REVEALED: HOW EFCC TRACKS N37BN FRAUD IN HUMANITARIAN MINISTRY, INDUCTS BUHARI’S MINISTER, CONTRACTOR
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has uncovered a total sum of N37,170,855,753.44 allegedly laundered in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs under former minister Sadiya Umar-Farouk.
Details of the ongoing probe 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 N6,746,034,000.00 to Bureau De Change Operators, withdrew N540,000,000.00 in cash, purchased luxury cars with N288,348,600.00, and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with N2,195,115,000.00.
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 N27,423,824,339.86. He is also linked with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks of 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.
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 N37,170,855,753.44 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 N6,746,034,000.00 to Bureau De Change Operators, N540,000,000.00 withdrawn in cash, N288,348,600.00 used to purchase cars, and N2,195,115,000.00 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 N27,423,824,339.86. 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 N2.67bn meant for the ministry’s school feeding programme in private bank accounts.
The former ICPC Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, disclosed that the commission unravelled N2.67bn 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 N90m.
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 N2.67bn 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.”