Shola Oyeyipo

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enelemah is facing an allegation of diverting $35 million meant for the Growth Employment (GEM) Project to illegal Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) fund.

The allegation emanated from a petition which the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Hon. Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue) forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari and the World Bank.

GEM is a federal government project designed to create jobs and boost non-oil sector by empowering 4000 SMEs in ICT, light manufacturing, entertainment industry and agro-processing and others..

The World Bank provides a concessionary loan of $160 million in the project, while the DFID provides a grant of 90 million pounds.

However, lawmakers in the lower chamber of the National Assembly had on November 2, 2017 and February 1, 2018 directed Enelemah not to go ahead with a plan to invest the $35 million from GEM project to another SME fund. The minister was equally advised to desist from the creation of the SME investment fund.

Gbillah, in his letter to President Buhari and the World Bank, alleged that Enelemah colluded with his personal staff to divert $35 million.

In the letters, dated August 24, 2018 and titled “Breach of the World Bank Principles and Good Governance practice on the management of the Growth Employment (GEM) project in Nigeria”, the lawmaker claimed that three months into the GEM project, the minister appointed a former staff of his personal company, African Capital Alliance, Mr. Ugo Ikemba as the project coordinator in violation of the laid down rules and guidelines.

Ikemba allegedly restructured the entire project, released $35 million from the federal ministry of finance and created a parallel SME investment fund to be managed by an independent private company to be registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to dispense between $250,000 to $2 million each to only 23 unidentified companies without government oversight or involvement”

According to Gbillah, while the project was to carter for 4000 SMEs, the minister through his proxy unilaterally scaled it down to only 25 SME’s.

“Why did the minister of industry, trade and investment insist on engaging a former employee of his private firm (African Alliance Company), Ugo Ikemba on contract as the GEM project coordinator (with a salary of N4.7m) in clear violation of the approved GEM implementation framework and the procedure for engagement of consultant”, he said.

He informed President Buhari that the GEM project designed to create jobs has been compromised.