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‘EduGate’: The Many Controversies That Led To Betta Edu’s ‘Downfall’

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Nigeria’s suspended Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, has been in the eye of the storm since her appointment in August, 2023.

The 37-year-old politician who served as the National Women Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is now facing allegations of fraud, corruption and abuse of power in her ministry.

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President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on Monday, suspended Dr Edu from office and ordered a thorough investigation into her indictment in the alleged transfer of N585.189m meant for vulnerable groups in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ogun and Lagos states into a private account.

Before then, Daily Trust, in September, 2023, revealed how the minister made controversial appointments into non-existent entities and defunct World Bank-supported projects, as well as an independent agency.

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This report unveils eight of the most controversial issues that might have marred Dr Edu’s tenure and presumably led to her “downfall”.

The N585.2m scandal

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The most recent and damning scandal that led to Dr Edu’s suspension is the alleged diversion of N585.2m from the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA) to a private account.

The NSIPA is the agency responsible for implementing the government’s social welfare and empowerment programmes such as the N-Power, the Conditional Cash Transfer, the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme.

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A viral document signed by Dr Edu to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation revealed that the minister directed the lodgment of N585.189m into the private account of one Bridget Mojisola Oniyelu.

N3bn loot

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Another scandal that rocked Edu’s ministry was the allegation of looting of billions of naira from NSIPA by herself and her cronies.

The allegation was made following the suspension of NSIPA’s Coordinator, Hajiya Halima Shehu, who was arrested and interrogated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over an alleged N37.1bn scandal.

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This sparked allegations that Dr Edu was an accomplice in allegedly siphoning the over N3bn from the NSIPA account using various fraudulent schemes such as inflating the number of beneficiaries, paying ghost workers, awarding contracts to fake companies and diverting funds to personal accounts.

She denied any involvement in the N3bn corruption scandal, describing it as the handwork of fifth columnists.

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Appointments into non-existent entities

The controversy over the mysterious appointments of persons into entities that no longer exist equally plagued Dr Edu’s ministry when she made appointments into defunct World Bank projects a few months after her appointment.

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Daily Trust had in September, 2023, revealed how Dr Edu appointed one Olubunmi Bello as the National Coordinator of the Community and Social Development Programme (CSDP), a defunct $415m World Bank-funded intervention project that was launched in 2009 and officially closed in June, 2021.

She also appointed one Richard Romanus as the National Programme Manager of the Youth Empowerment and Social Support Operations (YESSO); another defunct World Bank-supported project.

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N72.3m flight tickets to Kogi

A leaked memo dated December 20, 2023, exposed another multimillion-naira scandal involving Dr Edu. She allegedly approved funds for flight tickets and airport taxis for her advanced team to travel for an event in Kogi; a state with no airport. In the memo, each member of the embattled minister’s advanced team received N200,000 for flight tickets and N20,000 for airport taxi and other expenses, all amounting to N72.3m. Dr Edu allegedly earmarked N300,000 for her flight tickets.

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Nepotism and cronyism

Dr Edu’s reputation took another beating within the ministry when sources said she faced allegations over appointments of persons who were neither government employees nor consultants engaged through a non-transparent hiring process. A source within the ministry explained to Daily Trust that, “The minister brought in friends, most of them her medical colleagues, to take over government establishments under her watch so she could retain total control.”

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Another source alleged that, “Most of the appointees pushed forward by Dr Edu did not pass through the standard process of hiring or appointments, neither were they interviewed or their qualifications reviewed by a hiring panel, nor was there a terms of reference because the positions were handed by ministerial fiat.”

9 months unpaid N-Power stipends

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In December, 2023, Dr Edu was struck by yet another controversy over failure to settle nine months stipends of some beneficiaries of the N-Power, another flagship programme of NSIPA.

The N-Power programme was designed to provide skills training, employment and empowerment to young Nigerians, especially graduates, who are unemployed or underemployed.

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Some beneficiaries of the programme planned a protest, accusing Dr Edu’s ministry of delaying their stipends, terminating their contracts without due process and failing to provide them with exit packages or transition plans.

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The rotesters also alleged that Edu’s ministry had politicised the programme and favoured some beneficiaries over others based on their party affiliation or loyalty.

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Conditional Cash Transfer

Another programme that generated controversy under the leadership of Dr Edu as minister is the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme which was designed to provide monthly cash transfers of N5,000 to poor and vulnerable households upon their compliance with certain health, education and social norms.

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However, the programme was criticised by some Nigerians, who questioned the criteria and process of selecting the beneficiaries, the transparency and accountability of the disbursement of the funds and the impact and sustainability of the programme.

Some Nigerians alleged that the suspended minister was using the programme as a conduit pipe to loot, manipulate and induce the beneficiaries to vote for the APC ahead of the 2027 general elections.

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Usurpation of power

In what looked like usurping the power of NSIPA, Daily Trust had in September, 2023, revealed how Dr Edu made appointments into NSIPA.

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This generated a controversy as some of the appointments, especially into NSIPA, should ordinarily be made by the coordinator of the agency.

While the first National Coordinator of NSIPA, appointed by President Tinubu, Mrs Dela Yakubu, was awaiting Senate confirmation, Edu as minister allegedly moved quickly to appoint heads of clusters under the NSIPA down to the spokesperson of the agency.

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