By Julius Ikani
Shortly after President Bola Tinubu inaugurated his cabinet in August 2023, the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu hit the ground running and the impact was very visible. You could see from her actions the zeal and sheer determination to make a difference in a ministry saddled with the responsibility of ameliorating the pains of everyday life of the average Nigerian. Her energy which could be credited to her age and professional training as a medical doctor was at play as she crisscrossed Nigeria with the message of “Renewed Hope” of PresidentTinubu and the vision and mission statement of his APC government.
She put structures in place to clean and expand the hitherto padded social register and made sure only the names of poor and vulnerable Nigerians were found in it. She began a verification exercise for genuine N-Power beneficiaries and commenced payment of their long overdue allowances. Searchlight was beamed on the Conditional Cash Transfer policy all to ensure cows and trees are not named as beneficiaries in place of human beings.
In her zeal and enthusiasm to serve her fatherland, what she never took into account was the pain of those who were corruptly profiting from the old order and how desperate they were to find a fault, remove her from the way and continue with the plundering of the past. Those who felt a Minister should be too honourable to go into the hinterlands to see for herself and verify the reports from the field, and so took advantage of that to concoct fake and unverifiable poverty database for the nation were disappointed by her mobility. She took questions directly from the press and gave sincere answers to everything thrown at her. For Dr Edu, the truth has no diplomatic approach and she said it as it is. Unknown to her, a cartel of enemies was being formed and she walked into their trap by no fault of hers.
To build the falling walls of a country like Nigeria, you must learn from a character called Nehemiah in the Bible. He was that man who left the comfort of the King’s palace in a foreign land where he was serving as a cupbearer to go and build the falling walls of Jerusalem. However, some feudal lords in the land believed they must profit from everything. Represented by Sambalat and Tobiah, they attempted to sabotage the work of reconstructing the broken walls without success and plotted how to lure Nehemiah to a place of solitude and harm him. They failed in their quest because Nehemiah was wiser.
What is now tagged ‘Bettagate’ that necessitated the suspension of the Honourable Minister from office, going by available records is a mere attempted breach of administrative procedure that doesn’t deserve more than a query from the head of the cabinet office, normally the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The pressure and paid negative media campaign by those Dr Reuben Abatti would have described as “men of yesterday” against Dr. Edu, ignoring her many giant strides must have compelled Mr President to act and bring things under control which was the wise thing to do at the time as there are those bent on bringing down the roof on everybody’s head if that’s the only way to protect and preserve their evil ways.
On further scrutiny, it is now been proven that by every step of the way, Dr. Edu sort, and got approval for all of her actions. The only ‘breach’, however, could be a letter that originated from her office to the Accountant General of the Federation, directing her to pay the sum of 585 Million Naira into the account of an individual. The letter was not honoured in the first place so no offence can be said to have been committed. At best, it can be said the AG saved the day but that is exactly what the Civil Servants, of which the AG is one, are there for. They are to guide the political appointees on the rules guiding their offices and public service procedures. It is practically impossible for any Minister who was not a career civil servant before his/her appointment to be conversant with all these rules within 7 months and peradventure such a letter from the Minister is honoured, the larger blame is supposed to be reserved for the Civil Servant who is the approving authority in this case.
Isn’t it curious that senior ministry officials who later handled the process at the Ministry are now being shielded while Dr Edu is left to carry the cross of everyone? This is principally because those seasoned civil servants will prove on examination that their action violated no known rule as it was done in compliance with Financial Regulations set for MDAs.
What they may not want you to know is the fact that Mrs Bridget Oniyelu, the operator of the account to which the money from the Ministry was paid, is an Assistant Director with the Ministry and the Accountant for the Government’s “Grants for Vulnerable Groups Initiative”. Her job description includes managing funds disbursement and retirement under specified regulations.
Such actions as per payment of money to the account of senior government officials are neither strange nor new as it is backed by records in the Ministry. There’s a reference to payment into project accounts of some Staff of MDAs in 2021 which was neither flagged nor seen to have violated any law.
Beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer in the States which money was paid into Mrs Oniyelu’s account are all on a verifiable payment system under her monitoring and supervision unit. The money was meant for onward disbursement to the beneficiaries in those States and she has documents of previous disbursement and retirement to prove that it was a routine procedure. Probably that should have been an area in need of Dr. Edu’s reforms as she was doing in others but it can only be a step at a time.
So far, the nation’s anti-graft agency, the EFCC has tumbled all documents and records in the office of the Honourable Minister and questioned at least 3 bank Chief Executives, yet, nowhere has Dr. Edu been found to have taken any action for personal gain or benefits. As stated earlier, Mrs Bridget is a career civil servant who is not related in any way to the embattled Minister.
But with all this preponderance of evidence backed by hard facts, the ‘crucify her, crucify her’ mob is still on the prow. Jesus Christ found Himself in this same position many centuries ago. He appeared before Pontus Pilate and after examination, nothing was found against him. But the people preferred he’s crucified while demanding for a known robber to be set free.
He was led to the cross, and crucified so that Dr. Betta Edu won’t be crucified again.
The administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua suffered this same fate in 2008 when some elements in the Ministry of Health misled Prof. Adenike Grange, a renowned Consultant Paediatrician and one of the best brains in the government at the time and found a way to push her out of the office, thereby aborting the lofty plans she had for the Nigerian health sector. The sack of the first woman to be appointed Minister of Health in Nigeria was a great loss to the health sector and that’s why all men of good conscience must rise in defence of Dr. Edu so that the fate of Dr. Grange does not befall her thereby shortchanging the nation of another of her best brains.
As Commissioner for Health in Cross River State, Dr. Edu shone like a million stars and her sterling qualities were recognised by her fellow Health Commissioners when they elected her to lead them as Chairman of, the Nigeria Health Commissioners Forum.
In 2022, the young, vibrant and elegant Dr. Edu was elected as the National Woman Leader of her Party, the APC and despite her tender age, she showed she’s made of steel during the presidential campaign as she used her eloquence, brilliance and simplicity to galvanize women from different backgrounds to vote massively for President Tinubu during the February 25, 2023 presidential election.
In the days ahead, President Tinubu will need to summon the desired courage and take the bold step of recalling Dr Edu so that she can continue with the people-oriented programs already ongoing in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
Ikani is an anti-corruption crusader and wrote this piece from Lokoja.