Nigerian Mdas Paid Over N159bn Into Private Accounts in Six Years

Chapter Seven, Section 713 of Nigeria’s Financial Regulations 2009 states that “Personal money shall in no circumstances be paid into a government bank account, nor shall any public money be paid into a private account.”

Last month, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Betta Edu, was suspended from office by President Bola Tinubu following public outrage over the disclosure that she authorised the payment of N585.2 million public funds into a private account in violation of financial transparency laws. However, PREMIUM TIMES’ findings show that the “crime” she is accused of is prevalent across several ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). At least N159.6 billion (N159,626,619,959) was paid into private accounts by MDAs in six years, a review of data published by Govspend, a platform tracking government spending, show.

The findings do not exonerate Ms Edu but show that the problem is not peculiar to her and is widespread within the Nigerian government.

The Nigerian office of the New Partnership for African Development, a pan-African poverty-eradication programme funded by member states, comes next having paid N1.5 billion in 111 tranches to one Afangekung Mfon Okon.

Other MDAs that made multiple transactions into private accounts include the Ministry of Information and Culture, Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Women Affairs, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Office of the Accountant General of the Federation and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

Over N13bn public funds paid into private accounts in 2023

Last year, more than N13.6 billion was paid into private accounts in violation of the country’s Financial Regulations 2009.

The violators include the Office of the SGF, Ministry of Women Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and many parastatals.

Findings showed that the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta paid N4.72 billion into individual accounts of some camp leaders in the Niger Delta where the struggle for oil wealth and agitation against environmental hazards have propelled ethnic militias to pick arms against the state.

For instance, in a total of 10 transactions, Mr Victor-Ben, the ex-militant also known as Boyloaf, received N564.7 million from the office between July and November 2023. According to the transactions’ descriptions, the money was meant for “delegates of Boyloaf camp.”

His counterparts also benefited, having received N3.5 billion collectively.

Despite its oversight functions, the SGF office was also caught in the web. It paid public funds amounting to N3.1 billion into 15 private accounts between March and December 2023.

The scandal-ravaged Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development paid at least N918.5 million public funds into private accounts. This is in addition to other scandalous payments in the ministry as seen in the cases of the pioneer minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq and her successor, Betta Edu.

The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning paid N1.5 billion in tranches to 16 individuals for various projects and services between February and December last year.

In other suspicious transactions, the Ministry of Women Affairs paid N1.6 billion into the accounts of vaguely identified individuals for travel purposes, palliative for widows, and monitoring and evaluation of capital projects among others.

Between March and September, NEPAD paid N1.67 billion into the accounts of two individuals, Bello Nagwaggo and Afangekung Mfon Okon.

EFCC, Police, Human Rights Commission, AGF office, others complicit

While five parastatals paid billions into private accounts, 12 others paid in millions with the lowest being N17.6 million.

The MDAs that paid millions into individual accounts include, the EFCC, Police Formations and Commands, Nigeria Police Academy Wudil, Kano, National Directorate of Employment, National Commission for Refugees, Auditor General for the Federation, National Commission for Persons with Disability, Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Federal Character Commission, Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Budget Office of the Federation and National Human Rights Commission.

Others are the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult & Non-formal Education, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and the Ministry of Niger Delta.

The EFCC in two transactions between May and October last year, paid a total of N211.7 million into two private accounts; one for Aliyu Naibi (N154,974,745.00) and the other for Abdullahi Mohammed (N56,767,056.83).

In total, the police (police formations and commands and Nigeria Police Academy Wudil, Kano) paid N173.8 million into five individual accounts.

Prominent Nigerians as beneficiaries

Some of the payments made into individual accounts could be explained. For example, former President Muhammadu Buhari, former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former SGF Boss Mustapha and many ministers and aides who served in the Buhari administration were paid their severance allowances.

One notable controversial payment made to a known public official was the N89.8 million that the police paid to the then-police spokesperson, Frank Mba, in 2019. The official records show that the payment was for issues such as the production of presidential portraits to be used by the police and the cost of “airing” a police programme on TV; payments the police could have made to the service providers directly.

What the law says

Chapter Seven, Section 713 of Nigeria’s Financial Regulations 2009 states that “Personal money shall in no circumstances be paid into a government bank account, nor shall any public money be paid into a private account.”

It also added that: “Any officer who pays public money into a private account is deemed to have done so with fraudulent intention.”

Commenting on our findings, Joe Abah, a former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, said: “Things like that should not be paid into personal accounts but should be transparently procured.”

He added that the financial regulations condemn “paying project activity money into private bank accounts, like was alleged to be done in the Betta Edu case.”

However, the Deputy Director of Fiscal Accounts in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Jame Abalaka, said that the Financial Regulations 2009 recognises circumstances in which public money can be paid into private accounts.

Chapter 10, Section 1001 of the regulations sheds light on what it described as ‘imprest’, which is “applicable to all sums advanced to a public officer to meet expenditure under current estimates, for which vouchers cannot immediately be presented to a Sub- Accounting Officer for payment.”

“Imprests are issued by the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Accounting Officers of Self-Accounting ministries/extra-ministerial offices and other arms of government,” section 1002 explains further. “The authority for issuing Imprests is conveyed in the Annual General Imprest Warrant issued by the ‘Minister of Finance to the Accountant-General.”

According to the financial regulation, there are two types of imprest namely: standing imprest and special imprests. The latter which is granted for a particular purpose “must be retired in full when the purpose has been achieved.”

The former “may be replenished from time to time during a financial year by the submission of paid vouchers to Sub-Accounting Officers for reimbursement.”

Mr Abalaka noted that MDAs are responsible for money paid into private accounts. According to him, the accountant general’s office through the Government Integrated Financial and Management Information System (GIFMIS) only facilitates payments of vouchers raised by MDAs.

Mr Abalaka told PREMIUM TIMES that there are three layers — initiator, reviewer and final approval — of payments in every MDA.

“The initiator is someone who initiates payment after a permanent secretary’s approval,” he explained. “The reviewer then reviews it and checks whether there are adjustments to be made before passing it for final approval where the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) makes the payments.”

The accountant general’s office, he explained, only makes the government’s daily expenditures open through the open treasury portal and is not responsible for any payment made “except the one made within the AGF office.”

He, however, declined comment on the N11.5 million paid to one Lanre Gbajabiamila by the accountant-general’s office.

On 25 September 2023, N5.7 million was paid to Mr Gbajabiamila as “Payment of furniture allowance to 19 political office holders.” The same amount was in 2018 paid into his account for a similar purpose.

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