Borno senator, Muhammed Ndume, on Wednesday, accused the federal government relief committee on COVID-19 headed by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, of fraud and called for its immediate disbandment.
Mr Ndume said the committee "lacks credibility" to manage the huge resources at its disposal. He said so far, the distribution of the relief materials has been laced with "fraud."
The minister has, however, denied the allegation of bias, saying the committee was not solely about COVID-19. She spoke on TVC.
Mr Ndume, who represents Southern Senatorial District of Borno State at the Senate, warned that unless President Muhammadu Buhari wants to squander what remains of his goodwill, he should not allow the committee to continue the disbursement of the palliative that was meant to reach the poorest of the poor Nigerians.
Mr Ndume said he was disappointed that President Buhari did not announce the disbandment of the committee during his last national broadcast, "despite the outcry of many Nigerians who expressed dissatisfaction about the minister's led committee."
Mr Ndume, who spoke to journalists during a press conference in his Maiduguri home, claimed the minister and committee members had failed to discharge the task assigned to in a transparent and equitable manner.
"I'm not trying to make allegations against the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development; what I'm saying are facts," he said.
"If they will continue with the way they are doing now, they had better not distribute the palliative at all because it's a fraud.
"My concern now is the manner and ways the palliative measures taken by the president are being executed. We have received numerous complaints and it's very unfortunate. Left to me, I'm calling for the so-called Humanitarian committee headed by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs to be disbanded immediately and the president should set up a task force to handle issues of palliatives."
Mr Ndume also queried the composition of the committee, saying it lacks true representation of a group that is fair to all Nigerians. He said this was what led to the lopsidedness in the distribution of the palliative packages.
"The task force under the Chairmanship of each state governor should include a Senator and House of Assembly member from each state, the Army, Police, Civil Defense, religious organization, Red Cross, Civil Society Organisations to ensure the distribution of the palliatives; I don't mind the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and members of Social Investment Programmes as members."
"Imagine Zamfara state, which happens to be the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs' home state, has 291, 629 households and 1, 341,153 individuals captured under the National Social Register of Poor and Vulnerable households for March 2020, leaving Sokoto State which is adjudged as the poorest state in Nigeria with a paltry 3,347 households and 18, 435 individuals. Borno has only 7,130 households and 33,728 individuals.
"I have reliable information that even names they have generated is fake, the BVN is not fraud-proof, one person will generate thousands of names and after conniving with banks, they are issued BVN. Investigation will reveal all these.
"They have the names of their cooks, drivers, relatives, relatives of their house helps and those they call the poorest of the poor and give this money to them.
"I call on the press to join in the call to stop this callous act, you can imagine the situation our people are in at the moment, yet some people are rushing to either share or steal this money," Mr Ndume said.
Phoning into a TVC talk show, 'Your View', on Wednesday, the minister denied accusations that the aid distribution has been lopsided.
According to her "the money that is being circulated or shared is a programme that has been in existence since 2016; it is not a COVID-19 money-sharing programme. It is an existing programme called the conditional cash transfer under the social investment programme.
"This is following Mr President's directives that we should give two months advance to these beneficiaries and that was what I did. And that was the directive that I carried out."
The minister insisted that the exercise was not lopsided, stressing that she was in the southeast to carry out the programme. "It is all over the country," she said.
On the directive of president concerning the COVID-19 palliative, the minister said she had not received "any budget on that." But she quickly added that "what Mr President directed was that the general food reserve of the country should be handed over to us by the Ministry of Agriculture.. and we have been given 70,000 metric tonnes of grains. And Mr President also directed the Nigerian Customs Service to give us the seized rice in their custody. and this was what we have been deploying to states.
"On the composition of the Palliative committee and on whether the minister has hearkened to the call of the Nigeria Governors Forum that the palliatives be handed over to states to distribute, the minister said, "We have the national emergency response team on ground which is charged with the responsibility of its distribution.
"The ministry has a structure on ground that is saddled with that responsibility, and this structure comprises all the critical stakeholders that are involved in these disaster responses," she explained.
"For now this is what we are working with and we are still in discussion with the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum."
She also denied that the relief could be diverted because the team has a security component that monitors and escort all the deployments to all parts of the country.
When reached for comments on Mr Ndume's specific allegations, the minister's press secretary, Salisu Nainna, did not answer questions he requested be sent to him via WhatsApp.