ALLEGED N44.5BN FRAUD: EFCC grills Zenith, Providus, Jaiz Banks’ CEOs

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  • We’ve handed over documents to EFCC – Zenith Bank

  • Betta Edu, Sadiya Umar-Farouk quizzed by anti-graft agency

  • Tinubu snubs Tunji-Ojo, other Ministers at Aso Rock

  • Minister’s suspension laudable, but not enough – Atiku

The Chief Executive Officers of Zenith, Providus, and Jaiz Banks have been apprehended by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission amid a sweeping investigation into an embezzlement scheme linked to former and current Ministers of Humanitarian Affairs, Betta Edu and Sadiya Umar-Farouq.

The affected CEOs are Ebenezer Onyeagwu (Zenith Bank), Haruna Musa (Jaiz Bank), and Walter Akpani (Providus Bank).

The senior back executives were quizzed by the EFCC interrogators at the commission’s headquarters, Jabi, Abuja as of 4.55 pm on Tuesday.

The suspended Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Betta Edu, is undergoing interrogation by the EFCC over the ₦585million scandal.

Also, the embattled Co-ordinator and Chief Executive Officer of the National Social Investment Programme Agency domiciled in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Halima Shehu is being probed by the EFCC over an alleged ₦44bn fraud.

Confirming the probe of the senior bank executives on Tuesday, an EFCC source revealed that Zenith, Providus, and Jaiz Banks were being questioned over the ₦44.5bn fraud uncovered in the ministry involving Edu and Shehu.

The source said, “The CEOs and MDs of Zenith Bank, Providus Bank, and Jaiz Banks are currently being grilled by our interrogators here at the headquarters.

“They were invited and are being probed in connection with the uncovered ₦44bn fraud and the ₦585million involving Halima Shehu and Betta Edu.

“The suspended minister and the coordinator have both made new revelations during their interrogations, and the investigation is still ongoing.”

Edu was suspended by President Bola Tinubu on Monday, over an alleged N585m cash transfer saga.

The suspended minister was invited by the anti-graft agency in compliance with Tinubu’s order that a comprehensive investigation encompassing her activities in the ministry be carried out.

Edu’s predecessor, Sadiya Farouq, was queried by EFCC interrogators on Monday, over allegations that she laundered N37.1 billion while serving as a minister in former President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet.

Also, Shehu was earlier arrested in connection with alleged ₦44billion money laundering and had been mandated to report to the EFCC every day following her release last Wednesday.

The NSIPA Coordinator was arrested and taken into EFCC custody Tuesday night following her suspension.

It was learnt that the ₦44bn was suspiciously moved from NSIPA’s accounts into private and corporate accounts linked to persons serving as fronts.

While confirming her release from EFCC custody in a telephone interview on Thursday, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale said Shehu has been mandated to meet with EFCC interrogators every day as the investigation continues.

Oyewale said, “Halima Shehu has been released, but she is still answering to our interrogators, and she has been mandated to meet with investigators every day as the investigation is ongoing.

“Concerning reports on the ₦44bn and ₦30bn making the rounds, the commission is still tracing all the suspicious transactions, her agency was under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs too.

“There’s a lot of money involved because the Ministry and agencies are focused on interventions. Hence, we can’t put a figure to all of the transactions now because the commission is still tracing the transactions.”

In the same vein, while reacting to inquiries by The Point on Tuesday night, an official of Zenith Bank said, “At the request of the EFCC, we have handed over documents relating to accounts operated by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to help the agency in its investigation of the Ministry.”

Betta Edu, Sadiya Umar-Farouk quizzed by anti-graft agency

The EFCC began the interrogation of Betta Edu on Tuesday regarding an alleged N585 million fraud within the ministry.

A credible source within the anti-graft agency confirmed to the News Agency of Nigeria that the minister appeared at the commission’s headquarters on Tuesday morning.

“The commission extended an official invitation to her on Monday, and she duly honoured it on Tuesday.

“She is currently undergoing interrogation by the commission, expected to provide comprehensive insight into the matter under investigation,’’ the source disclosed.

The source mentioned that Edu might either be detained or be allowed to leave and return for further questioning.

“Whether she will be released or detained depends on the investigation team. I cannot speculate; it relies on the ongoing investigation process,’’ the source clarified.

