By Joyce Ogwu
A lot has been said in recent times as regards the activities of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Some who might be somewhat ignorant of the activities of NEMA, it is more like a rapid response agency meant to mitigate the effects of national disasters like flooding, humanitarian crisis and other disaster situations in the country. But the pertinent question is, has NEMA lived up to expectation?
I say this because of the recent revelations on the activities of NEMA, especially in the last political dispensation. The only word that can describe my feelings as I write is that of shame.
The shame of a nation for want of a better expression. When on March 31, 2017, the presidency announced the sack of the director general of NEMA, Alhaji Muhammed Sani Sidi, I knew a canker worm was about to be unleashed unto the polity because of the way and manner the agency fared during the Goodluck Jonathan era.
In some quarters, it was speculated that the agency was the slush fund for campaign expenses for the northwest because the sacked DG was the political son of the former vice president Namadi Sambo. And naturally, he had to play ball.
This fact was corroborated by a recently released report by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that not only indicted the former DG, but also some directors that diverted funds of the agency meant for interventions into private pockets.
Imagine this: “the immediate past NEMA Director General, Mohammed Sani Sidi, maintained 20 different accounts in various banks despite his public servant status.
The EFCC found suspicious deposits amounting to 164,000 US Dollars in his domiciliary account at Standard Chartered Bank alone, all within 18 months.
At the same time, he had up to £58,000 in his Pound Sterling Account.
“The suspended Director of Finance and Accounts, Akinbola Hakeem Gbolahan, also maintained many bank accounts with questionable transactions. In particular, his account in GTBank where suspicious deposits were found, totaling N27, 650,000 which is, also, the over £37,000 and $120,000 found in his domiciliary accounts, and his Naira account which has several suspicious deposits more than N50 million, much of which flowed directly from NEMA.”
“The acting Director of Special Duties, Mr. Umesi Emenike, diverted funds meant for programmes and maintenance of the South-South Zone operations of NEMA under his supervision. The funds were paid directly into his accounts (14 of them have been discovered by EFCC in various banks), instead of the Zonal Office Account. And he was found to have withdrawn freely in cash, by electronic transfers or through ATM Machines, without any evidence of the money being used for NEMA activities.” Hold your breath for a second. Was there a chief executive when the above heist took place? Who was the chief executive? Was the chief executive complicit in the whole saga or he was ignorant? The answers to the above questions can be answered by the EFCC and by extension the House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Management, which had recently called for the immediate reinstatement of the directors, saying they were suspended without due process by the NEMA governing council chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
I am somewhat lost by what our honorable members meant by lack of due process. Are we talking about due process here or economic crimes? Does it bother our honorable (dishonorable) members that over 17 billion naira emergency funds were allegedly stolen by some directors and the former chief executive officer of NEMA? And these guys with a vast war chest are throwing everything at the current Director General Mustapha Maihaja apparently in a move to cover their tracks and cause a systematic distraction by wiping up allegations of fraud against the current DG. While I am not surprised with this, I am also very disappointed with the House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Management.
I say this because, from their body language, they are poised to deliver a predetermined verdict on the Mustapha Maihaja led administration at NEMA. Are we a serious people in this country? There have been allegations of N1.5 billion against Engr Mustapha Maihaja, and he appeared before the House Committee and told them that contract in question was awarded by the previous management. But the ad hoc committee felt otherwise, rather than inviting the former leadership of NEMA, including the suspended directors for questioning, the lawmakers immediately ordered that the erring directors be reinstated, as their suspension did not follow due process.
I mean, where is that done? Only in Nigeria. If not so, despite the damning report from the EFCC, why has the committee not deemed it fit to at least invite the former DG, Alhaji Muhammad Sani Sidi? What about the case of one M. Kanar Mohammed, the Director of Welfare, where his six bank accounts were allegedly found to be replete with NEMA funds, including N214 million, meant for displaced traditional rulers in the North East, N184 million paid by him to one Crystal Chambers and N29.5 million paid by him to a former Minister, Abdul Bulama? Are these not weighty enough to warrant their suspension? Or is the committee trying to tell us that a part of the funds is resting in their accounts? Else, there is no moral justification for insisting on their recall from suspension because it defeats every sense.
I would at this point advise that the energy with which the committee members are bent on crucifying the current DG of NEMA should be used in unravelling the circumstances on how NEMA funds were diverted to private pockets. They should also use this medium to prove to the whole world that members of the house representatives are indeed honorable, and not people easily moved by pecuniary gains.
Not until this is done, I doubt if Nigerians would take the National Assembly members seriously moving forward. This is on the heels of the National Assembly dealing a battered image. And in my opinion, on this very contentious issue of missing NEMA funds, it would be a make or mar episode for the National Assembly as a whole.
Ogwu is a forensic analyst and contributed this piece from Abuja