The House of Representatives has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari and the World Bank over an allegation that the Minister of Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enelamah, diverted US$35 million meant for the Growth Employment Project (GEP) Fund.
A House source informed Daily Trust on Thursday that the Fund, conceptualized by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to empower 4,000 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in ICTs, entertainment and agro-processing, is funded by the World Bank and the Department for International Development (DFID) to the tune of US$160 million and UK £90 million respectively.
According to the source, the House of Representatives had on November 2, 2017 and February 11, 2018, passed motions directing Enelamah to suspend planned movement of the US$35 million Fund to a supposed SME projects but to no avail.
Consequently, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue), had in separate letters to the President and the World Bank, accused the Minister of colluding with his personal staff, one Mr. Ugo Ikemba, to divert US$35 million in violation of the House directives and due process.
The letters dated August 24, 2018, and obtained by Daily Trust, alleged that the Minister appointed a former staff of his personal company, African Capital Alliance, as the Co-ordinator of the Fund, in clear violation of known rules of government business.
Tagged “Breach of the World Bank Principles and Good Governance Practice on the Management of the Growth Employment Project in Nigeria,” the letter read, “Mr. President should be aware that the project intended to be strategic to job creation in the country currently does not have a Project Co-ordinator; the Minister controls it directly as an appendage of his office to the extent that he now approves project funds contrary to statutory provisions and principles.”
Gbillah said by appointing Mr. Ikemba as Co-ordinator and reducing the beneficiaries from the initial 4,000 to 23 SMEs, the Minister had converted the whole exercise into his personal initiatives.
He further alleged that Mr. Ikemba had facilitated the release of US$35 million from the Federal Ministry of Finance, and created a “parallel SME investment fund to be managed by an independent private company to be registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission to dispense between US$250,000 to US$2 million each to only 23 unidentified companies without government oversight or involvement.”
“Why did the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment insisted on engaging a former employee of his private firm, African Alliance Company, Mr. Ugo Ikemba, on contract as Project Co-ordinator with a salary of N4.7 million per month, in clear violation of the approved Project Governance and Implementation Framework and the procedure for engagement of consultants.
“Why is the Minister displaying an insatiable desperation to use the loan approved by the National Assembly for 4,000 SMEs to create a private equity fund for only 23 SMEs,” the lawmaker queried.
He regretted that although the Head of Service of the Federation complied with the resolution of the National Assembly to post a Director and Assistant Director to the Project Governance and Implementation Framework, the Minister rejected the posting and has continued to directly control the day to day operations of the project since February 2018.