A House of Representatives committee, on Wednesday, said the Nigerian government’s funding for the North East Development Commission (NEDC) was grossly inadequate.
The committee said given the enormity of humanitarian challenges in the conflict zone, the commission requires adequate funding to enable it effectively discharge its “life-saving” duties.
The committee on the NEDC made this remark during an oversight duty on the activities of the commission in the subregion.
Over three million persons have been displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in Northeastern Nigeria, according to official figures.
In July, the House of Reps launched an investigation on alleged diversion of N100 billion by the NEDC after a lawmaker, Mr Elumelu, moved a motion to that effect during a plenary session.
In a report published by PREMIUM TIMES, the lawmaker alleged that corrupt practices in the agency include high handedness by the managing director, Mohammed Alkali, inflation of contracts, award of non-existent contracts, massive contract splitting and flagrant disregard for the procurement laws in recognition of contracts.
The lawmaker said, “the N100 billion so far disbursed to the commission by the federal government is said to have vanished under a year without any visible impact on the refugees nor any infrastructural development credited to the name of the commission in the whole of the Northeast.”
He said the managing director and his close associates were alleged to have diverted funds from the commission to buy choice properties in highbrow neighbourhoods of Abuja, Kaduna and Maiduguri.
These allegations were however denied by the NEDC who insisted that the claims were false and misleading.
The commission had in a rebuttal issued by it lawyers countered that, “all receipts so far from late last 2019 till date are not any close to the N100bn alleged to have disappeared. Therefore, what we have not earned could not have disappeared.”
The lawmaker has, however, not provided any evidence to counter the claims of the NEDC.
Meanwhile, during their visit to Maiduguri on Wednesday, the chairman of the committee, Khadija Bukar-Abba, said “the NEDC is grossly underfunded, and given the quantum of work that needs to be done, we strongly feel the commission should get more funding,” she said.
Mrs Bukar-Abba, a former minister of foreign affairs, said her committee had gone round some of the projects areas of the commission in displaced communities and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps where they saw a multitude of people in dire needs.
“We have visited some of the IDP camps and had a firsthand experience of the depth of suffering people are going through, especially the women and children,” she said.
“We have also seen the impressive works that the NEDC has achieved in such a short period of a year since it commenced operation and it was wonderful. But we have also observed how overwhelming the work that the NEDC needed to do has been, and how their progress may be affected due to lack of adequate resources.
“We visited Ngwom village in Mafa local government, about 18km outside Maiduguri, and we have seen the 1,000 housing projects that the NEDC has embarked on, and we are excited that the project would be concluded before the end of this year. That was quite remarkable.
“At the IDP camps, we have seen multitudes of women and children and older person who needed food more than anything else to survive, and we felt the challenges are overwhelming and the NEDC is underfunded.”
The committee members, led by the managing director of NEDC, Mohammed Alkali, visited several project sites and food warehouses of the commission within Maiduguri.
At one of the IDP camps visited by the committee, the residents lamented how the problem of inadequate classrooms had hampered the education of the children.
An IDP in Customs House camp, Muhammed Abacha, who addressed the committee members, said that food and inadequate classrooms had been a significant challenge for them in the camp.
“We in Customs House IDP camp are facing a serious challenge of lack of food to feed with,” said Mr Abacha.
“We have only nine classrooms here in the camp, and we have well over 3,000 school-age kids in this camp. We need more classrooms; else our children will continue to roam about the camp without any form of education.
The committee chairman told journalists, that as a body that appropriates funds of government MDAs, “our committee and of course the House of Representatives would not hesitate to approve all the requests of NEDC concerning the welfare of the IDPs and people of the Northeast any time they approach us for additional funding support.”
The House committee on NEDC are overseeing the activities of the commission barely three weeks after a Senate committee on Internal Affairs, which also has a mandate of oversight over the commission, carried out a similar exercise.
NEDC was established in 2017 after the bill establishing the commission was passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives. On October 25, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the bill and signed it into an Act.
The core mandate of NEDC, among other things, is to “receive and manage funds from allocation of the Federal Account, international donors for the settlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency as well as tackling the menace of poverty, illiteracy level, ecological problems and any other related environmental or developmental challenges in the North-East states.”