ABUJA — The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yesterday grilled for hours the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, over the payment of N585 million into a private account.
Also questioned was her predecessor, Sadiya Umar-Farouq over N37 billion fraud in the ministry.
Vanguard can authoritatively say that none of the three bank chiefs were either arrested or detained by the commission yesterday.
.The role of the Accountant-General of the Federation in the whole saga was also questioned by EFCC investigators.
These came on a day the team of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar told the federal government that merely suspending the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr, Betta Edu, was not enough and cautioned President Bola Tinubu’s administration against weaponsing the growing poverty among Nigerians.
This is even as the All Progressives Congress, APC, said yesterday that President Bola Tinubu acted swiftly enough to suspend the minister.
Vanguard gathered that the minister, who had earlier been suspended by President Bola Tinubu arrived at the EFCC office at 11 am and was expected to be released at 11 pm, according to an EFCC source.
Edu was at the EFCC on a day her predecessor Sadiya Umar-Farouq and the deposed chief executive officer of the National Social Intervention Programme Agency, NSIPA, Halima Shehu, were also at the commission for questioning over their role in the financial scandal in the ministry.
While Halima Shehu and Sadiya Umar-Farouq had reported at least twice to explain their roles in the multiple scandals associated with the ministry and social intervention programmes, Edu appeared for the first time yesterday to shed more light on the N585 million cash said to have been moved from the ministry into a private account for payment to vulnerable groups in Akwa Ibom, Ogun and Cross River states.
She said no financial rule was breached in moving the cash away from the treasury into a separate account to be managed by an appointed account officer but the Accountant General of the Federation disagreed, which prompted the Presidency to suspend her on Monday and ordered a probe.
While Sadiya Umar-Farouq is reported to have been associated with the payment of over N37 billion into some questionable entities and contractors, Halima Shehu is said to have moved various amounts of money belonging to the NSIP under the humanitarian ministry into several private bank accounts in
She was also suspended by the President once the report became public and was shut out of the Presidency.
Some reports claim the amount moved by her included N44 billion and N30 billion but she has denied the claims.
A top EFCC source confirmed to Vanguard yesterday that the bank chiefs who were in their office were neither arrested nor detained.
Edu’s suspension commendable but not enough — Atiku
Meanwhile, the team of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar yesterday warned the President Bola Tinubu-led All Progressives Congress, APC, administration against weaponising the growing poverty among Nigerians, noting that though commendable, the mere suspension of Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr, Betta Edu, was not enough.
The word of caution was contained in a statement signed by Atiku’s Special Assistant on Public Communication, Phrank Shaibu, in Abuja.
Recall that Edu was suspended by President Tinubu after a leaked memo showed that she ordered the transfer of N585.2 million into the private bank account of a civil servant, who is the accountant in charge of grants for vulnerable Nigerians.
In his response to the scandal, Shaibu said it was unfortunate that a programme that was designed to lift over 100 million Nigerians out of extreme poverty had become a cash cow for successive APC governments.
He said: “While Tinubu deserves commendation for suspending Edu, we believe this is a belated move.
“Firstly, he had no business appointing her as minister of such a sensitive ministry in the first place. Tinubu put politics ahead of competence, hence this scandal.
“What experience did Betta have in the development sector? How was Imaan Ibrahim, with her wealth of experience, overlooked?
“How did the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, stand as Betta Edu’s referee during her clearance at the Senate?
“To be fair, it is not only Betta Edu that was involved in these shady transactions. Reports suggest that others in the Tinubu government got cash from this same ministry under the dubious Renewed Hope Initiative.
“Betta Edu should not be the fall guy. Others who have remotely and wickedly benefitted from money that was meant for poor Nigerians ought to be fished out, probed, and prosecuted too. It is demonic and tendentiously wicked to steal in the name of the poor.
“Further leaks showed that millions were released by Betta Edu to fund a flight to a non-existent Kogi airport. They must have used witchcraft airways.”
