4 March 2008

Nigeria: EFCC Intensifies Probe of Health Ministry

Abuja — As the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission continues with the investigation of the scandal rocking the Federal Ministry of Health, more facts emerged yesterday that it was not only the Minister of Health, Prof Adenike Grange, that was arrested by the commission at the weekend but also some top officials of the ministry.

EFCC sources told THISDAY that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Professor Samuel Ogamdi, Director of Administration, H.B Oyedepo and the Director of Finance were also guests of the anti-graft agency.

Their arrest was in connection with the award of contracts without following due process and failure to return unspent votes in the 2007 budget to the treasury as directed by the President. The allegation of embezzlement of funds meant for staff welfare last December was also said to be one of the reasons for their arrest at the weekend.

Their arrest, THISDAY learnt came on the heels of a petition to the EFCC alleging that funds meant for Christmas bonuses for staff of the Ministry were misappropriated by the Minister and other top officials of the ministry. It was gathered that about N300 million was withdrawn to be shared amongst the staff of the ministry as Christmas bonuses with the most junior staff expected to be given N175, 000, deputy directors were to receive N2.5 million while the directors were to get a whooping N3.5 million each.

Trouble was said to have started when the sharing formula was disregarded and those who felt shortchanged petitioned the anti-graft agency.

Grange has however denied media reports that she was arrested by the EFCC at the weekend over alleged financial misconduct.

In a statement signed by her Special Assistant, Oswald Shedeinde and made available to THISDAY yesterday, Grange said the allegations of her involvement in the misappropiation of unspent budgetary provisions was an attempt by her detractors to smear her reputation and the good image of the health ministry.

"The minister was called on Friday, Febuary 29 to the EFCC to make a statement which she did,"the statement said adding that she had since returned to her duty post in Abuja after inaugurating a health facility in Lagos at theweekend. Shodeinde said the minister has "initiated an investigation into the allegations to determine the nature, scope and persons involved for the purpose of appropriate action".

The statement quoted the minister as saying that the mandate of the Federal Ministry of Health to improve the health of Nigerians is being pursued vigorously within the context of Mr. President's Seven Point Agenda, adding that she will not allow the present scam to distract her attention from the task. "In the interest of accurate public information, it is hereby emphatically stated that the honorable Minister of Health was not on any account and at any time arrested either by the EFCC or any other security agency for that matter." THISDAY however gathered last night that the anti-graft agency is continuing with its investigations on the matter so as to get to the roots of the scandal.

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