The presidency and the Senator representing Borno South Senatorial Distinct, Ali Ndume, exchanged hot words on Friday over the latter’s allegations of fraud in the Federal Government’s handling of funds meant to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on poor Nigerians.
In a statement signed by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the Presidency took a swipe at the lawmaker for alluding that some unnamed functionaries in the government had been involved in sundry transgressions and also for launching an unbridled attack on the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq.
Ndume had during a recent media briefing in Borno State upbraided the Federal Government’s Relief Committee on Coronavirus (COVID-19), headed by Farouq, describing the processes adopted by the panel as less than transparent. He went ahead to call on President Buhari to disband it.
However, the Presidency took exceptions to Ndume’s verbal attack on Federal Government’s efforts, pointing out that blank accusations, without convincing evidence, was not a way to help a government that is fighting to stay above a global pandemic.
But Ndume has insisted that federal authorities were abusing palliatives meant to cushion the harsh economic effects of the lockdown in parts of the country as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that his call for the immediate sack of the present COVID-19 Palliatives Committee headed by Farouq remained very valid and imperative.
In the statement, titled ‘Senator Ali Ndume should figure out his mentioned ‘kleptocrats’ around the President or be quiet’, the Presidency charged Ndume, as well as other citizens, to join hands with the government in the fight to halt the ravaging coronavirus.
The statement read in part: “When he was first elected President in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari said that he belonged to everybody and belonged to nobody. What was true then remains true today.
“He believes in public service, as a servant of the people – and he expects the exact same commitment from members of his government and, of course, his closest aides.
“The President has made it clear times without number that anyone who will not, cannot or does not pull his weight – nor meet these exacting standards – is not welcomed in his administration. A number of ranking officials have been shown the way out at various times simply on account of this.
“Similarly, he believes in loyalty and truthfulness. Should any individual be found to be serving themselves and not the people, then it is right and proper to call them out. But this must be done on the basis of evidence and proof – not on conjecture.
“It is therefore disappointing to hear a politician call out unnamed individuals in the administration and accuse them of unnamed transgressions.
“If this politician has evidence, then he should make public their identities as well as his proof. Innuendo is not proof.
“Similarly, simply claiming that the COVID-19 Palliative Measures Committee is not functioning as it should is not the same as presenting proof for such a claim. No one replaces an institutional government body in the midst of the global pandemic without clear and irrefutable evidence that it needs replacing.
“A press briefing from a discontented politician is rarely the source of such evidence. At this difficult time of the battle by Nigeria against Coronavirus, everyone should help the fight and not seek to make political capital out of it, whatever his or her grievances.”
In an interview in response to the reaction from the Presidency to his earlier criticisms, Ndume, said he stood by his observations and recommendations as far as palliatives distribution arising from COVID-19 was concerned.
But the lawmaker noted that he was not ready to join issues with anybody having made his observations known.
“I’m not ready to join issues with anybody on palliatives distribution, having made my observations known based on information I got from the grassroots as a grassroots person. I have made my position known on the programme and I stand by it,” Ndume said.
Ndume had last Thursday in Maiduguri picked holes in the way and manner the distribution of palliatives to indigent Nigerians was being handled by the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry.
He said the emergency national assignment should be taken away from the ministry and given to a fresh committee that would use governors of the 36 states as links of distribution across the federation.
Ndume had said: “My concern is the manner and the way the COVID-19 palliative measures provided by the president is being handled or executed. We have received numerous complaints and it is actually very unfortunate.
“In fact, left to me, I am strongly calling for the humanitarian committee headed by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs to be dissolved with immediate effect and the President should as a matter of urgency form a taskforce that would deal with the issue of palliatives, headed by the military, police, civil defence, voluntary organisations and the NYSC among others.”
According to Ndume, the “taskforce should be formed as taskforce committee headed by the governor of each state, and those materials or cash be allocated and distributed house to house, instead of the fake or dubious way they have been handling the matter by just going to Television House or Government House to demonstrate.
“If you see a minister or big person in anywhere going personally to do something, then know that there is something wrong. If not, what has the minister got to do with going from state to state to distribute palliative. They should be in the ministry monitoring the activities.”
He had equally lamented that “while the pitiable situation of the poor is visible to everyone, few individuals are rushing to squander the money meant for the poor.”
“We have reliable information that the names they generated are fake and that they connived with some of the banks to defraud the poor. It is better to stop the exercise because it is full of lies and if the President doesn’t do something to stop it now, we will end up investigating and later on going back and forward to the court.”