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BBC, Betta Edu, and Her Ministry of Corruption

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) aroused the rage of Nigerians this week when it revealed in its periodic newsletter called “EFCC Alert” (which it shared with news organizations on Monday) that it had recovered up to 30 billion naira of the money allegedly stolen by suspended Humanitarian and Poverty Alleviation minister Betta Edu.

The rage wasn’t directed at the EFCC, of course. It was directed at Betta Edu for the deficiency of morality it must take for her to steal that much money in just six months of being a minister. The rage also comes from people’s extrapolation of how much unconscionable theft of our public wealth must be going on in this administration undetected.

What sort of moral climate conduces to such stratospheric pillaging of the public till without a tinge of compunction or fear of consequences?

Just when Nigerians were roiling in the storm of EFCC’s revelations, Edu’s lawyers denied them and threatened to sue the BBC for publishing them, even though scores of news outlets also published the same story.

Her lawyers allege that the story about the recovery of N30 billion from her and the investigation of 50 banks connected to her, which we read in several legacy and digital-native news outlets, was repurposed from the BBC.

Well, that’s not accurate. As I indicated earlier, EFCC’s bulletin, called the “EFCC Alert,” is the source of the story, and it was shared with multiple news organizations, including the BBC.

If the information about the extortionate amount of money allegedly recovered from Edu is false, the blame for this should go to the EFCC, not the BBC—or, for that matter, any news site.

In order to write this column, I searched for the EFCC Alert to see what exactly it contains. I would have reached the same conclusions about Betta Edu as the BBC and other news organizations did if I were still in the news business.

Here’s the original, verbatim wording from the “EFCC Alert” that informed the BBC story:

“Update on Betta Edu investigation. We have laws and regulations guiding our investigations. Nigerians will also know that they are already on suspension, and this is based on the investigations we have done, and President Bola Tinubu has proved to Nigerians that he is ready to fight corruption.

“Moreover, concerning this particular case, we have recovered over N30 billion, which is already in the coffers of the Federal Government.

“It takes time to conclude investigations; we started this matter less than six weeks ago. Some cases take years to investigate. There are so many angles to it, and we need to follow through with some of the discoveries that we have seen. Nigerians should give us time on this matter; we have professionals on this case, and they need to do things right. There are so many leads here and there.

“As it is now, we are investigating over 50 bank accounts that we have traced money into. That is no child’s play. That’s a big deal. Then you ask about my staff strength.

“And again, we have thousands of other cases that we are working on. Nigerians have seen the impact of what we have done so far, by way of some people being placed on suspension and by way of the recoveries that we have made. You have seen that the programme itself has been suspended. We are exploring so many discoveries that we have stumbled upon in our investigation.

“If it is about seeing people in jail, well, let them wait. Everything has a process to follow. So Nigerians should wait and give us the benefit of the doubt.”

It’s entirely possible that the EFCC meant that in the past six weeks, it has recovered 30 billion naira from multiple corruption cases of which Betta Edu’s is one. There are many clues to that in the “alert.” Perhaps the EFCC chairman has challenges with articulate, elegant, and clear communication in the English language.

However, in the absence of any countervailing facts, it’s reasonable to assume that the EFCC Alert meant that 30 billion naira was recovered from Betta Edu and that more than 50 bank accounts belonging to her are being investigated.

After all, the title of the bulletin is “Update on Betta Edu.” It also talks of “suspension” (and Edu is the only public official we know of that is on suspension on account of corruption), although it uses the pronoun “they” to refer to the subject of suspension, implying that it could be more than one person.

Nonetheless, in referencing the recovery of 30 billion naira, the EFCC Alert talks about “this particular case”; it doesn’t say “these particular cases.” So, it’s wholly within the bounds of reason to conclude that “this particular case” refers to the title of the news bulletin: “Update on Betta Edu investigation.”

I hope the EFCC will clarify this issue for us—and, of course, be more careful in its public communication in future.

But it doesn’t really matter if Betta stole 30 billion naira in six months and salted away money in 50 bank accounts. The truth is that the ministry she supervised is a cesspool of some of the most fetid and audacious corruption that Nigeria has ever seen since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999.

Right from its inception, it was conceived as the hotbed of graft, as the featherbed of in-your-face venality. Its origins are traceable to the Muhammadu Buhar regime’s National Social Investment Program (NSIP), which was conceived to putatively contain poverty and deprivation in Nigeria.

NSIP had within it such programs as the N-Power Program, the National Home-Grown School Feeding Program (NHGSFP), the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Program (GEEP), which is made up of the MarketMoni, FarmerMoni, and TraderMoni schemes.

Former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo headed NSIP. But the Buhari cabal later realized that NSIP was a prolific cash cow that lined several pockets and missed its supposed targets. I was one of the earliest people approached to expose what the cabal was convinced was humongous corruption in the NSIP that ran into tens of billions of naira—complete with what seems like fool-proof documentary evidence.

As I said at the time, I refused to be used to amplify the internal discord of the common oppressors of the Nigerian people. When Osinbajo was using TraderMoni to induce poor people to vote for Buhari, the cabal had no problem. They only discovered his “corruption” after the fact.

So, they reached out to other fringe sources and figures to give publicity to the corruption in NSIP, which caused Osinbajo to threaten to sue a whole bunch of people. They achieved their aim of calling attention to the rot in NSIP, which justified taking it away from the vice president’s office and constituting it as a separate ministry.

Thus, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was born. The Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration renamed it as the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

Because it was conceived in corruption, born in more corruption, and nourished in even more corruption, it can’t be anything but corrupt. It has become the poster child for bizarre, eye-watering, consequence-free corruption.

Recall that on April 10, 2020, Maryam Uwais, then Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, told Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily program that she couldn’t account for the billions that she and the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs putatively gave to weak, poor, and vulnerable Nigerians to ease the hurt of the coronavirus pandemic because, “Those who benefit from the conditional cash transfer of the Federal Government as palliative to cushion the effects of the lockdown caused by the deadly Coronavirus don’t want to be addressed as poor people. That is why we can’t publish their names.”

For her part, Sadiya Umar Farouq, Uwais’ superior, turned heads when she said she expended billions to feed schoolkids who weren’t in school because of COVI-19. Betta Edu was merely walking a well-trodden path in the ministry.

If Tinubu wants to be taken seriously, he should not only outright terminate Edu’s appointment as a minister, but he should also scrap the entire ministry she heads. That ministry has no reason to exist.

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