Friday 1 August 2008

Nigeria: Ex-Health Minister has a case to answer

That Ministry of Health scam is back in the news

Even I had forgotten that this case was in the docket somewhere about to have a pronouncement from a judge and ready to move to the next stage of deliberations or resignation.

In March 2008, the then Minster of Health, the highly respected Professor Adenike Grange resigned along with her deputy and a host of senior management staff in the Ministry of Health.

It transpired that the President had given a directive to all ministries to return to the federation account all unallocated funds to the end of the last year.

In any setup that understands the line of command, executive authority and the appreciation of responsibilities conferred when asked to serve in public office, this should not have been a tough thing to do.

Scheming for a Christmas bonus

Unfortunately, it is alleged that the management team of the Ministry of Health cooked up an elaborate scheme of fraudulent agencies to siphon away N300 million (Naira) where the management were paid millions and the rank and file staff got a pittance that was further depleted by top-brass greed and passed off as a Christmas bonus.

Then, I laughed off the idea that a ministry in Nigeria could have the structures and monitoring models typical of a merchant bank in place as to have set goals and met objectives to be deserving of a bonus.

The underhand of oversight

However, this all was unique in its consequences but benign in relation to the events that followed, this bonus scheme included dishing out N10 million to the Senate Committee on Health whose chairman apparently squandered it on some capacity building trip to Ghana.

This capacity building trip which was supposed to help in presenting a bill to deal with the serious health crisis in Nigeria hit the road blocks on its first outing, it was completely castigated by the Senate that it had to be withdrawn then.

Anyway, after the Minister resigned, the EFCC waded into the case and basically pointed fingers at all in authority who could have mishandled the cash that should have been returned to the federation account.

The drama that ensued involved weeks of speculation about the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health who vaulted her security wall to evade capture by law enforcement agents from the EFCC and went into hiding that it became a bizarre news story until she showed up and ended up setting up an opulent chamber in the offices of the chief of police when remanded in custody.

The Chairman would have us believe that there is no conflict of interest in taking moneys from an arm of the executive to do legislative business with a department over which she is supposed to have legislative oversight – it is a muddled democracy out there, the question of ethical conduct is as alien as a visitor from Mars having supper with you tonight.

A case to answer

Meanwhile, all these suspects have been challenging the case that has been made against them by the EFCC, which for all that we have heard and read about this scam looks like a really decent case that should have its run in court with all the legal scrutiny and advocacy that such issues entertain.

In a ruling yesterday at an Abuja High Court, that judge ruled that they all have a case to answer [1], at least for any layman, somebody has to answer questions satisfactorily about why a welfare committee was set up to disburse funds that should have been remitted elsewhere.

As for the case of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, the judge opined that she does have to answer questions relating to the N10 million that was paid to her committee out of the N300 million [2] – which anyone should find just plainly reasonable.

Justice will prevail

However, we can trust that these people would want to frustrate due legal process to serve their own ends such that no more light can be shone on why people who held responsibility for making decisions for Nigerians on health and healthcare felt they had a greater cause to fill their pockets and go on fanciful jaunts.

It would go to appeal according to their lawyers and hopefully, the higher up they go, the judges would be more convinced of the fair and just need to lift the lid off this rotten scam and its perpetrators; so we can get to the substance of the charges and test those charges before a fair and balanced judicial process.

The people with their agitation do not help us maintain the presumption of innocence about them, it is like they have something to hide and human nature does have a tenacity that pits against tenacity till one gives – the one being, we need to know the truth about how a presidential directive failed to exact the power and authority it should have had in any honest, reliable, ethical and responsible setting.

They should bring on their battalions of legal luminaries paid for by unaudited sources of wealth and we stand sure that justice would prevail, those who are innocent would be set at liberty and their honour restored, those who are guilty, for all that we have already been dragged through to get to the end of this matter – woe betide you.


[1] Nigeria: Iyabo, Grange, Others Have Cases to Answer – Court

[2] The Punch: N300m scam: ‘Obasanjo-Bello, Grange, others have cases to answer’

EFCC - Economic and Financial Crimes Commission - Wikipedia

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