Sunday 7 January 2024

Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation: N585m Palliative Scandal Under Investigation – Presidency

The presidency has said that it is investigating the transfer of N585.189 million grant meant for vulnerable groups in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ogun and Lagos states into a private account.

This is just as some civil society organisations called for the sacking of Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, for directing the payment.

They asked the president not to condone impunity, demanding that Edu be removed as minister and made to face interrogation by anti-corruption agencies.

“The matter is under investigation,” the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, told Daily Trust on Saturday.

“Appropriate Action will be taken thereafter,” Onanuga added.

In a viral document signed by her and directed to the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Edu directed the disbursement of N585.189 million into one Bridget Mojisola Oniyelu’s private account.

The leaked document revealed that the money was paid into Oniyelu’s account.

The minister had, in a statement on Friday by her Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Rasheed Zubair, said the payment followed due process.

Zubair had explained that the money was paid into Oniyelu’s account because she currently serves as the project accountant of Grants for Vulnerable Groups. He said it is legal in the civil service for a staff member, to be paid, use the same funds legally and retire same with all receipts and evidence after the project or programme is completed.

The Executive Director of the Human Rights Monitoring Agenda (HURMA) Global Resource Initiative, Buna Olaitan Isiak, urged Tinubu “to set up a panel to probe the matter so as to set precedence for future culprits.”

“Payment of humongous public funds into a private account is purely corruption no matter the merit of her (Edu’s) defence. This is a violation of all the anti-corruption laws of Nigeria.

“The development is an opportunity to test the sincerity of President Tinubu on his willingness and determination to fight corruption and the readiness of his government to depart from the past ways of doing things.

“By now, Betta (Edu) should be a guest of relevant anti-corruption agencies to answer questions about how our funds escaped to a private account. It is not too late to act,” he said.

In the same vein, the national chairman of the Activists for Good Governance, Declan Ihekaire, said the president must query the minister and take action against her if she is found wanting to serve as a warning to other government officials.

“If the law prohibits a certain amount of money to be paid into an individual account, the law must be followed. We must not get to the level in this country where certain individuals would do things because they’re in power. It’ll lead to a situation where you have impunity and where people will not have regard for the constitution and laws of the country.

“If I’m to be in charge, she should be queried. We must avoid a situation where people in power will do things and get away with it,” he said.

Executive Director, Investigation, Network Against Corruption and Trafficking (NACAT),Tega Oghenedoro, described Edu’s act as a “face of youthful mis-governance” and urged President Tinubu to sack her and hand her over to anti-graft agencies.

“It’s sad that a lady of 37 years appointed into such office, who should be leading the debate on why youths should be considered for more high profile positions, has made herself a willing tool into a bad name on why youths and women should not even be president of Nigeria.

“The statement from the Accountant-General of the Federation clearly, stating that Betta’s action was wrong, is also more than enough to send her packing and hand her over to EFCC for investigation and prosecution,” he said.

National Coordinator, Good Governance Team, Tunde Salman, said anti-corruption agencies should do the needful without waiting for any presidential fiat since Edu “has no ministerial immunity”.

A Nigerian professor based in the United States, Farooq Kperogi, in an essay he posted on his X handle yesterday, said President Tinubu would lose the moral right to fight corruption “if he does not fire Edu forthwith and bring her to justice.”

He cited Section 713 of the Nigeria’s Public Sector Financial Regulation Act which stipulates that public money should not, under any circumstance, be paid into private bank accounts and that any officer who pays public money into a private bank account is deemed to have done so with fraudulent intentions.

Kperogi stated: “Unfortunately, some of the crimes Muhammadu Buhari’s people committed in his eight-year reign are reappearing now.”

Kperogi decried that Edu was treading the same path of her predecessor, Sadiya Umar Farouq.

“This is a momentous moment for Tinubu. If he does not fire Edu forthwith and bring her to justice, he has already lost the moral high ground to try Muhammadu Buhari’s corrupt honchos.”

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