By Jide Ajani
PERHAPS some people may not find this mind-blowing given that Nigerians have become accustomed to hearing about outrageous looting of the nation’s treasury by public officials.
But many would appreciate that even with the falling value of Nigeria’s currency, N450 million could save lives in the health sector where government hospitals in the country lack many equipment.
The quantum of money in question, if deployed in fixing the collapsed portions of the Benin/Ore Highway, could as well reduce the alarming rate of auto crashes on that road.
However, the systemic nature of corruption in the country ensured that the money, instead of being expended on common good, was used to purchase exotic vehicles and then converted to personal properties by some top public officials.
The discovery came to light in the course of an investigation by Sunday Vanguard into the activities of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission,ICPC.
The manner in which the misappropriation took place offers insight into how undermining some public officials had been to the Nigerian story.
Some top officials of Ministries, Departments and Agencies,MDAs, were discovered to be chiefly involved in the matter.
Specifically, those affected were of the Ministries of Water Resources, Labour, Environment,Information and Health, Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA, and Subsidy Reinvestment Programme, SURE-P.
Findings revealed that funds set aside by the SURE-P for execution of projects were used to procure vehicles by the MDAs.
Meanwhile, the vehicles were supposed to have been recorded as part of the properties of the MDAs in line with the procurement rules of the civil service.
It was also learnt that since the funds did not emanate from the budgetary allocation of the concerned MDAs, not recording the purchase of the 103 vehicles facilitated the appropriation by the officials.
The beneficiaries of the fraud were found to have been assisted by SURE-P contractors and officials of the agency in charge of some projects.
A breakdown of the vehicles taken and later recovered indicated that they were mainly Sports Utility Vehicles, SUVs, including Toyota Land Cruiser, Audi A6, AudiQ8, Nissan Armada and Ford Edge, Toyota Hillux and Rav4.
There were also various units of Peugeot 508, Toyota Avensis and Toyota Corolla, among others.
To ensure that the vehicles were not documented as government properties, Sunday Vanguard learnt that they were not registered in government name but in the names of the top officials who later appropriated them.
While some of the vehicles were taken away during the last dispensation, others disappeared when President Muhammadu Buhari said he was winding up the now defunct SURE-P.
If the action was irritating, the manner it was penetrated could be termed outrageous and unpatriotic.
No fewer than 13 vehicles worth N55.5million were allegedly made away with by a senior official of the Water Quality Control Department of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (names withheld).
He was alleged to have taken two Prado jeeps, three Toyota Avensis cars, two Rav 4 jeeps and three Toyota Hilux vans.
Further investigation revealed that in the same ministry, a former Director, Irrigation and Drainage (now retired), allegedly, took four vehicles, including a Toyota Land Cruiser, an Audi A6, Nissan Armada and Ford Edge, all SUVs, worth N28 million.
An Audi Q7 and a Hilux van were also allegedly recovered from a former Director of Dams in the department.
Another startling recovery was said to have been made in March 2016 from SURE: A former official took away a bullet proof Toyota Land Cruiser jeep worth N36 million which has now been recovered from him.
It was further gathered that a retired director in the Water Quality and Control Department was said to have been taken home a Prado jeep, a Toyota Hilux van and Toyota Corolla car.
Further breakdown showed that15 vehicles were allegedly recovered from the Ministry of Labour, 14 from officials of FERMA, 13 from officials of the Health Ministry, a Lincoln Navigator jeep from a political party, three vehicles from the Ministry of Information and an unspecified number from officials of SURE-P.
More recoveries were allegedly made from retired officials of SURE-P, who went away with 40 vehicles.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that 95 of the 103 recovered vehicles were parked at the headquarters of the ICPC in Abuja.
The remaining eight were believed to be kept at the commission’s offices in Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Kogi and Rivers states where they were variously recovered.
Apart from these recoveries, it was understood that many vehicles belonging to SURE-P are still in the custody of some retired government officials, who were supposed to have recorded then as federal government assets at the time of purchase.
The ICPC, a source confided in Sunday Vanguard, is currently making efforts to recover other assets belonging to the agency looted by serving and former government officials.
The broad approach to its mandate was also said to have resulted in the commission’s recovery of N108 million from an agency under the Ministry of Health.
The House of Representatives Committee on Anti-Corruption, it was learnt, is aware of the recovery of the vehicles as it inspected the 95 vehicles parked at the commission’s headquarters during a recent visit to the ICPC.
An impressed Chairman of the committee, Mr. Akinloye Babajade, hailed the commission, stressing that such a development deserved to be in the public domain.
Recall that SURE-P was established by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan to cushion the effects of the partial removal of subsidy on petroleum products.
From 2012-2014, the intervention agency successively got budgetary allocation of about N628 billion. In specific terms, N180 billion was given to the agency in 2012, N180 billion in 2013 and N268 in 2014.