John Ameh, Abuja
The House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness heard on Wednesday that the 6,779 metric tonnes of rice donated by the Chinese Government to support Internally Displaced Persons in the North-East was not missing, as widely speculated.
The committee, which is led by a member of the All Progressives Congress from Gombe State, Mr. Ali Isa, is investigating the expenditure of N17.8bn incurred by the National Emergency Management Agency in the last one year.
The panel’s focus is the alleged “Violation of Public Trust in NEMA” in the execution of emergency services under the watch of the Director General, Mr. Mustapha Maihaja.
On Wednesday, the panel looked into the rice donation, following speculation that the food item was missing.
But, testifying in company with an official of the Nigeria Customs Service, Maihaja denied that rice was not missing.
He told the committee that the first batch was cleared from the ports and stored in a warehouse in Maiduguri, Borno State, and Yola in Adamawa State.
Facing a barrage of questions from lawmakers, Maihaja stated that NEMA, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, the Customs and other government agencies were involved with the movement of the rice.
He said, “As soon as we secured the necessary documents, we liaised with all relevant agencies concerned with the clearing, but we had to invoke Section 43 (1)(b) of the Emergency Act because the goods had stayed for six months in the port.
“Secondly, it was a tough decision to take, considering the situation we found ourselves in. We had to consider the conditions of the people of the North-East, who were in danger of hunger and famine.
“We also had to consider the condition of the rice too. We are still in the process of procuring the rest of the item, but we have taken possession of 110 containers and they are in two locations in Maiduguri and Yola.
“With all sincerity of purpose, the problem is about the process which involved three agencies.”
However, he admitted that NEMA incurred N400m as demurrage on the rice.
An Assistant Comptroller-General, Ezekezie Kaycee, who represented the NCS, confirmed the clearing of 3,779 metric tonnes of the total consignment.
She told the committee that the balance of 3,000 metric tonnes was awaiting clearance.
Kaycee explained further that “Even from this number, only 1,250 metric tonnes have been cleared because this depends on the vessels. It takes an average of 30 days to complete the clearing. From our records, three bills of laden have been cleared.”
Although, the representative of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Samuel Iloma, admitted that the ministry processed waivers for NEMA to aid it in clearing the consignment, he said the ministry later realised that there were still financial implications that NEMA had to bear.
He stated, “We thought with the collection of the waiver, NEMA would just go on with its work, but we got to understand later that the clearance was much more than we thought.
“That was why we approached a clearing firm to find out about what it would require to do the clearing and it was then we were told it would involve money to get the necessary documents.”
But in a bid to get the full picture of the movement of the rice, the panel summoned the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and her counterpart in charge of Budget and National, Senator Udo Udo-Udoma, to give their own side of the story.
The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, was also summoned.
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