The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on Monday said that it has uncovered a multi-billion naira scam in government ministries, agencies and parastatals.
The Chairman of ICPC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, said this in his keynote address at the Second National Summit on Diminishing Corruption with the theme: “Together Against Corruption and the Launch of the National Ethics and Integrity Policy” held at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He made the startling revelation in the presence of President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Mohammed, and the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi (virtually) and other top government officials.
“The TSA Illegalities”
He noted that government officials violated the sanctity of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by perpetrating illegalities.
Daily Trust reports that the treasury single account is a public accounting system whereby government receipt, revenue and income are collected into one single account. The Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) is responsible for the maintenance and management of such account.
It was proposed by the federal government of Nigeria in 2012 under the ex-President Goodluck Jonathan administration and was fully implemented by the Buhari administration to consolidate all inflows from all agencies.
However, recent happenings suggest that the essence of the TSA has been compromised or not being implemented the way it should.
About one week ago, the federal government said plans have been perfected to take over direct custody of revenues generated by its key agencies as part of efforts to improve income generation and block leakages.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, gave the hint at the opening of a three-day orientation programme for 50 directors of revenue who are to be posted to various Government-Owned Enterprises (GOE).
It was learnt that specialised directors from the Office of the Accountant- General of the Federation would be posted to 10 revenue-generating agencies of the government in the first instance.
What the ICPC chair said
During his presentation, Prof. Owasanoye particularly took a swipe at officials of some MDAs under the executive and the legislative arms of government as he carefully laid bare how they betrayed the trust vested in them.
Daily Trust made attempt to verify some of the allegations from those that matter but only a few of them responded.
Prof. Owasanoye said under the Open Treasury Portal review that was carried out between January and August 15, 2020, out of 268 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), 72 of them had cumulative infractions running into billions.
He said while 33 MDAs tendered explanations that N4.1 billion was transferred to something called sub-TSA, N4.2 billion paid to individuals had no satisfactory explanations.
According to Owasanoye, “We observed that transfers to sub-TSA were to prevent disbursement from being monitored. Nevertheless, we discovered payments to some federal colleges for school feeding in the sum of N2.67 billion during lockdown when the children are not in school, and some of the money ended up in personal accounts. We have commenced investigations into these findings.”
Prof. Owasanoye also said in the education sector, 78 MDAs were reviewed and common cases of misuse of funds were uncovered.
Some of the discoveries include life payment of bulk sums to individuals/staff accounts, including project funds; non-deductions/remittance of taxes and IGR; payments of unapproved allowances, bulk payment to micro finance banks, payment of arrears of salary and other allowances of previous years from 2020 budget, payment of salary advance to staff, under-deduction of PAYE and payment of promotion arrears due to surplus in personnel cost, abuse and granting of cash advances above the approved threshold and irregular payment of allowances to principal officers.
Contacted, the Director of Press and Public Relations of the Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Ben Bem Goong, said right from the start of the school feeding programme, it was never domiciled in the ministry and therefore could not comment on the allegations by the ICPC boss.
“It (school feeding) was first in the office of the Vice President and when the ministry of humanitarian was created, it was moved there.
That is why the minister has not been answering anything relating to school feeding. The ministry has never been part of it,” he said.
However, speaking on phone last night, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq said they were not aware of the allegation and urged the ICPC boss to shade more light.
“Nobody has briefed me or brought my attention to the issue. The ICPC did not write to us regarding the alleged issue of diverting monies meant for school feeding.
“I want to assure you that we will definitely take it up with him so that he will clarify the allegations we made,” she said.
Late agric ministry official share ‘booty’ to cronies
Prof. Owasanoye also revealed that over N2.5 billion was appropriated by a late senior civil servant in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to himself and cronies.
He said the commission recovered N16 billion from the ministry of agriculture paid into individual accounts for non-official purposes.
Also recovered were payments to agric contractors for no job done or overpayment for jobs done, appropriation of projects to private farms of senior civil servants of the ministry.