Furthermore, the source revealed that the EFCC continued to interrogate the former Minister of Social Development, Disaster Management, and Humanitarian Affairs, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouk.

Umar-Farouk, reportedly released on Monday night, returned to the EFCC on Tuesday for additional questioning. She is under investigation for a reported N37.1 billion allegedly laundered by ministry officials during her tenure.

Additionally, Hajiya Halima Shehu, the suspended National Coordinator and Chief Executive Officer of the National Social Investment Programme Agency, remains under investigation at the EFCC.

Shehu was responsible for overseeing the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme initiated by former President Muhammadu Buhari to aid vulnerable groups and individuals.

Tinubu snubs Tunji-Ojo, other Ministers at Aso Rock

Several ministers, including Bunmi Tunji-Ojo, who is in charge of the Ministry of Interior, on Tuesday, called at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, as the Federal Government beams searchlight on their activities.

Tunji-Ojo is currently in the eye of the storm over an N438m consultancy fee paid to a company he has an interest in and is linked to Betta Edu, the suspended minister of Humanitarian Affairs, who is being investigated by the EFCC.

The interior minister was said to have been summoned by the presidency.

However, it was gathered that President Bola Tinubu could not see the minister, as he (Tinubu) was said to have been busy attending to other matters.

Tunji-Ojo, who was approached while leaving the Villa, on why he visited, only said, “It is well.”

Other ministers that visited the Villa were Maigari Ahmadu, Minister of Steel Development; Hannatu Musawa, Minister of Arts and Creative Economy, and Adebayo Adelabu, the Minister of Power.

It was not immediately clear whether they were also summoned, or the visits were part of their routine briefing of the president.

A source at the Presidential Villa noted that the president was unable to receive the ministers.

Tunji-Ojo had made frantic efforts on Monday night during his appearance on a national television station, defending his company’s involvement in the humanitarian ministry contract scandal.

There were reports that a company owned by the minister, New Planet Projects Limited, was paid N438m by Edu for consultancy services.

But while featuring on a live television programme on Monday night, Tunji-Ojo said he founded the company ten years ago, but he resigned from its directorship in 2019 when he contested for the House of Representatives.

Minister’s suspension laudable, but not enough – Atiku

However, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, said the suspension of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, is commendable, but not enough.

Atiku in a statement by his Special Assistant, Public Communication, Phrank Shaibu, on Tuesday, noted that it was unfortunate that a programme that was designed to lift over 100 million Nigerians out of extreme poverty had allegedly become a cash cow for successive All Progressives Congress governments.

He said, “While Tinubu deserves commendation for suspending Edu, we believe this is a belated move. First, he had no business appointing her as a minister of such a sensitive ministry in the first place. Tinubu put politics ahead of competence, hence this scandal.

“What experience did Betta have in the development sector? How was Imaan Ibrahim, with her wealth of experience, overlooked? How did the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, stand as Betta Edu’s referee during her clearance at the Senate?”

Atiku, who called for reform of the ministry, alleged that it was not only Betta Edu that was involved in the transactions.

“Betta Edu should not be the fall guy. Others who have remotely and wickedly benefitted from money that was meant for poor Nigerians ought to be fished out, probed, and prosecuted too. It is demonic and tendentiously wicked to steal in the name of the poor.

“There is a need for the government to reform the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry and other interventionist programmes that have become an ATM and POS for those in power,” he said.

He noted that the fact that the previous Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq, is also being probed for N37bn fraud was evidence that immediate and urgent actions need to be taken to reform the ministry.

The statement added, “Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, Farouq continued to implement the school feeding programme. She ridiculously claimed that the food would be delivered to the students at home since schools were shut.

“Today, Betta Edu claims that over three million households got N20, 000 each during the Yuletide. Sadly, there is no evidence of millions of Nigerians getting such money. This shows that money has just been going into private pockets.

“The scandal that we are contending with is not about Betta Edu, nor about Halima Shehu, or any other person for that matter.

“It is about a problem of systemic corruption through which the APC continues to bleed the treasury, ironically, asphyxiating the poor and vulnerable segment of the country, all in the name of caring for them.

“The APC has weaponised poverty and hunger to control the minds of the vulnerable masses, and it is even worse that they have devised a method to use poverty as an instrument of official corruption.”