After Zagazola story, IOM Suspends Volunteers Following Allegations Of Aid Diversion In Borno


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has suspended two members of a third-party support team after investigating allegations of fraudulent activities in a cash distribution project in Bama, North East Nigeria.

The multi-purpose cash assistance programme (MCAP) is managed by IOM and Mercy Corps to support a thousand people displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno state and promote sustainable living solutions. 

The Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), which oversees IDP camps in the state, confirmed the allegations to HumAngle.

A joint investigation was launched after irregularities were noted during the cash programme’s distribution phase from November 2023 to January 2024. Although IOM compiled a beneficiary list and distributed tokens for cash assistance, it was later discovered that 83 originally listed IDPs had left the camp to host communities, leaving their tokens unclaimed. 


An IOM volunteer allegedly distributed 50 of the abandoned tokens to non-newcomer IDPs in an illegal scheme, directing the undeserving beneficiaries to return up to 90 per cent of the cash received.

Mercy Corps, responsible for verifying recipients before cash distribution, provided each beneficiary with ₦‎91,030. However, some disgruntled IDPs reported that they were instructed to return between ₦‎70,000 and ₦86,000.

After learning about this, a councillor from Bama Local Government Area, Abdulrahman Busube, initiated an investigation. A volunteer aid worker implicated in the scheme was caught with 42 yet-to-be-distributed tokens and ₦‎600,000 cash, insisting that she was following the orders of an IOM staff member (name withheld), who was responsible for the programme. The IOM staffer denied involvement.

Modu Ali-Gujja, chairman of Bama local government, demanded a thorough investigation after the money was retrieved.

HumAngle confirmed that IOM’s inquiry team visited Bama on Feb. 26, meeting with camp officials to understand the issue better. An emergency meeting at the UN Humanitarian Hub in Bama followed, which included camp officials, SEMA staff, and representatives from IOM and Mercy Corps, as well as virtual participants from Maiduguri.

Grace Ndungu, the African Media and Communications Manager for Mercy Corps,   acknowledged the allegations in response to an email from HumAngle earlier in March. 

“Mercy Corps takes these allegations seriously and is coordinating an investigation with the International Organization for Migration,” she said. “Although no direct Mercy Corps staff are implicated, a community volunteer who supports the programme is allegedly involved. As a precaution, Mercy Corps has temporarily suspended all cash transfer and voucher activities in Bama, pending the outcome of the investigation.”

Ndungu emphasised that Mercy Corps prioritises ensuring aid recipients receive the intended support and maintaining programme integrity. She noted all funds had been recovered and would be distributed as planned.

She said the organisation adheres to a zero-tolerance policy towards fraud and corruption, requiring all team members and partners to follow a strict code of conduct, which includes immediate reporting of any suspicions of fraud, theft, or corruption.

“Our programmes are designed to uphold the highest standards of accountability and transparency. Any alleged diversion of humanitarian aid will be thoroughly investigated, and appropriate action will be taken swiftly afterwards,” Ndungu stated.

The organisation subsequently clarified that its investigations revealed that the whistleblower had mistakenly identified the culprit as a Mercy Corps. Instead, the person was a “Camp Coordination and Camp Management volunteer for IOM”.

In a phone interview, the IOM Chief of Mission in Nigeria, Laurent De Boeck, acknowledged the occurrence of fraudulent activities in the cash distribution project.

“We discovered discrepancies; the list was not being adhered to, and unauthorised names were added,” he said. This anomaly in protocol meant that cash assistance was reaching the hands of individuals not originally intended to receive it.

“Upon receiving complaints, we took immediate action,” he added.

The organisation halted the distribution of funds and engaged with the Local Government to root out the misappropriated funds. 

De Boeck further disclosed that “two individuals from our third-party support team were suspended and others were summoned to Maiduguri by the government for further investigation,” which led to a brief suspension of the aid programme.


The IOM chief said the organisation had resumed its cash distribution with bolstered security measures to address the vulnerabilities exposed by the fraud. 

“After reviewing the situation, we resumed the distribution with two of our teams in place. One team is tasked with biometric registration to ensure the proper identification of recipients, while the other oversees the distribution process based on the verified list of eligible individuals. We’ve made sure our contact information is available at every camp.” 

He highlighted the importance of enabling direct communication with the management to address any issues swiftly and said the IOM is taking a proactive stance on preventing future misconduct. 

“We are reinforcing to all volunteers the code of conduct and ethical standards they were trained on,” he said.

“Moreover, any form of misconduct is to be met with immediate suspension and potential termination, reinforcing the IOM’s zero-tolerance policy. We will continue comprehensive training on the prevention of sexual harassment and other forms of exploitation associated with our operations, ensuring a safe and ethical environment for all.”

Dr. Muhammed Barkindo, the Director General of SEMA for Borno State, expressed concerns about corrupt individuals who are actively working to hinder humanitarian efforts.

“My officials in Bama have informed me about the uncovered fraud, and I am happy that the culprits are being investigated. We at SEMA will keenly tail the unfolding events until those involved are exposed and dealt with accordingly,” he said. 

“I am impressed with the steps taken by the relevant international NGOs to address criminal elements attempting to tarnish the good work being done for those affected by this crisis. People are hungry, and both the government and humanitarian organisations are working tirelessly to alleviate suffering. Yet, criminals are attempting to sabotage these efforts.”



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