Friday, 20 November 2020 04:43

EFCC Invites Officials Over Alleged N4.6bn Illegal Payments

  • Power minister backs full probe

 

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has invited government officials mentioned in the alleged N4.608 billion illegal payments at the erstwhile Ministry of Power, Works and Housing under Babatunde Fashola.

According to a Premium Times report citing data from the open treasury, a government data portal launched in December 2019, the payments which happened in 2019, were to individual accounts of about 21 officials against extant laws.

 

According to the data, most of the 21 fingered staff or employees got the trickle payment for over 10 times.

One Ogueri Pascal Ugochukwu received N1.642bn in 306 tranches; Olasehinde Micah got N1.417bn in 34 tranches; the least was Aku, Alewo Linus who got N25.3m in one payment.

The least payment was to Onwubalili Adunola who got N7.678m in two tranches. In all, a total of 658 transactions were made in about three months, the data from the portal indicated.

The ministry was split in 2019 and a new Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, was appointed while Fashola headed only the Ministry of Works and Housing.

Daily Trust contacted the Special Assistant to the Minister of Power on Communications, Aaron Artimas, yesterday. He said the transaction being reported was not done under Mamman.

The spokesman also said even at that, the minister was giving full cooperation to the authorities for the investigation process.

However, clarifying further in a BBC Hausa report yesterday, the Special Assistant to the Minister on Public Affairs, Malam Ado Adamu, confirmed that officials of the ministry had received invitation letters from the EFCC investigating the matter to clarify the transaction process.

The officials are to explain what had transpired between 2015 till 2019 when the power ministry was under the supervision of Fashola.

“They wrote to us informing us that there issues would want to clarify. We on our part have given them the go ahead. The minister said the agency should be given the full cooperation to carry out all the investigation they would want to.

“The minister also said anyone who was mentioned in the transaction must submit themselves to the investigation as and when due,” Also noted.

The EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed to Daily Trust that the agency was looking into the issues raised.

Uwujaren said was not aware of the misdemeanours before it was brought to the public domain by the media.

“When we were contacted earlier, we told them that, look, we were not aware of this but since you have brought it out to the public, we will look at it. If we said we would look at it yesterday, today you’re asking me who we’ve invited.”

Speaking earlier to BBC Hausa, he said EFCC is taking it as a priority to investigate the issue on how within four months the huge sums were paid to individual accounts of the officials in the former ministry of power, works and housing.

When Fashola who is now Minister for Works and Housing was contacted for comments via an email enquiry, Mr Hakeem Bello, his Special adviser on Communications, said the Premium Times report was mischievous.

“I am certain that your platform will demand much more rigorous investigation than just a dubbing of an obviously mischievous piece of reporting.”

He then directed our reporter to the disbursing department in the ministry which is the Finance and Accounts Department.

“The reaction should come from the relevant Department in the Ministry responsible for disbursing approved funds please,” Bello responded.

According to the Premium Times report, the N4.6bn transaction occurred between September and December 2019, was paid into the private accounts of some directors and employees of the then ministry of power, works and housing.

Although it said the power ministry, in response to an FOI request, claimed that only N157 million was paid to 127 staff members within the period under review, the paper’s records proved contrary.

It said at the time the allocation for the payments was made in 2019, the omnibus ministry of works, power and housing was headed by Babatunde Fashola.

“Our records, some obtained from the Open Treasury Portal, show that the sum of N4.6 billion (exactly ₦4,608,394,262.22) was paid in 654 tranches into the accounts of 21 private individual accounts. Two-thirds of that amount went to two men: Ogueri Ugochukwu Pascal and Olasehinde Micah.

Most of the payments that summed up to ₦4.6bn came with little, sometimes vague, details.

A striking example is contained in the data published on the open treasury portal on October 26, last year. Mr Pascal was paid ₦159m for such things as “zonal revenue tour,” “disbursement of funds for right of way,” “verification exercise,” “quarterly budget implementation,” each in the six geopolitical zones, as well as to conduct the “2019 senior staff promotion exercise,” and for “junior staff promotion in the housing sector.”

Also, a total payment of ₦134 million was made to Adebowale Adebayo Kamoru as “six months allowances to the NHP staff” in each of the six geopolitical zones.

The new ministry of power claimed they are not its staff members while the works and housing ministry did not respond to its request for clarification.

Some of the officials whose designations were identified include Onwubalili Adunola, a project coordinator of the ministry of works and housing; Nwaimo Obi Valentine, the north-central zonal director of the programme; Oko-Jaja Emmanuel Daminabo, the south-south zonal director; and Waziri Mshella Micah, also a zonal director.

the ministry’s director of finance, Adewumi Omotayo in a letter listed 142 persons which it said 15 of them, to whom it said a total of N465 million was paid, are not its staff members.

“This may be due to the fact that the ministry has been separated from the ministry of works and housing,” the letter dated October 14 said.

PREMIUM TIMES’ FOI request acknowledged by the works and housing ministry on October 28 seeking comments on the said personnel has not been replied. Mr Fashola’s spokesperson, Hakeem Bello, also directed all inquiries to the power ministry.

While responding to Daily Trust on Thursday, he had called the earlier report mischievous but failed to respond to the issues raised. Rather, he equally directed our reporter to the department that paid the fund.

According to sources, most of the disbursed funds were used to pay duty tour allowance, office equipment, ‘pocket expense’, imprest, printing of documents, among others.

 

Transaction illegal – Financial rule

The ministry’s transactions into private accounts violate chapter 7, section 701 of the financial regulation by the Financial Regulation Council (FRC).

Agencies are compelled by the provision “to operate only three bank accounts as follows: salary account, overhead cost account and revenue account” as “no other bank account shall be allowed without the express approval of the Accountant-General.”

Section 713 of the same chapter also says under no condition should personal money be paid into the government’s 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 fraudulent intention,” the section reads.

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