A very strange event on Monday last week, April 1, and it was no April Fool prank. Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Dr Okechukwu Enelamah appeared before the Senate Committee on Industry, Trade and Investment to defend his ministry’s 2019 budget proposal. The committee, chaired by Senator Sabo Mohammed [APC Jigawa], accused the minister of trying to appropriate N42 billion in federal funds to a private company.
Enelamah presented a booklet containing 2019 budget proposals for his ministry’s 17 agencies. When he finished, committee chairman Sabo Mohammed referred him to item 2 on page 7 of the booklet, where N42.091billion was allocated to Nigeria Special Economic Zone Company [NSEZC], an unknown agency under his ministry. Enelamah then said the company was established through a presidential initiative and approval was given at a cabinet meeting in May last year. Asked to name the company’s owners, the minister mentioned “federal government and other shareholders.”
The committee chairman however produced a document from Corporate Affairs Commission [CAC] which showed that the company’s real name is Nigeria Sez Investment Company Limited and not Nigeria Special Economic Zone Company listed in the minister’s documents. The CAC documents also showed that Dr Bakari Wadinga, Mr Olufemi Edun and Ms Oluwadara Owoyemi are its directors. Mohammed said, “The document clearly states that the company is a private company and that liabilities of the members are limited by share which as shown, gives the federal government 25 per cent and 75 per cent to the private individuals.”
Media investigation later revealed that two of the firm’s three directors are serving aides of Enelamah. While Femi Edun is his Special Assistant on Special Economic Zones, Ms Oluwadara Owoyemi is Enelamah’s Special Adviser on Investment. The third director, Dr Bakari Waringa, is a public servant, Director of Finance and Accounts at the Bureau of Public Service Reforms.
Enelamah’s adviser on strategy and communications Bisi Daniels later said Nigeria SEZ Investment Company Limited (NSEZCO) was incorporated as a special purpose vehicle to deliver Project MINE (Made in Nigeria for Exports), which is a presidential initiative. “The FEC approval also provides that all current and future capital appropriations for Project MINE should be transferred to NSEZCO’s account, as soon as opening formalities are completed.” He also said he requested the Budget Office to domicile the funds for the MINE Project in NEPZA’s 2017 and 2018 budgets because then, NSEZCO had not been created.
The Senate had written to the Accountant-General of the Federation in January this year insisting that on no account should the company be recognised “for the purpose of transferring the funds meant for NEPZA as requested by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment (via a letter dated 22nd October, 2018).” The Senate urged the Accountant-General to release the funds “only” to NEPZA as they were “only budgeted for the NEPZA capital projects in the 2017 Appropriation and not an intervention fund.”
Following the detection of this illegal budgetary allocation to a private company masquerading as a government agency, the Senate Committee rejected the ministry’s entire N15.633 billion 2019 budget and threatened to reallocate the disputed funds to other agencies unless the minister forwards a written explanation on how the company got into the Budget, plus its management staff, staff strength and statement of account.
If money is to be appropriated for a project, why wouldn’t it be allocated to the relevant agency, and later paid out as contract fees to a company? Why should a company with 75% private ownership be smuggled into the budget as a so-called special purpose vehicle? And what are the minister’s aides doing there as the special vehicle’s owners?
This is fishy, very fishy. Besides, the creation of NSEZC negates the Buhari administration’s objectives of pruning the number of existing MDAs. The Senate and Presidency must get to the root of this matter. Unless the public gets a cogent explanation, the inescapable conclusion is that someone tried to play hanky panky with public funds.