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Before Refugees Commission goes from bad to worse

Before Refugees Commission goes from bad to worse
November 25
23:26 2021

The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) is fast degenerating into a cesspool of corruption and mismanagement due to the brash and reckless manner the place has been run by the new federal commissioner, Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, according to media reports. It is impunity and disregards for due process that breed corruption, not just in the commission, but in Nigeria as a whole.

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Signs emerged quite early showing that the new commissioner was going to run a one-woman show when, without waiting for handover, she threw out the picture and personal belongings of her predecessor, Bashir Garba Lado. She also allegedly stormed Lado’s private residence to confiscate the official vehicles used by the said predecessor rather than wait for the official handover or request that vehicles be returned as required by civilised conduct.

The tragedy that the commission has become is rather unfortunate if the primary statutory responsibility of the federal agency is considered. The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI) was established by Decree 52 of 1989 now Cap. N21, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 (NCFRMI Act). This was in fulfilment of the federal government’s obligation under resolution 319(IV) of the general assembly of the United Nations and Article 35 of the United Nations 1951 convention.

The National Commission for Refugees (NCFR) as it was then called was initially only responsible for managing the affairs of refugees. However, in 2002, former President Olusegun Obasanjo enlarged the mandate to include migrants and internally displaced persons, and this was the beginning of the expanded responsibilities of the commission. Over the years, the NCFRMI has approached its mandate of providing care and maintenance as well as durable solutions to all its persons of concern (PoCs), which include refugees, internally displaced persons, stateless persons, and returnees among others with a keen sense of responsibility.

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The well cut out, three-pronged job of the commission summarily is to articulate and implement the response of the federal government to the growing humanitarian crisis in Nigeria. But under the current leadership, the commission is getting more and more weakened as the honourable federal commissioner carries on like lord of the manor, fragrantly violating due process and introducing policies and programmes that cannot promote the work of the agency.

The reign of impunity has ushered in flagrant disregard for procurement procedures to the extent that the management staff are not privy to the information of what the funds are spent on. For instance, the procurement tenders board (PTB) members in the agency are not in the know of the details of the N8 billion released to the agency most recently.

The HFC cannot be allowed to run the commission as a private business. Even organised private businesses are not run by a single individual let alone a federal agency, which has approved guidelines and due process governing expenditure. Yet in the commission, both PTB members and the management staff are sidelined in matters as serious as expending the funds of the commission.

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Even the ministers take their requests for approvals of contracts and procurements to the federal executive council and not sit in the ministries and authorise expenditure. Why then is the head of the commission not submitting to financial regulations and fiscal discipline to allow for transparency, probity and accountability?

Meanwhile, key international partners are said to be considering pulling out of the partnership with NCFRMI due to the opaque and rancorous manner the commission is run. Such international partners operate in a climate of sure process and open governance. They are aware that some of their financial and material support do not always get to the beneficiaries in fidelity to their purpose clause.

For example, she is said to have refused to release a Toyota brand-new SUV operational vehicle donated to the Maiduguri office by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, UNCHR. How awkward can things get in our country? It is a well-known fact that most of Nigeria’s IDPs are in the north-east, especially Borno state. So, why on earth would any reasonable and responsible Nigerian deliberately deny the Maiduguri office of the commission a very critical logistic like an operational vehicle to try to meet the herculean demand? Someone should tell her that when the foreign partners pull out or refuse to give a helping hand in the area of mobility, it can only hamper the works of the commission the more since international donor agencies are a major source of financial and technical support to the commission.

What is more, a prudent chief executive of a government agency saddled with humanitarian affairs of a country shouldn’t expend N35 million in furnishing her office that was renovated and furnished less than six months before she resumed as head of the commission. These are the kind of things the international community would read and wonder about the kind of people we are. Ministers and heads of agencies in the countries that lend us help use public transport. They don’t stay in ostentatious offices. But our ministers and government functionaries fly in chattered aircraft and furnish offices with millions of naira.

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Ironically, the zonal and field offices, which pictures this writer has in front of him as he writes are an eyesore. They lack basic tables and chairs, while the available ones are torn and shabby. Even the appearances of the offices alone can easily siphon the entire energy and motivation left in the most patriotic worker.

