The Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Engr. Mustapha Maihaja has said that the 135,500 bags of rice donated to the Federal Government by the government of China are still is intact.
He said the bags of rice were worth N2.4billion with a little above N400million demurrage paid for their clearance at the ports.
He stressed that no bag of rice meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) was either missing or diverted at the ports.
The bags of rice are being kept in warehouses in Maiduguri and Yola pending the completion of the clearance of the huge volume at the ports in Lagos, he revealed.
Maihaja said although the clearance started in January, the delay was caused by the process of securing exemptions and waivers which the Federal Government was addressing.
The NEMA Director-General made the clarifications at a session on the continuation of a hearing on the operation of the agency by the Isa Ali-led House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, noting that the delay in clearance of goods at the ports was not peculiar to NEMA.
He said: “About 135,500 bags of rice, worth about N2.4billion, were donated to Nigeria by the Chinese Government. The actual clearance started in January and those already offloaded are being kept in warehouses in Maiduguri and Yola. The bags of rice were not missing and they were not diverted.
“The delay in completing the clearance was caused by inherent process including securing exemptions, waivers and other clearance related matters.
“This delay in clearing government goods is not only peculiar to this exercise, it is applicable to many others. The Federal Government has noted the inherent process in clearing goods and it is looking at eliminating the causative factors.
“As soon as the clearance is completed, the bags of rice will be offloaded and distributed to the IDPs.”
Maihaja explained in details the logistics involved in clearing the bags of rice.
He added: “As soon as we secured the necessary documents, we liased with all relevant agencies concerned with clearing but we have to invoke Section 43 (1)b of the Emergency Act because the goods have stayed for six months in the port.
“Secondly, it was a tough decision to take considering the situation we found ourselves in. We have to consider the condition of the people of the region that is North-East, who are in danger of hunger and famine. We also have to consider the condition of the rice too.
“We are still in the process of procuring the rest of the material, but we have taken possession of 110 containers and they are in two locations in Maiduguri and Yola.
“We had to follow that pattern to save the items and the people.
“There are still some in the port but all expenses are incurred by NEMA, though we have not paid on clearing but a little above N400m have been paid on demurrrage for the total consignment.
“With all sincerity of purpose, the problem is about the process which involved three agencies. The process should be looked at”.
Maihaja said the delay in clearance of goods at the ports was not peculiar to NEMA.
The representative of the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Samuel Iloma a Deputy Director said being the recipient of the donation, the waiver certificates were processed for the consignment that came in five batches.
He said: “We thought with the collection of the waiver, NEMA will just go and distribute but we got to understand later that the clearance is much more than that.
“That was why we approached a clearing firm about what’s involved to do the clearing and it was then we were told its going to involve money to get the neccessary documents,” he said.
On her part, Ezekezie Kaycee, an Assistant Comptroller General (ACG) of Customs, who represented the CG said 3,779 metric tonnes have been cleared by Customs leaving a balance of 3,000 mt.
She also cautioned that the said number does not mean that the entire consignment has left the ports.
She said: “Even from this number, only 1,250 has been cleared because this depends on the vessels it takes an average of 30 days to clear.
“From our records, three Bills of laden have been cleared but this does not mean they have left the port. The NCS is only through with three bills,” she added.
The committee however ruled that the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun and her Budget and National Planning counterpart, Udo Udoma must appear before it.
Also, the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh as well as the Comptroller General ( CG) of the Nigerian Customs Service ( NCS ), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) have also been invited by the lawmakers to explain their roles in the movement of the relief material.