(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated after a fresh review of the governor’s remarks).
The Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, has alleged fraud in the management of funds donated by the international community for assisting people affected by the ongoing armed conflict in the northeast of Nigeria.
Mr Zulum made the allegation when he hosted the ambassador of the United States and the United Kingdom High Commissioner who paid him a courtesy call in his office on Wednesday.
To stop the alleged fraud in the system, the governor called for the involvement of the state government in determining the areas of need of the people and the execution of the targeted projects.
“Honestly, I don’t want to mention names, but I keep on saying that there is corruption in the system and why there is corruption is because we are not involved from the beginning,” Mr Zulum said to the top diplomats.
“You may announce some heavy donations, but if this money is left unchecked, believe me sincerely 30 per cent of this funding will not go to the target population,” the governor added.
The U.S. ambassador, Mary Leonard, and her UK counterpart, Catriona Laing, met with major ‘stakeholders’ in the humanitarian services in Borno on the humanitarian and development priorities in northeast Nigeria.
The two top diplomats had visited IDP camps, the military and some of the humanitarian offices before paying a courtesy call on the governor.
The visitors were led by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon.
The delegation acknowledged the insecurity in the region, and how “the protracted conflict in Nigeria has affected the Lake Chad Region, including its neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Niger and Chad for over 10 years.”
The UN said because of the over a decade old conflict, “over 3.2 million individuals are displaced, with 4.4 million food-insecure people at crisis and emergency levels and millions of civilians subjected to extreme hardships.”
Mr Kallon said “in north-east Nigeria alone, 13.1 million people live in areas affected by conflict, out of whom 8.7 million need immediate assistance.”
Both the UK and U.S. top envoys expressed their country’s intention to support and partner with the Nigerian government in managing the humanitarian crisis.
Governor Zulum, who had earlier thanked the diplomats for the visit as well as their pledge for continued support for Borno and the North-east region, expressed his misgiving about the way humanitarian organisations handle funds given to them to provide services.
He urged the UN and the INGOs to partner with the state government in identifying areas of need of the people before executing projects. He said many INGOs would rather cut corners than transparently work with the government to serve the people.
“There is a need for you to listen to us,” the governor told the top diplomats.
“Funding is very critical. But how the government and people of Borno State benefit from funding is also very critical. The participation of the state government is important- the bottom-top approach is very key.
“Without the participation of the state, the funding will not reach the desired target population.
“I am very much known for my transparency, there was never a time, from my time as commissioner for RRR, that I diverted a single kobo belonging to the donor agencies.
“We are not looking for something or cash from you. But what we want to do is that we want Borno State to take leadership. This is very key. You may announce some heavy donations, but if this money is left unchecked, believe me sincerely, 30 per cent of this funding will not go to the target population.
“What I am telling you is that we shall work together to meet our objectives of closing the camps. The UN system will be with us so that the money can be channeled appropriately.”
The governor called for transparency in the use of donor funds by humanitarian actors.
“These are taxpayers’ money, so there must be transparency in the system. Honestly, I don’t want to mention names, but I keep on saying that there is corruption in the system and why there is corruption is because we are not involved from the beginning.
“If we were involved, we would try as much as possible to be transparent and to give the sense of understanding in the system. There must be an independent monitoring team. There is no way you can be funding, executing and monitoring your activities. The major issue is the donation of which we remain eternally grateful to all of you. But the big challenge is how do we ensure that the funding goes to the critical mass of the population – the deserving ones.”
Mr Zulum said the INGOs must take the government into confidence and be open in the way they spend donor funds.
“There is no way you can go on to determine the target population without the government. The UNDP did it under the stabilisation facilitation project and they involved us. We went there and started screening the beneficiaries together. But there are some INGOs or donor partners who just don’t want to talk to us.
“We have a lot of complications caused by the INGOs – one person is receiving ten support from ten different organisations. We say no to that. And again, I said that was why some INGOs don’t want to partner with the government of Borno State because we will insist on telling them no, this is not right.
“So as long as I am the governor of Borno State I want to be seen to be doing the right thing. I want to be transparent with you and I want to partner with you, but there is a need to set things right when it comes to managing door funds.
“These donor funds coming from you people, are taxpayers money, which is coming from you people; and with which we want to help us and to want to help you to ensure that the objectives of your donations are met without any problem.”
The UN had earlier stated that its humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) appeal fund for Nigeria is $1.01 billion. And going by PREMIUM TIMES checks, about $324.9 billion (which represents 51 per cent of the total funding requirement for 2021) has been received, as of June 8.
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