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.”
Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants
Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.
Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000 Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.
“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018. “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”
Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.
With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000 registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.
“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.
IOM launches open South America portal
Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Open South America, available in Spanish, English and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.
The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.
The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.
Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.
“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.
“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.
29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM
The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.
About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.
Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.
He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.
Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.
“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”
Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.
“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.
Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.
The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.
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