• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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N2.67bn school feeding alleged fraud: Acid test for Buhari’s corruption fight

school feeding

Recently, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) shocked Nigerians with the revelation that it has traced to private accounts N2.67 billion meant to be funds for the federal government’s school feeding programme.

The programme is executed by the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development supervised by Sadiya Umar Farouk who was once quoted as saying that her ministry spent N600 billion on feeding school children during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The ICPC also said another N2.5 billion appropriated for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture was found in the personal account of a deceased staff of the ministry, who was also discovered to be in possession of landed assets including 18 buildings, 12 business premises and 25 plots of land.

Bolaji Owasanoye, the chairman of ICPC, made the revelations at the second National Summit on Diminishing Corruption with the theme, ‘Together Against Corruption and Launch of the National Ethics and Integrity Policy’ by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Another shocker from the chairman was that under Open Treasury Portal review carried out by the anti-corruption agency between January and August 15, 2020, out of 268 Ministries, Departments and Agendas (MDAs), 72 of them had cumulative infractions of N90 million.

All these are mind-boggling, more so at a time when fighting corruption is one of the cardinal focus of the government. The other two are economy and insecurity.

We are particularly piqued by frequent reports of financial malfeasance coming out of Buhari’s Humanitarian Services ministry. The same ministry was alleged to have spent N600 billion feeding school children at a time when all schools in the country were closed down in deference to Covid-19 pandemic.

There were strong grounds for the government to raise queries on the propriety or justification for spending such a humongous amount of money on feeding children who were at home with their parents, but that did not happen or is yet to happen several months after.

Now, the ministry’s N2.67 billion discovered in private accounts of civil servants poses an acid test for President Buhari to prove how serious it is with the much hyped fight against corruption in the country.

We had expected that the government would demonstrate its seriousness and sincerity with the corruption fight by doing something concrete on this revelation more so as it was made at a national summit on ‘Diminishing Corruption’.

For a government that makes so much claim about its commitment to fighting corruption, the next best thing to do is to isolate all the people that have immediate or remote connection to this act of corruption until further investigation on their action is concluded.

Like other Nigerians, we don’t consider it enough defence for the minister to ask ICPC to mention names. Since the fraud has been established, we are of the opinion that relevant people should answer relevant questions and the law allowed to take its course on whoever is found culpable.

We expect that the corruption fight, for whatever it represents, should be total, unbiased and no respecter of persons and positions. Once a case of fraud or corrupt practice is discovered or established, as in the present case, we expect the government to immediately initiate processes that will get whoever is involved to answer for his/her actions.

Such actions should cut across various government ministries, departments and agencies. At the Agriculture Ministry, Owasanoye said they found payments to contractors for no job done or over payment for jobs done, and appropriation of projects to private farms of senior civil servants of the ministry.

The agency observed that transfers to sub-TSA were to prevent disbursement from being monitored. “Nevertheless, we discovered payments to some federal colleges for school feeding in the sum of N2.67 billion during lockdown when the children are not in school, and some of the money ended up in personal accounts,” he said. All these, to say the least, are unimaginable in a Buhari era.

We are constrained to ask questions which, we are sure, are also on many lips: Who are the owners of these accounts into which tax payers’ money has been lodged? Which banks are involved in this unwholesome act? How did this money get into those accounts? What does the minister know about insider-abuses in her ministry?

We believe that providing answers to these questions is the only way government can prove to Nigerian people that fighting corruption is truly a serious matter. And the time to do so is Now, else the whole effort would continue to be regarded as a hoax or a sheer waste of time and resources.