EFCC quizzes 10 officials of Humanitarian Ministry

* Agency profiles 12 firms awarded N3b consultancy contracts

* Zenith, Jaiz clear air

Ten top officials of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation were quizzed yesterday as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) widened its probe of alleged financial mismanagement to civil servants.

Suspended Minister Betta Edu is being investigated for allegedly directing the payment of N585 million meant for sharing with vulnerable Nigerians into a private account.

Her predecessor Sadiya Umar-Farouq and National Coordinator of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) Halima Shehu are indicted in the suspicious movement of N44 billion ministry funds.

All three of them are currently under interrogation.

It was learnt that EFCC detectives have retrieved more vital documents crucial to the investigation from some of the desk officials.

Some of the documents are said to have assisted detectives in the ongoing profiling of the 12 companies awarded over N3 billion for consultancy services by the ministry.

In line with inter-agency cooperation, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which probed the scam, has submitted its preliminary findings to assist EFCC’s investigation.

Last night, an official of the anti-graft agency said some bank chief executive officers were invited to “ascertain their roles” in the movement of cash by officials of the ministry.

Apart from the 10 top officials, Dr. Edu and Halima Shehu faced another round of grilling yesterday.

Hajiya Umar-Farouq is expected for another round of interrogation today.

The source said: “The 10 top officials made a lot of revelations on their roles in the alleged suspicious cash transactions.

“Some of the officials admitted that they raised red flags but their alarms were ignored.

“A major bend of the investigation was the retrieval of a heap of documents which indicated alleged misdeeds in the ministry.

“Some of the documents have to do with the ongoing profiling of 12 companies which were awarded about N3billion consultancy services.

“We are making a headway on this probe.”

On the invitation of three bank CEOs on Tuesday, another official said: “We didn’t detain any of them. We only invited them to assist in our investigation.

“We summoned the CEOs to ascertain their roles in the movement of cash by officials of the ministry. They cooperated with our team. We will get back to them if and when necessary.”

* Jaiz, Zenith clear air

Jaiz Bank clarified its involvement in the EFCC investigation.

The bank in a statement yesterday, confirmed that its Managing Director Haruna Musa provided documents related to accounts opened by the ministry at the request of the EFCC, but he was not arrested or detained.

“Jaiz Bank remains fully committed to upholding the highest ethical standards and cooperating with legitimate inquiries,” the statement read.

“Yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) interaction with the EFCC was collaborative and transparent, and our Managing Director has resumed his duties.”

The bank elaborated on its prior dealings with the ministry, explaining that it was chosen as a “participating financial institution for the various intervention programmes of the Federal Government of Nigeria” following a competitive bidding process in October 2023.

While a project account was opened at the Ministry’s request, Jaiz Bank stressed that it was yet to receive any funds in the account.

In the wake of recent allegations surrounding the Ministry, the EFCC initiated its investigation to examine potential financial irregularities.

Jaiz Bank said its prompt cooperation highlights its commitment to transparency and ethical conduct within the financial sector.

“Jaiz Bank takes its role in facilitating ethical and responsible economic development very seriously,” the statement continued.

“We are proud to offer alternative financing options that align with ethical principles and support the growth of the Nigerian economy”.

Also yesterday, Zenith Bank dismissed claim that its Group Managing Director, Mr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, was detained by the EFCC.

Company Secretary/General Counsel, Mr. Michael Otu, said in a statement that Onyeagwu was among some other bank’s managing directors invited in connection with an alleged fraud at the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

Otu said: “We wish to clarify that these report are entirely false. We are issuing this public statement to dispel the misinformation and ensure that the public and stakeholders are adequately informed.”

* Obi welcomes probe

Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate in the last general election, Peter Obi, called for a thorough probe.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he stated: “I welcome the suspension of…Ms. Edu, and subsequent directives for her investigation. While the action of the government is a welcome development, the investigation must be comprehensive so that all those culpable are brought to book.

“The suspension of the minister should not be a window-dressing action but should be a peg to get at all those who are deserving of blame and punished just like the minister.

“By a sad coincidence, the alleged fraudulent diversion of N585 million of public money by Ms. Edu broke almost at the same moment that the minister who held the same portfolio in the last administration is being investigated for a whopping N37 billion misappropriation.

“The ministry may have been created by the system as a conduit pipe to siphon public funds while using the poor as a face… “

“I call on the administration to use these cases to initiate a thorough system-wide and systematic investigation of all reported cases of fraud and corruption among high government officials in the country.

“I join all Nigerians in calling on the government to accord the problem of public sector corruption the severe urgency it deserves. –PO”

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