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Senate directs trade minister to return N14.3bn diverted fund

Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah
Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah

A Senate panel has directed the Minxister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, to refund the sum of N14.3 billion diverted fund to the federation account.

The Senate Committee on Trade and Investment chaired by Sen Mohammed Sabo Nakudu (APC, Jigawa), said the money was illegally transferred from the account of the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) to a private company, Nigeria Special Economic Zone account.

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It said the money was appropriated under the 2017 budget and that the ministry kept it somewhere, only to transfer it to the private company recently.

The panel said information available to it revealed that the money is in the company’s account and that the minister must ensure that the sum was refunded within one week from April 26.

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In a letter dated April 25 addressed to the minister, the panel said its directive was pursuant to Section 80 (2,3&4) of the constitution and Sections 313 and 314 of the Financial Regulations as well as Senate Standing Order 98, 14 (a-s) of 2015 as amended.

The panel had in an earlier letter to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, dated April 8 on the same matter said the apex bank should not release the money because the firm is a private company that should not draw money from the Federal Government.

However, Nakudu said despite the letter, the CBN released the money for onward transfer to the private company’s account, which necessitated the letter to the minister, noting that the Senate would not accept it.

NEPZA had said during its budget defence before the committee earlier this month that the money was warehoused in line with Nigeria’s Industrial Revolution Plan, following an approval of a memo submitted to that effect by the minister.

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