IS BETTA EDU GOING DOWN ALONE?, BY DONS EZE

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IS BETTA EDU GO DOWN ALONE?, BY DONS EZE

Following allegation that a whopping N585 million meant for poverty alleviation programme for some states in the South South region of the country was paid into a private account by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu promptly ordered the suspension of the Minister, and set up a committee to investigate the allegation.

Betta Edu was alleged to have written the Accountant General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, asking for transfer of 585 million naira meant for distribution to some vulnerable Nigerians into a private account of one Oniyelu Bridget. Even though the Accountant General, in a press statement, following the bursting of the scandal, claimed to have dishonoured the request, some money still found its way into a private account.

On basis of that allegation, President Tinubu promptly ordered the suspension of the Minister, and as well set up an investigative panel to look into that infraction. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has also taken up the case.

Many people had hailed the President for his quick intervention by suspending the Minister and ordering for a probe into the allegation levelled against her.

The increasing cases of high profile corruption in the country stems from the fact that the real culprits are hardly punished, because they are too hot to be handled or have those who give them protection. It is only those who have no godfathers, or who have fallen out from the system, that are punished. Once you have a powerful godfather, and you can pull as much government funds as you may require to your side, nothing will happen to you.

Betta Edu seems to have fallen out from the system, or the godfathers have decided to abandon her. She
Is left in the cold, to suffer the consequences of her inappropriate action, which is unfortunate.

Now, there is the other Minister, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, Minister of Interior, who seems to have been hands-in-glove with Betta Edu, but is not suffering the same fate as the suspended Minister. Tunji-Ojo has been allowed to continue to run his ministry, despite his infractions, and he is now playing hide and seek game.

Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo’s company, New Planet Project, was awarded a consultancy contract of N438 million by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation headed by Betta Edu, just for review of the Social Investment Register.

Denying any wrongdoing, Tunji-Ojo claimed to have resigned as a directors of the company when he was elected to the House of Representatives in 2019. He however admitted that he was still one of the leading shareholders of the company, while his wife still sits pretty there as director.

The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), has, commenced investigation into alleged breach of the code of conduct for public officers by Tunji-Ojo. In a statement, Veronica Kato, CCB spokesperson, said the Minister was invited to appear at the bureau headquarters in Abuja on Tuesday, January 16. “The bureau’s invitation is hinged on its mandate and powers as enshrined in the Third Schedule, Part 1, 3 (e) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended,” she stated.

But Tunji-Ojo has a powerful godfather. He did not honour the invitation. Rather, he claimed that he had another scheduled appointment. What this means is that Tunji-Ojo did not consider the CCB invitation important. That is why he ignored it.

Many people believe that Tunji-Ojo should have been given the same treatment as Betta Edu. But President Bola Tinubu did not consider it necessary. He has allowed the man to continue running his Ministry, notwithstanding the obvious infractions.

Tunji-Ojo is not new to scandal. As the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC), in the 9th Assembly, he had faced corruption allegations during the probe of the NDDC, under Daniel Pondei.

Pondei had staged a walkout during the investigation, stating that “we are not comfortable with the chairman of this committee presiding over a matter he has been accused of.” He said: “there is no point of order here. As long as he is the Chairman of this committee, the NDDC will not make any presentation here.”

According to the then NDDC boss, Tunji-Ojo’s company was also a beneficiary of some of the questionable contracts in the NDDC. Subsequently, Tunji-Ojo was forced to recuse himself from that investigation due to corruption allegations against him and his company.

Also, during the Senate ministerial screening, Tunji-Ojo faced scrutiny over his NYSC certificate, prompting allegations of certificate forgery. He claimed to have concluded his NYSC in 2020, which raised two questions – namely, that he was well above the 30-year age limit, and that if he had concluded his NYSC in 2020, it then means that he was doing his national service while he was in the National Assembly as a lawmaker. Lastly, the NYSC discharge certificate carried 2023 as the date of issuance.

The NYSC later claimed to have “authenticated the genuineness” of the certificate, stating that Tunji-Ojo was initially mobilized in 2006 but absconded before the completion of the one-year mandatory service. Despite the controversy, Tunji-Ojo was cleared by the Senate and confirmed as minister.

Apart from the N585 million scandal, another allegation against Betta Edu, was that she removed N3 billion from the COVID-19 Palliative Fund for the verification of the National Social Register. But a recently leaked memo revealed that Betta Edu had asked approval for the utilization of the money, which the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, granted on behalf of President Bola Tinubu.

The leaked memo with reference number SH/COS/145/A/220 and dated 18th of September, 2023, was a reply to the Minister’s letter, and it titled: “Conveyance of Approval; Re: Appeal to Use 3,000,000,000.00 (Three Billion Naira) from the COVID-19 Palliative Fund for the Verification of the National Social Register.”

In the memo, Gbajabiamila specifically asked the Minister to proceed with the transaction, even though it could not be confirmed if there was a written approval from President Tinubu.

The point we are trying to make is that Betta Edu never acted alone. It was a network system. The woman wouldn’t have had the courage and audacity to have asked that N585 million be paid into a private account if she had no powerful person behind her, and if there was no connivance and active involvement of those in the bureaucractic system of governance. It is a situation where if you rub my back, I will rub your own back – I chop and you chop. But it seems that Betta Edu has now been abandoned, left alone to bear her own cross, as everybody has deserted her.

The company owned by the Interior Minister, Tunji-Ojo, would probably not have won the contract for the review of the Social Investment Register for a whopping sum of N438 million, if there was no inside job. Otherwise, can they tell us how the contract for the job was advertised; how many companies tendered; how much did each of those companies tender: and did they follow the procurement process in awarding the contract?

Similarly, perhaps, the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, would not have approved the removal of N3 billion from the COVID-19 Palliative Fund for the verification of National Social Register if he had no vested interest in the business.

But President Tinubu has overlooked all these. He has closed his eyes to the infractions, and allowed the two men to continue to remain in their offices while they were probably being investigated. But Betta Edu has been suspended from office, and being used as a sacrificial lamb.

It is sad that an administration that has not put up to one year in office has been throwing money recklessly, awarding fictitious contracts to its members here and there, while millions of people under its watch continue to suffer and agonise, due to its inhuman policies.Unfortunately, Nigerians have very short memories. A lot of people are now making noises about the scandal, including the EFCC hype, but after some time everything will fizzle out, and nobody will remember what has happened, while those who cornered our common patrimony will continue to enjoy their loot.

About Dons Eze

DONS EZE, PhD, Political Philosopher and Journalist of over four decades standing, worked in several newspaper houses across the country, and rose to the positions of Editor and General Manager. A UNESCO Fellow in Journalism, Dr. Dons Eze, a prolific writer and author of many books, attended several courses on Journalism and Communication in both Nigeria and overseas, including a Postgraduate Course on Journalism at Warsaw, Poland; Strategic Communication and Practical Communication Approach at RIPA International, London, the United Kingdom, among others.

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