Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) notes with deep regret the controversy on the mismanagement of funds, abuse of financial due process and clear and manifest intention to defraud the treasury by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Betta Edu.
There was a request from the Honourable Minister to the Accountant General for the transfer of the sum of N585.2million from the National Social Investment Office account to the United Bank for Africa account of Bridget Oniyelu, being a private account. A number of fundamental issues have arisen from this scenario. ▪ The first is that in accordance with Federal Government’s Financial Regulation (Regulations) 713, it is clearly stated 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 fraudulent intention. Therefore, the Regulation establishes a strict liability offence which cannot be explained away under any circumstances. ▪ The second is that the Honourable Minister’s defence that this practice is legal indicates that this may not have been the first-time public money is being transferred into private accounts on the instruction of the Minister. Thus, investigations are imperative to establish the full extent of the rot under the direction of the Honourable Minister. ▪ The third is that the way and manner the memo for the release of this money was generated and dispatched to the Accountant General shows that the Hon Minister has usurped the functions of the Accounting Officer being the Permanent Secretary (See Regulations 111 and 112) and other relevant accounting and finance staff of the Ministry (Regulations 114 for Head of Finance and Accounts). It is not the duty of the Honourable Minister to be generating memos for payment of beneficiaries.
The fourth is that the generation of the memo and the direct request for the Accountant General to pay public money to a private account indicates one or two things. It is either the Honourable Minister is ignorant of the procedure for release, disbursement of funds and payment of beneficiaries or she deliberately decided to violate the Regulations.
The Regulations (3127, 3128 and 3129) further require that public money should be transferred through e-payment to the direct beneficiaries unless the Ministry, Department or Agency has an exemption from the e-payment policy. Only a qualified person, duly entitled under the law or a contract is qualified to be a beneficiary of public funds and not a meddlesome third party (Financial Regulation 601 inter alia states: Vouchers be made out in favour of the person or persons to whom the money is actually due. Financial Regulation 603 states inter alia (i) All vouchers shall contain full particulars of each service, such as dates, numbers, quantities, distances and rates, so as to enable them to be checked without reference to any other documents and will invariably be supported by relevant documents such as local purchase orders, invoices. special letters of authority, time sheets, etc.
CSJ recalls that Halima Shehu, Chief Executive Officer and National Coordinator of the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA) has been suspended following allegations of high-level abuse of public resources. We further recall that the former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouk, is being questioned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in an ongoing probe into the N37.170billion allegedly laundered during her tenure in office, through a contractor, James Okwete. We also recall the false claim by Buhari’s Minister, of feeding Nigerian children who were all at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another memo circulating from the same Ministry shows approvals for airfare and airport taxi to a city without an airport.
From the foregoing, it is manifestly clear that the Regulations and internal controls for accountability and transparency in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs are not followed as they are obeyed more in the breach. There have been clear violations of laid down rules and procedures. The funds available to the Ministry and its agencies have been treated like a slush fund. Against the background of the foregoing, CSJ demands the following.
▪ The immediate resignation of Minister Betta Edu from office and where she fails to resign, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should suspend her from office pending the conclusion of investigations. Treat like cases alike; what is applicable to Halima Shehu should also be applicable to Betta Edu.
▪ Reform the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, the Social Investment Programme and similar programmes to ensure that the criteria for selection of beneficiaries, the
names, locations, details of beneficiaries and the sums disbursed to them are put up on a publicly available web portal. This will facilitate public monitoring and evaluation.
▪ The expeditious prosecution of all persons who have participated in the mismanagement/looting of public resources or the attempt to do so under the Ministry.
Eze Onyekpere Esq.