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.”
Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.
The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.
“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.
“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.
Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision.
IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all.
A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.
According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.
This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.
Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.
UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.
Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking
One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.
More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.
“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.
At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.
“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.
COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.
While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.
“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”
Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.
Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.
In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.
Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.
Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.
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