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N585m scandal: PDP, Labour Party, CSOs demand minister’s probe

Anger over the memo issued by the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu, instructing the Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF), Dr. Oluwatoyin Madein, to pay N585m into the private bank account of a project accountant in her ministry, Bridget Oniyelu, spiked on Saturday,  with the opposition parties calling for the minister’s sacking, and other anti-corruption crusaders demanding the probe of the transaction.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party and civil society organisations insisted on Edu’s prosecution for money laundering.

The minister had claimed that the payment was meant for vulnerable groups in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ogun and Lagos states.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arrested a contractor and also grilled several directors and ex-ministry officials in connection with the case.

The latest incident coincides with the probe of three other ministers, who served under former President Muhammadu Buhari, for graft estimated at N150bn.

In separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, the opposition parties demanded the audit of the ministry from the time it was created by Buhari.

In the letter, Edu instructed the accountant-general to transfer N585,189,500 to the UBA account of one Bridget Oniyelu.

According to the document, N219,429,750 was earmarked as “2023 grant for vulnerable groups in Akwa Ibom state”; N73,828,750 was budgeted for Cross River State; N219,462,250 for Lagos State; and N72,468,750 for Ogun State.

The minister said the payment should be deducted from the account of the National Investment Office.

The letter read: “I hereby approve the payment of the cumulative sum of N585,189,500. These are payments for programmes and activities of the Renewed Hope grant for vulnerable groups.

“This payment should be made from the National Social Investment Office account with account number: 0020208461037 to the project accountant’s details listed above.”

In a statement on Saturday, the Media Assistant to the Minister, Rasheed Zubair said that it was legal within the civil service for such payments to be made into private accounts of staff members, especially project accountants.

“Oniyelu Bridget is the Project Accountant for the GVG from the Department of Finance, and it is legal in civil service for a staff, the project accountant, to be paid and use the same funds legally and retire the same with all receipts and evidence after the project or programme is completed”, Zubair had said.

However, the AGF said her office did not honour the request to pay N585 million into a private account as directed by the minister.

In a statement on Saturday, the Director of Press in the Office of the AGF, Mr. Jacob Mokwa said that the AGF does not make payments on behalf of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Madein stated that her office received the minister’s request as contained in a letter referenced FMHAPA/HQ/S.208 and dated December 20, 2023, but did not honour the request.

The AGF noted that payments were usually processed by the affected ministries as self-accounting entities and no bulk payment was supposed to be made to an individual’s account in the name of the project accountant.

The statement read: “The AGF explained that although her office received the said request from the ministry, it did not carry out the payment.

“The ministry was, however, advised on the appropriate steps to take in making such payments in line with the established payment procedure.

“The AGF noted that in such situations, payments are usually processed by the affected ministries as self-accounting entities and no bulk payment is supposed to be made to an individual’s account in the name of the project accountant.

“She added that such payment should be sent to the beneficiaries through their verified bank accounts.

“Dr Madein reiterated her determination to uphold the principles of accountability and transparency in the management of public finances. She advised MDAs to always ensure that the requisite steps are taken in carrying out financial transactions”.

PDP’s Deputy National Youth Leader, Mr. Timothy Osadolor said that the recent happenings in the ministry had vindicated his party’s position.

Osadolor alleged that the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government was corrupt and had nothing to offer Nigerians.

He said: “We have said times without numbers that this administration is very corrupt. So, what I think Nigerians should do is that all Nigerians of goodwill should come out and call for a thorough investigation into all the ministries.

“And in the same ministry, we are aware the last minister was accused of fraud. So, let’s have an overhaul of the ministry, and let’s know the reason why the Presidency is keeping the ministry unaudited for years”.

Osadolor, who wondered if the ministry was being used to launder money for the APC said, “Nigerians want to know if this is a channel for them to recoup all the money they spent in the last election. We also deserve to know if the ministry wants to be used to stash money for future elections.

“We call for a thorough investigation to unravel all these. Nigerians are hungry enough and are tired now to even start protesting.

“We are calling for the arrest of the minister; we are calling for a thorough investigation of that ministry and that investigation shouldn’t just start now.

“I’m sure the file she (Edu) stumbled upon gave her the courage to do what she’s doing now. So, let’s extend the investigation to the tenure of President Muhammad Buhari. Nigerians deserve the truth”.

Labour Party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Obiora Ifoh alleged that the ministry was created as a conduit to divert public funds.

He said: “The ministry was created ab initio to scam Nigeria and Nigerians. We shouted about all that happened in that ministry under the watchful eyes of the then President, Muhammadu Buhari, and at the end of the day we found out that it was a monumental looting of the nation’s treasury since they created the ministry.

“The ministry was created to benefit the APC individuals. It was used for election and we knew what happened. Now under this government, they have just up the ante and you can see in the last week the revelations that have been coming out that the minister herself is working for some powerful entities in the government.

“We are not just calling for the minister’s arrest; we want the ministry to be scrapped because it serves a purpose for just a few Nigerians.

