N10 Billion Amnesty Fund, Stolen!

Nigeria: The Presidency may have ordered an audit of the finances of the Amnesty Implementation Programme, following a revelation by some members of the committee that the initial N10bn released by the Federal Government for their activities may have been frittered away. Already, members of the various sub-committees have been trading words over how about N600m of the budget was spent.

A Nigerian Newspaper, Saturday Punch reports authoritatively in Abuja that there were strong fears that funds meant for effective implementation of the programme for repentant militants in the Niger Delta had been diverted. 

Some members of the various sub-committees of the programme and leaders of the Niger Delta region have called for an audit of the finances. 

A source said that about N600m was believed to be unaccounted for from the funds provided for effective prosecution of the post-amnesty programme. The source added that members of the committees were angry that their chairmen claimed that the huge amount was spent on some militant leaders (names withheld). 

The source further added that an alarming sum of N175m was said to have been spent on lunch alone by the former managers of the amnesty programme. 

Also, there were allegations that the immediate past Minister of Defence, Major. Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd), did not carry the various sub-committee members along in the disbursement of funds for their activities. 

Efforts made by PUNCH correspondent to get the total amount of money spent on the amnesty programme since President Umaru Yar‘Adua declared it for the then Niger Delta militants in July last year were unsuccessful. 

The voluntary surrender of arms and ammunition by the militants to embrace the amnesty ended on October 4 last year. Although the Presidency announced an initial take off grant of N50bn for the amnesty, on July 30, 2009, the Senate approved only a budget of N10bn for the Presidential Committee on the Amnesty Programme chaired by Abbe.

The source said since the initial release of N450m for the commencement of the amnesty activities by the former National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Sarki Muktar (rtd), members were kept in the dark about further release of funds. 

It was learnt that funds for their activities, which included disarmament, re-integration and rehabilitation of the militants, were released from the Central Bank to Unity Bank Plc to Skye Bank before its final destination in the United Bank for Africa Plc. 

The Inter Agency Coordinating Committee, headed by Air Vice Marshal Lucky Aralile (rtd), was said to have with the UBA its account for the monthly payment of stipends to the militants in their various rehabilitation camps.

It was further gathered that members of the various committees were always worried whenever the ex-militants broke loose from their camps protesting the delay in the payment of their stipends. 

The source alleged that the payment delays occurred because the funds budgeted to pay the about 10,000 repentant militants were diverted, resulting in threats and in some cases, rampage by the repentant militants. 

”Well, what I know is that N50bn was approved and N10bn was released. But I don‘t know how the money was spent. The funds meant for amnesty was spent in total exclusion of our people. 

”A lot of money was approved and released by the government, but the leaders of the groups and some of the military personnel were eating the money. I can tell you that the boys were not getting what was meant for them.

”That informed the decision to bring in the banks to handle the payment of the allowances for the militants,” the source said.

The source further alleged that before the resort to bank payments for the militants undergoing rehabilitation, their leaders would just present their lists to the Presidential Committee and collect the monies without necessarily giving a breakdown of what was due to the boys.

It was learnt that it was this state of confusion and lack of accountability that compelled the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to create five different committees on December 16 last year out of the Presidential Committee chaired by Abbe.

The committees included the one on Modalities for the Involvement of the Host Communities in the ownership of Petroleum Assets, Disarmament, Rehabilitation and Reintegration, Oil and Gas Asset Protection and Environmental Clean-up Remediation Committee. 

By the new arrangement, the five committees were to receive their funds from the supervising committee headed by Abbe. 

Contacted on Thursday on how much the Federal Government released to his committee and how much was spent, Abbe said angrily on the telephone, “Go to the Ministry of Finance. I am no longer in government. You people have been writing without seeking my reaction. Why do you want me to speak now? Go to the Ministry of Finance.” 

Efforts made to get the reaction of the Chief Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme, AVM Aralile, were fruitless as his telephone rang several times without an answer.

Credit; PUNCH