•Promises to punish decisively any breaches
•Wale Edun heads investigation panel
•Minister in trouble for diverting N585.2m, approving air tickets to Kogi without airport
•Exposed fraud tip of iceberg, says PDP
•Falana: She should stop insulting us
•SERAP, others condemn development
•Women group stands behind her, declares allegations baseless
Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Michael Olugbode and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
In a very strong message to the ministries, departments and agencies, President Bola Tinubu, yesterday, responded to growing public outcry over the controversial memo by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu, fouling financial regulations, and ordered a thorough and comprehensive probe of the allegations.
Tinubu vowed to unravel the truth of the matter and see that appropriate action was taken, saying any identified breaches would be punished decisively.
Edu was alleged to have recently directed the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to pay a whopping sum of N585.18 million to a private account owned by one Oniyelu Bridget.
The ministry claimed Bridget currently served as the Project Accountant, Grants for Vulnerable Groups in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos and Ogun states.
But the Accountant-General of the Federation, Dr. Oluwatoyin Madein, rejected Edu’s directive and refused to pay the said sum of N585.18 million to the agent of the minister.
In addition to this infraction of extant public financial rules, the minister was also said to have approved air tickets for trips to Kogi State, including airport taxi, when the state has no known or functional airport, an allegation that had since been exposed with the approval memo now flying about on the social media.
It was for this reason that the president has appointed the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, to head a panel to investigate the alleged fraud in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
But as more and more Nigerians continued to demand the sack and prosecution of Edu, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the alleged looting of N44 billion National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA) fund, including the N585.2 million, allegedly, diverted by the minister to a private account, were only a small part of the corruption in the current government.
Foremost human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, told Edu to stop insulting the sensibilities of Nigerians.
Falana said, “Instead of apologising to the federal government and people of Nigeria and calling it quits for betraying the confidence reposed in her, the minister has arrogantly said the N585.18 million fraud allegation is a mere fabrication by her detractors and an alleged attempt by mischief makers to undermine her ministry’s effort in fighting corruption and uplifting the needy.”
Similarly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urged Tinubu to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly and thoroughly probe the alleged payment to vulnerable people in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos, and Ogun states into a private account.
Network for the Actualisation of Social Growth and Viable Development (NEFGAD), a public procurement advocacy group, urged Tinubu to be impartial in the face of massive corruption allegations rocking the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation and the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP).
However, Nigeria Women Arise for Democracy, a pro-democracy women group dedicated to promoting democracy, justice, and equality, rejected the calls for the removal of Edu. The group advised Tinubu to dismiss the “unfounded allegations and disregard the orchestrated campaign of calumny against Dr Betta Edu.”
Already, the panel made up of serving ministers and top government officials met at the weekend to look at the allegations and financial papers flying around the social media involving the humanitarian affairs ministry.
Sources told THISDAY last night that the probe panel had extended invitation to Edu to explain what she knew about the N585 million alleged palliative scandal rocking the ministry. Also invited to appear before the panel this week was National Coordinator and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA), Halima Shehu, who was suspended last week by the federal government over alleged payment of billions of Naira by the agency without presidential approval.
Chairman of the presidential probe panel, Edun, according to usually reliable sources, was at the official residence of Tinubu at State House, Abuja, yesterday evening to give a preliminary report on the panel’s work.
It was further gathered that the embattled minister of humanitarian affairs might be suspended from office this week by the president pending the conclusion of the work of the Edun-led investigating panel.
Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammad Idris, who confirmed Tinubu’s order, said, in a statement, that any infraction would be punished in line with the administration’s commitment to public accountability and due process.
Idris said the statement was issued to address the widespread narratives circulating regarding the use of public funds by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
The minister stated, “The Ministry of Information and National Orientation acknowledges the concerns raised by the public regarding the alleged payment of funds into a private account by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
“We are aware of the narratives circulating widely and wish to assure Nigerians that the government takes these issues most seriously.
“The federal government, under the leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is transparent and accountable to the people, and committed to ensuring that public funds are allocated and utilised effectively and efficiently to address the needs of Nigerians.”
Idris stressed that in the light of the recent events, Tinubu had directed that a thorough investigation be conducted to ascertain the accuracy and validity of the allegations.