Another troubling practice at the commission is her penchant for anticipatory approval, which entails incurring huge and oftentimes frivolous and bloated expenditures with funds yet to be received. This is against the procurement act and its extant express provisions, which stipulate that approvals must be based on the availability of funds. One understands that the director of legal at the commission who she threw out of the commission was because he rightly opposed and raised serious issues of the illegality of anticipatory approvals. The director of procurement was also sent packing for equally insisting on due process and accountability. Now, she has in place ‘O! Yes’ people in procurement, who one understands she brought from NAPTIP, and who are ever ready to do her bidding.

Another poster boy of the decadence and decline that the NCFRMI is fast becoming is the so-called Operation Zero Hunger. The commission used to provide relief materials for households – which Iman is trying to replace with zero hunger. The project, which only the federal commissioner knows anything about in the commission is a “collabo” between the agency and Defence and Police Officers Wives Association. But this is the real spelling of “from frying pan to fire” for IDPs and other PoCs. For instance, the usual household package given to IDPs normally consists of at least 100kg of grains; 25kg each of rice, beans, maize and millet or garri; 20 litres of cooking oil (both vegetable and palm oil) and other household items such as mattresses, mats, pots and packs of sanitary wares, amongst others. But she is phasing this out with a small pittance for individuals with only 1 kg of grains and a pack of spaghetti in each pack, adorned by her personal picture.

This cannot possibly continue. Certainly not.

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First, with the sad tales in the media, there is now a great need for the protection of staff members, including some union members, who have been constantly threatened with sack and deployment to field offices. Sulaiman-Ibrahim should be made to understand that disagreeing with her whims and caprices when they run foul of the rules and policies is not tantamount to disloyalty. Not praising her to high heavens or massaging her over-bloated ego is also not the same thing as disloyalty. Besides, the primary loyalty of civil servants and indeed any Nigerian for that matter is first to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not one chief executive that doesn’t know that a government agency is neither her patrimony or fiefdom.

Again, the president needs to have the EFCC and ICPC carry out a thorough investigation of the procurement and finance processes of the Commission to ensure that the persons of concern, PoCs, for who the agency was created,  are not continually shortchanged. Surely, Nigerians would be eager to know more about the commission’s funds expended on Operation Zero Hunger and how it has bettered the lots of the IDPs more than what we have always known. It is also important to investigate the spending on the so-called Operation Zero Hunger and see if there is any value for money. One strongly recommends this scrutiny after comparing what the commission used to hand out to IDPs and what is being handed out now under the new scheme. The commission used to hand out to the IDPs 1kg rice, beans, wheat and packs spaghetti, half pack Maggi, small bottles of vegetable and palm oil, two pieces sanitary pads and more. But today, what one sees are paltry biscuits, toothbrushes, toothpaste, torchlight, vaseline, sugar, Lipton and soap. That is what obtains since the commissioner switched to Project Zero Hunger, which indeed should be more aptly called operation more hunger.

Lest one forgets, Imaan Sumailan-Ibrahim should be reminded that she is a chief executive of a federal humanitarian agency, not a state governor or minister or senate president. For crying out loud, what on earth is she doing with all the personal and security aides, the convoy that includes siren-blaring pickup vans, and serving and retired personnel of critical federal government security agencies, including the Department of State Security, National Intelligence Agency, Defence Intelligence Agency, etc? What the hell is she doing with almost 20 personal aides drawn from outside the commission? What is she doing with a chief of staff, worse still also drawn from outside the commission? It was learnt that she unsuccessfully aspired to the house of representatives in the last election. She needs to be reminded that only the speaker and deputy speaker can operate her kind of convoy and retinue of security and personal aides.

The woman just has to be called to order. Her impunity, flagrant disregard for due process, lack of transparency and accountability coupled with staff grievances against her for highhandedness and toxic leadership are all combining to take the commission from bad to worse.

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The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) is just too important to be allowed to wallow under such administration. It is becoming more and more unable to fulfil its care mandates amidst the growing humanitarian crisis in the country. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.

Mefor is a senior fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought. He can be reached via +234-9056424375, email: [email protected] or @LawMefor1 on Twitter

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