By Adnan Tudunwada
The Saudi government’s gesture of five containers of date fruits, weighing 200 tonnes, to Nigeria has sparked controversy and social media memes, following the diversion of the consignment to market.
For over a week, the cyberspace was agog, questions raised and accusing fingers were pointed – albeit in the wrong direction.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khadijat Abba-Ibrahim in a statement by the ministry’s spokesperson, Clement Aduku, had apologised to the Saudi government over the “unfortunate turn of events”.
“This is not the spirit in which the 200 tonnes of dates was given,” she said.
She explained that the dates were distributed from a warehouse belonging to Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the presence of the Charge d’Affairs, Yahya Mughram.
According to her, the Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons drew up the list of recipients which included IDPs camps as well as prominent Mosques.
While promising to investigate the matter, the minister said: “It is important to note that once the dates were delivered to their final destinations the ministry of foreign affairs became devoid of any subsequent responsibility.”
But DAILY NIGERIAN investigations revealed that the Federal Commissioner in charge of National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Sadiya Umar Farouq, is behind the scandal.
Ms Farouq, a stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and member of the party’s Presidential Campaign Council, hails from Zamfara State.
Investigations revealed that a large percentage of the consignment was diverted to Zamfara State and kept in a warehouse, while the rest was distributed to traditional rulers.
Credible sources in the commission said Emirs of Gusau, Zurmi, Birnin Magaji and Kaura all received carloads of the dates.
“As I speak to you, there is a store in Gusau where the Federal Commissioner diverts assorted humanitarian aids, including the dates,” said an inside source who preferred anonymity.
“The problem is that the director Admin and Finance of the commission, Bashar Ahmed, is also from Zamfara State. These two people are the alpha and omega of the commission and they have questions to answer regarding the diversion of the date to market.”
When DAILY NIGERIAN contacted the commission on Monday morning, the spokesperson to the federal commissioner, Halima Musa, denied her principal’s complicity in the selling of the dates.
“The Federal Commissioner was even away in Saudi Arabia when the dates were distributed. We distributed the dates strictly to displaced persons. From our end, not a single pack was diverted to market,” she said.
Asked whether there is any displaced persons’ camp in Zamfara State that the state got share of the freebies, she answered in the affirmative, saying there are people displaced by armed banditry in the state.
Ms Musa later in the day issued the following statement:
“The attention of the National Commission For Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons NCFRMI, has been drawn to a public announcement emanating from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Nigeria, to the effect that the dates packaged and distributed as gifts from the Government of Saudi Arabia are being sold by some members of the public. This has generated comments from the public.
“For the avoidance of doubt and further clarification, the Commission wishes to state that the said dates were presented to the Commission for onward distribution as gift to Internally Displaced persons by the Saudi Arabian Embassy on the 7th of June, 2017, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria.
“Immediately the dates were received, that same night, the Commission got down to the business of dispatching same to the Beneficiaries in Adamawa, Taraba, Yobe, Borno, Kano as well as Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi States and the Federal Capital Territory, with the Saudi Embassy’s Charge de Affairs in attendance.
“The exercise Commenced same night between 9pm and 6:00am of the following day. Trucks were hired at the expense of the Commission for the exercise. The IDPs in the Federal Capital Territory were also included in the distribution. The dates were also presented at some of the mosques identified as where IDPs worship.
“The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons would like to emphasize that no other person or groups of persons were included as beneficiaries of the gift from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. The Commission cannot control what happens after the distribution exercise. Cases of IDPs selling relief materials are not new though, which is why the Commission is focusing on Durable solution strategies in its interventions.
“The National Commission For Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons hereby restates its commitment to its mandate of leading and coordinating humanitarian activities in the country, protection and the treatment of its persons of concern with respect and dignity.”
The director of Admin and Finance of the commission, Bashar Ahmad, also denied allegations that he was conniving with the Federal Commissioner for perpetrate corruption.
“Of course I am from Zamfara State but I did not post myself here. The office of the Accountant General posted me here not the Federal Commissioner,” he clarified.
Explaining how they distributed the dates, the director explained that the dates were transported in eight trailers to various states where there are displaced persons.
He therefore listed where seven trailers went to without explaining the destination of the eighth trailer: “One trailer went to Maiduguri; Damaturu got one trailer; Adamawa and Wukari got one trailer; Kano and Katsina got one trailer; Kaduna got one trailer; Kebbi and Zamfara got one trailer; FCT got one trailer.”