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.”
Risking it all crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous trek no one should tackle
In the notorious Darien Gap spanning the Colombia-Panama border, a young pregnant woman and her husband from Haiti were left alone to face the unforgiving jungle along one of the world’s most dangerous irregular migration routes.
No roads, poisonous snakes, steep mountain ranges, raging rivers and groups of armed robbers had deterred Jean Horima, 25, and his wife Rose from risking their lives as thousands of desperate people from countries such as Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh or Somalia do every year trying to reach the United States, Canada or Mexico.
More than 42,000 Haitians, including thousands of children, have tackled the perilous journey so far this year, hoping to gain refugee status and better futures. Many have not made it and Jean and Rose know they are lucky to have survived, especially as the baby came early.
“The jungle is brutal; it’s really, really tough. The hardest thing for me was to climb the mountains and cross the water,” says Jean. ”There are also people in the forest who will rob or kill you. I know some who got killed. Yes, people who left before me and when I arrived, I found them dead in the woods.”
The couple had started the week-long slog from the Colombia side with 50 others, but when the first hill loomed, the group abandoned them. After several days tackling the dense rainforest, Rose went into labour in the middle of nowhere.
“I was with my wife, and she told me what to do to help and save her,” says Jean. She gave birth and told her husband to cut the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors. “I also had a black string, so I told him to use it to tie the baby’s umbilical cord. Then, we used a t-shirt to make a bag to put the baby in,” says Rose.
The birth of a healthy baby boy gave them the courage and strength to continue and three days later, the exhausted but relieved family emerged at the Migrant Reception Station (ERM* by its Spanish acronym) in San Vicente, Panama, which is managed by the Panamanian Government with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
Vertulo Renonce and Guerline Mettelus from Haiti have also survived the Darien trek. They had travelled from Chile with their three-year-old son Louvertir, and crossed Colombia’s border with Panama in February. The couple has five other children and hope to join their two eldest in Guatemala. The other three are still in Haiti.
The parents have had difficulty communicating with their children since they arrived at the migrant reception centre in Lajas Blancas, but life there is not just an emotional drain.
“The can of milk Louvertir drinks costs USD 4.50 and about every two days I have to buy a new one,” says Guerline. The room in the Guatemala hostel where her children are staying is USD 20 a night, and her children in Haiti have missed school for more than a month because their fees have not been paid.
They arrived in Panama with USD 400 they had hidden from three armed attackers who had robbed their group of 14 people along the way and have only USD 3 left.
Lajas Blancas looks like a small neighbourhood where up to 500 people can be sheltered. Near the only entrance is a small kiosk where people gather to buy refreshments and biscuits and to charge their mobile phones. Off to the right are tents, showers and toilets. Down by the river is the quarantine and care area for people with COVID-19, where access is restricted.
Outside his tent, Jean François, who left Haiti in 2015, is grateful for the respite in his journey from Brazil with his four children. He greets a childhood friend who dumps firewood collected from the riverbank to prepare rice and beans.
“The food they give us here is not bad, but it is not made with love. That’s what we need,” says Jean François. They had survived a week in the jungle with very little food and travelled from Necoclí, Colombia. “Among the 230 people who crossed the jungle, there were around 100 children. It hurts to see them; the children don’t deserve this,” he says.
In the San Vicente ERM, Jean Paul, his wife and their four children are taking a breather on their way to the United States. After the perils of the Darien Gap, they must still travel through Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.
They travelled by boat to the border of Colombia and Panama, where they paid a “coyote”, or migrant smuggler, to walk them through the jungle in groups of hundreds of migrants, most of them Haitian nationals.
On the swings and slide in San Vicente, three of Jean’s young children play.
It’s noon. The officers of the National Border Service are handing out the food and people are crowding at the entrance waiting for their turn. Jean Michelet is sitting with a plate of food in one hand and, lying in his arms, is one-year-old Alejandro, who has not wanted to eat since they arrived at the station three days earlier.
Jean Michelet made sure the three eldest children had eaten and took them to play, giving his wife who sleeps in one of the houses a break. Unsuccessfully, he keeps trying to get his baby to eat. In his face you can see anguish – concern for the future and the pain of remembering the nightmare of the merciless Darien Gap.
*The ERM was built by the Government of Panama with support from international cooperation, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and private enterprise to reduce overcrowding in La Peñita, another ERM. San Vicente provides dignified conditions in which physical separation and other biosecurity measures can be maintained to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Story written by José Espinosa Bilgray, IOM Panama.
