In the eye of the storm! Tinubu orders probe of Beta Edu

Ogunsakin Mustapha
13 Min Read
Dr Beta Edu, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

Falana, Huriwa condemn, Arewa group support Minister

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on Sunday evening directed a thorough probe of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation headed by Dr Beta Edu over the allegations of directing  the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to pay a sum of N585.18 million to a private account owned by one Oniyelu Bridget, who the ministry claimed is a Project Accountant.

The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, revealed the president’s directive in a statement he issued.

The statement reads, “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 utilized effectively and efficiently to address the needs of Nigerians.

“In light of recent events, the President has directed that a thorough and comprehensive investigation be conducted to ascertain the accuracy and validity of the reported details.

“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.

“The public is advised to note, against the backdrop of various unverified narratives circulating on the Internet, that the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, under the leadership of Minister Mohammed Idris, is the primary source for verified information about events and actions of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Tinubu’s directive comes after a gale of criticism, and support for Dr Edu over the botched directive. 

Human Rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana in a statement titled “Betty Edu should stop insulting Nigerians”  said the minister has already committed the offense of attempted felony.

Falana said: “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 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 apologizing to the Federal Government and people of Nigeria and calling it quits for betraying the confidence reposed in her, the Minister has arrogantly said that 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;

Dr Beta Edu, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

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”. 

Also, the Human Rights Writers Association(HURIWA) said it is not accusing the Minister, “the media statements that her office has issued so far, in the attempt to convince Nigerians that it is lawful to keep public fund in private account is just like the polemic promoted by one erstwhile civilian governor of Kano State in the second Republic”.

It stated further: “It is incongruous and indeed puerile to say that on one hand, the EFCC arrested one official of the same government over allegations of payments of public funds into private accounts but on the same breath, a cabinet level minister is inundating the public space with her submission that keeping public money in private account of someone heading a certain portfolio, is appropriate;

This sounds illogical and fallacious and by the way, if as the Minister argued that under a certain civil service rule, public funds can be kept under private accounts, why then does the financial regulations Act governing public service in Nigeria say the exact opposite?”, the group asked.

However, it is not condemnation galore as an Arewa Integrity group says Edu’s critics are trying to distract the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from conducting a thorough investigation. The group insists that the attempt to rope in the minister into any crime is diversionary.

The group also argued that the motive behind the campaign of calumny against the Minister was meant to distract the investigation into the agency.

The Convener of the group, Alhaji Ibrahim Sambo, at a press conference in Kano on Saturday, lauded the minister for not compromising her integrity by refusing to aid the wrongful conduct at NSPIA.

Sambo also hailed the removal of Ms Halima Shehu, the former National Coordinator of the agency over the diversion of N44.8 billion into private accounts, and insisted that corruption must not be allowed to fight back against the minister.

“Our investigations reveal that the campaign to drag Dr Edu in the multi-billion-naira NSIPA fraud scandal is based on deliberate falsehood and at diverting the attention of the EFCC,” said Arewa Integrity Group.

The group further said that the money spent for the national verification of the National Social Register quoted by some critics as evidence of Dr Edu’s collusion, was duly approved by President Bola Tinubu and the Federal Executive Council in line with the Renewed Hope Agenda to expand the contentious register as well as sanitize its operations.

“It is also public knowledge that the program embarked on by the Ministry under the current Minister, Dr. Betta Edu, thus far, including Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, Grants for Vulnerable Groups and others, all secured the approval of the President,” the group emphasized.

Sambo argued that it was standard practice and procedure in the public service for MDAs to appoint project managers or project accountants for specific projects. 

He noted that to avoid bottlenecks, funds are sent directly to the account of a designated officer who disburses such funds as approved and retires the same with receipts and or evidence after such projects are completed. 

Commending the EFCC over the ongoing investigations into the financial fraud in NSIPA, the Arewa Group urged the anti-graft body not to be distracted. It further expressed confidence in the EFCC through its investigation, to provide answers to the vital questions on whose authority the former National Coordinator of the NSIPA withdrew N44.4 billion from the government account and diverted the same into various private accounts. 

It  also warned that his organization will not allow fifth columnists and their sponsors to derail the government’s effort in providing succor to vulnerable Nigerians in line with President TInubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda.

Recall also that Isah Yahaya Jibril, the National Coordinator of the National Progressive Youth League had on Thursday, January 4, exonerated the minister from any involvement in the scandal.

Jibril had through a statement queried the rationale behind the attacks on Dr Edu having obtained the approval of President Tinubu for the payment to vulnerable Nigerians and for exposing the humongous fraud in the agency under her watch.

“It’s worth mentioning that the Minister Dr Betta Edu, who shares President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s zero-tolerance policy towards corruption, was the one who brought this fraudulent activity to the attention of the government and the EFCC. 

“While she was providing assistance for the crisis in Plateau state, the staff in the Accounting Unit informed her of the fraudulent activity taking place for which she salvage the situation.

“It’s clear that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation will not operate as it did in the past. The previous corrupt practices will not be repeated. The Minister is determined to ensure that trust is built between Nigerians and the government and that the Renewed Hope Agenda is sincere in its efforts to combat poverty in the country,” Jibril said on Thursday.

In the same vein, Hon. Ikenga Ugochinyere Ikeagwuonu, representing Ideato North/South federal constituency while absolving Dr Edu of any wrongdoing in the allegation, said it was the refusal of the minister to compromise on her principles that helped to expose the alleged N44 billion fraud at the NSIPA.

The lawmaker, in a statement, hailed the EFCC in its ongoing efforts in ensuring that the culprits were caught and tasked the anti-graft agency to ensure that those found guilty are prosecuted.

Ugochinyere also commended Dr Edu for leading reforms in the ministry within a short period.

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