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President Tinubu orders N2tn poverty relief funds probe, Betta Edu faces EFCC today……

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President Bola Tinubu has ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to launch a full-blown investigation into the finances of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

Tinubu handed down the directive in a statement on Monday by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, who also announced the suspension of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, over the N585m scandal in the ministry.

The statement was titled ‘President Tinubu suspends Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation from office.’

Edu’s suspension was happening as her predecessor, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, was grilled for about 12 hours by the EFCC detectives over the ongoing probe into the N37.1bn allegedly laundered during her tenure in office, through a contractor, James Okwete.

The ex-minister was questioned from 11am to 11pm by investigators seeking information on how the huge sum was allegedly laundered by top officials who served under her.

Data from the Budget Office indicate that the ministry, erstwhile known as Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, had a N2.38tn budget from 2020 to 2024.

In compliance with the presidential directive, the EFCC has also summoned Edu to appear before its detectives on Tuesday (today).

Ngelale in the statement said the President directed the EFCC Chairman, Ola Olukoyede, to conduct a thorough investigation into all aspects of the financial transactions involving the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, as well as the agencies under it.

Furthermore, the President tasked a panel headed by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, to conduct a comprehensive diagnostic of the financial architecture and framework of the social investment programmes.

This was aimed at reforming 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.

Edu suspended

The statement read, “In line with his avowed commitment to upholding the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability in the management of the commonwealth of Nigerians, President Bola Tinubu suspends the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu, from office with immediate effect.

“The suspended minister is hereby directed to hand over to the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, and she is further directed by the President to fully cooperate with the investigating authorities as they conduct their investigation.

“Furthermore, the President has 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 reforming 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. These directives of the President take immediate effect.’’

The scandal involving Edu burst open after a leaked memo revealed that the suspended minister directed the Accountant-General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, to transfer N585m to a private account owned by one Oniyelu Bridget, who the ministry claimed currently serves as the Project Accountant, Grants for Vulnerable Groups.

The minister had claimed that the N585m payment was meant for vulnerable groups in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ogun, and Lagos states, describing the allegations against her as baseless.

The Media Assistant to the minister, Rasheed Olarewaju, said in a statement that it was legal within the civil service for such payments to be made into private accounts of staff members, especially project accountants.

Unimpressed by her defence, several groups and individuals including the Peoples Democratic Party, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Femi Falana, SAN; the Yoruba Youth Assembly, and other civil society groups had demanded Edu’s suspension and an unfettered probe of the leaked memo.

In deference to public pressure, the President suspended Edu and directed her to hand over to the permanent secretary in the ministry.

Consequently, the anti-graft agency on Monday, directed the suspended minister to report at its Jabi, Abuja headquarters on Tuesday (today) for questioning.

Confirming the development in a telephone interview with our correspondent, a senior EFCC official said, “Betta Edu has been mandated to report to the commission tomorrow (today).”

The suspended minister did not respond to calls and a message seeking her reaction to her suspension by the President. Also, her media aide, Olarewaju did not respond to calls and a message sent to his phone.

In a curious development, moves by the suspended minister to see Tinubu hours after her suspension failed as she was denied entry by the security personnel at the Presidential Villa.

Minister barred

The incident which was captured by the TVC News showed the minister’s vehicle being denied access to the State House.

Her convoy was asked to turn back as the security operatives refused to let her into the Presidential Villa.

A source revealed that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission had between July and August 2023, intercepted N32bn which was about to be stolen from the humanitarian affairs ministry.

The money was handed over to the Federal Government.

Sources said the immediate past minister in the ministry, Umar-Farouq, who had a marathon session with investigators over the N37bn money laundering allegation, was still being questioned at 7pm on Monday.

The former minister had tweeted about her presence at the EFCC headquarters, Jabi, Abuja, at about 10.20am.

“I have, at my behest, arrived at the headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to honour the invitation by the anti-graft agency to offer clarifications in respect of some issues that the commission is investigating,” Umar-Farouq tweeted.

Citing health challenges, she had earlier officially written to the EFCC to seek an extension of the deadline to meet with EFCC interrogators to give an account of the alleged monumental fraud that took place under her watch.

Meanwhile, checks by The PUNCH revealed that the total budgetary allocation to the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation from 2020 to 2024, is N2.38tn, according to data from the budget office.

Former President Buhari created the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development on August 21, 2019.

