BETTA EDU AND THE BANANA PEELS

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She came in with much aplomb. Ravishing and cerebral, Dr Betta Edu ordinarily evinces poise. 

 

She was the rave of a flurry of national excitement when she was unveiled last year as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria alongside others. That was because the 37-year- old now suspended minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, was the youngest in a cabinet strewn with a generous dose of youthful faces.

 

Betta, former National Woman Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC), who holds a Ph.D. in Public Health, was somewhat an epitome, a quintessence of a promising leader, especially under a system that has for too long undercut the younger generation, coddled the old and continued to recycle the same jaded hands on the corridors of power.

 

Alas! The bird came home too early to roost. Just seven months after hugging national limelight, the N585.2million alleged scandal involving her has scarred an otherwise promising political career.

 

The kernel of the matter was the content of a leaked memo, dated December 20, 2023, which Betta wrote to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), directing the transfer of N585.2million to a private bank account of one Oniyelu Bridget, said to be the Project Accountant of Grants for Vulnerable Groups. 

 

The leaked memo evoked momentary public outrage. Individuals and interest groups smelled a rat and called for the probe of the transaction, meant for vulnerable groups in four states– Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Lagos and Ogun. But Betta was not at all fazed. She dismissed insinuations of possible fraud against her as “baseless.” 

 

She blamed her fate on some people she believes are working to even scores with her for squealing on them to the authorities over their alleged fraudulent deals.

 

The moral depravity of the minister’s posture is not so much the gravity of the malfeasance but her spirited defence of an action that glaringly violates extant public financial regulations. It is utterly despicable for a high-ranking public official in her mould to so cavalierly justify an illegal action.

 

Her media aide, Rasheed Olanrewaju Zubair, did not fare better while justifying the N585.2million transaction. He said in a statement that it was legal in the civil service to pay funds into private accounts, especially if the recipient is a project accountant who will be required to retire same at the end of the programme!

 

All this is sheer cockamamie tale as it flies in the face of the rules. Chapter 7, Section 713 of Nigeria’s Public Sector Financial Regulations Act 2009, unambiguously forbids the minister’s action. It states: “Personal money shall in no circumstances be paid into a government’s bank account nor shall any public money be paid into a private account,” adding: “Any official who pays public money into a private account is deemed to have done so with fraudulent intention.”

 

The Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Dr Oluwatoyin Madein, confirmed this rule in her clarification. She said although her office received the minister’s request, but it was not processed because it was a wrong procedure. 

 

Betta ought to know better. It is unfortunate that she has allowed herself to have slipped through the same proverbial banana peels (apology to the late Dr Chuba Okadigbo) that felled her predecessor, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, who is also steaming in the cauldron of an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) probe of N37.1billion alleged to have been laundered under her watch. 

 

Betta it was who, by her own admission, alerted the government to the alleged fraud as well as the alleged N44.8billion scam over which the National Coordinator of the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA), Ms Halima Shehu, has been suspended and being investigated by the EFCC.

 

However, on no account should the flurry over the Humanitarian minister’s matter be allowed to overshadow those of others before her. It is somewhat curious that Betta’s saga appeared to have enjoyed more public interest than those of Umar-Farouq and Halima!

 

All the cases must be pursued to a logical conclusion and the results be made public. Any one found wanting should face the music. It is commendable that Betta has promptly been placed on suspension by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in response to public outcry. The President’s suspension of all programs administered by the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA) is also highly commendable.

 

Corruption no longer slithers in fright under the table in our civil service. It now struts in utter bravado. It is high time we dealt it a fatal blow using the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, which has tended to slide into the cesspit of sleaze and graft, as a scape goat.

 

 

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