Bettagate: Suspended humanitarian minister blocked from Villa, faces EFCC scrutiny

IN what may be regarded as Bettagate scandal, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, has been suspended by President Bola Tinubu.

In a statement released on Monday afternoon, presidential spokesman, Mr Ajuri Ngelale, said President Tinubu had ordered the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Ola Olukoyede, to investigate allegations against the 37-year-old minister.

Mr Ngelale said the EFCC would “conduct a thorough investigation into all aspects of the financial transactions involving the ministry and one or more agencies thereunder.”

READ ALSO: https://www.economypost.ng/featured/beta-edu-n370m-suspicious-items-spotted-in-humanitarian-ministrys-2024-budget/2024/01/08/

Dr Edu is the first minister to be suspended by the new Tinubu administration barely 5 months into office.

The humanitarian minister became a subject of public scrutiny following a December 20, 2023 memo she addressed to Accountant-General of the Federation, Ms Oluwatoyin Sikirat Madein, Economy Post earlier reported.

The minister had asked Ms Madein to pay N585.190 million grant meant for vulnerable people in Akwa Ibom State into a private bank account of one Oniyelu Bridget Mojisola, who she described as “the project accountant.”

The humanitarian minister also faced public criticisms over the allegation by National Coordinator and Chief Executive Officer of the National Social Investment Programme Agency, (NSIPA), Ms Halima Shehu, that Dr Edu was involved in a N3 billion fraud. She had, however, denied her involvement before her suspension.

READ ALSO: https://www.economypost.ng/featured/health-ministry-agency-budget-n300m-for-retreat-n938m-just-to-monitor-health-centres/2024/01/03/

Blocked from Aso Rock

Dr Edu’s access card to Aso Villa has been withdrawn, Punch reported. The newspaper quoted a source at the presidency who said that the humanitarian minister had been trying to see President Tinubu since January 1, 2024 but without success.

“The President is not happy about the whole thing. In fact, more may be coming because he will not tolerate anything like this.

“So, as soon as the statement came out, the cars that brought her were withdrawn immediately and they assigned two security men to see her out. Her tag was also collected,” the source was quoted as saying.

Tinubu-owned television station, TVC, also reported that the humanitarian minister was blocked from seeing the president.

READ ALSO: https://www.economypost.ng/featured/2024-arts-ministry-votes-millions-for-ergp-which-ended-in-2020/2023/12/30/

EFCC scrutiny

A source close to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) told Economy Post that the humanitarian minister had been invited by the anti-graft body.

The source said Dr Edu would be interrogated on the allegations by the former NSIP boss as well as issues surrounding her request to the accountant-general to pay N585 million grant to vulnerable persons into a personal account.

The source noted that some of her approvals in the ministry were being investigated, assuring that she would be prosecuted if found guilty.

“Being a listening president, the EFCC recommended the suspension of Dr Betta Edu to pave the way for a proper investigation into her activities,” the source said.

“We are also investigating other ministers and we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that there are probity and accountability in government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs),” the source added.

N370m suspicious items

Economy Post had earlier identified N369.99 million suspicious and ambiguous items in the humanitarian ministry’s 2024 budget.

READ ALSO: https://www.economypost.ng/featured/energy-commission-budgets-n190m-for-dgs-land-cruiser-n312m-for-fuel-hilux/2023/12/28/

First is an ambiguous item in the budget termed, “The development of a multi-sectoral funding basket for humanitarian and poverty alleviation activities/ interventions.” This will cost N181.65 million.

Second is a line item captioned, “Quarterly review, tracking and development of report to the National Committee on Poverty Alleviation chaired by the Vice President.” This will cost N20.218 million.

Third is a line item tagged, “Performance management and strategic planning,” which is set to cost N15.109 million. 

Fourth is a suspicious line item entitled, “Assessment, Identification of gaps, informed decision-making, accountability, learning and alignment with strategic objectives ultimately leading to more effective and efficient sectoral development,” which is estimated to gulp N25.437 million.

Fifth is a line item tagged, “Identification of relevant national and international stakeholder to address pressing issues and challenges; foster coordination, advocate for change and review progress on humanitarian and poverty related issues. strengthening the global commitment to humanitarian action, increase collaboration among actors and establish a framework for more effective and sustainable humanitarian interventions.” This is expected to cost N14.218 million.

READ ALSO: https://www.economypost.ng/featured/agric-budget-akpabios-zone-gets-21-projects-food-belt-states-receive-nothing/2023/12/25/

Next is a line item entitled, “Increase access to employment opportunities for multimendimensionally poor youths via targeted cash transfers and programs,” which will cost N109.240 million.

There is also another line item tagged, “Strategic roadmap on ethics and informed consent in the ministry,”

These line items are ambiguous and suspicious, experts said.

Experts have also warned that Nigeria will not make any headway with the current budgeting system adopted by MDAs. They add that the two houses of the National Assembly are culpable as they also insert items that serve parochial, rather than national, interests in the budget.

READ ALSO: https://www.economypost.ng/featured/2024-budget-agric-research-institutes-to-spend-65-allocation-on-salaries-allowances/2023/12/22/

“We need to stop the use of ambiguous and bogus terms in the budget. We need to be more specific. As a nation, we also need to mention the number of things which we are funding in a line item. For instance, ‘244 chairs at the cost of N15.03 million.’ Some MDAs actually do that, but many do not,” a financial analyst, Mr Simon Uguru.

Stella Odiche
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