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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Officials cover up corruption at nomadic education agency

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Although the board of the National Commission for Nomadic Education has clearly established that the agency's top management, led by the executive secretary, Nafisatu Mohammed, plundered about N1 billion MDGs (Millennium Development Goal) grant which was meant to provide education for impoverished nomadic communities in the country, NEXT can reveal today that there is a high-level scheme within government circles to shield Mrs Nafisatu and her colleagues from prosecution.
As things stand, the indicted government officials, the list of which includes Jacs Nkume, the commission's acting deputy director, administration and Modibbo Tahir, the chief engineer, might simply walk away with a slap on the wrist for betraying public trust, making nomads lose appetite for education and setting Nigeria back in its quest to achieve goal two of the MDG, which aims to make countries around the world attain universal basic education for their citizens by the year 2015.
The investigative committee set up by the board to probe the finances of the commission had recommended the removal of the indicted officials, as well as their prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
Following the release of the committee's damning report, which NEXT extensively reported last week, the minister of state for education, Kenneth Gbagi, placed Mrs Mohammed on suspension.
He, however, left the other indicted officials untouched.
A highly placed official who is familiar with the matter said the minister is now under pressure to rescind the decision and reinstate Mrs Mohammed to her post. The minister has also been persuaded to leave the EFCC and the ICPC out of the matter.
"She is lobbying top public office holders including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Yayale Ahmed and Adamu Waziri, former minister of Police Affairs to help her out of her problem," said the official, who did not want his name mentioned for fear that he might be victimized.
Mr Ahmed, NEXT learnt, has already condemned the suspension of Mrs Mohammed and has called for a reversal.
"The SGF wrote to the minister saying the board had no right to suspend the executive secretary," said another official at the education ministry.
The cover-up scheme
The committee, which accused Mrs Mohammed and other senior officials of the commission of financial impropriety, particularly in the award of contracts, made six recommendations. The first was that "the executive secretary be suspended from office immediately to allow for thorough investigations to be carried out by professional investigation agencies... with a view to bringing them to book and recovering the stolen resources of the commission."
Based on these recommendations, the governing board of the commission wrote to Mr Gbagi on November 3, 2010, informing the minister of its findings and recommendations. Mr Gbagi responded to the letter on December 14 approving the implementation of all the recommendations.
In the letter, signed on his behalf by one D.K. Momodu and obtained by NEXT, Mr Gbagi stated that he approved "the implementation of the recommendations contained in your letter."
However, despite the minister's approval, and subsequent suspension of Mrs Mohammed, other recommendations have so far been ignored.
Government won't implement recommendations
Apart from recommending the suspension of the executive secretary, some other recommendations of the committee include the suspension of other senior officials of the commission believed to be involved in the misappropriation of funds, invitation anti-corruption agencies to investigate and prosecute the corrupt officials, and proper restructuring and delineation of task and duties at the commission.
But five months after the recommendations were approved, all the indicted officers, except Mrs Mohammed, are still in office. No anti-corruption agency has visited the agency or invited the indicted officials for questioning, and no restructuring has been carried out at the commission.
The reasons for the non-implementation of the recommendations, is due to extensive lobbying by Mrs Mohammed and Mr Ahmed to sweep the matter under the carpet.
"She has approached several ministers to put pressure on the minister of state not to approve all the recommendations," another top official of the commission said.
According to the source, some ministers are even gathering under the banner of old students of ABU (Ahmadu Bello University) and deploying their connection to save the embattled executive secretary, also an ABU graduate, from prosecution. The source also stated "the Secretary to the Government of the Federation had reached out to the presidency over the matter."
NEXT learnt that based on the excessive pressure put on her, the chairman of the board of the commission, Zainab Maina, is no longer eager to implement the recommendations for fear of reprisal.
"The board chairman is not ready to deal with these (indicted) people," an official in the education ministry said. "You know there is so much pressure on her. Also, the chairman and the executive secretary are from the same Adawama State. Everything has been politicized."
The SGF won't comment
Contacted via telephone on Friday, spokesperson to the SGF requested our reporter to come to his office. At his office, spokesperson Salisu Na'inna, after listening to our reporter's questions, demanded that a formal request be e-mailed to him to enable him forward it to the SGF for response. Mr Na'inna was yet to respond to our enquiry as at press time.
But the junior education minister, Mr Gbagi, told NEXT the exchanges between him and the SGF over Mrs Mohammed were confidential matters on which he was not prepared to comment.
"I cannot speak on the happenings between me and the SGF," the minister said in a telephone interview. "Whatever is happening between us is a confidential matter."
He explained that he ordered Mrs Mohammed's suspension for a start, but would not hesitate to invite the anti-corruption agencies into the matter once the suspended executive secretary disobeyed his order to stay away from the commission.
On why Mrs Mohammed and her indicted colleagues were not being prosecuted, Mr Gbagi said he was still studying the report of the investigative committee.
Mrs Mohammed too wouldn't comment on the allegations against her. When contacted via telephone, she asked the NEXT reporter to ask his questions. Upon listening to the questions, she asked the reporter to call back in 30 minutes to allow her time perform her prayers. She did not respond to subsequent calls and text messages.
A fertile ground for corruption
One of the factors that aided the misappropriation of funds by the officials is the nomadic commission's porous structure and its manipulation by the executive secretary, the investigative committee said in its report.
The office of the executive secretary also composes of the office of the deputy director (administration). The latter contains three main units: the legal unit, the internal audit unit, and the information unit.
The investigation committee however found that, that greatly encouraged fraud at the commission.
"Why would the internal audit unit which is to ensure compliance with fiscal propriety be tucked away in the office of the executive secretary?" the investigators asked.
The commission's chief internal auditor, and the stores officer confirmed the fears of the investigating committee. According to the report, both officials wept when they testified before the committee.
"They had been made to compromise themselves apparently without knowing it," the committee noted in its report. "The store officer was made to sign documents purporting that he had received some phantom inventory into his store when such goods were not supplied at all."
Another manipulation tactics observed by the panel was the deliberate sidelining of zonal co-ordinators in the activities of the commission.
The zonal co-ordinators, one per geopolitical zone of the country, are based in a state in their respective zones. These co-ordinators who are all assistant directors, except one, who is a deputy director, are members of the department of monitoring, evaluation and statistics. They are supposed to, not only monitor and evaluate projects being executed in their various zones, but also partake in the planning of these projects based on the demands of nomads in their zones.
However, that was not the case under the leadership of Mrs Mohammed. All the six co-ordinators lamented their irrelevance under the leadership of Mrs Mohammed.
The co-ordinators told the committee that "they do not have a say over the siting of the commission's projects in their zones, (they) do not know that anything had been sited, except when contractors assigned the jobs approach them to clear matters about which they had little or no information whatever." They also stated that "all they monitor are chairs and desks and other paraphernalia brought to project sites," and that "they could not know whether what was supplied were correct or incorrect, work done according to specification, or not."
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