OPINION: NEMA Swims in Bad Tides, By Emmanuel Onwubiko
NEWS DIGEST – The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is currently swimming in the tides of controversy around the issues of corruption, managerial incompetence, contract and procurement misconducts among a litany of other matters which have combined to cripple the motivation of a lot of the staff.
These avalanche of crises afflicting NEMA started when President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a career politician to head this most strategic intervention agency and ever since the Yobe politician Alhaji Mustapha Mahaja arrived NEMA, it has been every day one trouble.
It can even be concluded that this agency of government established for the purposes of embarking on emergency rescue and remedial processes is itself in a very urgent need of emergency redemption.
From official account found in the website of the agency yesterday, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was established via Act 12 as amended by Act 50 of 1999, to manage disasters in Nigeria. It has been tackling disaster related issues through the establishment of concrete structures.
The Mission is; To coordinate resource towards efficient and effective disaster prevention, preparation, mitigation and response in Nigeria.
The Vision is; To build a culture of preparedness, prevention, response and community resilience to disaster in Nigeria.
The Act vested the authority of managing disasters in Nigeria in NEMA.
According to the enabling law; the Agency shall among the other things,
(a) Formulate policy on all activities relating to the disaster management in Nigeria and co-ordinate the plans and programmes for efficient and effect response to disasters at national level; (b) Monitor the state of preparedness of all.
Sadly, since he arrived from the political terrain to assume the mantle of leadership of this important agency of government, this usually pro-active office has become a theatre of war between the new Director General and some “unlucky” directors whom he has accused of a range of financial misappropriations running into billions. These directors have in turn accused the director general of these same serial contracts procurements’’ crimes and have insisted that the man was simply on a vendetta for no known reason. It is feared that the new director general may have spoilt for a fight to muddy up the records of those directors who are pioneer staff just so he can bring in his own boys. This pattern is what obtains in most agencies whereby the current set of power workers have appointed their cronies.
For the first time since NEMA was created, the staff embarked on industrial action over failure of the current Director General to meet up with their basic financial obligation.
The news emanating from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) have never being palatable even as productivity within the agency has dramatically nosedived because of artificially induced paucity of operational fund to power some of the very pressing activities.
The director general has also been accused of over stepping his powers by arbitrarily suspending serving directors without recourse to the laws governing affairs of civil servants.
Also, two institutions one of which is a whole arm of government and the other an agency under the Executive arm of government namely, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the National Assembly have feasted on some of these controversies brewing within the National Emergency Management Agency in such a way that has reduced the agency to a mere theatre of war.
This is because, while the Federal House of Representatives thinks the Director General has questions to answer regarding monumental corruption the EFCC on the other hand is seen as the attack dog being deployed to witch-hunt the directors who have fallen out of favour for a reason that is not easily known.
The Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo is the chairman of the head of governors of NEMA and is therefore expected to provide effective oversight to the running of the National Emergency Management Agency.
The Vice president is a known political godfather of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Alhaji Ibrahim Magu.
Yemi Osinbanjo is known to have thrown his weight behind Ibrahim Magu when the senate over ruled his fitness to head the anti-graft body.
Some observers are therefore seeing the clamp down on the six directors of NEMA by EFCC as a voice of Jacob but the body of Esau meaning that the anti-graft czar may have sided with the Vice President to shift the burden of the blame for the alleged corruption on the suspended staff and not the politically appointed director general of NEMA who is affiliated to the Vice President and is said to be doing his bidding.
There are also insinuations that if indeed the director general may have committed the said financial infractions, it follows therefore that the Vice President may have some explanation to do concerning why those alleged crimes happened. The Federal House of Representatives reportedly invited the Vice President over these issues.
What is however disturbing is that despite the cacophony of controversy dogging NEMA, neither the president nor the vice president made any known moves to call the director general to order or to completely re-organize the management of that agency so a real competent manager is appointed to head that agency.
If truth must be told, NEMA is such a vital organ of government that must not be used as avenue to settle political sons but a place whereby only the best is good enough to head the agency.
However, whilst we thank the benevolence of nature for not unleashing a major disaster which will definitely not be managed effectively by a highly disorganized National Emergency Management Agency, the problems tearing that place apart seems far from over.
The director general appeared before the House of Representatives and was quoted as having admitted committing procurement crime but the mystery is that it seems the government is so overwhelmed by corruption and financial crimes’ allegations that it does not know what next to do to sanitize the rotten house that is being presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The director general of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Engineer Mustapha Maihaja, had admitted before the House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, which is investigating breach of public trust in the agency that the agency did not comply with the provisions of NEMA establishment Act which mandates it to liaise with its state counterparts during distribution of relief materials.
Speaking at the resumed sitting of the committee in the National Assembly, the DG made the admittance while responding to questions by lawmakers on the failure of the agency to distribute relief materials to the affected areas in the North East.
The hearing of the day was focused on the distribution of relief materials or lack of it, and the N8 billion Emergency Food Intervention Programme in the five states in the North East region: Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa and Bauchi States.
It also took testimonies from the officials of the National Pension Commission (PENCOM), National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) on the status of the companies that were awarded the contracts for the implementation of the emergency food intervention programme.
Representatives of governments of Gombe, Yobe, Bauchi and Taraba states had made testimonies before the committee where they disclosed that NEMA did not involve the state government or the state emergency agencies when the commenced the distribution of items. They also added that they could not ascertain whether the items were distributed by NEMA according to the claim of the DG because of their non-involvement in the whole arrangement.
