A recent media report claimed that a N40 million contract for the supply of firewood to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps was awarded by the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). The contractors are complaining that though the contract sum was reduced to N24.5 million, the agency has not been able to pay. This, according to them, is affecting their businesses as they have not been able to settle their own contractual obligations to the villagers who they buy firewood from.
It is no longer news that the Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF), Engr Babachir David Lawal, is presently on suspension for alleged acts of misappropriation of funds and lack of due process in the Presidential Initiative North East (PINE) which focuses on the redevelopment of the North-east and management of the humanitarian crisis caused largely by the Boko Haram menace. Specifically, he was alleged to have awarded multimillion naira contract for the cutting of grass in the IDPs camps. Until the Senate stepped into the PINE matter following a face-off with the former SGF, Nigerians did not know that the IDPs’ camps and their management had become goldmine for the highly placed. With this firewood contract, it is obvious that it still is.
Before all these, there were reports of diversion of relief materials and medical supplies meant for the displaced persons by government officials put in charge of managing the camps. According to reports then, the officials were shamelessly and without moral compunction, selling the materials in the open market. Meanwhile, the victims of the Boko Haram insurgency for whom they were meant were languishing in want and penury. To add to their pain, the materials were used to lure the women into illicit sexual relations.
International donor agencies warned that those camps had become unhealthy for human habitation not because the authorities did not provide the needed relief materials, but because those in charge developed other ideas on how better to utilise them. It got to a point that the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, complained publicly that the so called Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who pretended to be helping the displaced persons were exploiting them and using them to attract aids from foreign donors which they ended up misapplying.
We had, some time on this page, expressed worry at the extent some Nigerians are prepared to go in order to maximise, for pecuniary reasons, every opportunity to provide services to the less-privileged members of the society. For those set of Nigerians who, from all indications, may have sold their souls to Lucifer, the misfortune of fellow Nigerians and efforts to alleviate such situations become for them an enterprise that must be exploited to the full.
This latest report of a N40 million firewood contract, in our opinion, is baffling to say the least. If the authorities are spending that much on firewood alone, how much is the food itself? We do not intend to be misunderstood in this whole issue of the welfare of the displaced persons. It is just that we are beginning to feel that the project is turning into a swindle or may be another aspect of political patronage. The government’s intention in trying to assuage the pains and suffering of those unfortunate Nigerians, without doubt, is genuine. But we think that the process has been hijacked by unscrupulous officials and political jobbers. For them, the IDP syndrome may as well continue indefinitely.
This is just firewood, who knows the amount spent on the contract for the supply of other imaginable items that are likely to be needed in those camps. Nigerians, especially civil servants, have a way of building industry around every phase of government activity. Contracts must be generated and executed to ensure that all budgeted sum is spent. Sadly, the intended beneficiaries often end up short changed as is the case with the IDPs.
The war on terror, we are made to believe, is almost over, which means that the areas have been largely cleared of vestiges of Boko Haram occupation. What that means is that the military has done their own part of the job of securing the places affected. If that is true, why can’t the displaced persons go home to rehabilitate themselves, pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move on? That, in our view, is the ultimate solution to this whole IDPs’ saga that has turned into a drain pipe. If the displaced persons do not want to go back home, the camps should be forcefully shut down to compel them to do so. For the sake of national integrity, we plead that issues like the multimillion naira firewood contract must never be allowed to reoccur.