Several groups and individuals including the Peoples Democratic Party, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Femi Falana, SAN; the Yoruba Youth Assembly and other civil society groups demanded an unfettered probe of the leaked memo by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, instructing the Accountant-General of the Federation, Dr Oluwatoyin Madein, to pay N585m into the private bank account of a project accountant in her ministry, Bridget Oniyelu.
Human rights lawyer, Falana, urged the humanitarian minister to stop insulting Nigerians following her claims that the allegations of a N585m fraud were baseless.
He argued that the payment was 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.
He noted, “The minister has arrogantly said that the N585.18m 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.”
Falana noted that though the AGF had successfully frustrated the criminal diversion of the said sum of money from the public treasury, it was clear from the leaked memo of the minister that the offence of an attempt to commit a felony had already been completed.’’
On its part, the PDP asked the President to immediately sack and prosecute the embattled minister of humanitarian affairs for alleged money laundering.
The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, Sunday, said it was heartbreaking that a minister entrusted with public funds to support millions of poor Nigerians turned around to allegedly 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 stated.
The statement read in part “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.’’
The PDP further alleged that Edu is in consort with two prominent APC officials in the Presidency and the National Assembly to divert billions of naira to personal accounts.
The party asked the EFCC to immediately invite Edu for questioning and take further steps to commence a system-wide investigation into the alleged large-scale corruption and treasury looting pervading ministries, agencies and departments under the APC administration.
Similarly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has demanded the probe of Edu, the former All Progressives Congress women leader.
The group in a statement signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, and made available to The PUNCH on Sunday, urged the President to direct the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly and thoroughly probe the allegations made against the Minister.
The statement read in part, “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 persistent lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds meant to take care of the poor raises issues of public trust, makes the funds vulnerable to corruption or mismanagement, and undermines the integrity of poverty intervention programmes.”
The Co-convener of the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, James Ugochuckwu, said the President must show readiness to combat corruption by carrying out a comprehensive audit of all political appointees and civil servants, noting that anyone found involved in corruption, should lose his job.
He submitted, “The President should also take an audit of activities of people in the civil service, civil servants themselves because they are part of this high-level corruption that is going on in this country.
“The President needs to demonstrate that he is out to fight corruption by conducting a comprehensive audit of all the people that he has appointed, all the ministers. And anyone that is found involved in any form of corrupt practice should lose his or her job.”
The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative and Accountability Centre, Musa Rafsanjani, urged the President to mainstream the anti-corruption fight, adding that Tinubu must also direct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate principal officers in the ministry in connection with the alleged misappropriation of funds.
He added, “First, and foremost, I am not surprised by the fraudulent activities going on in various places under Tinubu. This is why CISLAC has called on the President to mainstream anti-corruption in his government and we also advised him to appoint people with integrity, experience, capacity and patriotism, not people who will just get their way without a proper understanding of public service.’’
On his part, the Executive Director of the United Global Resolve for Peace, Olaseni Shalom, faulted the lack of accountability in the ministry, noting that the lack of oversight allowed heads of the ministry to “move money around arbitrarily.”
He called on the President to sanction the minister is sanctioned if found culpable, to serve as a deterrent to others.
Madukwe B. Nwabuisi is an accomplished journalist renown for his fearless reporting style and extensive expertise in the field. He is an investigative journalist, who has established himself as a kamikaze reporter.