A recent report indicated that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has filed an-eight count charge of fraudulent practices against a former Secretary to the Edo State Government and three other officials of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) over a missing N113 million. One of the charges said the officials conspired amongst themselves in the same manner, place and date and agreed to spend public funds allocated for a particular project on another project. The Edo experience buttresses how deep corruption and abuse of office have ruined the nation’s public sector.
Corruption scam had similarly trailed the Rivers State SUBEB in 2011, when it was alleged that the board included ghost workers on its payroll to defraud the government. It was later claimed that the board was saving N200 million monthly made possible by the removal of 1,477 ghost workers discovered on its payroll. Some of the ghost workers were said to have taken up appointments elsewhere without formally resigning, and were still receiving salaries from the state government. Just last year, N.7 million was reported missing from the coffers of the Imo SUBEB. The board also denied it. From Kano, about June last year equally came the report that the state’s Public Complaint and Anti- Corruption Commission would launch an investigation into the Kano SUBEB over alleged anomalies in contracts worth over N1.4 billion, among others.
The mother of all the scams, perhaps, was at the federal level, where a former Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) on trial for corrupt exploits, Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Modibbo, told a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja in 2011 that he awarded UBEC contracts worth billions of naira to several companies belonging to his wife, then a member-elect of the House of Representatives. Last January, a non-governmental organisation, Centre for Complete Education (CCE), raised alarm that fraud might have frustrated the N29 billion textbook scheme initiated by the Federal Government under UBEC. Coordinator of the group, Mr. Adamu Shehu, in a statement in Abuja, said the textbooks meant to be distributed to schools since the beginning of first term had not been shared even in second term. “Government should probe supplies of the book to ascertain how much we have lost to the contract fraud bonanza since 2009 when the scheme started’’, the said group said.
Reports in 2013 had alleged the diversion of the free textbooks and other irregularities, a development that compelled the FG to set up a presidential committee to monitor the distribution of the books. The project was, however, said to have been stalled after the initial distribution was made to some schools in the previous years. Several secondary schools across the country are yet to benefit from the free instructional materials even when the FG has paid 60 percent of the agreed sum to the contractors handling the project.
Such has been the pathetic tales dogging virtually also projects and services that should be of benefit to ordinary Nigerians. Like the current Chairman of UBEC Governing Board, Chief Amalate Turner, said late last year during the opening ceremony of a retreat organised for members of the board and management of the commission, the FG introduced the UBE programme “when it became clear that states and local governments, if left alone, cannot meet the enormous funding needs of the sub-sector, which still remains their constitutional responsibility.”
Even with the intervention of the FG, however, reports say some care-free state governments refused to provide counterpart funding, which is a prerequisite for accessing the funds. About N47.99 billion Universal Basic Education (UBE) fund is said to be lying idle at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as a result. It is thus a fatal blow to the UBE programme, when states that were able to provide counterpart funding lose huge sums of money meant for the programme to thieving civil servants. The emerging trend is unacceptable. What happened in the Edo SUBEB and elsewhere, including at the centre, demands that states and the FG develop more than a passing glance at the management of SUBEB and UBEC funds. Tighter control mechanisms for the protection of the intervention fund have become imperative. The two levels of government should guard against the appointment of unscrupulous officers, who view SUBEB and UBEC funds as their share of the national cake, as heads of the establishments; and those of them found to have misused the funds should face the wrath of the law.