“They should be investigated; we have always said this. The investigation should start from the former minister to the present minister.

“And this present minister, if the money is truly found in a private account, should be with the EFCC explaining by now and everyone under that ministry who has a hand in the looting or the diversion of public funds should be made to account for such”.

Weighing in, the Country Director of Accountability Lab Nigeria, Mr. Friday Odeh condemned the transfer of the funds to personal accounts, noting that it violated Chapter 7, page 713 of the Federal Government’s Financial Regulation, which prohibited government officials from transferring public funds to private accounts or vice versa.

He also stated that the EFCC and the Central Bank of Nigeria should flag the personal accounts that receive more money than usual, adding, however, that political and business influences prevented the functionality of banking regulations.

“The Federal Government’s Financial Regulation Chapter 7, page 713 talks about personal monies 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 bank account, is deemed to have done so with fraudulent intention. So, it is clearly stated in the Federal Government’s Financial Regulation. Public and private monies should be kept separate.

“So, it is illegal for this kind of situation. The sad part of it is one would assume that the procurement officers or the Perm Sec would be responsible for signing such transactions, but this was directly signed by the minister, which is outright wrong”.

Odeh demanded the minister’s sacking or resignation.

“We are calling not just for the sack or for the resignation of the minister, but also to keep citizens informed on how they should be engaged in all these processes”, the activist added.

The Head of National Coordinating Secretariat of the United Action Front of Civil Societies of Nigeria, Mr. Olawale Okunniyi, noted that corruption would continue to thrive whether the minister was prosecuted or not due to the system operating in the public sector.

He noted: “Pilfering is made possible by the kind of structure we run in Nigeria; very opulent presidential system that we run and it is corrupt. That is further enabled by the constitution that is corrupt and is foisted on the Nigerian people.

“Well, even if you sack her, even if you reprimand her, or you prosecute her, the cartel will protect her, and it will not stop anything because the only thing that can thrive in Nigeria today is corruption.

“Nothing good can thrive under the current system because the foundation of the country, which is the constitution, and the economic and political system is faulty”.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Adegoke Rasheed said that a separate account ought to have been created for the project being a government programme.

He said: “For accountability’s sake, it is not appropriate to make such a payment into an individual account. Even if they have the best of intentions, accountability requires the right thing must be done. It is very wrong. They have a huge task to prove to Nigerians that there is no intention to embezzle or misappropriate the fund.

“The fact that an order was made for the money to be paid into a private account raises a red flag. There should be an account opened for the project. Don’t forget the ministry has been enmeshed in controversy due to the activities of the last administration”.

The Chairman, Centre for Accountability and Open Leadership, Mr. Debo Adeniran said that he had faith in the administration of President Bola Tinubu to take disciplinary actions against the minister if she was found guilty of contravening any regulations of her public office.

A lawyer, Udochukwu Onoh called for the immediate sacking of the former APC women leader.

The Chancellor of the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Mr. Jackson Omenazu, argued that Edu’s action was a complete breach of the law.

The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, said: “We are not surprised because like we said before, since Bola Tinubu does not have any agenda for anti-corruption, it is not surprising that he may have corrupt people in his cabinet. What many of them are doing is that they procured the appointments, and just like a business, they want to recover the money, but at the expense of the public.

“We have warned that Tinubu must not appoint people with corrupt tendencies into his government and since he didn’t listen to the advice, we are not surprised to see this happening within six months, but this must be investigated, and the needful must be done as soon as possible”.

The Deputy Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Mr. Kolawole Oluwadare said that focus should not be on whether or not the fund was sent to a private or public account, but to ascertain if it was used for its intended purpose.

He added that there was a need to investigate if there were existing procedures and processes guiding disbursement of public funds and if the funds disbursed were in accordance with extant laws, noting that the procedures for spending public funds should be more stringent.

According to him, it is important for the Federal Government to further investigate how the fund was spent and ensure accountability with a paper trail indicating how the money left the coffers of the government to private accounts.

Oluwadare also urged that the beneficiaries should be made known as a means of transparency to the public, stressing that the law enforcement agencies could only arrest and prosecute the minister and any other person found culpable only after the completion of investigation on the matter.

He said, “The issue is not whether this account is private or not. It is whether some procedures and processes guide the disbursements of public funds and whether the disbursements in this instance are done accordingly. If they are not, perhaps it means there should be a scrutiny of those processes. Can we also look at the processes of how the funds are paid? Does it breach any known processes? Is it covered in the Procurement Act? Those are the necessary questions.

“Our opinion is not as important as the procedures of the government because I heard that this is going on in other ministries as well and what that means is that the procedures for sending public funds should be more stringent to make sure that processes that won’t make it possible in the hands of private individuals. Apart from the fact that those funds were paid to an individual account, we need to trace how those funds were spent. It is very important at this point. There should be a paper trail up to the point where the money supposedly left the government coffers in a private account. There should be an accountability process on how the funds were spent.

