Elumelu: The N6 Billion REA Scam

With the arraignment last week of persons indicted on the alleged N6billion Rural Electrification Agency (REA) scam, Nigerians may assume that their yearning to obtain full details of all the facts of the matter will soon be gratified. Arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 157-count charge of “criminal breach of trust” were Nicholas Ugbane, Chairman, Senate Committee on Power and Steel; Ndudi Elumelu, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Power; Mohammed Jibo, Elumelu’s deputy; Paulinus Igwe, Chairman, House Committee on Rural Development; Samuel Gekpe, Managing Director of Rural Electrification Agency; Abdulahi Aliyu, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Power; and a number of others.

The key issue here is the grave allegation that the Senate and House Committees on Power had surreptitiously inserted N6 billion into the budget of the Ministry of Power without the Presidency being aware of it. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which investigated the case, is also alleging that the accused persons had, with undue haste, disbursed the said monies even though the contracts were yet to be executed.

These are certainly very weighty allegations to which the accused persons have pleaded not guilty. The National Assembly, for its part, has rightly described the case as the personal issue of its members concerned and pledged not to intervene to upset the course of justice. It is now left for the Federal High Court, before which the accused persons have been arraigned, to unmask the truth or otherwise of the whole matter, and lay them bare before thoroughly dismayed Nigerians who have continued to endure the endless embarrassment occasioned by the fact that discomforting news of high-level fraud is fast becoming an everyday occurrence in the nation.

Such a depressing situation can only continue to seriously undercut the faith and trust of the citizenry in their nation and leaders. Indeed, high profile cases of this nature usually provoke immense interest and emotions, for obvious reasons; but the path of wisdom requires the nation to keep its fingers crossed no matter how painful and sickening the allegations are, and to patiently await the court’s final ruling.

Nevertheless, Nigerians would expect the EFCC to see the present development as an incentive to expand the scope of its enquiries and seek to ascertain what has been happening in the budgeting processes of other committees of the legislature. We are bothered that the anti-graft body does not seem to express surprise that the huge sum of N6 billion naira was allegedly smuggled into the budget without the knowledge of the Presidency. Is the system so loose, so porous, that it can allow such a mammoth camel to pass through the needle’s eye of due process unnoticed? Is the system so bereft of checks and controls that an alleged fraud of such magnitude could be so brazenly committed, with collusion across several departments of the government, without the Presidency noticing and asking questions? The EFCC must be willing to accept that it has only done half of its job. Nigerians would be interested to see all the unseen hands that may have starred in this horrendous drama brought into the open.

By the way, we are puzzled about what the business of the Federal Government could be with rural electrification. Why this eagerness to take over the statutory functions of states and local councils, even when the FG’s own functions are crying for attention? Indeed, this oddity calls for an unambiguous explanation, because there are already very damaging insinuations out there that the REA may just be one of those avenues created by a habitually corrupt and parasitic ruling elite to help themselves to the public coffers. This offers another reason for the EFCC to dig deeper into the case.

Again, given that many of the prominent characters in this alleged scam are the same people who had headed the sensational probe into the mismanagement of the power sector, whose report has been mired in needless controversy in the House of Representatives, Nigerians would want to satisfy themselves that the latest flurry of activities by the anti-crime agency is not a covert ploy aimed at creating the required atmosphere to finally discredit and bury the eagerly-awaited report. Should this turn out, or even appear, to be the case, it would be very difficult to engage the public’s confidence anymore in the so-called war against corruption of the present regime. It would equally underline the growing fears that corruption is fast receiving an official stamp. Let the case be diligently and transparently prosecuted.