By Innocent Duru
- Millions released for training, ID cards shrouded in controversy
- Returnees accuse govt officials of stuffing beneficiaries’ lists with names of family members
- Niger Delta Ministry, Senator roll out conflicting figures
- Edo Attorney-General: returnees’ allegations unfounded
- Millions of naira meant for training young Nigerians recently repatriated from Libya and other foreign countries is enmeshed in a scandal.
Supposed beneficiaries of the training in poultry and fishery organised for them in Edo and Oyo states are accusing government officials of hijacking the training for the benefits of their family members and other relations.
Participants at the training programmes were meant to receive the sum of N300,000 each besides other benefits, but smart government officials replaced the names of many of the returnees with those of their relations.
The aggrieved returnees are also accusing the Anti-Human Trafficking Taskforce officials in the state of inflating an ID card contract executed by the body to their detriment.
The trend has compounded the apprehension of many of the returnees who are now threatening to return to the perilous journey from which they were earlier rescued.
For instance, some of the returnees who spoke with our correspondent claimed that they had no knowledge of a training programme organised for them in Ibadan and Benin, funded by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
The lawmaker representing Edo South, Senator Mathew Uroghide, was said to have been involved in the project as part of his constituency project.
One of the returnees, who identified himself as Fatai Yusuf, said he was not aware of the training programme despite the fact that the organisers had his telephone number
Yusuf said: “I was not informed about any training by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in Ibadan. They chose people who are related to them and picked women from different places to attend the training.
“Everybody in the government house has my number. I told them to call me anytime they have something to do.
“I used to leave Kano to go to Benin for training. If I could do that, is it Ibadan I would not be able to go? They can send me to Lagos to be asked useless questions on television.”
Another returnee, who gave his name simply as Sunny, alleged that the training programme was only another opportunity by government officials to enrich themselves.
He said: “Those people are only using our group’s name to sign out money from government’s purse. We didn’t benefit from the training.
“This is our group and we know ourselves. They should make public the names of all the beneficiaries and let us see how many returnees are on the list.
“I can bet that most of the names you will find on the list would be those of their relations and girlfriends.
“This is a clear case of fraud and injustice, and we will resist it.”
Another returnee, who gave his name as Sam, said: “This is a clear case of monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.
“We are daily agitating in the rain and in the sun on empty stomach while some people are exploiting our plight to enrich themselves, and you say we should continue to keep quiet. That will never be possible.”
Sam also flayed the government officials for telling the public that many of them were invited for the training but they failed to turn up.
He said: “We were surprised that they said they contacted us but we refused to go. They have the names and contacts of most of us.
“We are more than 3,000, so there is no way they would reach out to 1,000 and at least 200 would not be willing to go. You can see through their lies.
“If you multiply the sum of N300,000 received by each beneficiary by the total number of participants, you can guess what the figure will be.
“This excludes the monies they collected and spent on feeding, transportation and accommodation during the two-week training.”
Two other returnees, Ngozi Nwachukwu and Blessing Gabriel, also denied getting invitation to attend the controversial training.
“I didn’t attend the training in Ibadan. They didn’t invite me and I have been quarreling with them over this,” Ngozi said.
Blessing on her part said: “I was not aware of it and didn’t attend the training in Ibadan.”
Niger Delta Ministry, Senator contradict each other on number of trained returnees
In separate interviews with our correspondent, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and Senator Uroghide gave conflicting figures about the sums involved and how many returnees benefitted from the programme.
Both also declined comments on the total sum approved for the execution of the training programme.
While the ministry said that a total of 104 returnees were trained, Uroghide said they were 200.
Contacted, the spokesperson of the ministry, Stephen Kilebi, said he had been moved to another ministry but offered to get the necessary response for this reporter.
He later called back and said: “The total of people trained is 104 for both Ibadan and Edo. They were trained in poultry and fishery. Each of them was given N300, 000 as starter pack. That was what the department told me.
“The ministry would from time to time check to know if they are doing what they are meant to do with the training and the empowerment.”
Asked what the total budget was, he said: “I would not be able to get that one because I am not even there. I am just trying to help you write your story.”
When The Nation reached out to the Community Development Department of the ministry, using the mobile telephone number on the ministry’s website, a lady at the other end demanded to know what the reporter wanted.
After explaining to her, she said the appropriate person to respond was not around.
The reporter later called back but she responded angrily, saying: “You called me earlier and I told you that the person that was supposed to speak to you was not around.
“Excuse me! I think I’m done with you. I have other things to do.”
