President Bola Tinubu on Sunday directed a comprehensive inquiry into the alleged N585m scandal in the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

He vowed to “decisively punish” those involved in any breaches and infractions unravelled during the investigations.

The President gave the directive in a statement issued by the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, as anger grew over the alleged breach of the Federal Government’s financial regulations.

The development comes just as ministries prepare for their first performance assessment by the end of January.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 demanded an unfettered probe of the leaked memo by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, instructing the Accountant-General of the Federation, Dr Oluwatoyin Madein, to pay N585m into the private bank account of a project accountant in her ministry, Bridget Oniyelu.

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

“Oniyelu Bridget is the Project Accountant for the GVG (grant for vulnerable groups) from the Department of Finance, and it is legal in civil service for a staffer, the project accountant, to be paid and use the same funds legally and retire the same with all receipts and evidence after the project or programme is completed,” he had said.However, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Dr Oluwatoyin Madein, denied that her office honoured the request to pay N585m into a private account as directed by the minister.The Director of Press in the OAGF, Mr. Jacob Mokwa, in a statement on Saturday, said the AGF does not make payments on behalf of MDAs.

Madein stated that her office received the minister’s request as contained in a letter referenced FMHAPA/HQ/S.208 and dated December 20, 2023, but did not honour the request.

But addressing the public indignation over the revelation, the information minister said, “In light of recent events, the President has directed that a thorough and comprehensive investigation be conducted to ascertain the accuracy and validity of the reported details.

“The Ministry of Information and National Orientation acknowledges the concerns raised by the public regarding the alleged payment of funds into a private account by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

“We are aware of the narratives circulating widely and wish to assure Nigerians that the government takes these issues most seriously.

“The Federal Government, under the leadership of President Bola Tinubu, is transparent and accountable to the people, and committed to ensuring that public funds are allocated and utilised effectively and efficiently to address the needs of Nigerians.

”The statement, titled ‘Minister of Information and National Orientation addresses circulating narratives on payments made by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs,’ assured that the President would sanction those involved in any breaches and infractions unravelled during the investigations.

Thorough probe

It stated that the government was “determined to unravel the truth as it relates to this matter,” assuring Nigerians that “appropriate action will be taken to ensure that any breaches and infractions are identified and decisively punished,” in line with the administration’s commitment to public accountability and due process.

However, the statement warned the public against reinforcing the various unverified narratives circulating on the Internet, adding that the Ministry of Information and National Orientation was the primary source for verified information about events and actions of the federal government.

“Only accurate details will be shared with the public. The ministry is committed to providing timely updates to keep Nigerians informed about the progress of the investigation.

“We urge Nigerians to exercise patience as the investigation unfolds. The government is focused on ensuring a fair and unbiased process, and the findings will be communicated duly and transparently to the public,” Idris said.

Human rights lawyer, Falana, urged the humanitarian minister to stop insulting Nigerians following her claims that the allegations of a N585m fraud were baseless.He argued that the payment was 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.He noted, “The minister has arrogantly said that the N585.18m fraud allegation is a mere fabrication by her detractors and an alleged attempt by mischief-makers to undermine her ministry’s effort in fighting corruption and uplifting the needy.

”Falana noted that though the AGF had successfully frustrated the criminal diversion of the said sum of money from the public treasury, it was clear from the leaked memo of the minister that the offence of an attempt to commit a felony had already been completed.

’’On its part, the PDP asked the President to immediately sack and prosecute the embattled minister of humanitarian affairs for alleged money laundering.

The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, Sunday, said it was heartbreaking that a minister entrusted with public funds to support millions of poor Nigerians turned around to allegedly divert hundreds of millions of naira meant for the wellbeing of the poor.

“The continuing stay of Betta Edu as minister is therefore provocative and amounts to stealing from a people and daring them to do their worst. It further confirms our party’s position that the Tinubu-led APC government is a cesspit of corruption; a haven for thieves and treasury looters,’’ Ologunagba stated.

The statement read in part “For emphasis, section 713 of Nigeria’s Financial Regulations, 2009 provides that personal money shall in no circumstances be paid into a government bank account, nor shall any public money be paid into a private bank account. An officer who pays public money into a private account is deemed to have done so with a fraudulent intention.”

“The apparent fraudulent intention by Betta Edu in diverting public funds into a private account; an action which was appropriately declared illegal by the Accountant General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, is consistent with APC’s character and proclivity for plundering of public resources.

’’The PDP further alleged that Edu is in consort with two prominent APC officials in the Presidency and the National Assembly to divert billions of naira to personal accounts.

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