The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says it has uncovered ₦37,170,855,753.44 billion allegedly laundered in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs under former minister, Sadiya Umar-Farouk.
Details of the ongoing probe exclusively obtained by Sunday PUNCH revealed that the money was transferred from the Federal Government’s coffers and sent to 38 different bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks belonging to or connected with a contractor, James Okwete.
Following receipt of the funds, Okwete allegedly transferred ₦6,746,034,000.00 to Bureau De Change Operators, withdrew ₦540,000,000.00 in cash, purchased luxury cars with ₦288,348,600.00, and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with ₦2,195,115,000.00.
Fifty-three companies were allegedly traced to Okwete, who was also said to have used 47 of the companies to lift Federal Government contracts amounting to ₦27,423,824,339.86. He is also linked with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks in which 134 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.
Checks by our correspondent with the Corporate Affairs Commission revealed that Okwete is a director in only 11 of the 53 companies, while the remaining 42 companies’ accounts are only linked to his Bank Verification Number as a signatory to the accounts.
Sunday PUNCH reports that the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs currently serves as the parent ministry to eight agencies, including the National Social Investment Office, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internationally Displaced Persons, among others.
Umar-Farouq was the pioneer Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. She was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019 as the youngest cabinet member.
Her work with Buhari dates back to his days as the leader and presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change when she was the national treasurer of the party and later the national treasurer of the All Progressives Congress.
She was later appointed minister in 2019 by President Buhari.
The EFCC document revealed, “Between 2018 and 2023, the subject (Okwete) received the sum of ₦37,170,855,753.44 from the coffers of the Federal Government linked to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
“The monies were sent to 38 bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks. The suspect transferred ₦6,746,034,000.00 to Bureau De Change Operators, ₦540,000,000.00 withdrawn in cash, ₦288,348,600.00 used to purchase cars, and used ₦2,195,115,000.00 to purchase choice properties within Abuja and Enugu State.
“Fifty-three companies were traced to the suspect. He used 47 of the companies to lift Federal Government contracts amounting to ₦27,423,824,339.86. Okwete is associated with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks in which 134 of the 143 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.”
In 2020, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission said it uncovered ₦2.67 billion meant for the ministry’s school feeding programme in private bank accounts.
The former ICPC Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, disclosed that the commission unravelled ₦2.67 billion in personal accounts, being payment made to some federal colleges for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
Other discoveries by the ICPC include 18 buildings, 12 business premises and 25 plots of land. Owasanoye said under the Open Treasury Portal review carried out between January and August 15, 2020, of the 268 Ministries, Departments and Agendas, 72 had cumulative infractions of ₦90 million.
The former ICPC chairman argued that the money was paid when children were not in school.
Despite requests by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project to Umar-Farouq to publish details and names of the suspects, the former minister failed to reveal their names.
Reacting to this, SERAP had written on its official Facebook page, “Following the disclosure by the ICPC that ₦2.67 billion meant for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown ended up in private bank accounts, we’re calling on the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development of Nigeria, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, to immediately publish details of those suspected to be responsible, or face legal action.
“If the names are not immediately published, we’ll issue a freedom of information request to ensure that those involved are named and shamed.
“We’ll also pursue appropriate legal actions to hold suspected perpetrators to account, in the public interest.
“Diverting funds meant to feed school children (who are already disproportionately affected by corruption), especially during COVID-19, is a blatant violation of the rights to education, health, and dignity, as well as the government’s own COVID-19 transparency frameworks.
“Corruption in school feeding increases distrust in the government. The Federal Government must ensure that transparency and accountability measures are fundamental to all school feeding and other initiatives in the context of COVID-19, to ensure the children receive the support they need.”
When contacted over the development, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, neither confirmed nor denied the story.
Oyewale simply said, “No comments on that.”
Lawyer, CSO react
Reacting, a human rights lawyer, Tolu Babaleye, said, “If we want to be sincere, the corruption under the Buhari government was unprecedented. The main accused under Goodluck Jonathan’s government was Diezani Alison-Madueke, but under Buhari, many have cases to answer. Nigerians deserve to know what happened in the aviation sector, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, and other sectors. I call on President Bola Tinubu to probe that administration so that Nigerians can know who is corrupt and for justice to be served.”
On his part, Chairman, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa, Ezenwa Nwagwu, urged Tinubu to probe all previous administrations.
“Buhari’s government should be probed, and not just his government, but all previous governments and past heads of MDAs, and all those who are found wanting should be brought to justice,” Nwagwu noted.
Similarly, the Counsellor of a Civil Society Organisation, International Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, said, “It is exceptionally important to probe the Buhari government, but Tinubu is morally incapacitated to probe Buhari’s government because he is an integral part of the APC government.
“Tinubu cannot exonerate himself from the maladministration of Buhari. (Godwin) Emefiele (former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria) is just a victim of circumstances. The only crime he committed was because he raised his head gullibly and showed interest in being President.”
Another lawyer and public affairs commentator, Jiti Ogunye, said that it was desirable for the present administration to probe the preceding administration following the Air Nigeria and CBN scandals, but regretted that the law did not make provisions for that.
Ogunye noted that the law only allowed the incumbent administration to probe individuals who were engaged in corrupt practices under the previous administration, including the President, to establish facts.
“When Nigerians are fascinated with the idea of a holistic and comprehensive probe of a past administration by the succeeding administration, the law does not grant an administration that blanket powers to probe the past administration in the way Nigerians imagine.
“We have anti-corruption agencies, which are the ICPC and EFCC. We have criminal laws, anti-corruption laws, and money laundering laws. Recently, we have had the Proceeds of Crime Act. The provision of these anti-corruption laws has no place for targeting an administration in totality like that, but if there are individuals, including a former president, who are suspected to have committed corruption crimes, guilty of corrupt practices, or suspected to have committed money laundering, if found guilty of all other crimes bordering on corrupt practices and abuse of power, these individuals may be investigated specifically.”