Stitching hope: Empowering women in South Sudan towards self-reliance
It is only the first day of training in hand-sewing and the women already have big plans about how they are going to use their newly acquired skills to support their families to gain independence.
“Once I get the hang of hand-sewing, I will learn how to sew with a machine. From there, I will make bedsheets, curtains and tablecloths to sell and use the money to provide for my children,” says 50-year-old Adut Akwar.
Adut and 14 other women from the Hai Masna Collective Centre, an internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state, are part of the selected group to be trained by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in an array of techniques including sewing, business and entrepreneurship as well as leadership skills. The group comprises women living with disabilities, young mothers and female-headed households.
Adut lives in Masna with her six children. They fled their home in 2017 when renewed fighting rocked their village in Jur River, forcing thousands of people, including women, children and the elderly to flee to save their lives. Many found refuge in Hai Masna (hosting 3,850 IDPs) and other collective centres around Wau, while the majority of the displaced sheltered at Naivasha IDP camp, formerly known as the UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Wau.
She is among the 40 women from Hai Masna and Naivasha who have benefited from the training workshops through the Women Participation Project (WPP). Through this project, IOM’s Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) team facilitates women’s access to income-generating activities through vocational and leadership skills training to support them to become self-reliant, encourage them to raise their concerns when they have them and take up leadership roles within the IDP camp and within their communities.
“I am very impressed by the enthusiasm that the women have shown in learning these skills which will help them in rebuilding their lives,” says Titus Muniri, IOM CCCM’s Community Participation Assistant.
“Some women who participated in previous trainings have even gone up and taken leading roles in the camp’s governance structures. We have four women who completed our training who were elected as members of the Community Leadership Committee (CLC) in Naivasha camp,” says Titus.
Adut Akwar says that she “has a plan.”
“When I return home, I will go back to ploughing my fields to grow food for my children,” she says.
“That’s not it though,” she adds with a renewed sense of excitement. “I will also use my time to sew bedsheets that I can sell to make an income.”
Adut says that she hopes that as peace holds in Western Bahr el Ghazal, more women will choose to leave the camps and return to their villages.
“When we leave, we can come together and form women-led cooperatives putting to use the business management and craft-making skills we learnt. We can make some real changes in our lives,” says Adut.
Adut, who was born with congenital upper limb reduction, says that she has never been one to depend on others to do things for her because of her disability.
“I guess, being born with a disability, you are also born with an inherent sense that you have to push harder to show the world that you can,” says Adut. “That is why when I was selected for the workshop, I did not think twice about joining.”
“Sure, I may need help putting the thread through the needle, but the rest I can learn and do by myself,” says Adut.
The Women Participation Project (WPP) is supported by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) under the global “Safe from the Start Initiative” through which IOM’s CCCM team facilitates women’s access to income-generating activities.
To find out more about the Women’s Participation Project, visit https://womenindisplacement.org/
Written by Liatile Putsoa, Media and Communications Officer.
Observatory on smuggling of migrants
The Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants is a research initiative funded by the Governments of Denmark, Canada, Japan and Italy, and is being implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime since 2019. The website of the Observatory was launched in May 2021.
Smuggling of migrants is a complex crime involving the facilitation of the irregularly entry of people into a country for profit. Migrants are smuggled across borders with the financial or material gain. In establishing an Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants, UNODC seeks to gather information, collect, analyze and disseminate data to enhance the knowledge on this crime and inform evidence-based policy and law enforcement responses.
The UNODC Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants gathers data on key areas including migrants’ plans and preparations for the journey – particularly in relation to contact with smugglers, key smuggling routes and experiences on the journey, profiles of migrant smugglers and networks of organized crime, prices for smuggling services and mode of payment, and the types of abuses suffered in the context of smuggling.
Building on data collected in Nigeria and other countries in West and North Africa as well as in Europe, the Observatory has already published findings on smuggling of migrants along the Central Mediterranean Route. Upcoming findings will cover the use of migrant smugglers by Nigerians on the move.
Moreover, UNODC is partnering with the Mixed Migration Centre to collect data in transit and destination countries in West and North Africa to gain specific data on Nigerian use of smugglers in the region. MMC has produced a snapshot of emerging findings based on this research partnership.
Risking it all crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous trek no one should tackle
Stitching hope: Empowering women in South Sudan towards self-reliance
Observatory on smuggling of migrants
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