The news made quick headlines. It is also possible that while it rattled a couple of people, others smiled with satisfaction. A group comprising former Niger Delta armed agitators had called for immediate sack of the Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, retired Colonel Milland Dikio. Also, they audaciously demanded the dismissal of his immediate boss, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, retired Major General Babagana Monguno. The threat was first published by a relatively unknown online news platform before others decided to copy and paste.
Why would anybody give our President, Muhammadu Buhari, a retired General, such an order? Their complaint was that the two government officers agreed to and actually returned unspent funds approved by government in 2020 for payment of PAP contractors.
It was revealed by the ex-agitators that by the midnight of December 31, the portal at the Central Bank of Nigeria had closed and that “every kobo was returned back (sic) to the Federal Ministry of Finance without paying the contractors”.
Without further analysis whatsoever, those behind the statement concluded that by so doing: “The Interim Administrator has started failing. Take for instance, the amnesty office does not train or empower delegates directly. But do so through the services of vendors/contractors. Now, most of these vendors/contractors borrowed money from the banks to execute their jobs because the Amnesty Office had stopped mobilisation of any kind to vendors/contractors.”
The leadership of the ex-agitators claimed that contrary to Dikio’s assurances that the money would be paid: “As I speak with you, 90 per cent of the vendors/contractors have not been paid. The disadvantage of (the) return of N26 billion unspent Amnesty fund to the FG is that thousands of ex-agitators who were waiting for their vendors to call them for training and empowerment in January 2021 are now stranded at home.” Then they warned: “As ex-militants, we will not allow what is happening to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to happen to the Amnesty Programme.”
Left confused, I decided to ask a few questions. Findings show that the PAP does not operate any account in a commercial bank where its money is stored. All monies allocated to PAP are domiciled in the CBN, which, of course, is the chief custodian and implementation authority of government financial policies. Put in very simple terms, the Amnesty Office has little or no control over any expenditure trapped in the CBN. The moment the CBN, in its wisdom considers that the deadline for the release of a certain fund has passed, the mysterious portal will automatically close.
In a statement to clarify the situation, PAP admitted that N26 billion was mopped up on December 31, 2020 as a part of the federal government wide financial process. It dismissed speculated perception that PAP was solely targeted or handpicked for that purpose. Nneotaobase Egbe, the media chief to Dikio, stated that in a bid to reduce the outstanding debts, owed several contractors since 2014, a sequential payment plan was initiated “starting with the oldest debt in consideration of vendors’ interest payments on loans secured from banks to execute their contracts.” On completion of priority arrangement, 104 debts were settled based on the level of job completion.
Perhaps, other verified debts would have been paid before deadline; but funding approval for the last four months of 2020 were received on December 28 and 29 respectively. It then became clear that in compliance with the Federal Government’s efforts at fighting corruption, but mainly in line with extant financial regulations, only a portion of the funds was disbursed before government’s Treasury Single Account automatically shut down.
As a safe-guard measure, the Amnesty Office immediately notified the Accountant General of the Federation of the inconclusive disbursement and the need to rollover these funds. I guess that was a smart move. Then, in response to mandatory queries, the Minister of Finance was promptly informed of the need to release the funds to enable PAP meet its financial obligations to contractors handling training and empowerment contracts. In its statement, PAP appealed to everyone to remain calm as “these issues (of payment) would be resolved speedily, and PAP would receive exclusive rollover of funds going forward to avoid this type of situation in the future.”
We must first understand that the complaint by the ex-agitators is genuine, although their demand cannot be justified. Yes, they are being owed through several vendors and contractors. The Interim Administrator had assured them that their payment would be made. Even the paper work for the payment was completed. However, availability of funds was a bit behind schedule; and before substantial payment could be made, the policy regarding deadline for such payment had taken effect. This does not in any way amount to failure on the part Dikio or the NSA. Definitely not!
If the main grouse here is that N26 billion unspent fund should not have been returned for a rollover, the next question is: was Dikio expected to flout government’s policy on financial regulations in order to satisfy or service PAP’s obligations to its contractors? Just imagine the foul cries that would have been raised by now if the unspent fund was not accounted for after the deadline. By now, civil society groups would be crying for the prosecution of those involved!
Dikio, in a Facebook message, demonstrated humility in leadership when he appealed to the ex-agitators for patience. He reassured: “You remain our primary concern and your welfare is not to be played with. While we wait for the budgetary processes to be completed for your stipends to be paid, we are seeking all the support we can muster to see that you are paid. There’s hope that some monies will be released very soon. I am appealing that you exercise some more patience.”
The ex-agitators would do well to exercise a little patience. On assumption of office, Dikio had promised to and has consistently paid the statutory stipends on or before the 25th of every month. That’s a promise kept. It is believed that that commitment would be restored when the regular release of funds is equally restored.
Akpe is an Abuja-based journalist.