Indications emerged last night that the financial controversies involving the Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, would not be swept under the carpet.
Last week, there was a viral document signed by Edu addressed to the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, directing 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.
Amid the widespread outrage, Edu, in a statement by her media aide, Rasheed Zubair, said the payment followed due process.
The dust raised by the saga was yet to subside when another document emerged detailing how the minister allegedly approved N3,160,000 for flight tickets and airport taxis for members of her team to travel from Abuja to Kogi, a state which has no functional airport, in November 2023.
But a statement by the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, yesterday, said the Federal Government has directed that a thorough and comprehensive investigation be conducted to ascertain the accuracy and validity of the reported matters.
“We are aware of the narratives circulating widely and wish to assure Nigerians that the government takes these issues most seriously,” he said in a statement he personally signed.
He added: “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.
“Only accurate details will be shared with the public. The ministry is committed to providing timely updates to keep Nigerians informed about the progress of the investigation.
“We urge Nigerians to exercise patience as the investigation unfolds. The government is focused on ensuring a fair and unbiased process, and the findings will be communicated duly and transparently to the public.”
President Tinubu’s media aide, Bayo Onanuga, also assured that investigation was ongoing on the matter. “Appropriate Action will be taken thereafter,” he said.
This came as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urged President Tinubu to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr. Lateef Fagbemi and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly and thoroughly probe the alleged payment of N585.2 million into a private account.
SERAP also urged him to direct Mr. Fagbemi and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly and thoroughly investigate whether the money had been paid into any private account, and to identify and publish the names of anyone who may have received it.
“Anyone suspected to be involved in any improper payment or diversion of public funds should be brought to justice and any diverted public funds returned to the public treasury and paid directly to the rightful beneficiaries,” it said.
Also reacting, a group, the Yoruba Youth Assembly (YYA) called for the sack of Dr. Edu.
SERAP, in a letter dated January 6, 2024 and signed by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, argued that 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,” it said.
The letter, read in part: “The public interests in safeguarding against the perception or appearance of impropriety or corruption also require your government to remove the opportunity for abuse inherent in the payment of public funds into private accounts.
“The Nigerian Constitution 1999, the country’s financial regulations and international obligations impose a fundamental obligation on your government to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds meant for socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians.
“Your government has a legal responsibility to ensure full compliance with the Financial Regulations 2009, prohibiting the payment of public funds into private accounts, to reduce vulnerability to corruption or risks of the funds being diverted for personal ends or other unlawful purposes.
“Government officials hold positions of public trust. Public officials are expected to ensure compliance with Nigerian laws and international standards in the discharge of their public functions.
“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.
“Your government has a legal obligation to probe and prosecute allegations of abuse of office and corruption in the spending of public funds meant to improve the conditions of vulnerable Nigerians.
“SERAP is concerned that successive governments have failed to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds budgeted for social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects.
“Any risks of corruption in the spending of public funds meant to take care of the poor would erode the effectiveness of the government’s oft-repeated commitment to address the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy on vulnerable Nigerians.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Any failure to investigate these grave allegations, bring suspected perpetrators to justice and recover any diverted public funds would undermine the integrity of the government’s poverty intervention programmes.
“It would also create cynicism, and eventually citizens’ distrust about the ability of your government to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption in the programmes.
“Nigerians have the right to be free from poverty. Any risks of diversion of public funds budgeted to lift vulnerable Nigerians out of poverty would pose both direct and indirect threats to human rights, and exacerbate extreme poverty in the country.”
On its part, the Yoruba Youth Assembly, in a statement by its president, Odunuga Babatunde, faulted the alleged corruptive move of the minister, pointing out that the laws of the country forbid that government money should be deposited into personal account.
It equally expressed displeasure and indignation against the Accountant-General of the Federation, Mrs. Madein for waiting till now to speak up on the alleged financial infraction.
It said President Tinubu must quickly rise up to the occasion and suspend Dr. Edu to allow for proper investigations while ensuring that no one found wanting in the acts goes unpunished.
“This is a good litmus test for the commitment of President Tinubu to fight corruption.
“The financial law unequivocally prohibits the deposit of personal funds into government bank accounts and vice versa, deeming such actions fraudulent. Any officer involved in depositing public money into a private account is presumed to have acted with fraudulent intent.
“These revelations raise serious concerns about the administration’s commitment to financial regulations.
“As an Assembly of youth that staunchly emphasises zero tolerance for corruption in our dear country, we are no doubt saddened by this inappropriate act and we therefore demand for the suspension of Dr Beta Edu.
“We urge President Tinubu to order for proper investigation of this unpatriotic act to serve as a deterrent for others.
“The call for suspension resonates as a demand for transparency, accountability, and the restoration of public trust, with far-reaching implications for the administration’s commitment to ethical governance”, it submitted.