However, after President Tinubu took over in May 2023, the name was changed to the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

Figures from the budget office showed that in 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, and 2024, the total allocations to the ministry and agencies under it were N453.3bn, N456.1bn, N507.9bn, N426bn and N532.5bn respectively.

The total allocation to the humanitarian ministry and its agencies in the 2020 appropriation bill was N453.27bn.

From this sum, the ministry, National Emergency Management Agency, National Social Investment Office, North-East Development Commission, National Commission for Refugees, and National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons got total allocations of N4.03bn, N1.24bn, N400bn, N38.1bn, N6.56bn and N3.34bn respectively.

The National Social Investment Office got the highest allocation of N400bn in 2020.

Data in the 2021 Appropriation Act showed that the total appropriation to the ministry and its agencies was N465.1bn.

Figures from the Act indicated that the ministry, NEMA, NSIO, NEDC, NCR, NAPTIP, National Commission for Persons with Disability, and Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals got total allocations of N3.9bn, N3.75bn, N400bn, N32.96bn, N14.1bn, N4.14bn, N1.8bn and N4.44bn, respectively.

The NSIO had the highest allocation of N400bn in 2021.

In 2022, the total allocation appropriated to the ministry was N507.9bn.

From this sum, the ministry itself, NEMA, NSIO, NEDC, NCR, NAPTIP, National Commission for Persons with Disability, Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, and National Senior Citizens Centre got total allocations of N35.6bn, N3.3bn, N398.9bn, N41.78bn, N12.34bn, N3.34bn, N3.17bn, N8.78bn and N655.8m respectively. The NSIO’s N398.9bn allocation was the highest in 2022.

Ministry’s funds

In 2023, the ministry and agencies under it got a total appropriation of N426bn and this was increased to N532.5bn in the 2024 budget.

On December 13, 2023, The PUNCH reported that the suspended minister declared that the N532.5bn in the 2024 budget for her ministry was inadequate.

Edu stated this when she led officials of her ministry and parastatals to defend the 2024 budget before the Joint National Assembly Committee of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, chaired by Senator Idiat Adebule.

She said the amount allocated to her ministry in the 2024 budget was not capable of fighting poverty across the country, stressing that her ministry was given an overhead ceiling of N532.5bn which represents a 28 per cent increase over the 2023 budget to cushion the effects of inflation.

Meanwhile, following the suspension of the minister, a civil society group, the United Global Resolve for Peace, has called for a comprehensive reformation of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

The group made this known in a statement by its President, Shalom Olaseni, on Monday, while commending the President for his decisiveness in suspending the embattled official.

The statement read, “The United Global Resolve for Peace applauds President Bola Tinubu for his decisive action in suspending Dr Betta Edu, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, in response to corruption scandals and controversies surrounding her tenure. The UGRFP acknowledges the President’s responsiveness to the cries from the civil society space and well-meaning Nigerians. This commendable move demonstrates a commitment to transparency, accountability, and the overall well-being of the nation.

“In line with our earlier call, we appreciate the President’s prompt establishment of a panel to reform the social programs of the Ministry. We further advocate for the extension of the panel’s mandate to comprehensively reform the entire humanitarian ministry. Such measures are essential to ensure the effectiveness and integrity of humanitarian efforts aimed at poverty alleviation and addressing societal needs.

Interior minister kicks

In a related development, the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has denied involvement in the N438.1m consultancy contract between New Planet Project Limited and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

There were reports on Monday that a company owned by the minister of interior was allegedly paid a total amount of N438.1m by Edu as consultancy services.

“The company, New Planet Project Limited was one of the numerous consultants awarded contracts from N3bn given out by the suspended minister for the National Social Register contract, it stated.

Reacting, Tunji-Ojo while appearing on Channels TV Politics Today, on Monday night said that he founded the company 10 years ago, but resigned from directorship in 2019 when he contested the House of Representatives poll

The minister who described the report as shocking, said he was not involved in the day-to-day running of New Planet Project Limited.

He said “I have to say this, I saw it and I was shocked because the company in question was a company, where I was the director. About five years ago, I had resigned my directorship. Yes, I founded the company 10 years ago. In 2019 when I got to the House of Representatives, when I won the election precisely, I resigned. I resigned 4th of February 2019 with a Certified True Copy of Corporate Affairs Commission as far back as 2019 to prove this.’’

