Members of the Isa Ali-led House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness were shocked on Wednesday in Abuja when they were told that for six months, no agency of government claimed the 6,779 metric tonnes of rice donated by the Chinese Government to victims of insurgency in the North-East.
It was only in January 2018 that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) intervened by clearing the goods at the ports and immediately started distributing them to the victims.
Witnesses revealed this at the ongoing House of Representatives investigative hearing into the activities of NEMA.
Maersk Lines, represented by Blessing Ebri, said the period the goods were left at the port was responsible for the accumulated demurrage of N694,376,000 million.
She, however, said the arrival of NEMA over the issue led to negotiations of N511,899,000 million as the demurrage.
“The consignments began arriving in June 2017 but there was no response from any government agency to claim the goods, we had to write to shipper, which is the Chinese government that no one is coming forward.
“The shipper approached us on January 30, 2018 and linked us with NEMA.
“NEMA later negotiated based on the fact that that the rice was for emergency and it was agreed that N200 million flat fee be paid by NEMA excluding the standard charge.
“NEMA paid for the demurrage but the receipt was issued to the consignee which is Ministry of Agriculture.
“According to law, third party can pay for the demurrage but we cannot issue receipt to third party, the receipt carried the name of Ministry of Agriculture.
“With the involvement of NEMA, the goods began to leave the port from February but they cannot clear all which led to accumulation of demurrage again.
“Double payment is not possible because the burden was transferred to NEMA because there were no responses before then”.
On his part, the representative of APM Terminals, Daniel Odibe, said 271 containers passed through their port facilities and due process was followed by NEMA.
“As at today (yesterday), all have left the port.
“The consignments were received between June and October 2017, 5 in June, 120 in August, 40 in September and 61 in October.
“The total demurrage paid to our company was a little below N400 million broken down into the Bill of Laden as N71.9m, N93.3m, N67.5, N100.097 and N57.026 totaling N389,781m”.
When the Committee asked for documentary evidence of transactions involving parties, Odibe said: “The invoices and receipts are included in the submission we made to the committee.
“Waivers were applied for based on request through correspondences and based on the fact that the containers are meant for IDPs,” he added.
The Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr. Ahmed Idris, and the Chairman of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, absolved NEMA’s Director- General, Mustapha Maihaja, of any wrong doing in the utilization of the N5.8 billion for relief materials in the North-East.
Idris said no cash was given to NEMA for the supply of relief food materials to victims of insurgency in the North-East in 2017.
He said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) confirmed the disbursement of the Fund in accordance with a mandate from the OAGF.
Idris said the need to release the fund for the supply was as a result of the scaling down of funding by international agencies operating in the region which could jeopardise the lives of the people of the region.
Represented by Director Funds, Mohammed Usman, the AGF said, “N5.8b was released to five companies and N829m to NEMA for logistics.
“The objective of the release of the Fund was the scaling down of international donor food funding in the region by 85 per cent.
“However no money was given to NEMA other than the money for logistics but it was charged to the Consolidated Revenue Fund”
When the Committee insisted on reasons behind the release of the money, he said, “I would have come with the records concerning reasons for the release of the Fund of the committee had it been included in what we were asked to provide the Committee with”.
He pleaded for time to come up the requested information.
One of the companies engaged for the supply of the relief food items also confirmed that NEMA did not pay them for the cost of the food materials.
The representative of Dangote Industries, one of the companies that supplied maize worth N936 million, Ahmed Hasheem, said it has no contract with NEMA on the subject matter.
He said the CBN engaged the companies to mop up food items around the country in 2016 in anticipation of off season.
“In December 2016, with others in food business, we were given money by CBN to mop up grains from local markets so that it can be used off season.
“We were paid after which we mopped up the food grains and later, we were asked to supply the items to NEMA which we did.
“All the documentation of the grains supplied and delivered are available but we were contacted for the supply in 2017,”he said.
The Committee, however, gave AGF 72 hours to supply the requested information.
The meeting was adjourned indefinitely.