The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has taken a firm stance against alleged financial impropriety within the Nigerian government, calling on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to initiate a comprehensive investigation.
The focus of SERAP’s concern is the alleged diversion of N585.2 million by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Betta Edu.
This substantial sum, intended for the vulnerable populations in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos, and Ogun states, is reportedly misrouted into a private account.
In a proactive move, SERAP has urged the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, along with relevant anti-corruption agencies, to promptly and thoroughly investigate this matter.
Their goal is to ascertain whether the N585.2 million has indeed been paid into a private account and to identify any individuals who may have received the funds.
SERAP’s position, articulated in a letter dated January 6, 2024, and signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, emphasizes the urgency and seriousness of the situation.
The organization argues that the transfer of public funds into private accounts not only creates an appearance of impropriety but also potentially facilitates wrongdoing or diversion of funds intended for public benefit.
The organization is adamant that anyone suspected of involvement in such improper payments or diversion of public funds must face justice.
Additionally, SERAP insists that any diverted public funds should be returned to the public treasury and distributed directly to the rightful beneficiaries.
According to SERAP,
“Investigating these allegations and ensuring that the public funds meant to take care of the poor are transparently and accountably spent and recovering any diverted public funds are serious and legitimate public interests.
“The public interests in safeguarding against the perception or appearance of impropriety or corruption also require your government to remove the opportunity for abuse inherent in the payment of public funds into private accounts.”
“The Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the country’s financial regulations and international obligations impose a fundamental obligation on your government to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds meant for socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians.
“Your government has a legal responsibility to ensure full compliance with the Financial Regulations 2009, prohibiting the payment of public funds into private accounts, to reduce vulnerability to corruption or risks of the funds being diverted for personal ends or other unlawful purposes.
Government officials hold positions of public trust. Public officials are expected to ensure compliance with Nigerian laws and international standards in the discharge of their public functions.
“The persistent lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds meant to take care of the poor raises issues of public trust, makes the funds vulnerable to corruption or mismanagement, and undermines the integrity of poverty intervention programmes.
“Your government has a legal obligation to probe and prosecute allegations of abuse of office and corruption in the spending of public funds meant to improve the conditions of vulnerable Nigerians.”
“SERAP is concerned that successive governments have failed to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds budgeted for social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects.
“Any risks of corruption in the spending of public funds meant to take care of the poor would erode the effectiveness of the government’s oft-repeated commitment to address the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy on vulnerable Nigerians.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Any failure to investigate these grave allegations, bring suspected perpetrators to justice and recover any diverted public funds would undermine the integrity of the government’s poverty intervention programmes.
“It would also create cynicism, and eventually citizens’ distrust about the ability of your government to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption in the programmes.
“Nigerians have the right to be free from poverty. Any risks of diversion of public funds budgeted to lift vulnerable Nigerians out of poverty would pose both direct and indirect threats to human rights, and exacerbate extreme poverty in the country.
“It would also undermine your government’s legal obligations to effectively and progressively address and combat extreme poverty as a matter of human rights.
“SERAP also urges you to direct Betta Edu to publish details of spending of public funds drawn from the account of the National Social Investment Program (NSIPA), an agency under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Allegation, including the names of beneficiaries and details of the amounts received by them since 29 May 2023.”
“SERAP urges you to instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly track and monitor the spending of any public funds drawn from the account(s) of the National Social Investment Program (NSIPA).
“According to our information, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Betta Edu, in a memo dated 20 December 2023 reportedly requested the Accountant General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, to transfer public fund – N585.2 million – into a private account of an official in her ministry.
“According to the memo, the money was transferred from the National Social Investment Program office account and is meant for disbursement to vulnerable people in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Lagos, and Ogun states, under the federal government poverty intervention project called Grants for Vulnerable Groups. N219.4 million is to be transferred to the vulnerable people in Akwa Ibom State, N73.8 million to Cross River State, N219.4 million to Lagos State, and N72.4 million to Ogun State.
“SERAP is seriously concerned that years of allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the spending of public funds meant to support and assist vulnerable Nigerians and entrenched impunity of perpetrators have undermined the ability of successive governments to support those most in need.
“Section 15(5) imposes the responsibility on your government to ‘abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power’ in the country.
“Under Section 16(1) of the Constitution, your government has a responsibility to ‘secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity.’ Section 16(2) further provides that, ‘the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.
“Chapter 7, Section 713 of the Federal Government’s Financial Regulations 2009, provides: ‘Personal money shall in no circumstances be paid into a government bank account, nor shall any public money be paid into a private account.
“Articles 5 and 9 of the UN Convention against Corruption also impose legal obligations on your government to ensure proper management of public affairs and public funds, and to promote sound and transparent administration of public affairs.”