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NASRE Advises FG On Food Crisis, Forex Shortage Amid Calls To Suspend Import Ban

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As Nigeria finds itself at a critical crossroads, grappling with simultaneous challenges of a food crisis and a foreign exchange (forex) shortage.

 

This is even as the nation seeks solutions to mitigate these pressing issues, the debate over whether to open its borders for importation has intensified.

 

The food crisis gripping Nigeria has raised concerns about food security and access to essential nutrition for millions of citizens.

 

Adverse weather conditions, supply chain disruptions, and other factors have contributed to dwindling food supplies and soaring prices, placing a significant strain on households and exacerbating the vulnerability of already marginalized communities.

 

Meanwhile, the forex shortage has hampered Nigeria’s ability to import essential goods and raw materials, further exacerbating supply chain disruptions and exacerbating inflationary pressures.

 

Industries reliant on imported inputs, including agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare, have been particularly hard hit, impeding economic growth and development.

 

In response to these challenges, some stakeholders advocate for opening Nigeria’s borders to facilitate the importation of food and other essential commodities.

 

Proponents argue that increased importation could help alleviate immediate food shortages, stabilize prices, and provide relief to vulnerable populations facing hunger and malnutrition.

 

However, others caution against the potential risks of opening borders amid a forex shortage. Critics raise concerns about the impact on domestic production and self-sufficiency, as well as the long-term consequences of relying heavily on imported goods. They emphasize the need to prioritize investments in domestic agriculture and infrastructure to build resilience against future crises.

 

As Nigeria navigates these complex issues, the government faces the daunting task of balancing short-term relief efforts with long-term strategies for sustainable development and economic resilience.

 

Proffering suggestion on how the government can address the unending inflationary pressures, Forex shortages, food prices hike and revitalise the nation’s economy, the Nigerian Association of Social and Resourceful Editors (NASRE), has advised the Nigerian government to adopt collaborative efforts involving policymakers, industry stakeholders, civil society organizations, and international partners to identify holistic solutions that address both immediate needs and underlying structural challenges.

 

On the debate over whether Nigeria should open its borders for importation amid the food crisis and forex shortage, the President of the advocacy group, Mr Femi Oyewale, underscores the urgency of coordinated action and innovative thinking.

 

According to him, now more than ever, solidarity, cooperation, and forward-thinking policies are needed to ensure the well-being and prosperity of all Nigerians.

 

“The question of whether Nigerian borders should be opened for food importation in the face of a food crisis is complex and multifaceted. However, there are factors to consider, which basically, Domestic Agricultural Capacity. Because opening borders for food importation could undermine domestic agricultural production by flooding the market with cheaper imported goods.

 

“However, if domestic production is insufficient to meet demand, importing food may be necessary to avoid shortages,” he said.

 

On the economic implications of borders opening, the President of NASRE, Oyewale, said: “Importing food can have economic ramifications, both positive and negative. On one hand, it can provide access to a wider variety of foods and potentially lower prices for consumers. On the other hand, it may negatively impact local farmers and exacerbate trade imbalances.”

 

The resourceful editors, while commenting on Food Security, pointed out that relying heavily on imported food leaves a country vulnerable to supply chain disruptions and price fluctuations in the global market. Therefore, it urged the federal government to develop a robust domestic agricultural sector, which is crucial for long-term food security.

 

According to Oyewale, the Nigerian government must consider its broader economic and agricultural policies when making decisions about food importation. This includes evaluating subsidies, tariffs, and investment in agricultural infrastructure.

 

“Importing food often involves long-distance transportation, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. Promoting local production can help reduce the carbon footprint associated with food consumption.

 

“Food is not just a commodity; it is essential for human well-being. Government policies should prioritize ensuring access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food for all citizens, particularly those most vulnerable to food insecurity,” he added.

 

The Nigerian Association of Social and Resourceful Editors, NASRE, therefore, noted that the decision to open Nigerian borders for food importation during a food crisis should be approached cautiously, taking into account the country’s domestic agricultural capacity, economic implications, food security goals, environmental concerns, and social welfare considerations.

 

“A balanced approach that supports both domestic production and responsible trade practices may be necessary to address immediate food shortages while also promoting long-term food security and sustainability,” the Association stated.

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Lagos State Government to prosecute 11 suspects for extortion

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The Lagos State Government said 11 suspects arrested at the Ibeju-Lekki junction and Akodo area of the state will be prosecuted to serve as deterrents to others extorting residents and motorists in the state.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation, Olawale Musa, disclosed this while addressing journalists on Wednesday.

