Edo govt admitted diverting IDPs’ rice — PDP chairman – Punch …

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The Edo State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Dan Orbih, speaks with ALEXANDER OKERE on the alleged diversion of relief materials for internally displaced persons by the state government

Recently, your party accused the state government of diverting over 4,000 bags of rice donated as relief items to IDPs in the state. What informed that?

We are aware that sometime last year, the Nigeria Customs Service seized imported rice in the country and the Federal Government, in its wisdom, decided that the seized rice and other contraband goods be shared to the IDP camps across the country, to people that were displaced in the North-East. This information was passed to the various states to collect the rice and send to the specific IDPs they (Federal Government) had in mind. That was how Edo received the consignment for the IDPs in Uhogua, Ovia North-East Local Government Area of the state.

On the receipt of these items, the Edo State Government deliberately concealed the information from the public and nothing was heard about the rice until the Customs wrote a letter, informing the government that it was coming to Edo State to donate the rice to the IDP camp in Benin on November 10, 2017. The Edo State Government rushed some of the consignments to the IDP camp on February 8, when it was obvious that the NCS officers might want to supervise the distribution of the items. The first consignment released to the IDPs was about 1,500 bags and the second was about 601 bags, bringing the total to about 2,101. After that, it did not give any other item to the IDPs.

Government has since agreed with me that the number of bags it gave to the IDP camp was 2,101 and that the total number of bags sent by the Customs allocated to Edo State IDP camp was over 6,000. The government was also given bags of used shoes and about 76 cartons of vegetable oil. The government donated part of the used shoes. It did not give all the shoes to the IDPs and it did not give any vegetable oil to them.

But the governor had explained that the rice was “judiciously” distributed to the IDPs and orphanages in the state. Why do you not agree with that?

You see, this is a very simple issue. In a civilised society, the governor should commend me for blowing this open to the knowledge of both government and the citizens of the state. I expect the governor to set up a high-powered government panel to probe those behind the diversion of the items that were meant for the IDPs in Benin and bring them to book. Instead, the government, in their own statement that you have referred to, agreed that it was part of the process that led to the diversion of the items. I have the letters from the NCS which show clearly that from the Owerri Customs office, authorised by the comptroller-general, it (NCS) picked up 5,879 bags of rice. They went again to pick 862 bags of rice from Cross River and if you look at the figures, it was clearly written that the items were meant for the IDP camp in Benin. There was nowhere in the letters written by the Customs, where it was directed to distribute to the people in the Edo North and Esan (Edo Central) and orphanages.

So from the government’s official statement, it diverted the rice and other items meant for the IDPs in Uhogua. The letters showed clearly where the things should be taken to. They were very clear and for the government to say that the items were judiciously distributed, I do not know what it meant by that. All that it has been able to establish is that it agreed with me that it diverted the items to places other than where they were meant for. But I have also gone further to establish that there are no IDPs in any of the places it has mentioned. I have gone further to investigate and I can confirm that there are no IDPs in the Esan South-East and Etsako Central Local Government Areas mentioned by the government. About four years ago, there was this issue of flood that affected some homes in the places it mentioned. Of course, some people were displaced from Edo State and they have since returned to their homes.

But finding a way to explain the unacceptable diversion of the relief items, it now claims that it sent the items to the two areas. That, totally, has taken care of the issue in question; it has been established and admitted by the government. The state government should apologise (for diverting the items). It has a responsibility to replace the items that were fraudulently diverted by it. It should ensure that the people that need the sympathy and support are duly given what was assigned to them by the Federal Government. I must not fail to commend the Federal Government who, in the first place, deemed it wise to assist the IDPs across the country. I condemn in strong terms the decision by the Edo State Government to deny those people, who need help and support, the items that have been given to them.

What about the pictures of spoilt bags of rice provided by the government to support its explanation?

This (alleged diversion of rice) is a very serious situation. This government must own up to the misappropriation of the items and stop further actions designed to deceive the citizens of Edo State and Nigerians. One, the claim that some of the bags of rice were bad cannot be true and is not acceptable. They (state government) were mere messengers. They were given the items to deliver to the IDPs and it was not their responsibility to select the ones that are good and the ones that are bad. If you are asked to deliver 10 cartons of milk to somebody, as a messenger, you are to deliver everything to the person. It is the recipient that can say that they received 10 cartons of milk and discovered that while eight had expired, two were good. It is not for the government to open the bags in order to ascertain which was good and which was bad.

What is more, the government’s explanation, to me, is an afterthought. There is nothing wrong for the government going to the New Benin market, where it normally dumps bad bags of rice, and put them somewhere and take a picture of the bad rice. But did they invite those managing the IDP camp to witness and confirm that there were some bags that were bad? To complicate it, it is saying that the entire consignment of vegetable oil had expired. Is the government saying that the Federal Government, through the Customs, knowingly decided to allocate expired vegetable oil to the IDP camps across the country, with a view to poisoning the innocent souls? I do not agree. I am tempted to believe that having been exposed, they were looking for different excuses to explain the fraudulent misappropriation of the items. Even when you work with their figures, they still do not add up to the total number allocated to the Benin IDPs.

Two, it now claims that it has a few of the bags in the government warehouse. The question anybody will ask is: were the items meant for the government warehouse? What was the instruction? Was it not instructed to deliver the items to the IDP camp in Benin? Was there any letter saying that they (items) should be kept in a warehouse?

You were quizzed by the police following the petition from the governor. What did the police ask you?

I was not quizzed; they merely asked me questions based on the government’s petition. I do not like the word quizzed. I am not a child that somebody can just call and intimidate with a baseless petition. The police should me a copy of the petition written by the government and they asked for my reaction. I made my statement. I brought out documents to support what I said and I also said that the issues were very clear.

With what you have alleged so far, are you ready to prove your case in a court of law?

I have nothing to prove, it is now the government that should be accountable to the people. It has a responsibility to acceptably address the issues raised. It is clear from its statement and mine that it did not deliver the items where they ought to be delivered to. It is unfortunate that we are now turning the issue into a debate.

Do you also expect the police to quiz officials of the state government on the matter?

I am not in the police. I have established my case. The state government should apologise.

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