The Senate on Thursday asked the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun to release outstanding N15 billion in the 2016 budgetary allocation to the Presidential Amnesty Programme.
The Upper Chamber also mandated its Committee on Niger Delta to investigate the circumstances leading to funding constraints of the programme, with a view to avoiding reoccurrence.
The committee was given two weeks to submit its report.
This followed a motion by Sen. Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP-Delta North) which was unanimously adopted by the lawmakers through a voice vote.
The senate further mandated the committee to investigate how the names of certain persons believed not to be indigenes of Abia and Akwa Ibom surfaced as beneficiaries of the amnesty programme.
Presenting the motion, Mr. Nwaoboshi expressed concern on the challenges facing the programme due to paucity of funds.
He said that the challenges resulted from delayed and staggered release of funds from the 2016 Appropriation Act to the programme.
According to him, the situation is already threatening the well-conceived programme of the federal government.
He added that the Amnesty Office was finding it difficult to meet its obligations to its workers and the beneficiaries of the programme.
According to him, N20 billion was appropriated in the 2016 appropriation act for the programme while the Senate further appropriated N35 billion to the programme in the supplementary budget.
He, however, lamented that only N40 billion of the total N55 billion appropriated to the programme was released.
Mr. Nwaoboshi, noted that the situation was becoming serious and capable of truncating the lofty programme as tension and threats of violence were already palpable in the Niger Delta.
He further noted that the programme was conceived to stem the tide of disaffection, agitation and militancy in the Niger Delta.
The lawmaker expressed worries that funds appropriated for the programme had depreciated steadily, leading to adverse impact on its operation.
He said that 30,000 beneficiaries of the N65,000 monthly allowance under the programme were being owed five months in arrears.
“On the education programme (onshore), the debt to universities in the country is N1.9 million in addition to backlog of unpaid in-training allowance amounting to N830,500.
“The educational programme (offshore) is suffering the same fate as unpaid in-training allowances for the 750 students between 2016 and 2017 amount to $4.2 million, equivalent of N1.3 billion.
“This is in addition to unpaid tuition fee for 350 students amounting to $17.5 million which is an equivalent of N513 million.
“In 2016, the Vocational Training Unit projected to train 1,770 could not work due to lack of funds, and worst still, many people are pressurizing to be included in the programme.
“Also, 70 per cent of the 637 students in various institutions in 27 countries who are expected to graduate at the end of the 2016/2017 academic year may not be able to do so,” he said.
Mr. Nwaoboshi said that about 100 graduates under the programme were currently stranded in the U.S., Malaysia, UK and South Africa.
The lawmaker said they were awaiting their October 2016 to January 2017 allowances to enable them to settle their bills and return to the country.
Supporting the motion, Baba Garbai (APC-Borno) urged the Federal Government to release the needed funds to settle the arrears being owed the beneficiaries to avoid chaos.
He stressed that the country could not afford to allow the beneficiaries resort to violence because of the consequences.
He further said that, “they are being owed about five months, so we need to do something by directing the ministry of finance to release these funds.’’
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, said it was important for the Ministry of Finance to release the funds.
He said funds were appropriated with supplementary budget to meet the needs of the programme.
He stressed, “as we get to the end of the budget year, the ministry should look into the matter and ensure release of funds as soon as soon possible.’’