He added that the suspects parade themselves as enforcement officers to extort unsuspecting motorists and residents in the state.

Musa said, “Lagos State Government has declared zero tolerance for extortion of unsuspecting residents, especially motorists, by miscreants parading themselves as enforcement officers at the Ibeju-Lekki junction and Akodo area of the state.

“We have announced severally that nobody is allowed to collect money for the local government on the street of Lagos, and the government has set up a team to ensure that anybody that does that is picked up and from that Lekki axis.

“They will be charged to court to explain themselves, and I want to sound a note of warning to others that do the same thing that we will not relent; the government is all out for them.”

He noted that it is unlawful for any local government area within the state to place personnel to conduct such operations on the highways.

“If you have any issues, you call us, and we will come and address them, but when you have people coming on the road on the guise that you want to have revenue at this hard time, collecting money from motorists on the road is not fair, and it is illegal in Lagos State to resist it.

“It is illegal for any local government area in the state to deploy people on the roads as it negates the Lagos State Road Traffic Law, Section 18, 2018, which empowers only the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority to carry out such operations on the roads,” he added.

In March 2023, The PUNCH reported that the Lagos State Government arrested four suspected hoodlums in some parts of the state over extortion.

The suspects were arrested in the Amuwo-Odofin area of the state while attempting to extort motorists.

 

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N10bn fraud: EFCC to arraign Abdulfattah Ahmed, ex-Kwara Governor Friday

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission will arraign the immediate-past governor of Kwara State, Abdulfattah Ahmed, for alleged N10bn fraud on Friday, The PUNCH has learnt.

Credible sources in the anti-graft agency said the ex-governor would be dragged before the Federal High Court in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.

“He is going to be arraigned on Friday at the Federal High Court in Ilorin for diversion of funds, amounting to N10bn,” the source told our correspondent.

The ex-governor has been detained by the EFCC since Monday when he honoured an invitation for interrogation.

His Chief Press Secretary, Alhaji AbdulWahab Oba, confirmed his principal’s visit to the EFCC office on Monday, stating that it was only “procedural and routine”.

“Dr Ahmed’s visit to the EFCC is procedural and routine. He was invited and he honoured them as he’s always done. He’s always ready to respond to any query or question regarding his tenure as a governor of the state.”

On Tuesday night, Oba lamented that the EFCC was still holding on to Ahmed, saying he was given stringent bail conditions.

“Yes, he is still with the EFCC and we are now in a dilemma over the issue because they keep changing the goalpost during the match. The case is taking a new dimension, which we don’t really understand for now.

“Initially they said they wanted him to produce two sureties who are federal directors. The sureties came and were asked to provide landed properties in Abuja. We see this as a contradiction. The case was initially handled by the EFCC office in Abuja before it was transferred to Ilorin over the issue of jurisdiction. Additionally, he has been denied access to his doctors, medication and direct access to his cook,” Oba said.

Meanwhile, members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in Kwara State on Wednesday staged a peaceful protest to the EFCC zonal office in Ilorin, where Ahmed was being detained.

The protesters, who carried placards with various inscriptions, expressed displeasure over Ahmed’s detention.

Led by the state Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Olusegun Adewara, the party members alleged that the All Progressives Congress in the state was behind Ahmed’s troubles.

Some of the inscriptions on their placards read: “EFCC should stop being a tool in the hands of Abdulrazaq led-APC”, “Governor Ahmed was very transparent”, “EFCC is not a department in the APC, EFCC, stop the harassment”, “The opposition cannot be silenced”, “Maigida will not join the APC no matter the persecution”, “EFCC, don’t instigate political crisis in Kwara State”, “No to illegal detention. Respect the rule of law”, among others.

But addressing the protesters, the zonal commander of the EFCC, Michael Nzekwe, said Ahmed had been given an administration bail but he could not meet the conditions.

“We’re wrapping up. Once we wrap up, the law will take its course. The anti-graft agency, being a creation of law, would not go contrary to law.

“Everything we’ve done is within the ambit of the law. The former governor is cooperating with us and we’re making good progress following rules of law. As I speak, he’s with his lawyer, a SAN; he attends to everyone who comes to see him, and he has a doctor who has attended to him. He eats what he wants to eat. I urge us to allow the law take its course. We’re not partisan nor prompted by anybody. This body is solely sponsored by the Federal Government,” Nzekwe said.

 

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