FRAUD: ANOTHER MINISTER MAY BE CAUGHT, BY TONY IREDIA
In many developing societies where the government of the day is unable to provide basic facilities to improve living standards the way out is usually to resort to the tokenism of distributing palliatives to citizens.
Nigeria adopted the option in 2015 – an option which from inception has been unable to wear a transparent and credible toga. No one including those in government had faith in Sadiya Farouq, pioneer minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development as well as her officials who were mandated to superintend the subject during President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. The posture of the ministry was as if it was established to cater for friends and relations rather than the vulnerable. So much went wrong; but nothing happened to anyone on account of poor performance.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s suspension of the new minister, Betta Edu was therefore hailed across Nigeria and beyond not because Edu’s alleged infractions surpassed several allegations levelled against her predecessor but because it was the first time since the Obasanjo years that a minister was being held accountable in our clime. Indeed, it appeared that the idea of ministerial accountability in any sector was never contemplated by Buhari.
Although, he managed to sack two ministers – Sabo Nanono (Agriculture) and Saleh Mamman (Power) the real reasons for their removal were not made public. On the other hand, analysts who have closely monitored the activities of the new government of president Tinubu, may have feared that minister Betta Edu was heading to a crash because she had been driving on the fast lane for some time. She probably did not realize that provincial Calabar was not same as metropolitan Abuja.
While serving in Cross River State as commissioner for health, Edu did a few things that inevitably attracted public indignation. First, she stood by Governor Ben Ayade to pretend that the world-wide infectious COVID-19 pandemic didn’t even pass through Cross River State let alone to have a single foothold there. While this pitched the state against the relevant federal regulatory agency, she was quoted to have said that ordinary residents of the state received text messages in which they were promised millions just to claim they were Coronavirus positive. In addition, Edu herself, a medical doctor was accused of falsification of records when she authoritatively claimed that Cross River state had 105 medical doctors whereas the state, according to the local branch of the Nigerian Medical Association NMA had only 33 doctors. She therefore left Calabar as a government propagandist with little or no feeling for the sensibilities of the citizenry.
With ample charisma, she easily found her way into the leadership cadre of the ruling party first as the national woman leader before securing the lucrative portfolio of minister of humanitarian etc. Everything appeared working well for her making her to quickly develop the inclination to prioritize politics over governance. At her ministry’s first budget defence, she solemnly assured federal legislators of her robust plan to carry them along in the distribution of palliatives.
Painfully, outspoken Senator Ali Ndume did not warn her about his famous discovery that “if you see a minister or big person anywhere going personally to do something know that there is something wrong. If not, what has a minister got to do with going from state to state to distribute palliatives; they should be in the ministry monitoring activities.” Ndume’s discovery was widely publicised via a major news conference in Maiduguri in 2020.
If Edu didn’t hear Ndume, there is doubt if she never heard the public outcry by Nigerians about several allegations bothering on fraud levelled against her predecessor and officials of the ministry she inherited. She must have heard about how the ministry ‘spent’ billions of naira reportedly feeding school children during the long holidays forced on schools by the pandemic. If despite the poor public perception of the distribution of palliatives as a schedule for fraud, Betta Edu still allowed herself to also become a subject of probe, then there is more to it than meets the eye in the tendency for top office holders to brazenly abuse their offices and inflict immense pain on the poor. Our premise today is that the issue at stake is not just personal greed. In addition, there must be an inexplicable political agenda that constantly propels office holders to act exactly same way as those they succeeded.
To unravel the poser, there is the need to examine certain realities that some people dismiss as conspiracy theories, the most prominent being the expectation which Nigerian political parties have of their elected members. Unlike what happens in many other democracies, Nigerian political parties do not rely on membership subscriptions to fund party activities. Instead, party funds are usually donated by their members in government which explains why such officials automatically translate to party leaders. As we hear, many parties actually categorize amounts expected from each appointee. We can therefore not rule out the likelihood of looted funds finding their way to the parties. We are also free to imagine that reckless looting in Nigeria is perhaps influenced by the assurances of official protection promised every perpetrator. The sleaze may thus continue while another minister may soon be caught with no substantial consequences.
Even the huge awareness that happenings at the humanitarian ministry has generated may not change the situation. In fact, many more revelations of scandals in other sectors of government will be uncovered because political office holders see nothing wrong with diverting funds earmarked for development projects to themselves. In furtherance of this, the first step typical office holders take on appointment is to avoid using existing government structures. They come along with special assistants who are unfamiliar with the system and who eventually muddle up all processes. The adverse effects are many. First, those displaced by newcomers record all happenings such as tickets purchased for flights to towns without airports which become viral at the appropriate time.
The muddling of structures also produces failure to attain the purpose for which an MDA was established. For example, in 2022, the then minister Sadiya Farouq announced the decision of government to give interest-free loans to 98,000 beneficiaries in the famous TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni schemes.
Allegations that the schemes were fraught with pervasive corruption were virtually confirmed when state focal persons for the intervention loans later confessed that they did not have the records of beneficiaries such as phone numbers and addresses to track them for repayment. Who then is sure that there were any beneficiaries and not just ghost names when the disbursement of loans were usually done on the eve of elections?