EFCC quizzes embattled Edu, others as anti-graft uproar heightens

• Nigerians hail suspension as security aides stop Edu from meeting Tinubu
• We cannot question Tinubu, his action consistent with law, says Uzodimma
• I’m not signatory to company linked to Edu — Interior Minister

Following growing outcry over her financial dealings, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), yesterday, invited the embattled Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, for questioning.

President Bola Tinubu had earlier authorised her suspension from office, further directed the EFCC to conduct a thorough investigation into all aspects of financial transactions involving the ministry.

Also, the President tasked a panel headed by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance to, among other functions, “conduct a comprehensive diagnostic on the financial architecture and framework of the social investment programmes with a view to conclusively reform the relevant institutions and programmes in a determined bid to eliminate all institutional frailties for the exclusive benefit of disadvantaged households and win back lost public confidence in the initiative.”

Many Nigerians have commended the swift pushback as consistent with Tinubu’s earlier pledge to uphold the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability in the management of the commonwealth of Nigerians.

Recall that the purging at the ministry, central to the president’s Renewed Hope agenda of ending poverty and creating access to capital, began last week with the suspension of Halima Shehu, National Coordinator and Chief Executive Officer of the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA).

Acting on the President’s directive, the suspended minister, Edu will report at the EFCC headquarters in Abuja today.

According to the EFCC, “We have invited the suspended Minister. The invitation letter was sent to her immediately after her suspension was announced by the President. We’re expecting her at the headquarters any moment from now,” a source stated.

Meanwhile, EFCC quizzed Edu’s predecessor, Sadiya Farouq, yesterday, over an alleged laundering of N37.1 billion during her tenure as a minister under the administration of ex-President Muhammadu Buhari. Farouq was still at the EFCC office as of 6.00 p.m. on Monday.

Edu was caught in a N585 million disbursement scandal involving her ministry, attracting widespread criticisms from rights groups and activists. The money was meant for disbursement to vulnerable people in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos, and Ogun states, under the Federal Government poverty intervention project called Grants for Vulnerable Groups.

The predicament of the 37-year-old was worsened when the Accountant General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, confirmed that although her office received a request from the humanitarian ministry to make certain payments, her office did not act on it.

Edu, the youngest in the President’s cabinet before her suspension, was a fast-rising Amazon in the political space having occupied state and national offices at a young age.

Before her ministerial appointment last August, she was Cross River State Commissioner for Health and the National Women Leader of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). Edu was a prominent figure in the campaign train of Tinubu during the electioneering process that brought the ex-Lagos governor into office as President.

Former minister, Umar-Farouk

When the news of the ongoing EFCC investigations filtered out, the former minister, Umar-Farouk, denied any wrongdoing.

“I remain proud to have served my country as a minister with every sense of responsibility and will defend my actions, stewardship and programmes during my tenure whenever I am called upon to do so,” she had posted on X .

The school feeding component of the social intervention programmes overseen by the ministry has been enmeshed in corruption allegations. In September 2020, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) said its investigations revealed a diversion of N2.67 billion meant for school feeding during the COVID-19-induced lockdown. Then ICPC chairperson, Bolaji Owasanoye, stated that the said fund allegedly diverted into private accounts.

The Telegraph gathered yesterday that the suspended minister was on Monday denied access to see President Tinubu at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja. The statement announcing Edu’s suspension was released just as she was within the President’s office complex waiting to have access to see him.

According to a source, Edu had been trying to see the President without success since January 1, a day before news broke about the suspension of the NSIPA National Coordinator, Halima Shehu.

The source said: “The President is not happy about the whole thing. In fact, more may be coming because he will not tolerate anything like this.

“So, as soon as the statement came out, the cars that brought her were withdrawn immediately and they assigned two security men to see her out. Her access tag was also collected.”

According to a video footage, Edu was ferried out of the admin foyer of the Villa in a black Toyota Hilux van belonging to State House security. She exited Aso Villa at 2.35 p.m.

Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodimma

Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, yesterday said the minister’s suspension is consistent with the law and oath of office of the President.

Fielding questions amid the cacophony of voices trailing the suspension of the embattled minister over allegations of fraud, Uzodinma declared: “We have only one President whose wisdom we cannot question.”

Uzodimma, who is the Chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum urged Nigerians to exercise restraint on the matter as it is strictly within the purview of the office of the President.

In a related development, a company owned by the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, was reportedly paid a total amount of N438.1 million by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation under Edu for consultancy services. It also approved funds for flight tickets and airport taxis for her team from Abuja to Kogi State, even though the latter has no airport.

The company, New Planet Project Limited, was one of the numerous consultants awarded contracts from N3 billion given out by the suspended minister for the National Social Register contract. The social register was created for cash transfers and other social investment programmes.

In a viral document on social media, New Planet Project Limited was initially paid N279 million for verification of the list and another N159 million for the same purpose.

A check revealed that the firm had the Interior minister and his wife, Abimbola as directors. One Gbadamasi Clement is also listed as the secretary of the company, which was registered on March 3, 2009, with registration number 804833.

The action is, however, against the Nigerian Constitution and Code of Conduct law. The Code of Conduct law, in sections 5 and 6, bars public officers from putting themselves in positions of conflict of interest and prevents them from partaking in any business other than farming.

In his reaction, Tunji-Ojo debunked reports that he is a signatory to the company involved in the contract allegations linked with the Ministry of Humanitarian affairs.

Reacting to the allegation in an interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today, he said: “I am not a signatory to the company. I have since left running of the company five years ago. If they are found wanting in any aspects of the law, let the law deal with the firm. I am presently focused on my present assignment as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

A document sighted by The Telegraph showed that both the minister and his wife had resigned from the board since 2019.

A renowned human rights activist and convener of Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, has commended President Tinubu for the swift action he has taken in the corruption scandal presently rocking the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Dr Betta Edu.

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

According to him, by suspending Edu and referring her to EFCC for investigation, the President has shown a strength of capital and total aversion towards corruption, “an attribute that was completely absent during the eight years of former President Buhari.”

Also, founder of Akin Fadeyi Foundation, Akin Fadeyi, said the suspension is a clear message to Nigerians on his administration’s anti-corruption stance.

“The President might also be sending a message across to all that irrespective of whatever seeds of discord political animosity has generated and provoked along our multi-ethnic and ideological fault lines, he would work hard at changing the narratives through spoken words and matched with action.

“While this does not signal Eldorado yet as there is a lot to be done to assuage citizens’ pangs, it is a step in the right direction. In those days, there might have been so much outcry before the needful is done. That’s a clear indication that they would be held responsible for governance and accountable to probity.”

On his part, founder, Africans in Diaspora for Good Legislation, Ameh Ejeh, is of the view that the President has no choice than to suspend minister Edu to assuage Nigerians whose mandate he took by force.

Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), which had on Saturday called for the suspension of the embattled minister, has lauded President Tinubu for taking the bulls by the horns by his immediate suspension of the minister over alleged official indiscretion.

The rights group said the action of the President, which is a pacesetter in the fight against corruption, stated that it was unthinkable that such a powerful erstwhile national women leader of the ruling national party of the All Progressive Congress Miss Betta Edu could’ve been suspended under the eight-year treacherous and most corrupt administration of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).

“HURIWA welcomes what it calls a breath of fresh air in the leadership style of the current administration and hoped for a sustainable approach towards providing selfless services to the good people of Nigeria.

“We the people of Nigeria are happy that the President has responded swiftly, but it is expected that the process of investigation of all the allegations would be painstakingly carried out so we avoid the political situation whereby the entire process will turn out a charade or become a scenario of the ‘more you look the less you see’. We are watching and hoping that no stone is left unturned to ensure that not a single kobo belonging to the masses of Nigeria is diverted by crooked means. Enough is enough! We hope that this whole development wouldn’t turn out to be ‘government magic’ which will become a disastrous betrayal of public trust”.