in our group. You didn’t know that? We have PDP members among us, so it is not exclusive.

Who and how many are they?

I don’t have the number offhand but we are over 50. I don’t know the number of the PDP members among us offhand and I don’t want to mention their names now because I don’t have their permission to do that. It will be embarrassing if I mention somebody’s name. But I know those who are part of this process. What is the big deal about this? This is not the first time that we will have interest groups.   (Punch)

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