A civil society group has petitioned Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate thoroughly the controversial refund of $2.2 million by immediate-past finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to GAVI, the global vaccine supply organisation, especially in view of her subsequent appointment as Chairperson of GAVI’s board which raises brows of unprofessional conduct.
The Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) said it has every reason to suspect conflict of interest and unprofessional conduct in Okonjo-Iweala’s unpatriotic refund of the large sum to GAVI, the vaccine supply alliance funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which Ministry of Health had reason to query.
The anti-corruption coalition of 150 civil society organisations, therefore, by its petition, requested EFCC to conduct an extensive and thorough investigation into the potential abuse of office, unprofessional conduct and conflict of interest associated with the activities of GAVI in Nigeria and, the actions of the finance minister in connection with the refund.
Mr Olanrewaju Suraju, Chairman of CSNAC, in the petition copied to the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, told the anti-graft agency that its timely action would correct the negative impression of Nigeria created by the ex-minister’s refund.
The full petition to EFCC reads:
RE: Request for investigation: mismanagement and fraudulent conversion of international fund in Federal Ministry of Health
I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated, 11th August, 2015, signed on your behalf by Mr. Olaolu Adegbite, MFR, which communicates outcome of your preliminary investigation into the above subject-matter. Our Network appreciates and commends your professionalism, diligence, thoroughness, sincerity and commitment to fairness and accountability in the discharge of your mandate.
Following our petition on this matter and reportage of same by local and international news media, our network received a response, accompanied with evidence, from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), controverting claims that were contained in the GAVI’s Cash Program Audit (CPA) report which was the subject of our petition. Through voluntary support of volunteers, partners and members of our network, we undertook independent investigation of the allegations in the CPA report and, confirmation of assertions and proof provided by NPHCDA. These included independent and unannounced visits by different volunteers to locations in Borno, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Kano and Kaduna.
To our utter amazement and in consonance with your preliminary findings, our investigations revealed findings at variance with the allegations of fraud contained in the report of GAVI, through its Cash Program Audit (C.P.A) on cash grants allocated to Nigeria between 2011-2013. The C.P.A had returned an indicting report of fraud and mismanagement of funds by the Nigerian government through Federal Ministry of Health and National Primary Health Care Development Agency.
We found a letter written by the New York office of UNICEF, a UN agency and an internationally reputed organisation, which officially debunked claims in the GAVI report, as it concerns their transactions with NPHCDA under the contract. The Federal Inland Revenue Services did write to acknowledge receipt of taxes deducted by NPHCDA, as against the position of GAVI. The Corporate Affairs Commission further provided evidence controverting malicious claims contained in the CPA report. The big question and worry for our network is, why would an organisation like GAVI embark on a smear campaign of such magnitude against a sovereign nation?
Also, contrary to the misinformation and falsehood peddled by GAVI on the admission of guilt by the Nigerian government, as represented by the Federal Ministry of Health, in reference to a letter titled, “Letter of Understanding on the Principles Regarding the GAVI Cash Program Audit 2011-2013,” dated October 17, 2014 and signed by the former Health Minister, Professor C. O. Onyebuchi Chukwu, the ministry had demanded a joint post-audit reconciliation of the disputed CPA report, as it is the standard practice. The minister had only committed the government to refund of any unused fund discovered after the joint reconciliation with GAVI. The organisation went ahead to deceive concerned Nigerians and the international community by twisting the intent and content of the LoU signed on the agreed joint reconciliation to mean an admission of guilt in the alleged mismanagement of $2.2m. It was in response to this deliberate misrepresentation of fact by GAVI, that our Network petitioned the Ministry of Health and NPHCDA to your commission, demanding investigation and possible prosecution of Nigerians connected with the allegations.
I should inform that GAVI was contacted by this group for evidence to corroborate the allegations of fraud contained in their report. Though the report of fraud was deliberately shared with local and international media by GAVI, to attract negative attention and unfair criticism on the country, the organisation failed to substantiate claims contained in its report much less respond to our requests. Our findings, negating spurious allegations of GAVI, was shared with the leadership of the organisation and its major funding partner, Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation since March and no response has been received till date.
It is to our chagrin and with consternation reading a letter from the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, alleging refund of the $2.2m to GAVI by the former minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, without recourse to the ministry and demanding clarification from your commission. This is nothing but an act of sabotage, aimed at placating an international organisation at the expense of national integrity and reputation. Your findings, as contained in your preliminary report, further lent credence to this conclusion.
With the latest appointment of Dr. Okonjo-iweala as Chairperson of GAVI’s board, we have every reason to suspect conflict of interest in the unprofessional and unpatriotic refund of $2.2m to GAVI by the former minister, as questioned by the Ministry of Health. CSNAC is therefore, by this petition, requesting an extended and thorough investigation into the abuse of office, unprofessional conduct and conflict of interest associated with the activities of GAVI in Nigeria and, the actions of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in connection with the refund. Your timely and further action would correct the negative impression of Nigerian, created by the repayment.
The Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) is a coalition of over hundred and fifty anti-corruption organizations whose primary aim is to constructively combat corruption and ensure effective monitoring of anti-graft agencies charged with the fight against corruption and enthronement of transparency, accountability, probity towards the eradication of corruption in Nigeria.
Once again, we commend you on your professionalism on this matter, thank you in anticipation of your prompt response to this request.