He said: “We have restrained or recovered by administrative or court interim and final orders assets above N3 billion facilitated recovery of $173,000 by the whistleblower unit of FMFB&P from an erring oil company retrained £160,000 in a UK-bank in an ongoing interim forfeiture. These figures exclude quantum of recoveries on return or contractors to site as a result of projects tracking initiatives.
“It should, however, be noted that some of these assets are subjected to ongoing cases and where suspects proved their cases physical or liquid assets will be released in accordance with laid down laws, guidelines or court directives,” he said.
However, a top officer of the agric ministry told Daily Trust on Monday that the ministry had not received the report and that it would be difficult to comment on the allegations therein.
The officer, who craved anonymity because he was not permitted to speak on the issue, said they were also not clear yet about the agencies or parastatals of the ministry or individual involved. He said when details of the allegations were sent to the ministry, the authority would investigate them and act accordingly.
“Honestly, some of us are just hearing this and you know it is an allegation, which requires us to see the details of the report before commenting on it,” the officer said.
How officials convert official quarters to personal use
The ICPC boss also said under its 2020 constituency and executive projects tracking initiative, 722 projects with a threshold of N100 million (490 Zip and 232 executive) was tracked across 16 states.
He noted that a number of projects described as ongoing in the budget were found to be new projects that ought to have been excluded in order to enable the government to complete existing projects.
He also observed the absence of needs assessment resulted in projects recommended for communities that do not require them being abandoned; projects sited in private houses or private land thus appropriating a common asset to personal use, hence denying communities of the benefit; absence of synergy between outgoing project sponsors and their successors.
Owasanoye added that the commission also found that uncompleted projects sponsored by legislators who do not return get abandoned to the loss of the community and the state; use of companies owned by sponsor’s friends or relatives or companies belonging to civil servants in implementing MDAs to execute projects, which are abandoned or poorly performed; conspiracy between legislative aides of sponsors and implementing MDAs and contractors to undermine the quality of a project without knowledge of the sponsor; vague project description that results in the diversion of funds by implementing MDAs or project sponsor with the collusion of contractors and the absence of community ownership of the project because they were not consulted or largely ignorant of projects allocated to them.
But the Senate on Monday challenged the ICPC chairman to provide evidence to back up his claims that money meant for constituency projects ended up in lawmakers’ pockets.
The Senate’s spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents last night described the allegation as “fallacy of hasty generalisation.”
He said, “For making such a statement means that he is not up to his own job. If he really had evidence that money meant for constituency projects end up in senators’ pockets, he should publish the details and prosecute the senators.
“It is unfortunate that he could make this statement. It is an indirect indictment if indeed he had evidence of his claim and no senator is under trial.
“Let him come up with the names of the senators and details of amount diverted. The statement is fallacious because it is a mere hasty generalisation without an empirical basis. It is unfortunate that a highly respected legal scholar will make such a banal allegation.
“The Senate is an assemblage of eminent personalities from across the country,” he said.
We need corruption-free public sector
Speaking at the event, President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria needed to deploy resources to address its common needs rather than the greed of a callous few.
According to him, to achieve this transformation, the country needed a corruption-free public sector and a judicial system that dispenses justice without undue delay and technicality.
“We need laws and legal system to be reformed to deliver justice to every citizen without regard to status and finally we need ethical re-orientation of the people to achieve this goal. When we work together against corruption we can defeat it,” he said. He, however, said enlightening Nigerians on preventive measures remained the key component in fighting corruption. Senate President Ahmed Lawan underscored the need for stronger collaboration in fighting corruption.
“When you have a judiciary that works to ensure that cases of corruption are treated with dispatch, you will agree with me that that will help in the fight against corruption. If a case of corrupt practice or alleged corrupt practice will last up to four, five, six or ten years or so, you’ll know that something is wrong and that is giving some kind of tacit support to the corrupt practice, but if there’s always dispatch in the treatment of such cases, that will expedite action by the Judiciary to give support to the fight against corruption,” he said. The Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mohammed Tanko expressed the readiness of the judiciary to contribute its own quota in the fight against corruption.
“The judiciary is ever poised to deploy every relevant legal tool at its disposal to whittle down the strength of corruption in our mindset. No nation can survive with corruption at the centre of her conscience,” he said.