February 04, 2024

Betta Edu, Sadiya Farouq and their humanitarian sleaze - Rotimi Fasan

There are many Nigerians, if asked, who would say that there are better ways President Bola Tinubu could have handled the scandals in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation. But such Nigerians should also be ready to admit that the President has done the least he could and should in the circumstances by not only ordering a probe of Betta Edu, the minister in charge of the Ministry but also suspending her from office until the conclusion of investigation into the affairs of the ministry under her.
Any right-thinking person would imagine that the action the President has taken is ordinarily the appropriate step any leader should take when confronted with similar situations, but the bar of accountability has been set so low by President Tinubu’s predecessor in office that any ordinary move by the current president must appear extraordinary. The tough decisions the president has had to take in the last eight months have meant there is very little to praise about the administration. Where such opportunities have presented themselves (and these were in the early weeks following the inauguration of the government), they’ve been short-lived. In ordering the probe of Betta Edu and suspending her, the president’s action should be understood for what it is- a tough call. If he would not be praised, he should not be excoriated either.
Dr Edu is a rising star, one of those the president would rightly want to show off as evidence his administration has put in place a robust mentoring and/or succession system that thrives in the deliberate nurturing of the young for leadership in the country. Which is to say, this was not an easy decision to make but it is the right decision to make for an erring lieutenant at this time. Not only is the decision good for Nigeria, but it is also good for the image of his government and sends a stern message to others still in government to brace up for the demands of their office or be prepared for the exit door. This was what President Buhari failed to do for the most part of eight years when he and his subordinates harangued Nigerians with their suffocating tales of fighting corruption. All of this while the President was in fact abetting it by his indifference to the actions and inactions of his lieutenants whom he simply appointed into office and thereafter left to their own devices. Isn’t it ironic that a government that has been loudest in its claim of fighting corruption, the loudest since 1999, is now emerging as the mill factory of corruption architects?
Or how else can anyone explain how one of the youngest ministries created to directly address the immediate needs of poor Nigerians in the cabinet of any Nigerian president should be so complicit in perpetrating corruption on such a grand scale as Nigerians are getting to know? After all, what led to the opening of the Pandora's box was the corruption scandals in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation started as a probe of how over N37 billion was supposedly expended on addressing the humanitarian needs of Nigerians and alleviating the material poverty of their lives couldn’t be convincingly traced to the supposed beneficiaries. This was a question Nigerians had asked over and again since the first few months the ministry unveiled its mandate under Sadiya Umar Farouq, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs in the Buhari government. The rot in that ministry became most glaring when the Ministry came up with the impossible tale of providing school children with food in those forbidding months of prolonged lock-down at the height of the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic between 2020 and 2021. Who were these school children that officials of this ministry claimed they were feeding?
Where was the location of the nameless households and neighbourhoods that enjoyed the so-called palliatives that Mrs Farouq said she distributed and received these palliatives? The lies were hair-raising and simply couldn’t hold. Nigerians screamed and cried for explanation but they could have been talking to statues as President Buhari went silent on them. His silence no doubt fuelled the rumour then that the relationship between the former president and the minister was more than official, harking back to an earlier rumour that he was about to make her the marital junior of Aisha. It was a baseless rumour but it was one the peddlers and probably not a few Nigerians found plausible because of the way Buhari appeared stone-deaf to the pleas of Nigerians for a probe of the activities of the minister and her ministry, beginning from around 2019. Like the nondescript ministers that populated the Buhari government, Mrs. Farouq’s time in office was like a blank page. She achieved nothing remarkable beyond her apparent incompetence and the strong suspicion that she was guilty of financial mismanagement. The cash-strapped Tinubu administration was stung into looking for money from anywhere it might be lurking and got a special investigator to turn the searchlight on suspected pilferers of our commonwealth.
The investigation that started with the Central Bank under Godwin Emefiele has since expanded into the sleaze that went on the name of humanitarian affairs and poverty alleviation in the ministry that goes by that name. The investigation wasn’t meant to quickly pivot to the new minister in the saddle as she was less than eight months in office. But it was coming closer home and some persons who probably couldn’t wait for that to happen (perhaps to embarrass the Tinubu government) decided to open a can of worms by leaking memos that showed how contrary to the public sector financial regulation act of 2009, the minister ordered the release of almost six hundred million nairas, funds meant for official purpose, into the account of a private citizen, Bridget Oniyelu from where it was meant to be disbursed for the purpose it was intended.
Was this corruption fighting back? Anyhow, the Ministry owned up to this infraction, saying it’s in line with extant policies. Was this a case of ignorance of official regulations or sheer naivety? Is it also part of that policy to pay for a flight to a state that owns no airport? Perhaps, people were doing this in that ministry before Betta Edu became minister but she’s the one now carrying the can and she has no choice other than to carry it with equanimity until she’s been fully investigated and if found innocent, cleared. If she is, however, found to have abused her office, then she should be allowed to go. Who knows, the tide could still turn in her favour. If that does happen, she should consider herself lucky and sin no more.
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