Contrary to the ministry’s claim that they trained 104 returnees, Uroghide said 200 returnees were trained.
“The Libya returnees that were trained were actually 148. The remaining 52 others were unemployed youths from Edo South, my constituency.
“The ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was already training people in the region for one reason or the other.
“As a member of the committee, I told them that some people came from Libya and that the government documented them.
“Then they said the state government should submit the names of those returnees. The state submitted the list. Ninety-six names were sent but they found that some of them didn’t come. These returnees are not in a camp. They are all around.
“Then they had another 104, because it was not the same organization that did all the training. Fifty-two of them were Libya returnees and the other 52 were people in my constituency whose names I put together.”
Corroborating the ministry’s remark on what the participants were paid, the lawmaker said: “The participants who were trained in fishery and poultry had got starter packs of N300,000 and had their money paid into their accounts by the government.
“Twenty of the returnees whose names were on the submitted list didn’t report to Ibadan. When I was informed, I said I still have thousands of people who are waiting to be trained. We had to tell our youths to go and take the place of those that didn’t go.
“Many of the returnees are not documented by the state government, so how would you know that they are returnees?
“Even if we had taken all the returnees, we couldn’t have trained all of them because they are in thousands.
“More trainings are coming and they must be properly coordinated.”
Despite facilitating the training, Uroghide said he did not know how much was budgeted for it.
“I don’t know the budget for the project. I don’t award contract. It is the Ministry of Niger Delta that will know that.
“I don’t even know the people who facilitated it. If you ask the Director of Training in the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, Ataya, he would be able to tell you.”
Following the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and Senator Uroghide’s inability to give the total budget for the controversial training, this reporter reached out to the Ministry of Finance to obtain the information. Calls to the mobile number of the spokesman of the ministry, Hassan Dodo, were neither answered nor replied. He, however, responded later via a text message after The Nation informed him about the unanswered calls and the purpose of calling him.
“Hello Mr. Duru, I was held up in a long meeting where I went to represent my boss.
The Permanent Secretary (PS) may likely help out on this, but he wears two big caps: that of the minister and his. These have, however, made him truly busy outside the office, but hope is not lost. Let’s see what happens tomorrow (Tuesday), please. Regards,” the text message read.
Buoyed by the assuring tone of the message, the reporter on Tuesday reached out to Dodo, trusting that the details of the budget would be made available after exchanging pleasantries with him.
But that did not happen as Dodo regaled the reporter with tales of how the two Permanent Secretaries working in that section have been very busy. One of them, according to him, is on pilgrimage. Asked if there was no other person that could provide the requested information aside from the permanent secretaries since the details of the budget must have been stored in the ministry’s computer.
He said: “You know we have hierarchy in government. The permanent secretary, this one in particular is the accounting officer. It is even good I am discussing with you now verbally. If you had written to that effect, the letter wouldn’t have come to my office yet because he has to be there to sign and send it back to me. That is how the government runs and we cannot circumvent any of the processes.”
When this reporter asked that it appears he would not be able to provide the information going by how he sounded, Dodo replied: “I wouldn’t know. Everybody has his or her own duties. Even the PS would most likely refer you to a particular director. I wouldn’t even know who he would be. He has to get a directive from him. Nobody would just act on his own, especially when it comes to talking with journalist. If the instruction comes from the PS or the minister, it would be immediately attended to.”
Aside from the controversy over training, the returnees have also accused the anti-trafficking agency in the state of inflating the sum for the ID cards issued to about 3,000 members of the group.
They claimed that the contract which gulped about N7.4 million was outrageous and another way that government officials have continued to feed fat on the group.
Sam said: “The money they claimed to have used to produce ID cards is shocking. They claimed that one was done for N1,500 when an ID card costs between N300 and N500 here in Benin. If you now have to produce for as many as 3,000 people, the cost should even be lower.
“I told you that our group has become their ATM card. Whenever they need money, they would use our names to get as much as they want. We need explanation on why the ID card project gulped so much.”
Fatai also condemned the ID card, project, saying “I have the Go Getters ID card. I can print that ID card for N200 here in Aduwawa. Which useless ID card is that? Is it a military ID card or ambassadorial ID card?”
Returnees’ allegations unfounded – Edo State Attorney General and taskforce chair
Edo State Attorney General and chairperson of the anti-trafficking taskforce, Prof Yinka Omoregbe, described the allegations of the returnees about the ID card project as baseless.
Responding to our reporter’s request for the total money spent on the ID card project, Omoregbe said: “I can’t remember the exact amount, but please do your arithmetic. An ID card for N1,500 that gives you a data base is not a N100 ID card. The ID card has a data base attached to it.
