Rights group accuses Buhari’s Minister of diverting $35m, seeks EFCC’s probe

Okechukwu Enelamah
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has been asked to probe activities of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah.
Foremost rights group, Human and Environmental Agenda, alleged that the Minister has unlawfully diverted the $35 million meant for the Growth and Employment Project.
In a petition addressed to the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, the Minister was accused of diverting the funds by opening up windows for abuse.
The group wants the EFCC to open up the true state of affairs in the implementation of the GEM project.
HEDA’s Executive Director, Lanre Suraj, who signed the petition, stated that the funds approved by the Senate in 2013 to run up until 2018 was financed by a loan of $160 million from the World Bank and £90 million grant from United Kingdom Department for International Development.
This project was designed to support about 4,000 Small and Medium-sized Enterprises across Nigeria.
The group said there are strong suggestions that Enelamah on assumption of office in 2015 made attempts to convert it to an SME fund with suggestions that he earmarked only 25 companies to benefit.
Suraj said widespread reports indicated that the Minister abused the guidelines of the project, which requested that the project coordinator and an assistant project coordinator in charge of the project must be a Director and an Assistant Director from the civil service.
HEDA stated: “It was stated in the report under reference that the Minister allegedly deviated from the project terms and brought a former personal staff, Ugo Ikemba, from his private equity company, African Capital Alliance, as project co-ordinator and it was also alleged that the personal staff is not only on contract employment but also on the salary of $5 million monthly.”
Earlier, there were reports that the House of Representatives via a motion sponsored by Hon. Mark Gbillah on the floor, mandated its joint committee of Finance, Commerce, Industry, Loans and Debts to investigate the allegations.
The Minister was later directed not to convert the GEM project to an SME fund and that he should not renew the contract of his former employee.
The Head of Civil Service of the Federation was also directed by the National Assembly to post a competent Director and an Assistant Director to the GEM project immediately as Project Coordinator and Assistant Project Coordinator respectively in line with the GEM project frameworks and guidelines.
Reports indicated that petitions were submitted to the World Bank, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Finance on the contraventions by the Minister and the failure of the Ministry to implement the project in line with agreed terms, especially considering the impending termination of the project by the World Bank in November 2018.
According to the report, when the elapsed in 2018, the World Bank gave Nigeria a three-month extension until March 2019.
The project would have benefitted teeming unemployed and under-employed Nigerian youths and without this extension, over $100 million balance from the project will be returned to the World Bank and Nigerian youths would have opportunities offered by GEM project unaccomplished.
The group said there are conflicting reports as was also reported by the Cable.ng on February 18, 2019 wherein the communications officer of the ministry was interviewed and it was reported that contrary to the allegation of diversion that the ministry had created about 26,000 jobs to SMEs and that it had kept faith with the guidelines and framework for the project.
HEDA said it heard that in the report by the Communications Officer, there was no such diversion but instead a restructuring.
According to the report, tagged: “Explaining the rationale for restructuring of the project,” the ministry said the World Bank team had modified its existing equity window to a small and medium scale enterprises investment fund, which was geared at “boosting growth, creating jobs and increasing entrepreneurship”.
It was reported that the GEM project had led to the development of the first Nigeria Leather Policy, validated by stakeholders and approved by the Federal Executive Council.
The group stated: “This petition and your intervention is expedient because the project is allegedly administered by the monopoly power and influence of the minister and in turn breaching the legal framework and guidelines made for the smooth administration of the project.”
It noted that as seen in the reports under reference, it was alleged that the World Bank gave an extension till March 2019, hence the urgency and alacrity to attend to the petition.
“The position occupied by the Honourable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, being a public office, is one that calls for utmost integrity, accountability and responsibility. And the conflicting reports by some media houses as to the status and management of the project by the ministry is in fact worthy of urgent investigation. Also, not of the counter reports responded to the allegation of contracting a former personal staff of the minister as the Project Director with salary paid Dollars,” HEDA added.