Another Tinubu’s minister faces heat over alleged violation of public service rules

AMID ongoing investigation into the alleged N585 million fraud by the suspended Humanitarian Minister, Beta Edu, another Minister, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, has come under intense scrutiny and criticisms over alleged violations of public service rules involving contract influencing.

Ojo, the Minister of Interior, was accused of using his office to secure a project for New Planet Project Limited, which he founded. 

According to reports, New Planet Project Limited was one of the consultants awarded contracts worth over N2 billion by the suspended minister in charge of the National Social Register.


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The social register was created for cash transfers and other social investment programmes.

The ICIR also sighted a circulating document (not signed) showing that New Planet Project Limited was paid N438 million as “consultancy fees.”

This sparked mixed reactions from Nigerians on social media, particularly on X, as some also called for his resignation for allegedly influencing the contract award.

In an interview with Channels Television, the minister denied having anything to do with the said firm and noted that he had resigned from its directorship in 2019. The ICIR gathered that the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) listed him as the company’s beneficial owner.

CAC record showing that the Minister is the significant owner as at November 2023
CAC record shows that the minister is the significant owner as of November 2023

Going by the CAC record, some Nigerians stressed that there was an established conflict of interest between the minister and the firm.

They described the minister’s action as a breach of Section Five of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, which deals with the conflict of interest.

The section emphasised that a public official shall not put himself in a position where his interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.

Section Six of the Act states that without prejudice to the generality of section Five of the Act, a public officer shall not: 

(a) receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid the emoluments of any other public office or   

(b) except where he is not employed on a full‐time basis, engages or participates in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade, but nothing in this paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming or participating in the management or running of any farm. 

Meanwhile, reacting to the allegations on Channels TV,  the minister stated that he had resigned from the company’s directorship in 2019 when he contested for House of Representatives.

“About five years ago, I had resigned my directorship. Yes, I founded the company ten years ago. In 2019, when I got to the House of Representatives, when I won the election precisely, I resigned. I resigned on the 4th of February 2019 with a Certified True Copy of Corporate Affairs Commission as far back as 2019 to prove this.”

The Minister, who confirmed that he was still a shareholder of the company, noted that the public service rule does not prohibit public officials from being shareholders.

He added, “I do not run the company. I don’t have any knowledge of the contract. I am not a signatory to any account. I am not a director of the company.

“The company is a limited liability company, which is a private entity. So, if the company is a private entity, of course, I am still a shareholder, and to the best of my knowledge, public service rule does not prohibit public officers from being shareholders. What public service rule says is that you cannot be a director, of which I had resigned about five years ago.

Nigerians react

Reacting to the development and the minister’s argument on social media, some Nigerians expressed their disappointment and consequently called for a full investigation into the matter.

Despite acknowledging the minister’s dedication and diligence in his responsibilities during the past months, they said no one should escape scrutiny in corruption cases.

An X user, Omotayo Williams, wrote: “Minister Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo’s good performance in his role should not shield him from accountability for corruption; achieving excellence does not excuse unethical conduct.






     

     

    “An investigation is warranted into how a company he significantly influences, and in which he is a major shareholder, benefited by almost half a billion naira from the #BettaGate. The concept of conflict of interest must be tested.”

    Another user, Yinka Chukwuemeka, stated in his post that a case of conflict of interest could be made against the minister, noting that the term  “conflict of interest” was an ethical issue and not a legal or criminal issue.

    “Even though the minister is no longer directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the company and the contract is awarded in another ministry, the fact that his wife is still a director and shareholder in the company creates a potential connection and thus a perceived conflict of interests. 

    “Perceptions of conflicts of interest can arise when there are personal or familial ties to companies receiving government contracts. This is why governments worldwide enact ethical codes and standards for public officers,” he said.

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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