“If I want to look for anything for my family, it is not all this. I come from one of the most educated families in Edo State. My father was the first Benin graduate and lawyer. He had an unblemished reputation. I will not be the child to bring it down for anything.
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“My mother as well is a medical doctor. I was also in NNPC as secretary to the corporation and legal adviser. I left there with my name intact.
“I am an energy lawyer, and in energy law, it is not naira they pay. I don’t have money but my reputation is intact.
“It is a non-issue, and how it is generating all the noise, I sincerely don’t know. It is absolutely a non-issue. ”
Also responding to the returnees’ allegation about the controversial training, she said: “I have known Senator Uroghide since, and he is a childhood friend of my husband. He is a PDP senator. If I was not there, would a PDP person call an APC person to bring people for training?
“They called the returnees, but if what you are calling them for is not next door to their house, they wouldn’t go.
“For example, Junior’s Hub, one of our trainers, has rented a place where people are supposed to go and set up their business in the GRA, but because they don’t live around there, they didn’t go.
“I have been telling them that they have to move to their market because that is where they would make their money.
“When they called the returnees for the training, they said they didn’t have money to go because it was taking place in Ibadan. About 12 of them who were smart went there.
“The organisers gave money for transportation, money for feeding every day while they were there for two weeks, and at end of the day, they gave each of them N300,000.
“When the ones that didn’t go heard this, they all went very crazy, saying that task force people must have put their relations there. When I heard it, I went mad.
“I don’t know how many people’s names were sent for the training. Once I get something, I pass it to the secretariat.
“I didn’t even add a human being to the list. I would only add if I see a traumatised person and I may have done this once or twice.
“If they want to investigate the names of people that attended the training, let them do that. It is curses that come on the head of the person who bites the hand that has fed him.
“That is just what they are putting upon themselves by abusing the state government and the task force.”
A Lagos printer, Ken Ikpowonsa, who was shown a soft copy of the controversial ID cards, said it does not have any features of a database card.
“This is just an ordinary plastic card. A database card would ordinarily have microchip that can be used to get information about the owner when slotted into a computer. This particular one should not cost more than #300 if the number to be produced is much.”
Human trafficking: PJI urges proper trauma management for returnees
The Pathfinder Justice Initiative (PJI), a Non-Governmental Organisation, has called for proper trauma care for migrant returnees to prevent them from becoming vulnerable to subsequent trafficking.
Evon Benson-Idahosa, the Executive Director, PJI, made the call at a Rehabilitation Workshop for Providers Serving Survivors of Human Trafficking held in Benin on Thursday.
The workshop was organised by PJI and funded by INSighT- Building Capacity to deal with human trafficking and transit routes to Nigeria, Italy and Sweden.
Benson-Idahosa said that a majority of returnee-migrants usually undergo different traumatic situations and needed to be properly rehabilitated before being integrated back into the society. She noted that if the migrant returnees were not properly rehabilitated, they would not be able to put into good use any form of skills acquisition or empowerment received.
“Providers serving survivors should know how to handle traumatised victims because many of them, especially females, have been raped and have gone through horrible experiences during their trafficking journey.
“The providers should know that there are best practices in terms of handling trafficked victims; they need to use a survivor centred approach to prioritise the needs of the victims,” she said.
She called on the government at all levels to partner more with NGOs on providing best traumatic care for returned migrants in the country.
How Nigerian-American police officer burst human trafficking syndicate in US
A retried Nigerian American Police officer, Samuel Balogun narrated how he burst a human trafficking syndicate that specialized in using minors for prostitution.
“My biggest accomplishment was bursting a human trafficking crime,” Balogun said.
Giving details of how he executed the task, the dark skinned retired police officer said: “ There was a guy that was using minors for prostitution on the internet. I have an accent and when I speak people know I am an African. So, I had to go undercover and had to call the guy on the internet. I said ‘ hey! what is going on, I am in town. I am a truck driver and I want some girls.’ I asked how old? He said the younger they are, the more money. I said about 15 to 16 years. He said ok. I asked how many he could bring and he replied two. He said which hotel was I and I gave the name to him. He told me to hang up and he called back the hotel. He subsequently called me and asked if I was there and I said yes. He said he would be there in 20 minutes.
“We were waiting for him to come but he was smart too. He dropped the girls down the street and made them walk to the room. The girls asked how much I was ready to pay and wanted to take off their clothes but I said not yet. In the next room were officers listening to our conversation. When I make a signal, that means it is time for them to come in. but before you make the signal, you have to make sure they have mentioned the price, they have given the reason why they were there, so it doesn’t look like you are entrapping them. When I made the signal, the officers burst in and arrested everybody including me.