“The issue will rest on whether there is any breach of any procurement process and if there is, ordinarily people will be responsible. I think that should be the first step. Procurement processes, including the Procurement Act and other directives of the Bureau of Public Procurement, are what I think are important at this point. We should know if there are specifics and how it contravenes the regulations and directives of the Bureau of Public Procurement. It is that one that will determine who will be culpable to that extent.

“SERAP has been at the forefront of this for several years even during the Buhari administration to ensure that the funds disbursed via the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs are transparent and accountable by way of returns explaining how those funds were spent. So, whether they were sent to private or public accounts, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and every government agency involved must be part of the social mechanism of the Nigerian government to account for how the funds were spent and who the beneficiaries were. There should be a paper trail to tell that those funds ended up in the hands of the people who needed them. This is more important than the procedure by which it was done.

“An arrest is usually done by law enforcement agencies after investigation even though in Nigeria they arrest people to aid investigation. You can only arrest after investigation or if there is a suspicion of a person investigated not being available by any obstacle. But the thing is it is an investigation that will precede arrest and it is what will determine whether the minister or any public officer is culpable; so, an investigation is the right way to start and determine whether the issue has been going on for a while and in line with the Procurement Act”.

Lending his voice on the issue, a lawyer, Dr. Eze Onyekpere said the transfer of funds from public to private accounts was against financial regulations.

He noted: “It is an infraction under financial regulations, which say you cannot pay public money into a private account. What she has attempted to do or what she has done is wrong. That reaffirms our position all through that all these lump sum amounts that they put into a budget and say are for indigent people and cash transfers are without transparency and accountability. They have always been a lot that they have been taking out a long time ago”.

He said that there was a need for transparency by publishing the names of the beneficiaries of the funds on a website for everyone to see.

“There is a solution, which is to publish the names of everyone on the social register to be available on a website available to everyone. When you pay them, it will show and can be easily confirmed. This will be subject to monitoring by the citizens and the media. This is being used as an opportunity to steal funds. All names should be published and anyone who feels too big for his or her name not to be published should be discarded”, he added.

According to him, it is up to the minister to resign her appointment or be fired by the President.

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Lagos clampdown on illegal estate development

The Lagos State Government has clamped down on illegal estate developments around the Epe corridor of the state.

The Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Oluyinka Olumide, said this in a statement on Saturday in Lagos.

He stated that he led a special joint exercise to the axis on Thursday and Friday, based on the directive of the state executive council.

He mentioned some of the areas covered during the exercise to include: Alaro City, Okorisan, Igbodu, Molajoye, Shaala, Ketu, and Epe.

Olumide said notices were also served on estate developments such as Patriot Bay Estate, Smart City Estate, the Legend and Hilton Royal Garden.

Others are Greenland Estate, Legacy City, Isinmi Lagos, Dominion City, Topview Estate, and Ibi Alafia, among others.

He pointed out that erring estate developers were requested to visit relevant authorities to perfect their documents.

According to him, under no circumstances should any developer go ahead to start the development of estates without obtaining layout approval, planning permit, and fencing permit as may be required.

The commissioner added that the requirements were necessary to ensure the attainment of an organised, livable and sustainable built environment.

Olumide explained that layout approval was required for proper arrangement of the estate to give room for appropriate services and infrastructure, while the planning permit addressed the planning requirements on individual plots in the estate.

He urged property up-takers and buyers to be wary of investing in estates without approval, to avoid needless embarrassment from government officials.

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Police detain ADC to Fmr. Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello

The aide-de-camp (ADC) to former Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, has been arrested and detained by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

The Female police officer and others were arrested days after the former governor evaded arrest by EFCC operatives on Wednesday, April 17.

The officers were taken into custody on suspicion of aiding and abetting Bello’s escape from EFCC operatives.

The anti-graft agency had stormed Bello’s house to arrest him over allegations of money laundering and financial misconduct while in office.

The Nigeria Police Force has yet to release an official statement regarding the arrests, but police sources say the officers could face charges related to obstruction of justice or conspiracy to hinder a law enforcement operation.

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Zamfara govt suspends commandant state security outfit over allegations of poor funding

The Zamfara State Government has suspended the Commandant of the local security outfit, Community Protection Guards, CPG, Colonel Rabiu Garba (retd).

This is contained in a statement issued by the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Mallam Abubakar Nakwadahe and made available to newsmen in Gusau, the State capital.

The statement said in part, “This is to inform the general public that, Zamfara State government has suspended Colonel Rabiu Garba as Commandant of the state Community Protection Guards”.

“The suspension takes immediate effect”.

According to DAILY POST no reason for his suspension was given but it was gathered that the suspension may not be unconnected with the radio live program he granted where he accused the state government of poor funding of the Community Protection Guards.

In a radio live program at the Vision FM radio Gusau, Colonel Garba said the state government has failed to give financial support to the Protection Guards.

He lamented that since their inauguration, the state government has not provided them with any takeoff grant.

Garba also said the officials of the protection guards were paid their salary only once since they were appointed four months ago.

He said members of the Community Protection Guards have been suffering from poor funding from the state government, a situation which he said has been crippling their activities in the fight against banditry.

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