Betta Edu, the minister of humanitarian affairs, in her first five months on the job, has managed to get herself suspended by President Bola Tinubu. The reason is a leaked report that said she transferred N585 million from her ministry’s bank account into a private one. The fund, I understand, was meant for the ministry’s social welfare programme for the “poorest of the poor” in four states. It should have gone directly to the beneficiaries, says the accountant general’s office. The allegation immediately went viral, forcing the president last Monday to “suspend” Edu, ordering her to “cooperate fully” with investigators, who also have been directed to “conduct a thorough investigation into all aspects of the financial transactions involving the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation as well as one or more agencies thereunder”.
Another panel, headed by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, will “conduct a comprehensive diagnostic on the financial architecture and framework of the social investment programmes with a view to conclusively reforming the relevant institutions and programmes in a determined bid to eliminate all institutional frailties for the exclusive benefit of disadvantaged households and win back lost public confidence in the initiative.” Tinubu said Edu’s suspension was to show his commitment “to uphold the highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability” in how resources are managed.
On own part, the minister said what she did followed due process. She didn’t do anything wrong, according to her. She said in a statement that the allegation against her was “baseless,” describing it as “an attempt to undermine the efforts we are making to fight corruption and uplift those in need. In the course of our work, we have encountered resistance from forces whose hands may not be clean, but I want to emphasize that our commitment to transparency, accountability, and eradicating corruption remains unwavering.The challenges we face only strengthen our resolve to serve with integrity and dedication. I believe in the power of truth prevailing, and with God as my strength, I am confident that our collective efforts will continue to make a positive impact on the lives of the less privileged.”
Edu is one of only two women to have headed the ministry of humanitarian affairs since its creation August 21, 2019 by former President Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu’s immediate predecessor. Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, before Edu, is being interrogated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over a N37 billion fraud while she was still holding office. The investigation of both women has been hailed by civil society groups as one coming at the right time for a president who promised to fight corruption. His commitment wasn’t taken seriously initially because there were many unanswered questions over the sources of his personal wealth and qualification for the office he now occupies. This ‘bold’ step he has taken with regard to Edu and Sadiya might have gained for him some political traction but there are people who say Tinubu hasn’t gone far enough. For example, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CSLAC), believes the two didn’t act alone. “The fraud allegedly perpetrated by both the previous minister Sadiya and the current one, definitely, they worked with some people, where are those people? If we want to get to the root of this, we must get them investigated,” says CISLAC Executive Director Auwal Rafsanjani.
The question is whether Tinubu’s hand was forced by a media frenzy more than a personal conviction. Did he truly want to suspend his youngest minister, one of the few APC faithful that energized his election campaign? Or was he compelled to sacrifice a loyal party member to please baying media hounds? If it is this, then it is clear Tinubu is yet to shake off the ghost of his supposed dark past. Worse still, by yielding to what is clearly a media trial of his minister leaves him vulnerable to all kinds of external pressure, from social media specially, rightly or otherwise. This is not good for his presidency that is only few months old. As for Edu, hers is a fall from a flighty career that is bound to suffer from inexperience and youthful exuberance, exploited by older and more fleet-footed bureaucrats in her ministry.
A media trial can only return an expected verdict: guilty. A second trial by a proper court will amount to double Jeopardy. But one that can’t to spared if her ongoing probe indicts her. As an afterthought, may I ask what kind of ministry did she head? Nobody that has been minister there so far has not escaped a smear. Is it sitting on too much gold? Where does it come from? Not from the federal budget, certainly! The “diagnostic” query ordered by the presidency should provide an answer. Or will it?