“The government is determined to unravel the truth as it relates to this matter, and assures that appropriate action will be taken to ensure that any breaches and infractions are identified and decisively punished, in line with the administration’s commitment to public accountability and due process,” Idris added.
Against the backdrop of many unverified narratives in the social media, Idris advised the public to see the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, under his leadership, as the primary source for verified information about events and actions of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
He stated, “Only accurate details will be shared with the public. The ministry is committed to providing timely updates to keep Nigerians informed about the progress of the investigation.
“We urge Nigerians to exercise patience as the investigation unfolds. The government is focused on ensuring a fair and unbiased process, and the findings will be communicated duly and transparently to the public.”
N44bn Fraud, Tip of Iceberg, Says PDP
PDP demanded the immediate sack and prosecution of Edu over the alleged looting of N44 billion NSIPA fund, and the N585.2 million said to have been diverted by her to a private account.
In a statement by National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Debo Ologunagba, the party said the exposed fraud in the ministry was just a tip of the iceberg regarding the unprecedented treasury looting, unbridled stealing and plundering of resources going on in the Tinubu-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration, which had brought Nigeria’s economy to its knees.
Ologunagba stated, “Is it not tragic and heart-breaking that a minister entrusted with public funds to support millions of poor Nigerians, who have been impoverished by the APC, turned around to divert hundreds of millions of naira meant for the wellbeing of the poor?
“The continuing stay of Betta Edu as minister is, therefore, provocative and amounts to stealing from a people and daring them to do their worst. It further confirms our party’s position that the Tinubu-led APC government is a cesspit of corruption; a haven for thieves and treasury looters.”
Ologunagba said Nigerians were shocked by reports of how Edu and the suspended National Coordinator of NSIPA, Halima Shehu, allegedly engaged in brazen looting of billions of Naira, while Nigerians, who the funds were meant for, were deprived and abandoned to excruciating hardship and misery.
The PDP spokesman stated, “Equally disheartening is the reports of how Betta Edu allegedly directed the transfer of the N585.2 million NSIPA money into the private account of one of her fronts in clear violation of Chapter 7, Section 713 of Nigeria’s Financial Regulations, 2009, which expressly prohibits the payment of public money into a private account.
“For emphasis, Section 713 of Nigeria’s Financial Regulations, 2009 provides that ‘Personal money shall in no circumstances be paid into a government bank account, nor shall any public money be paid into a private bank account. An officer who pays public money into a private account is deemed to have done so with a fraudulent intention’.
“The apparent fraudulent intention by Betta Edu in diverting public funds into a private account; an action, which was appropriately declared illegal by the Accountant General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, is consistent with APC’s character and proclivity for plundering of public resources.”
Falana: Edu Should Stop Insulting Nigerians
Falana asked Edu to stop insulting the sensibilities of Nigerians with her response to the allegations of corruption against her.
He stated, “It is public knowledge that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betty Edu, recently directed the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to pay a whopping sum of N585.18 million to a private account owned by one Oniyelu Bridget, who the ministry claimed currently serves as the Project Accountant, Grants for Vulnerable Groups in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos and Ogun states.
“Happily, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Dr. Oluwatoyin Madein, rightly rejected the illegal directive and refused to pay the said sum of N585.18 million to the agent of the minister.
“It is interesting to note that the minister has not denied that she gave approval for the payment of the over half a billion Naira to a private account in contravention of the extant Public Service Rules as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Act and the Penal Code applicable in the Federal Capital Territory.
“Instead of apologising to the federal government and people of Nigeria and calling it quits for betraying the confidence reposed in her, the minister has arrogantly said the N585.18 million fraud allegation is a mere fabrication by her detractors and an alleged attempt by mischief makers to undermine her ministry’s effort in fighting corruption and uplifting the needy.
“However, notwithstanding that the Accountant-General of the Federation has successfully frustrated the criminal diversion of the said sum of N585.18 million from public treasury, it is crystal clear from the leaked memorandum of the minister that the offence of an attempt to commit a felony has already been completed.
“There can be no legal justification for the criminal diversion of the said sum of N585.18 million for disbursement to vulnerable people in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos and Ogun states since the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs has collated the individual bank accounts of all the vulnerable people
“Having regard to the facts and circumstances of this extremely embarrassing drama, we commend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for the recovery of the sum of N37 billion meant for vulnerable people in Nigeria.
