John Ameh, Abuja
Members of the House of Representatives expressed shock, on Tuesday, that the Presidential Committee on North-East Initiative budgeted N60m to cut grasses this year in communities ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgents.
The information is coming when the controversies surrounding a similar contract worth over N200m, awarded by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, has yet to be settled.
The N60m in the 2017 budget of PCNI is to cover contracts to cut “shrubs, grasses and trees” along the Maiduguri-Mama Road alone.
Lawmakers picked out the figure when the PCNI appeared before the House Committee on Internally Displaced Persons to defend its N45bn on humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced villagers.
The Chairman of the committee, Mr. Sani Zoro, and other members expressed shock over the allocation.
“You can’t travel this same way (awarding contracts on grasses) again; it is not acceptable.
“Why can’t you assign this duty to the military to do it for you? They can use their personnel to clear the grasses and you can drop this idea of awarding contracts with N60m,” Zoro said.
Members were also worried that most provisions in the N45bn budget were for “security” and procurement of equipment for military services as against providing shelter, food, hospitals and schools for displaced persons.
“Your duty, from what we understand, is to provide succour for the displaced persons. These people are traumatised and they need urgent basic amenities as they return home.
“Rehabilitation has to do with their survival as human beings first,” he added.
Members said several provisions appeared questionable.
Zoro said, “Maybe, you must first give us the mandate of the PCNI. You have N184m for screening programme for humanitarian activities. What does that mean?
“There is N150m on advocacy and early warning system and N165m for conflict management.
“You are going to deliver security equipment for N200m. What type of security equipment? Then another N2.5bn for security outfits.
“Are you telling us that part of your role is to fund the operations of the military in the North-East? The military have their own budget already.
“Why are you not talking about food, shelter, medical care and schools for these IDPs?”
A lawmaker from Adamawa State, Mr. Adamu Kamale, observed that the N45bn was inadequate.
He said it was more disturbing, however, that N8.4bn out of the money was budgeted for military operations.
Kamale, who is from the Madagali Local Government Area, an area frequently attacked by insurgents, argued that there was no justification for the N8.4bn going to the military.
He added, “The PCNI is not a military agency. This N8.4bn should be converted to rehabilitation of burnt houses and schools.
“I am an IDP; so, I know where it pains. N5bn out of the money can rehabilitate up to 50 per cent of the houses.
“Again, you are just duplicating so many things in this budget. Our people back home will not forgive us if we pass this budget like this.”
Another member from Plateau State, Mr. Istifanus-Dung Gyang, informed the committee that the Federal Government’s total commitment to the North-East this year was “over N800bn.”
Gyang explained that the money was domiciled in various ministries, departments and agencies of government for the purpose of developing the region.
“So, your role as PCNI is recovery. You come in after the military have completed their own role and they have their budget,” he added.
The Vice-Chairman of the PCNI, Mr. Tijjani Tumsah, however, explained that the budget was planned after due consultations with the military.
He explained that much as rehabilitation was the key responsibility of the PCNI, nothing would be achieved if the security aspect was left out.
Tumsah said the government would not take the risk of returning the IDPs to their villages without adequate security cover.
“Security remains a major issue in rehabilitation. There are mines everywhere. The military will have to go in there to remove them,” he added.
However, members insisted that they were not satisfied. They stood down the budget until they had been availed with enough details on how it would be implemented.
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