Just Before We Crucify Betta Edu


By SHEDDY OZOENE

The news that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu, had ordered the transfer of N585.2 million into the private bank account of a civil servant, hit the nation like a thunderbolt. It was enough to rouse Nigerians from the sleepy start to a new year and it quickly rose to a buzz when a cascade of other official indiscretions from the ministry came to the fore.

Few days before this, the Minister had suspended a senior staff in the ministry for financial impropriety.

Betta Edu

A leaked memo showed that the minister had in December, requested Oluwatoyin Madein, the accountant general of the federation, to transfer the money from the account of the National Social Investment Office, to the private account of Bridget Oniyelu, the accountant of Grants for Vulnerable Groups, a project under Edu’s ministry.

By any standard, N585.2 million is a princely sum and for the average Nigerian, it was such an interesting story of a heist. Understandably, many people rushed into the conclusion that the action cannot but be fraudulent, especially since her response was largely incoherent. How could the minister so brazenly contravene the country ’s financial regulations?

Her response that it does not contravene any law and that she took the decision to avoid some bottlenecks on getting the funds to the people for which they are meant, was less than convincing. So was the usual refrain that she was being targeted by political rivals.

We all knew that something was deeply wrong with the Tinubu administration which had done little to stem the tide of corruption in all three arms of government. So, for Edu who is one of the promising youth in the administration, she was clearly caught in the web of a public outcry.

Is it about Betta Edu as a person? Definitely not, even if some people have mischievously tried to connect her with other acts of sleaze in the past, especially in Cross Rivers State where she had served as Commissioner and chair of the COVID 19 management committee. By the time one is able to connect the dots in the sequence of events, the systemic rot in her ministry which has been the cash cow for the last administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, becomes obvious.

That the young lady fell into the cesspit that has continued to deepen since the ministry was created by the Buhari administration, doesn’t surprise.

Without seeming to defend what is obviously a bad case, Betta Edu’s travail, from all indications, has the hand of some highly-placed fifth columnists in government. While it is difficult to totally absolve her of wrong-doing in the present circumstances, her statement that her travails were orchestrated by political traducers, may have some basis afterall.

Revelations so far indicate that she was deliberately misled into making the controversial request. The fact that her approval was so professionally leaked with a follow-up analysis, adds to the concerns about a conspiracy within the top echelons of her ministry.

It may indeed be her traducers at work, but that is hardly an excuse. Like former aviation minister Osita Chidoka wrote on the saga, the fact that a program manager in a parastatal supervised by Edu could raise a memo directly to the minister and bypassing the Permanent Secretary who is the chief accounting officer in the ministry “is only a reflection of the systemic failure” in the ministry and the public service in general.

Curiouser is that the ministry’s experienced Permanent Secretary, Enitan, was all so willing to minute on an approved memo that had totally bypassed his office, to the Accountant-General of the Federation. It is a good guess that he may have done that grudgingly and found another way of extracting his revenge somehow.

Don’t ask me how.

Incidentally, Edugate is still unraveling with the fact of the huge payment of N438.1 million to New Planet Project Limited, a company owned by the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo by the Ministry under Betta Edu. The payment, purportedly for consultancy services, was one of those for contracts awarded from the N3 billion given out by the suspended minister.

What has been missing in the past week that the crisis broke, is Edu’s part of the story. Her defence has been uncoordinated, with a scanty statement coming through her media aide, Rasheed Zubair, to insist that she was being targeted for her stance against corruption. Whoever will believe that. While the beautiful lady plays safe by withholding the full story, it us her image that is taking a beating.

For the Tinubu administration whose 2024 budget has generated a lot of criticism, the Betta Edu controversy provides, not only a convenient digression but an opportunity to ‘shine’. Tinubu brought the big stick swiftly against her to sell the impression that his administration had zero-tolerance for corruption.

Her suspension from office “with immediate effect” last Monday was well received by the Nigerian public. In actual fact, it was simply one manifestation of a deep rot in the public service system that has deepened on Tinubu’s watch.

The administration which has been facing criticism for being soft on corruption, welcomed the way Edu fell on its laps. Presidential spokesperson Ajuri Ngelale celebrated her suspension as being in line with the president’s “avowed commitment to upholding the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability in the management of the commonwealth of Nigerians”.

It was a convenient distraction from what is otherwise an insensitive budget and a less-than-inspiring new year message from the president. While he enjoys some sunlight of positive media portrayal, he should go beyond the drama and bring more sanity in the government where insensitivity and corruption by government officials have become, more than ever before, the order of the day.

Betta Edu’s case may well be a good exemplar, but it is the small tip of a big iceberg that is the corruption in the administration.

This article was first published in Sunday Telegraph newspaper on January 14, 2024.


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