The attention of Citizens Watch Advocacy Initiative (CWAI), Abuja, has been drawn to the monumental allegations of misconduct and fraud levied against Dr Mohammed Umar Bello, former Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture (presently Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology). On Tuesday, 19th May, 2020, the Nigerian media published a query issued Dr. Bello by the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. Dated 11th May, 2020, the query bordered on “Allegations of Acts of Serious Misconduct in Your Former Post of Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development” to the tune of N199 billion respectively.
As champions of transparency, accountability and good governance in public service, CWAI has critically examined the contents of the query, including investigations of sources within the Ministry and decided to issue the following statement, so as to serve as an example to other public officers holding positions of trust, not to toe the line of infamy and financial recklessness and infractions.
According to the query, “Specifically, it was alleged that: (a) in spite of the budgetary release of the N98,405,763,678.68 in 2018 (which represents 99.44 of 2018 appropriation), you did not take necessary action to pay the eligible contractors which led to the ministry having an outstanding contractual liability in the sum of N48,429,543,895.72;
“(b) under your leadership as the accounting officer, the minister utilized the entire 2019 first quarter release of N7,737,208,135.18 to pay for the 2018 contracts that were fully funded in 2018 which constitutes virement without authority;
“(c) as accounting officer, you oversaw a transaction for the purchase of a building for the use of the ministry at the sum of N7,044,746,264.06 without the conduct of the mandatory statutory structural and mechanical integrity tests: and prior approval of the FCDA Public Building Department: the building was eventually found to be an uncompleted carcass requiring billions of naira to complete and make safe for occupation;
“(d) under your watch as the accounting officer, the ministry procured seven deep drilling rigs for borehole at an average cost of N300, 000, 000. 00 without recourse to the Federal Executive Council (FEC);
“(e) and in April, 2019, you gave out the seven rigs procured at over NI.3bn to some individuals under fraudulent arrangements, without the approval of the minister; and one of the rigs linked to you is yet to be returned despite several written reminders; and
“(f) you misapplied the intervention funds approved for the purchase of strategic grains and the establishment of the Rural Grazing Area Settlements in violation of extent Financial Regulations; two of such misapplications are:
“i. the use of N2.026,838,775.25 to pay contractors and execute programmes from the funds released for emergency procurement of strategic grains which is unrelated to the purpose of the funds.
“ii. the use of N3,527, 300, 419.06 for the payment of questionable contracts awarded under the 2018 appropriation from the rural grazing area settlement scheme which is not related to the purpose of the funds.”
“The above allegations are acts of serious misconduct as provided in PSR 030401 and 030402 and if proven can lead to dismissal from service.”
Accordingly, CWAI views the query and the conduct unbecoming of an officer holding public trust and a flagrant violation of the constitutional and statutory provisions regulating the Nigerian Public Service. In view of the foregoing, CWAI hereby strongly recommends the immediate suspension of the queried Federal Permanent Secretary Dr Mohammed Umar Bello. This is to pave way for proper and unbiased investigation into the matter.
It has been brought to the attention of CWAI that there is gross anomaly and crass violation of the Public Service Rules with established ethics and norms relating to the misconduct of Dr Mohammed Umar Bello. And due to the sensitive nature of the office he occupies, he should therefore be asked to proceed on suspension based on the query.
CWAI further recommends that the Independent Corrupt Practices (and Other Related Offences) Commission should be called in to take over the issue bordering on financial infractions.
The negative implications of this brazen disregard for the Public Services Rules by the continued stay of Dr Mohammed Umar Bello as Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology after a weighty query from the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation is administratively disruptive and highly demoralizing to the Ministry. This is also a big slight on the fight against corruption by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Dr Mohammed Umar Bello should proceed on suspension so as to serve as deterrence to others still in service. There is no need to keep competent persons stifled in various positions within the service because of the sit-tight syndrome of which must not be allowed to thrive in the public service.
CWAI therefore calls on the Federal Government to avoid creating dangerous precedence which would have an ultimately negative impact on the morale and development of the Ministry and the Federal Public Service at large.
While CWAI gives a pat on the shoulder to the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, for rising to the occasion by issuing Dr Mohammed Umar Bello with a query, the organization still warns that Dr Bello must proceed on immediate suspension for the anti-graft agencies to take up the issue involving the humongous amount.
CWAI has made this call for legal compliance to the Public Service Rules, standards and ethics in the public interest and therefore would not hesitate to take further steps to ensure compliance to law as the 72 hours ultimatum given to Dr Mohammed Bello Umar to answer the said query are not enough punitive measures against an alleged erring officer of that status.
OMOBA KENNETH AIGBEGBELE
Executive Secretary, CWAI