There were indications on Tuesday that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission was set to begin full investigations into the discrepancies and padding of the 2016 Budget.
The PUNCH reliably gathered that the ICPC had already carried out preliminary investigations into the discrepancies.
It was learnt that following the preliminary investigations by the ICPC, no fewer than 13 permanent secretaries and directors would be invited when it starts full probe.
Investigations showed that the commission had been looking at the budget in order to identify Ministries, Departments and Agencies, where certain figures are inflated.
A top government official, who confided in The PUNCH,said the commission would begin full investigation anytime from now.
The official, who declined to mention names and the specific ministries of those to be invited, said, “As of now, 13 permanent secretaries and directors will be invited to come and make clarifications.
“We have not reached any conclusion and nobody has been invited, but they will assist us in our investigations and whatever they say, will lead us to the root of the matter (budget padding).”
It was gathered that the commission extended its preliminary investigation to Ministries, Departments and Agencies, where the discrepancies were discovered.
The source said, “We are probing MDAs where there are suspected cases of padding. Their heads will be invited to come and shed light on how they arrived at the figures.”
Efforts to get the reactions of the ICPC Resident Media Consultant, Mr. Folu Olamiti, did not succeed as calls to his mobile phone indicated that it was either switched off or out of coverage areas.
Sources in the Presidency had, on February 6, alleged that a budget mafia planned to scuttle the innovations introduced by the current administration into the budget by inflating the figures.
A mafia was alleged to have proposed a budget of N9.7tn for capital and overhead spending, excluding personnel cost, as against the Presidency’s initial estimate of about N8tn.
The group was said to have proposed N3tn as overheads alone out of the N9.7tn, a figure the Presidency later slashed to N163bn.
The Ministry of Budget and National planning had also promised to investigate and punish those responsible for the errors and strange figures found in the budget, which was presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari in December, 2015.
The errors had delayed the passage of the budget with the federal legislature saying the February 25 deadline it set for its approval was no longer feasible.
Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has accused senior lawyers and journalists of frustrating its anti-corruption war.
The Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, said this on Tuesday while addressing a coalition of civil society groups at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, according to a statement on Tuesday.
Magu said, “Corrupt people hire journalists to abuse us every day. They say we are not doing the work according to the law but that is not true. There is no agency that follows the law more than the EFCC, none. Before we arrest you or seize your property or do anything to you, we check the law, we go to court and get a court order. That is why we are winning; that is why we are defeating them every day.”
While making a veiled reference to Mr. Ricky Tarfa (SAN), who was arrested for allegedly trying to foil the arrest of two Benin Republic nationals in Lagos, Magu said it was disheartening that 34 Senior Advocates of Nigeria could storm the court to defend their colleague.
He said despite their presence in such large number, a ‘small’ EFCC lawyer was able to defeat them as the court refused to quash the charges against Tarfa.
The EFCC boss said, “The other day, 34 Senior Advocates of Nigeria fought against only one small EFCC lawyer in court and he defeated all of them. What we are doing today is not by our power, it is the power of the Nigerian people and the power of God behind us.”
Magu said it was unfortunate that senior advocates were the ones promoting graft when they should be putting the interest of the nation first.
He added, “One of the big challenges we have in the effective prosecution of the war on corruption is that of very senior lawyers, who Nigeria has been very kind to: those who went to good schools here when Nigeria was good. Many of them were on government scholarships; those who Nigeria has given so much opportunity.
“When we have corruption cases, cases of people who have stolen food from the mouth of our children; when we have cases of people who have stolen money meant to build hospitals and buy drugs; when we have cases of people who have stolen all the money meant to buy guns for our soldiers to fight Boko Haram; when we have all these cases of wicked people who have stolen Nigeria’s money, they run to these same senior lawyers, give them part of the stolen money and mobilise them to fight us; to delay us in court and to deny Nigerians of justice. These are the people who do not want justice for the common man.”
He urged Nigerians to continue to support the Federal Government in the fight against corruption, adding that the commission had been able to recover billions of naira from some of the suspects
“The money we have recovered and the money we are going to get back from them – billions of naira – is being paid back to the government and will be used to do what it was originally meant for – to build hospitals, send our children to school, build roads and railways, create employment and defend our country,” he said.
In a related development, the EFCC has arrested one Roberts Obuoha, a Director in Project Management Department of the Niger Delta Development Commission, for alleged bribery.
The EFCC said in a statement on Tuesday that the suspect was under investigation by the commission and was invited to write a statement in a case of contract splitting and inflation.
He was said to have been arrested while allegedly attempting to bribe the EFCC South-South Zonal Head, Mr. Ishaq Salihu, with N150, 000.
The suspect was alleged to have said the money was meant for recharge cards and not a bribe.
The statement added, “He was quizzed and offered administrative bail, but when he reported the next day to perfect his bail, he went to the zonal head’s office and offered him the sum of N150, 000 to buy recharge cards.
“The suspect claimed that he offered the said money to Salihu in order to build a good relationship with him. The suspect will be charged to court as soon as investigation is concluded.”