In a recent incident involving Betta Edu, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation in President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration, there have been calls for her removal from office amid allegations of misappropriation of a N585 million palliative fund. The minister has faced significant public backlash following the exposure of a leaked memo where she purportedly instructed Oluwatoyin Madein, the Accountant-General (AG) of the federation, to transfer N585 million to a private account.
As per the leaked memo dated 20 December 2023, Edu directed the Accountant-General to transfer the funds from the account of the National Social Investment Office to the private account of Bridget Oniyelu, the accountant of a Federal Government poverty intervention project called “Grants for Vulnerable Groups,” a project under Mrs. Edu’s ministry.
Speaking on behalf of Edu, Rasheed Zubair, her media aide, asserts that the act is legal within the framework of the Nigerian civil service. However, it is crucial to note that the request violates various sections of Nigeria’s Financial Regulations 2009, which explicitly prohibit fraud and other forms of corruption in government business. Additionally, Chapter Seven, Section 713 of Nigeria’s Financial Regulations 2009 explicitly states, “Personal money shall in no circumstances be paid into a government bank account, nor shall any public money be paid into a private account.” It further stipulates, “Any officer who pays public money into a private account is deemed to have done so with fraudulent intention.”
In an interview with Ventures Africa, an anonymous Senior Legal Official from a leading commercial bank commented, “There are several issues concerning this matter. First, her ministry is relatively new, and her predecessor and pioneering minister, Sadiya Umar-Farouk, engaged in activities that appeared to be illegal. It might be a reflection of how they operate in the ministry. Nevertheless, paying public money into private accounts goes against public procurement rules.” He added that unless she can provide a valid reason for such approval, it may not necessarily involve fraudulent intent, but it is nonetheless incorrect, and certainty is lacking.
In a Twitter post, political and digital communications expert Akin Akinwale expressed the opinion that the ministry might not have been wrong to use a personal account.
It is legal in civil service to designate a staff of F&A department as a project accountant. Such person will use his or her account to receive the money, spend it legally and also retire all receipts and evidences after the program or project is completed.
— ETTY (@ETTYGeo) January 5, 2024
Expressing a comparable sentiment on her Twitter account, Political Analyst and Development & Management Consultant, Barrister Iyabo Awokoya, conveyed sympathy for the suspended minister. She believed that the minister might have made an innocent mistake driven by a zealous determination to accomplish her job.
I really feel sorry for Betta Edu. I do and I am not being sarcastic. I somehow had this foreboding for her in my spirit. I sensed a misstep would happen because she was too keen, was all over the place. She needed time to settle down and understand her Ministry. Like I warn…
— Madam President (rtd) Iyabo Arinola Ifeoma Awokoya (@iyaboawokoya) January 10, 2024
Based on these expert arguments, it can be inferred that there exists a discord in financial laws between the federal government and other government parastatals. The situation escalated when the leaked document became public, with Betta Edu emerging as a scapegoat for a dysfunctional political system.