Nigeria’s President Tinubu Suspends Female Minister Betta Edu Over Payment of Public Funds into Private Bank Accounts

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After days of sizzling outrage against the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, over a messy disbursement scandal, President Bola Tinubu announced the first suspension of a member of his 48-man cabinet on Monday, removing the 37-year-old from office with immediate effect.

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In a statement on Monday afternoon, presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, said his principal ordered the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ola Olukoyede, “to conduct a thorough investigation into all aspects of the financial transactions” involving the ministry and “one or more agencies thereunder”.

Controversy had enveloped Edu’s alleged involvement in the approval of N585,198,500.00 to be disbursed into a personal account.

In a letter allegedly signed by the humanitarian minister, she instructed the Accountant General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, to transfer the sum to the account of one Oniyelu Bridget as grants for vulnerable groups in four states.
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 subsequently said there were plans to tarnish her image, adding that she won’t embezzle government funds.

Incidentally, the EFCC is presently probing Edu’s predecessor, Sadiya Farouq, over alleged laundering of N37.1 billion during her tenure as a minister under the administration of ex-President Muhammadu Buhari.

‘Extremely Embarrassing Drama’
Calls by rights activists and many Nigerians for Edu’s suspension have been intense in the last few days.

Human rights activist, Femi Falana, had called for Edu’s resignation, describing the whole controversy an “extremely embarrassing drama”.

The senior advocate had cautioned her to stop insulting Nigerians, adding that she failed to deny that she approved the funds to be paid to a private account instead of direct transfer to the beneficiaries’ accounts from the ministry’s.

Falana
FILE: Femi Falana

“It is interesting to note that the minister has not denied that she approved the payment of the over half a billion Naira to a private account in contravention of the extant Public Service Rules as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Act and the Penal Code applicable in the Federal Capital Territory,” Falana had said.

‘Fish Out Edu, Sadiya’s Accomplices’
Also, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) had asked the Federal Government and anti-graft agencies to fish out the alleged accomplices of Edu and her predecessor.

COMBO PHOTO of Betta Edu (L) and Sadiya Farouq (R)

“The fraud allegedly perpetrated by both the previous minister, Sadiya, and the current one, definitely, they worked with some people, where are those people? If we want to get to the root of this, we must get them investigated,” said CISLAC Executive Director Auwal Rafsanjani on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics.
Rafsanjani had said it was pathetic that a ministry that should be sympathetic to the citizens was caught in the web of alleged funds diversions.
He had called on the President to carry out sweeping reforms within ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), stressing that diversions of funds weren’t restricted to the humanitarian ministry.
‘Justice Must Be Served’
Furthermore, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had called for justice on the matter.
“Anyone suspected to be involved in any improper payment or diversion of public funds should be brought to justice and any diverted public funds returned to the public treasury and paid directly to the rightful beneficiaries,” SERAP had said.
Tinubu Wields Big Stick
On Sunday, the Federal Government acknowledged the outrage and said the President had ordered a thorough probe of Edu’s ministry.
On Monday, the President caved in to pressure and suspended Edu as well as directed the EFCC Chairman “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 one or more agencies thereunder”.

EFCC
Photo combination of EFCC logo and EFCC Chair, Ola Olukoyede

The President also directed the suspended minister to hand over to the Permanent Secretary of the ministry and “fully cooperate with the investigating authorities as they conduct their investigation”.

“Furthermore, the President has tasked a panel that is 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.”

The End?
Edu, 37, 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.

APC National Women Leader, Betta Edu spoke to women in the party in Abuja on July 30, 2022.
Betta Edu as APC National Women Leader

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, the then APC presidential candidate, during the electioneering process that brought the ex-Lagos governor into office as President.

Edu clinched her ministerial appointment about three months after Tinubu was sworn in as President. Her tenure as minister was, however, shortlived barely six months after, perhaps the shortest tenure by a minister in a long while.

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