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ICPC and diversion to private accounts

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Bolaji Owasanoye, ICPC boss

Alleged diversion of N2.6 billion COVID-19 funds for school feeding programme into personal accounts is alarming, judging by the huge amount and the timing of the act in the midst of intense anti-corruption campaigns.

The disclosure by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is significant to President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign.

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On the one hand, the development shows that despite the campaign, corruption is rife; and Nigerians are still not sufficiently motivated against graft. In particular, there is a suggestion of many openings, or temptations, in the public till that is being exploited by public officers. On the other hand, there is hope that the anti-graft machinery is still capable of detecting new acts or attempts at corruption. To some extent this is commendable.

Blowing the whistle, Chairman of ICPC, Bolaji Owosanoye disclosed that N2.6 billion funds for school feeding programme have been allegedly diverted to personal accounts. He spoke in a keynote address at the Second National Summit on Diminishing Corruption, held at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The summit’s theme is ‘‘Together against Corruption.’’ The occasion served also as a platform to launch the National Ethics and Integrity Policy.

It is notable that the Federal Government had said that it spent more than N500 million to feed school children during the COVID-19 lockdown. Owosanoye explained that under the open treasury portal review carried out from January to August 15, this year, 72 Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), out of 268, had a cumulative infraction of N90 million.

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In particular, the ICPC boss said that while 33 MDAs gave an explanation that N4.1 billion was transferred to sub-TSA, there was no satisfactory explanation about N4.2 billion paid to individuals: “we observed that transfers to sub-TSA were to prevent disbursement from being monitored. Nevertheless, we discovered payment to some federal colleges for school feeding in the sum of N2.67 billion during lockdown when children were not in school, and some of the money ended up in personal accounts.”

It is just as well that Owosanoye said the commission had commenced an investigation into the allegation. The ICPC needs to move fast to ensure that the corruption trail does not get cold before it concludes its investigation. Ideally, at the time he was speaking, the investigation should have gone far possibly with arrests made. From his report at the Summit, acts of corruption and impunity are rampant across the public sector; and if the commission is to be impactful, it has no luxury of time against culprits.

For example, the commission discovered over N2.5 billion appropriated by a deceased senior civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture for himself while in office. And while conducting its 2020 constituency tracking programme for 722 projects with a threshold of N100 million across 16 states, a number of projects described as ‘‘on-going’’ in the budget were found to be new projects that ought to have been excluded so as to enable the government to complete existing projects.

How a civil servant could appropriate N2.5 billion all to himself without an alarm going off in the system is worrisome. Apparently the theft was not discovered until after his death. Surely the Ministry of Agriculture has an explanation to give of its accounting system. If one individual could misappropriate N2.5 billion, are the chances not high that other civil servants are equally having a field day with other funds? Where then is the anti-corruption structure?

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Notably, the ICPC said it recovered N16 billion from the same Ministry of Agriculture paid into individual accounts “for non-official purposes,” and the commission recovered 18 buildings, 12 business premises, and 25 plots of land ostensibly acquired from proceeds of corruption. These are matters that require more transparency, accountability, and sanctioning. The ICPC will be living below its billing if all that it could do is to cry wolf without bringing corrupt people to books.

Corruption is thriving in the country, although the ICPC revelation is encouraging. The school feeding programme, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture diversion, should be thoroughly investigated and all culprits penalised. The commission should be in the forefront of putting in place stricter measures to forestall corruption acts and not only punishing convicts but ensuring that they are seen to be punished. Punishment is key to deterring others from committing acts of corruption.

It is equally instructive that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development has debunked notions that the ICPC allegation refers to the ministry, saying that while the allegations point to school feeding in Federal Government colleges, the ministry’s concern is different and deals with home-grown school feeding for children in primary 1-3, in select public schools across the country.

Be that as it may, the ICPC will do well to extend its tentacles to all programmes involving the use of public funds particularly during the coronavirus era when impunity and flagrant disregard of public finance order seems to have gathered greater momentum. All cases should be thoroughly investigated and followed by the diligent prosecution of offenders. We have harped on for so long on media trials.

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