“We also call on the commission to speed up the ongoing investigation of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs with a view to charging all indicted persons before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory as soon as possible.”
SERAP: Tinubu Must Probe Allegation
SERAP urged Tinubu to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly and thoroughly probe Edu’s alleged fraud involving N585.2 million meant for vulnerable people in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos, and Ogun states.
SERAP said, “Anyone suspected to be involved in any improper payment or diversion of public funds should be brought to justice and any diverted public funds returned to the public treasury and paid directly to the rightful beneficiaries.”
In the letter to Tinubu dated 6 January 2024 and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “Paying public funds into private accounts may create the perception or appearance of impropriety and give cover to any potential wrongdoing or diversion.
“Investigating these allegations and ensuring that the public funds meant to take care of the poor are transparently and accountably spent and recovering any diverted public funds are serious and legitimate public interests.
“The public interests in safeguarding against the perception or appearance of impropriety or corruption also require your government to remove the opportunity for abuse inherent in the payment of public funds into private accounts.
“The Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the country’s financial regulations and international obligations impose a fundamental obligation on your government to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds meant for socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians.
“Your government has a legal responsibility to ensure full compliance with the Financial Regulations 2009, prohibiting the payment of public funds into private accounts, to reduce vulnerability to corruption or risks of the funds being diverted for personal ends or other unlawful purposes.”
Suspend, Investigate Edu, NEFGAD Says
Head of office at NEFGAD, Mr Akingunola Omoniyi, said, “The recent development in the humanitarian office has provided Tinubu a golden opportunity to tell Nigerians and the whole world that he was ready and willing to tackle corruption in a fair, just and impartial manner.”
Omoniyi said the president should apply same disciplinary measure (suspension) meted to NSIP CEO, Mrs Halima Shehu, on Beta Edu.
He stated, “Apart from the fact that Dr. Edu and Mrs. Halima Shehu are from different geographical divides of the country, the tendency and pattern of the allegations involving the duo are too identical and should not have attracted different approaches and measures in dealing with them by the president.
“Directing payment of public fund into private account by a public officer is a serious procurement and fiscal malfeasance that attracts serious penalty under extant laws, regulations and rules, including the public procurement, Fiscal Responsibility, Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences (ICPC), Code of Conduct Acts and the Anti-money Laundering (prevention and prohibition) Act.”
Omoniyi further stated that the minister had serious questions to answer for instructing payment of public fund into private accounts other than that of a legal entity, who have duly participated in a competitive selection process and or are direct beneficiaries of a conditional grant scheme (in the case of vulnerable people as captured in the ministry’s mandate).
“The act depicts pure nepotism, favouritism, undue advantage conferment and criminal diversion,” he stated.
The group implored Tinubu to suspend Edu and direct her thorough investigation by relevant anti-corruption agencies.
Allegations against Edu Baseless, Group Declares
Nigeria Women Arise for Democracy, a pro-democracy women group, rejected the calls for the removal of Edu. The group urged Tinubu to dismiss the “unfounded allegations and disregard the orchestrated campaign of calumny against Dr Betta Edu”.
Nigeria Women Arise for Democracy said it had closely monitored the developments surrounding the “rumours of corruption in the disbursement of social intervention funds by Dr Betta Edu.
“After thorough investigation and consideration of the facts, we find these allegations baseless and without merit. Dr Betta Edu has been unwavering in her commitment to serving the Nigerian people, and her dedication to the welfare of citizens is commendable.
“The campaign of calumny against Dr Betta Edu appears to be the handiwork of mischief makers and individuals with vested interests in sabotaging her laudable efforts. Dr Edu’s initiatives have positively impacted the lives of countless Nigerians, particularly in the areas of humanitarian aid and social intervention programmes.
“We commend Dr Betta Edu for her transparency, accountability, and relentless pursuit of the betterment of the lives of the Nigerian people. Her leadership in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs has been marked by innovation and efficiency, and we believe she is a valuable asset to the current administration.
“Nigeria Women Arise for Democracy calls on all well-meaning Nigerians to reject the campaign of misinformation and support Dr Betta Edu in her noble endeavours. We implore President Bola Tinubu to remain steadfast in his trust in Dr Edu’s competence and integrity, and to ignore the calls for her removal.”