26 March 2008

Nigeria: Fired! Yar'Adua Sacks Health Minister Over N300m Scam

Abuja — President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's anti-corruption war claimed its first major casualty as the Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange and the Minister of State in the ministry, Mr Gabriel Aduku yesterday lost their job following their inability to return N300 million which was an unspent funds in the ministry's 2007 budget.

President Yar'Adua ordered the Head of Service Mrs Ebele Okeke to direct some key officials of the ministry to proceed on immediate suspension.

They are the Permanenet Secretary in the ministry, Professor Simon Ogamdi; three Directors including Dr H.B Oyedepo (Administration); Alhaji Hanafi Muhammed (Finance); and Mr M.S. Hamid (Department not mentioned).

Equally affected in the suspension order are the Chief Accountant, Abdulrahaman Ambali, a Principal Administrative Officer, Mr Donald Ekenam, a Principal Transport Officer, Mr Donatus Iyang and seven other civil servants.

It was gathered that before the two ministers resigned their appointment, they were invited to the president's office, where they were shown EFCC report which indicted them of the fraud.

In the report, sources said, the duo were said to have been recommended for prosecution by the legal department of the commission, which was already putting pen on paper on the charges to be pressed against them.

Though Osita Waja would not want to be drawn into the next line of action of the commission, he however said "if we confirm the information you have put across to us, we shall not hesitate to take appropriate action, including prosecution if the appropriate organs of EFCc so recommends".

But competent sources in the presidency told our reporters that "it is a matter of time before the two are dragged to court. It was the president who advised them to resign and at the moment, part of the money in question including some other ones you are not aware of have been recovered from them".

President Yar'Adua had earlier directed that all ministries and government agencies should return to government confers any unspent money in the 2007 budget. The order followed discoveries that large chunk of money allocated to ministries and extra ministerial agencies in the budget was not spent due to delay in the passage of the Fiscal Act last year.

A statement issued and signed by the Special Adviser (Communications) to the President, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi, stated that Grange and Aduku resigned and were not sacked by the president.

The full text of the statement reads: "President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua today accepted the voluntary resignations of the Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange and the Minister of State (Health), Arc. Gabriel Aduku".

"Both ministers are leaving the Federal Executive Council following charges of corruption brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). It is expected that without the burden of their ministerial duties, they will be better placed to respond to the charges against them".

"President Yar'Adua has also ordered the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Engr. Ebele Okeke to direct that the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health, Prof. Simon Ogamdi, the Director of Administration, Dr. H.B. Oyedepo and the Director of Finance, Hanafi Muhammed who participated in the subversion of his directive on the return of unspent Budget 2007 funds to the Treasury should proceed on immediate suspension in accordance with civil service rules pending further disciplinary action by Government."

Another Director, Mr. M.S. Hamid, a Chief Accountant, Abdulrahaman Ambali, a Principal Administrative Officer, Mr. Donald Ekanem, a Principal Transport Officer, Mr. Donatus Iyang and seven other civil servants in the Ministry were also affected by the suspension order.

"The Minister of Labour, Dr. Hassan Muhammad Lawal is to oversee the affairs of the Ministry of Health until further notice"; the statement said.

Daily Champion gathered that a civil servant, not satisfied after being cheated in the sharing of a N300m Christmas loot in the ministry was said to have leaked the deal to the EFCC which subsequently picked up top officials of the ministry. The money was meant to be returned to the treasury from the 2007 budget but later converted to be shared as Christmas bonuses.

A source said, "the money was meant for staff as end of year bonuses. The lowest staff on grade level 04 was expected to be given N175, 000. Deputy Directors and directors were to receive N2.5 million and N3.5 million respectively.

"But an assistant director decided to slash the money to N40, 000 for the lowest staff who is grade level 04. Those on grade level 13 who were supposed to receive N500, 000 were however given something far less. But that of the directors were not touched.

"About N195 million remained unutilized and was passed on to those on the top, who reportedly pinched a little and directed that the money be distributed among the staff of the ministry.

The aggrieved staff from the department of finance who saw the approval and sharing

formula petitioned the EFCC and attached the payment voucher".

It was reported that the Minister of Health, Profesor Adenike Grange was arrested by the EFCC but she denied the report saying that at no time was she picked by the anti-graft body.

A Special Assistant to the minister, Mr Oswald Shodeinde, said in a statement that at no time was she arrested by any security agency or quizzed over the handling of unspent funds in the 2007 budget and award of contracts.

The two Ministers were yesterday seen emerging from the office of the President visibly disappointed as they both wore gloom face.

Meanwhile, activities at the Ministry were paralysed yesterday following the incident.

As at 10am, the ministry was already like ghost town. Most of the offices were locked, while few staff were seen moving around with no lack of desire to start the day's work.

Prof. Grange, who was expected to conduct a press conference to mark the celebration of the 'World Tuberculosis Day' and also receive guests from the Yar'Adua/Jonathan Solidarity Group, was not available.

Journalists, who waited for the event were later told by the spokesman that the minister had gone to Aso Rock for urgent matters.

The events were later postponed indefinitely when it was confirmed that the ministers had tendered their resignation letters.

However, Daily Champion investigation showed that the minister of state for health, Mr. Aduku after the meeting at the Presidetial Villa, briefly showed up at the Ministry but refused to comment on the issue.

He directed newsmen to the press secretary who also refused to comment on the issue, while the substantial ex-minister, Prof. Grange as at 4PM yesterday has already started moving out of her belongings from her office.

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