Allegations of massive fraud in the operations of the National Social Investment Programme Agency, NSIPA, as well as the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, have sparked calls for President Bola Tinubu to probe the administration of his predecessor, former President Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari set up NSIPA in 2016, a year after he assumed office as Nigeria’s President, to drive his administration’s National Social Investments Programmes, NSIP. The Social Investment Programmes were conceived to tackle poverty and hunger across the country.
NSIPA is currently an agency under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation was also set up by Buhari’s administration – originally as the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. Buhari established the Ministry via an Executive pronouncement on Wednesday, August 21, 2019.
The NSIPA programmes, namely N-power, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), Government Enterprise and Empowerment (GEEP), and Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF), as well as the overall mandate of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, were expected to alleviate poverty in the country and provide succour to distressed Nigerians.
But a cross section of Nigerians, including civil society organizations and political activists, who spoke with DAILY POST, noted that the establishment of the institutions has become counter productive.
They say the NSIPA and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation have become synonymous with corruption.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, recently detained and questioned the former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, and the suspended NSIPA National Coordinator and Chief Executive Officer, Halima Shehu, over allegations of corruption in the handling of N37.1 billion social intervention funds.
The N37.1 billion was allegedly misappropriated during Umar-Farouq’s tenure as Buhari’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
Under a different helmsman, the Ministry, now known as the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, has continued to be rocked by fraud allegations. Mrs Betta Edu, the current minister, has been suspended by President Bola Tinubu over her alleged involvement in a N585 million fraud. Edu allegedly attempted to transfer the N585 million, meant for social intervention programmes, into a private account.
In response to the massive fraud allegations rocking NSIPA and its supervising ministry – the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation – Tinubu has suspended the chief executives of both institutions, Betta Edu and Halima Shehu.
Edu is on suspension pending investigation into her role in the alleged N585 million fraud, while Shehu was suspended over alleged financial misconduct.
Tinubu has gone a step further by suspending, for an initial period of six weeks, all four programmes under NSIPA – N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfer, Government Enterprise and Empowerment and Home Grown School Feeding.
A statement issued by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGF, which announced the suspension, hinted at plans to reform the agency, but also noted that Tinubu “raised significant concerns regarding operational lapses and improprieties surrounding payments to the Programs’ beneficiaries”.
Tinubu should probe Buhari’s govt
While many Nigerians have commended Tinubu for moving quickly to suspend Edu and Usman, as well as the NSIPA programmes, the President is being asked to go further by probing the Buhari administration.
Speaking with DAILY POST, Willy Ezugwu, Secretary General of the Conference Of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), stressed that cases of massive fraud being uncovered in the operations of NSIPA and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation – key establishments of Buhari’s administration – have made it imperative that Tinubu should probe Buhari’s government.
“Tinubu should probe Buhari’s government. Under that (Buhari) administration corruption became an epidemic in Nigeria. If Tinubu is serious about fighting corruption, there is no way some officials under Buhari’s government will not be prosecuted. If Buhari’s government is not probed, Tinubu should forget about fighting corruption,” Ezugwu said.
Also asking Tinubu to probe Buhari’s government, Ibrahim Zikirullahi, Executive Director of the Resource Center for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), noted that, going by its antecedents, it appears that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation was set up as an avenue to loot the national treasury.
Speaking with DAILY POST, Zikirullahi noted that there was no need for the establishment of the Ministry in the first place, as there were already existing government agencies that handle similar mandates.
Zikirullahi said, “From all indications and from all that has happened in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, it is clear that it was set up just to fleece the country. What has been uncovered so far is just a scratch. If a detailed investigation is to be conducted, more will be uncovered.
“Now, can we say that what the Ministry has done so far is equivalent to the mass stealing that has been perpetrated? No.
“There was not even any need for the creation of that Ministry. If you have a Ministry of Women Affairs, you can domicile whatever department you want to create under it, not creating a full-fledged Ministry.”
The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, established since 1999 to manage disasters in Nigeria, is currently one of the agencies under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
But Zikirullahi believes that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation is merely an elevated form of NEMA.
He said, “I would have expected Tinubu to hold on and conduct an investigation before even appointing a minister into that Ministry.
“He should have done a thorough check to know if we even need that Ministry. What is their work? What exactly are they doing? It is NEMA that Buhari elevated to that Ministry. And what have they done so far to alleviate poverty? Even Betta Edu, between the time she was appointed and the time she was suspended, what practical things has she done to alleviate poverty?”
Fraudulent implementation of Conditional Cash Transfer Programme
Zikirullahi’s organisation, CHRICED, monitored the implementation of the conditional cash transfer programme in the North-West.
Drawing from observations made while monitoring the exercise, Zikirullahi gave further insight into the fraudulent nature of the programme.
“They talk about palliatives here and there, conditional cash transfer to the poorest of the poor. My organisation monitored the disbursement of the conditional cash transfer of the Abacha loot in the North-West, and we saw the shady deals that were going on.
“Where they are supposed to pay N10,000 to a household, they will just give them an envelope and say ‘sign, sign, sign’, and the person will sign and be smiling but when they count the money they find N4,000 in the envelope. This was what was going on.
“In some cases, when they want to disburse, they will fail to notify us or they will give us a different date. We travelled far and wide, only to find out that it had been postponed, or it was conducted yesterday. We saw all that and we did a report and submitted it. Nothing happened.”
Also speaking on the need for Tinubu to probe Buhari’s government, Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, observed that so many things went wrong during the immediate past administration.
“The truth is that there are so many wrongdoings that happened under Muhammadu Buhari. You can take some well established cases where breaches happened. I think they have already invited Sadiya Abba-Farouq.
“There are others like the former Minister of Justice (Abubakar Malami) and the former Minister of Aviation (Hadi Sirika). Once there is evidence of their wrongdoing, I think the Tinubu government should go ahead and do that (probe them),” Rafsanjani told DAILY POST.
However, Rafsanjani, who is also President of the Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, further observed that some key members of Buhari’s government – who were also accused of corruption – are part of Tinubu’s team.
“The Tinubu administration itself is not very strong in morality because many of the people Tinubu appointed were also part and parcel of the Buhari administration.
“They were also having a lot of corruption allegations against them,” he said, suggesting that it will be difficult for Tinubu to probe Buhari’s government.
Buhari announced plan to probe Jonathan’s government
Shortly after he assumed office in 2015, Buhari had declared that he will probe former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.
He said he will arrest and prosecute past ministers and other officials who stole Nigeria’s money.
Following calls to extend the probe to other previous governments, including those of Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo, Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, clarified that the inquest will be limited to Jonathan’s government.
Although some officials of Jonathan’s government, including former minister for Petroleum Resources, Mrs Dieziani Alison-Madueke, were eventually charged to court over corruption allegations, not much was heard on the outcome of the planned probe of the Jonathan administration.
Why Tinubu will not probe Buhari
Eze Onyekpere, Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice, CSJ, in a chat with DAILY POST, observed that there seems to be an unwritten rule that no Nigerian President holds his predecessor to account.
Onyekpere noted that, although probing Buhari is the right thing to do, it is unlikely that Tinubu will take such action.
“Have you ever heard of a Nigerian sitting president calling the former one to account? It appears to be an unwritten rule in Nigeria.
“Buhari handed over to Tinubu so if you are expecting him to probe his predecessor, that is going to be very difficult. It is the right thing to do but I don’t see it happening,” he said.
“They (sitting Presidents) don’t want to set that precedent because they wouldn’t want their successor to call them back. They know if that precedent is set, it may get to their turn,” he added.