Media reports said all of the states except Bauchi State said they did not receive any letter from NEMA about the food distribution to internally displaced persons in their states, while Gombe state government was emphatic that there are no IDP camps in the state, and as such, it did not receive any relief materials from the agency.
The committee also reportedly unraveled a forged clearance certificate presented by Three Brothers Rice Mill Ltd. The representative of ITF at the hearing had informed the lawmakers that the clearance purportedly issued by ITF was not from his office as it bears a wrong address, signature and carries his name, though he was not the one who signed it.
Officials of the National Pension Commission (PENCOM), National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS)and the Corporate Affairs Commission(CAC), while making presentations on the companies (Three Brothers Rice Mill Nigeria Ltd and Olam Nigeria Ltd) engaged by NEMA to carry out the N8 billion Food Intervention Programme, informed the committee that they did not fully meet all the requirements for qualification for government contracts.
Responding, NEMA DG, Engr. Mustapha said the exigency of the situation required the agency to make emergency procurements. He also faulted Yobe State statement that NEMA did not make any contact with the state on the distribution and presented a letter of communicated to the committee where the state acknowledged correspondence from them.
The contract awarded to Olam Nigeria Ltd for 2.4 billion naira and the 600million to 3 Brothers Rice Ltd for supply of rice for the emergency food intervention programme in the North East, he stated, was made at the presidential level and the contractors were selected because they had the capacity to deliver in the huge quantity that was needed.
Media reports stated that the chairman of the committee, Ali Isa J.C, warned against misrepresentation of the proceedings of the committee. He said some news reports were deliberately trying to mislead the public and create an impression that the National Assembly is at war with the vice president.
He said, “The House believes we are working with the executive, especially when it comes to fighting corruption and getting value for money. “
The chairman also declared that the House cannot be intimidated into suspending the investigation. He said they will not be distracted to shift focus from probing the N5.9 billion and N3.1 billion Emergency Food Intervention Programme, the N1.6 billion funds for 16 states flood relief and another N1.6 billion for Libya returnees.
The committee summoned the Central Bank of Nigeria, Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Ministry of Agriculture and all companies involved in the procurement of the N5.1 emergency food in the North East.
It also directed NEMA DG to bring all communication, including minutes of meetings, related to the selection of the companies that got the contracts.
Again, as the Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness resumes its investigation into breach of trust by the National Emergency Agency (NEMA), efforts by the lawmakers to track the source of the directive to disburse over N8 billion to some companies to supply grains to internally displaced persons in the North East was truncated after the accountant general appealed to the House not to disclose contents of the documents required because they are classified as security information.
A press statement emanating from the House of Representatives said NEMA could not make any presentation at the hearing due to the failure of its director general, Engr. Mustapha Maihaja, to appear for the second time in a row.
The director of Relief and Rehabilitation, Mr. Kayode Fagbemi, who was again mandated to represent him was rejected by the representatives but asked to stay through the proceedings as an observer.
The committee, in the hearing that held at the National Assembly, had earlier interrogated three of the companies that benefitted from the emergency food programme and the food security programme on the basis of the release of the funds to them. All but one of the companies, namely BUA, Three Brothers Rice Mill, Dangote could not tell the committee exactly what office the contract for their supply of grains emanated from.
Only Olam stated that while it did not apply to NEMA for the contract to supply food to the North East, or mop up grains for off season use, it was granted the job the agency and received payment from the office, though it has an outstanding of N274 million.
However, one of the documents before the committee revealed that the disbursement, which all companies said was not a loan facility, came from the Central Bank of Nigeria as a public/private partnership arrangement. The document showed that it was supposed to be a loan facility to the beneficiary companies.
They also queried the permanent secretary of the Finance Ministry on another document which showed that the authorization to the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay the companies was issued by his office.
In his presentation earlier, the representative of BUA could not tell the committee the agency that awarded the contract to his company, and also said he does not know if there was an award letter or agreement between the federal government and his company in relation to the contract to supply soya beans. This was after he had earlier submitted that there was no contract or agreement to that effect.
While adding that all grains have been given to NEMA, he added that BUA did not apply to CBN for the contract.
On its part, Olam’s vice president (Rice), Mr. Reggie George stated again that it did not bid for the N2.4 billion naira contract it got but was informed by the Ministry Agriculture to send an invoice to the ministry of Finance, after a Rice Processors of Nigeria meeting. He also added that there was no advertisement or bidding process that the company responded to or participated in.
Responding to enquiries by the lawmakers, the Permanent secretary, Ministry of Finance, disclosed that there was no contractual agreement, just an instruction from the office of the Accountant General to pay N5.8 billion to some companies, which they complied with.
Office of the accountant general, however, said it is not aware of any dealings of the contract.
The controversy surrounding the legal status of the Three Brothers Rice Mill continued at the hearing as documents related to the company showed three in figure (4) instead of in words as the company’s representatives claimed was the correct name.
The Corporate Affairs Commission and other relevant agencies were directed by the committee to submit all documents related to the company in either of the 2 names in the next hearing on Thursday, which is expected to be the last.
The house of NEMA indeed stinks of corruption and managerial incompetence requiring a transparent clean up with a clean broom untainted by partisan politics.