The N48 billion scandal in Agric ministry

LAST week, a permanent secretary at the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Mohammed Bello,  was accused of acts of gross misappropriation involving more than N48 billion. He was said to have disregarded due process in public financial procedures, resulting in a contractual liability of the said whopping sum.  According to reports, Bello was indicted for acts of misappropriation of funds, fraudulent transactions and other misconducts in the position. Consequently, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, queried him based on the sundry allegations, including buying a supposed uncompleted building for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for N7 billion without the approval of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA). While the sum of N98, 405,763,678. 68 in 2018, representing 99.44 of the 2018 appropriation, was released, Bello allegedly failed to pay the contractors, thereby inflicting an outstanding contractual liability to the tune of N48.429,543,895.722 on the ministry.

According to the query dated May 11, the ministry, under his watch, used the entire 2019 first quarter release of N7,737,208, 135.18 to pay for the 2018 contracts that were fully funded in 2018. Bello was also accused of giving out seven deep drilling rigs for boreholes procured at N1.3 billion at N300 million each to some unnamed individuals in a fraudulent arrangement, and without passing through the Federal executive Council (FEC). It was also claimed that he  had yet to return one of the rigs linked to him in in spite of a series of written reminders. Describing Bello’s actions as serious misconduct that attracts dismal if found culpable, the Head of Service further accused him of misapplying the intervention funds approved for the purchase of strategic grains and the establishment of the Rural Grazing Area Settlements, in violation of extant financial regulations. Two of such misapplications were said to have included the use of N2.026, 838,775.25 to pay contractors and execute programmes from the funds released for emergency procurement of strategic grains, contrary to the purpose of the funds.

Worse still, more than 200 contractors believed to have handled the 2018 projects at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development formed a blockade at the entrance of the ministry, demanding the sacking of the Minister, Sabo Nanono, and the Permanent Secretary, Mu’azu Abdulkadir, over their alleged failure to pay the N17 billion owed them. The contractors claimed to have resorted to the action when all efforts to compel the ministry to pay up failed. Sadly, some individuals have tried to trivialise the allegations, even though massive looting of the treasury has, for decades, deprived the country of more than N400 billion and crippled infrastructure development, with dire consequences for the well-being and survival of the citizenry.

Public offices are held in trust for the people and any act of abuse should never be treated with levity. With the country’s notorious history of foot-dragging and compromise in handling similar cases, there is public doubt regarding the authorities doing justice on the latest case. These days, the mention of humongous financial scandals in the corridors of power no longer stuns or scares Nigerians. Even though they are not happy that looting has become a fad in official circles, Nigerians seem to have resigned to fate, firm in their conviction that government functionaries are mere conduits for misappropriation of public funds. This is in spite of the huge deficit and yawning gap in infrastructure, the crippled economy, and massive insecurity that are inflicting misery on the populace. There is of course the question of the ridicule which the actions of a few privileged individuals in the civil and public service has continuously attracted to the country. But most provocative is the obvious lack of the political will to deal decisively with the perpetrators and the utter disregard for due process and diligence in running the affairs of the country.

To be sure, it is difficult to contemplate that such a monumental scandal could have taken place undetected in a functional civil/public service system. It is also curious that Bello in his response to the query maintained that all he did was in consonance with appropriate processes, including the fact that the FEC approved the purchase of the said uncompleted building for N7 billion. This is entirely intriguing and distressing because it means whatever Dr. Bello is being accused of is the norm in the federal civil service.

Then, the questions arise: on what basis did the FEC approve the purchase of the uncompleted building? Were there not valid reports from professionals, especially valuers and engineers, who must have inspected and passed the building as fitting, before the FEC considered it? Where did such reports emanate from (if available) when the building has been described as a carcass, or is it that the FEC doesn’t even bother about such ‘frivolities’ and approves things without due process? The truth is that the current alleged scam has exposed the entire machinery of government as being very porous and in shambles, and therefore not something that would ever serve the interest of Nigerians. It is difficult to believe that such scams were going on even as Nigerians were paying so many legislators humongous sums to help them carry out oversight functions on the executive and ensure that things went well. The legislators have shown themselves to be grossly incompetent in this regard.

We can only hope that the current mind-boggling exposure would propel the National Assembly to do its job of ensuring that government activities run according to laid down rules and regulations henceforth. It should investigate this particular scam and expose all those implicated in it, while also using it as a template to subject the entire fabric of government to serious scrutiny, so such that the country can have a new civil/public service working according to due process.

 

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