The Atiku aide further said there is a need for the government to reform the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry and other interventionist programmes that had become an ATM and POS for those in power.
He explained that the fact that the previous Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq, was also being probed for N37billion fraud was evidence that immediate and urgent action is needed to reform the ministry.
“Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, Farouq continued to implement the school feeding programme. She ridiculously claimed that the food would be delivered to the students at home since schools were shut.
“Today, Betta Edu claims that over three million households got N20,000 each during the Yuletide. Sadly, there is no evidence of millions of Nigerians getting such money. This shows that money has just been going into private pockets.
“The scandal we are contending with is not about Betta Edu, nor about Halima Shehu, or any other rogue element for that matter, it is about a problem of systemic corruption through which the APC continues to bleed the treasury, ironically, asphyxiating the poor and vulnerable segment of the country, all in the name of caring for them.
“The APC has weaponized poverty and hunger to control the minds of the vulnerable masses, and it is even worse that they have devised a method to use poverty as an instrument of official corruption,’’ he said.
The former Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate’s aide alleged that even the SDG programme being led by the Senior Special Assistant to the President, had also “become a cesspool of corruption as revealed by the Foundation for Investigative Journalism.”
He argued that it would be partial for Tinubu to single out Betta Edu and a few others, while some others from Lagos were being shielded.
Shaibu stated: “The Office of the SSA to the President on SDG was set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to help Nigeria meet the SDGs goals. Unfortunately, an investigative report by FIJ showed that the office has also become a cesspool of corruption.’
‘’This SDG office, which is now operating from the Office of the First Lady, needs to be looked into. Betta Edu should not be the only scapegoat. All developmental projects need to be probed and those found wanting, prosecuted.’’
The Atiku aide added that it had become obvious that the monies saved from the removal of petrol subsidy had begun entering into private pockets, if reports of the December rice palliative were anything to go by.
“The Presidency claimed to have given out N100m worth of rice to each member of the House of Representatives and N200m to each senator which was to be shared to their constituents, only for a large number of the lawmakers to deny ever receiving such rice.
“It is obvious that palliative and intervention projects have become the albatross of the Tinubu administration.
“Tinubu must introduce a framework for such projects, rather than arbitrarily sharing food and money in an opaque manner. Nigerians are suffering already. It is evil for the government and their agents to steal from the poor. This is the height of evil.”
Why Tinubu acted swiftly on allegations of fraud against Betta Edu — APC
Also yesterday, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC justified why President Bola Tinubu acted swiftly on allegations of fraud against the suspended minister of humanitarian affairs, Betta Edu.
The party noted that there were processes information undergoes before it gets to the president.
The National Publicity Secretary of the All progressives Congress, Felix Morka, who spoke in an interview with Arise Television yesterday, said: “We are talking about the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, you don’t expect that every act that happens in a ministry is something that is mirrored in the presidency or that there is a board where the president is seeing everything happening in every ministry.
“When there is a problem, that problem works its way up through the channels of information of vetting and filtering to present information to the president for his assessment and decision.
“I don’t think the timeline that you are talking about is less swift because people discussed it first. My point is that the president responded as swiftly as can be and appropriately on this matter.”
Morka also said no one could regulate the actions of humans, adding that there is no mechanism available for a party to modulate the conduct of its members.
He added that the only thing that could be done is to set standards and consequences for those who took those actions.
“You are expecting superhumans to be members of the APC and, therefore, people who are high above reproach and will do no wrong. That is not the standard of any democracy or any political party because people populate the parties.
“The question is not whether people do wrong, there is no mechanism available for a party to modulate human conduct.
“You can set standards and parameters for imposing consequences for when those actions are taken. That is what this president has done. Whether people choose to do what they do is beyond the control of the president.
“The question is, has the president responded as expected in a democracy? Yes. He swiftly responded to the appearance that something wrong was done,” Morka said.