Thereafter, Balogun said the police processed the girls and after that, “they said look, you are minors and we know somebody is pushing you to do this. Now we don’t want to arrest you but tell us how to get to the boss. The girls cooperated and made as if they were leaving. When the man pulled up to pick them up, and that was how we arrested him. That stopped a lot of those crimes.”
Balogun said he was in Nigeria to bring his wealth of experience to bear on the disturbing security situation in the country. “ I am trying to bring back my experience as a police officer in the states to Nigeria. When you look at the #endsars period, the performance of the police was something that hurt my feelings. How can we make it better? How can we make the police job something that people will look with respect and want to join?”
He hinted that his security firm is involved in training not only police officers but “ I also train private security companies. I am in touch with a lot of private security companies in Nigeria. There is another concept which Nigeria is embracing right now.
“It is called community policing. In the states it is called neighbourhood policing or community policing. It works in a way that in every street, there would be a police officer that lives in that neighbourhood. You get to know the people and the people know you. In some apartments, they will give you a discount just for the police officer to be there because they know once a police officer is living there, the police car is outside and the crime level will reduce. People are more likely to talk to that officer because they know him. They are more able to tell him’ hey we know who committed that crime.’ For every crime, you need people to tell you what happened. You can have all the gadgets but if people are not talking, you can’t solve the crime.”
He further said: “I am training police officers, security companies and executive protection. What my security company is doing is to free the police officers from attachment to chiefs, politicians and all that. We train civilians to represent those officers so that they can go back to the street and do their normal jobs. We have what we call executive protection/training. We have people that follow the president. We can train you on how to be efficient and sometimes using less force, description tactics.”
Further expatiating on what his security firm does, the soft spoken officer said: “What my company is trying to do is to bring people to the table. We are trying to train companies that there is a better way of security where we can teach you how to defend yourself, how to prepare for any emergency, and how to use less force. I have a guy, a navy seal that worked for the United States of America. You will be amazed about what he can do. He can disarm you in a minute even when you come with AK 47. I am also bringing Hostage Negotiation, people that can talk to you when ransom has to be paid. In the US, we call it Hostage Negotiation. They can talk to these people, and know their psyche. It is a full package. When you come to my firm, you can see the whole spectrum and choose.”
As a vastly travelled person, Blagun said: “I travel a lot and in all the African nations is where you see officers with AK 47. They said it is more intimidating. Criminals use AK 47 in America too but we still don’t carry it. Is that the right weapon for the police officers, I leave that question open. “
On the attitude of the Nigerian authorities his plans, he said: “I have talked to a lot of people in higher positions. In some places I don’t want to mention, I have got good responses. My firm has done some things with certain private firms and the police. I have dealt with some highly placed security firms. So, this is not my first time here. We are looking at having training in Sheraton around July/August this year. It is going to be a big one. I am bringing a retired FBI agent, a navy seal, a retired marine , myself and may be two other officers.
“This is my country, I am proud of it. I am sad sometimes when you look at the security aspect of it. With my experience, I am trying to make it a better place. It has always been my passion to come back home. I am retired and don’t really need to work again. My benefits are okay untill I die. But why die with all this experience when I can pass it to the next person.”
Hundreds of thousands of people leave Britain due to pandemic
Hundreds of thousands of people have left Britain as a fallout of the pandemic on the economy, according to a study released yesterday.
There is an “unprecedented exodus” of workers born outside Britain, researchers at London’s Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence said.
“It seems that much of the burden of job losses during the pandemic has fallen on non-UK workers and has manifested itself in return migration, rather than unemployment,” said the authors.
The study is based on labour market data.
The trend was particularly notable in London, where one in five residents was born abroad.
The capital’s population has fallen by 700,000, the study said, adding that nationwide, the figure could be more than 1.3 million.
If these numbers are accurate, this is the largest decline in Britain’s population since World War II, according to the study.
No evidence suggests that similar numbers of British people who live abroad are returning to Britain.
However, this could be a temporary trend, the researchers said, noting that workers from abroad might return after the pandemic.
The British economy depends on workers from abroad and it is not only threatened by migration due to the pandemic.
Many industries fear the loss of skilled workers due to Britain’s departure from the European Union and stricter migration laws.
A further trend in 2021 is also causing concern, described as a “baby bust” by consultancy PwC, which said many couples were postponing having children due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
This could lead to the lowest birth rate since 1900, PwC said in early January.
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