By Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—THE House of Representatives, yesterday, alleged infractions in the spending of the N450 billion so far released to the Amnesty Office for the reintegration and rehabilitation of former militants in the Niger Delta.
Specifically, the House Joint Committee on Procurement and Niger Delta Affairs at a public hearing in Abuja, alleged that it had become an established fact that there was evidence of collusion between the amnesty office and some individuals to defraud the government.
The joint committee said some of the companies engaged to provide services by the amnesty office did not meet minimum pre-requisite qualification for contracts awarded to them.
This is as the former Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Dr. Timi Alaibe, said all the circumstances that led to the carrying of arms by the militants in the oil rich Niger Delta had surfaced again.
Alaibe said it was an insignificant percentage of the agreement between the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009 and the militants that had been implemented.
Similarly, a former member of the House, Abbas Braimah, alleged that the procurement process was subverted in the award of contracts to about 360 companies involved in the amnesty programme, alleging that the subversion was criminal.
The hearing, which was called, following the adoption of a motion brought before the House by Solomon Naren from Plateau State, saw the joint committee unravelling the mystery behind the disbursement of N450 billion since inception of the amnesty programme in 2009 and for which little had been achieved.
Grilling the former Director in charge of procurement in the Amnesty Office, Durojaiyeola Tikolo, the Oluwole Oke-led joint committee said information from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation showed that N450 billion had been expended on the amnesty programme.
He said: “According to reports we got from the office of Accountant General of the Federation, the sum of N450bn has been expended on the amnesty programme and we are asking as to whether all that was done was in line with the Procurement Act.”
But the former Director in Procurement office, Tikolo, told the joint committee: “The amnesty programme was a very difficult programme in the sense that you have to abide by the procurement law and then still keep peace in the Niger Delta.
“I remember at a time in 2008 when myself and Dr. Timi Alaibe were several times at the amnesty office, we were beaten. At a time, we were kidnapped and I was lost in the bush for eight hours with a search party sent to look for me. Our vehicles were damaged and one of our staff was kidnapped and beaten.
“We were given an assignment at the Obubra camp which was very dangerous. There we handled the procurement of items and training services.”
Continuing, he said the procurement department in the amnesty office worked within the Procurement Act of 2007.
Asked if contracts were ever taken to the Federal Executive Council for approval, he said no, adding that contract running into hundreds of millions for services and a threshold of N1billion for works were all handled internally, based on the emergency nature of the situation.
Also asked if there was any law allowing such, he said, he couldn’t recall but insisted that his work was done within the ambit of the law.
But interjecting, a member of the committee, Diri Douye (PDP, Bayelsa) advised Tikolo to produce waivers if any, as obtained from the Bureau of Public Procurement as provided for in the Procurement Act, as a way of making the process easier for himself and the committee.
Asked if the amnesty office advertised any of the procurement contracts as directed by the Act, Tikolo said no, explaining that they worked under the emergency provision of the Act which allowed for invitation of those who had experience working in the Niger Delta.
He further stated that they operated based on the minimum requirements where the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) documents, tax clearance certificates and all before they were issued contracts.
This prompted the committee chairman, Wole Oke, to display documents from the Federal Inland Revenue Service, CAC, Industrial Training Fund (ITF), as well PenCom regarding all the companies engaged in the amnesty programme showing violation of the Procurement Act.
He cited the case of one ‘Ogigba Royal Company’ which was 94 on the list of companies awarded contracts, and had claimed to have had the mandate of training 500 ex-militants but was said to have ended up by training only 33 former militants for which he received 37 percent payment of the entire contract sum.
Tikolo said the office engaged the companies based on emergency provisions of the Act, recounting instances where “people were attacked by militants in the camps, adding that under such circumstances, only emergency services were procured with companies already familiar with the terrain.”
Disclosing the documents, the committee chairman told him that “by the wordings, some of the companies so engaged to provide services for the amnesty didn’t have tax clearance certificates while others were not registered nor incorporated by the CAC”.
Tikolo told the panel that “there was an aspect of the minimum requirements that mandated all bidders to swear and affidavit that the papers they submitted were genuine and they all did, and we went ahead to engage them.”
Also asked if the BPP had at any time written the amnesty office to comply with the Act regarding some of the companies so engaged, he said yes, adding that “as partiotic Nigerians”, they realised the importance of crude oil as the main stay of the nation’s economy and that a presidential order was issued by the cheif executive to act so that militants could move to camp, they had to act under the emergency.
The joint committee chairman was infuriated with the answer and he told Tikolo that he couldn’t have loved the Niger Delta more than himself who had sponsored a bill seeking the conversion of the amensty office into a commission in addition to the NDDC.
He said the President who gave the order couldn’t have asked him to go and break the law of the land just because there was an emergency.
The circumstances that led militants to carry arms not changed
In his submission, the former NDDC Managing Director and Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Dr. Timi Alaibe said, “the times are critical for the people of Niger Delta once again.
“Our late President Umaru Yar’Adua established the amnesty programme to stabilise the condition. Today, the circumstances that led to the taking of arms have not changed. What we are doing today in the name of amnesty is only one fraction of the whole gamut.”
Alaibe explained that the then president named five legs of the amnesty programme but just only one was being implemented.
The five legs he stated were the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Re-integration, DDR, critical infrastructure and economic development, environmental mediation in line with the UNEP report, involvement of Niger Delta Communities in the proceeds of oil and gas assets (oil blocs) and involvement of communities in pipeline surveillance.
Why past ministers should be invited—Braimah
A former member of the House who attended the public hearing, Abbas Braimah said that as a result of the monumentum fraud in the implementation of the amnesty programme, there was the need to invite past ministers in the Niger Delta ministry to account for the deeds.
He said the parliament is the moral conscience of the people and the baston of democracy and should do everything possible to unravel how funds meant for the programme were expended.
Alleging that about 360 companies participated in contract execution he said, “these companies that have not availed themselves of this exercise should be recommended to the EFCC for prosecution. Today Niger Delta is still suffering degradation.”
Declaring the occasion open, the House Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara urged the panel to do a thorough investigation in to the matter, saying that as representatives of the people, the House needs to take urgent steps to solve these problems.
The speaker, who was represented by the Minority leader, Leo Okuweh Ogor, said, “In this government of change, we cannot relent in our efforts to ensure transparency and strict adherence to mandatory Public Procurement as provided in our laws and this cannot be compromised in its application to the Presidential Amnesty Programme.
“I urge all stakeholders and participants in this hearing to be open minded, honest and constructive in their contributions. I advise the the Joint Committee tolook into all submissions and positions presented critically and dispassionately and also urge you to be thorough and transparent in this investigation.”
However, minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru Usani and the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme, Paul Boro who were invited to the hearing did not turn-up as they were said to be in the entourage of the acting president Yemi Osinbajo who was on tour in the Niger Delta area.