*Says 30,000 ex-militants owed 5 months arrears
*Over 600 foreign students to get extension over non-payment of tuition fees
From: FRED ITUA, Abuja
The Senate, on Thursday, raised the alarm over growing tensions in the Niger Delta region, following the alleged refusal by the Federal Government, through the Presidential Amnesty Programme, to offset five months arrears of 65,000 to 30,000 ex-militants.
In a motion, sponsored by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and tagged “Monumental Challenges facing the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) due to paucity of funds. Sponsored by”, the Senate directed the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, to release the balance sum of N15 Billion in the 2016 Appropriation Act for the funding of the Amnesty Programme.
The Senate equally mandated the Committee on Niger Delta to investigate the circumstances leading to funding constraints besetting the Amnesty Programme, with a view to avoiding a re-occurrence and report back within two weeks.
Sen. Nwaoboshi, while speaking on what informed the sponsorship of the motion, said he was worried over the monumental challenges facing the Presidential Amnesty Progamme due to paucity of funds to run it, arising from delayed and staggered release of funds from the 2016 Appropriation Act by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
He said the delay was already threatening the programme of the Federal Government, as the Amnesty office is finding it extremely difficult to meet its obligation to its workers and beneficiaries of the initiative.
Nwaoboshi noted: “The Amnesty Programme was conceived by the Federal Government of Nigeria to stem the tide of disaffection, agitation and militancy in the Niger Delta Area, which resulted in loss of lives, properties and oil revenue and the result of the programme has been quite encouraging.
“Funds appropriated for the programme have been depreciating steadily, leading to adverse impact on the operation of the programme as tension is already building up in the Niger Delta region.
“About 30,000 beneficiaries of N65,000.00 monthly allowance are being owed five months in arrears and on the education programme (onshore) the debt to Universities in the Country is the sum of N1,873,044,700.00 in addition to backlog of unpaid in-Training Allowance amounting to N830,500.00, while Educational Programme (Offshore) is suffering the same fate as unpaid in-Training allowances for 750 students between 2016 and 2017 amounted to US$4,200,000.00 equivalent of N1,332,000,000.00 and unpaid tuition fee for 350 students amounting to the sum of US$17,500,000.00 equivalent of N512,500,000.00.”
The Senator further said: “In 2016, the vocational training unit projected to train 1,770 due to lack of fund and worst still, many people are pressurizing to be included in the Amnesty Programme, failure for which they are threatening to go back into agitation and militancy, which they have earlier renounced.
“About 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 for non-payment of tuition fees and currently, more than 80% have been excluded from studies and if the tuition fees are not promptly settled, this may lead to their repeat of the whole academic session, thus compounding the financial burden, moreover, about 100 graduates are currently stranded in the United States of America, Malaysia, United Kingdom and South Africa, awaiting their October, 2016 to January, 2017 allowances to enable them settle their bills and return back to Nigeria.
“Students in the United Kingdom have planned to protest at the Nigerian High Commission any moment for non-payment of the tuition fees and allowances by the Amnesty Office and if the protest is carried out, it will definitely bring Nigeria to ridicule and opprobrium before the comity of nations.”
“The fund appropriated in the 2016 Appropriation was about N20 Billion and the Senate was magnanimous in appropriating the sum of N35 Billion in 3 Supplementary Appropriation in late 2016, which went a long way in improving the funds appropriated for the programme, whereby the sum of N40 Billion has so far been released by the Federal Ministry of Finance, leaving a balance of the sum of N15 Billion.
“The situation is becoming very serious and capable of truncating the lofty programme as tension and threats are already palpable in the Niger Delta Region amongst the beneficiaries of the programme onshore and offshore, which is capable of bringing the Federal Republic of Nigeria into disrepute nationally and internationally and this has to be checked promptly;
“The programme is in dire need of funds and it is absolutely necessary to release the balance sum of N15 Billion in the 2016 Appropriation Act so as to provide funds for the smooth running of the amnesty programme,” Nwaoboshi added.
Only one Senator added his voice to Nwaoboshi’s submissions. Senator Baba Kaka Garba, urged the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Finance to immediately release the funds.
He warned that the issue of non-payment of stipends to ex-militants, was a timed bomb, waiting to explode.
Meanwhile, the Niger Delta committee has been mandated to investigate claims that some names of beneficiaries from Abia and Akwa Ibom states were swapped. Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe moved the motion.
It was seconded by the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio. Abaribe is from Abia State, while Akpabio hails from Akwa Ibom State.