The Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa, DTCA, is rolling out drums to celebrate a decade of its existence amid unresolved controversy of corruption and fraud levelled against its top officials.
The acting director general of the agency, Mohammed Kachallah, who has been at the centre of the lingering fraud allegations, told reporters on Monday in Abuja that the celebration was to “showcase the achievements of the Nigeria Technical Cooperation Fund, NTCF, after its first cycle and its laudable strides.”
The NTCF is a $25 million trust fund domiciled with the African Development Bank, AfDB, but jointly managed by the bank and the agency on behalf of the federal government.
On Monday, the director general refused to respond to questions that sought clarifications to recent allegations linking him and some top officials of the agency to a $229,000 fraud by a whistle blower in 2016.
The whistle blower, Ntia Thompson, an assistant director in charge of the SERVICOM Unit of the agency, had petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, asking it to probe how $229,000 and N800,000 were allegedly fraudulently diverted by the officials.
Mr. Thompson had alleged that the monies meant for the 10th-anniversary celebration of the NTCF, were withdrawn without any evidence it was used for the purpose it was meant.
Despite the anti-graft agency’s recovery of about N800,000 from the officials, Mr. Thompson was initially suspended from office on December 19, 2016 by Mr. Kachallah.
He was finally sacked on February 7, 2017 following approval by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khadija Ibrahim, who is also the Chairman, Presidential Inter-Ministerial Committee on the DTA (PIMC).
After months of public outcry against the perceived victimization of the whistle blower, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geofrey Onyeama, on June 20, 2017 ordered Mr. Thompson’s immediate reinstatement.
Despite his reinstatement, sources familiar with the issue said the officials involved continued their acts of intimidation and harassment against Mr. Thompson, who was neither restored to his office as directed by the minister, nor his arrears of salary since January 2017 paid to him.
It is not clear why the government has allowed the officials to remain in office after the whistle blower was cleared and reinstated.
Although operatives of the EFCC were said to have recovered several incriminating bank documents against the officials during their investigations, the spokesperson of the agency, Wilson Uwujaren, told PREMIUM TIMES no action could be taken against them until investigations were concluded.
But, a source close to the agency told PREMIUM TIMES Mr. Kachallah, who is due to retire from service by September this year, has continued to oversee fresh dodgy withdrawals from the Funds.
Official documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed how funds totalling $161,608.55 ostensibly meant for monitoring of projects/programmes at different locations in Africa were withdrawn and shared by officials through questionable trips.
On June 8, 2017, the documents showed that Mr. Kachallah had issued a memo No. DTCA/DG/003 to the Minister of State, Khadija Bukar Ibrahim, requesting her approval for a total $161,608.55.
The memo said the money was to enable him and some top officials of the agency travel to six African countries, namely Tanzania, Addis Ababa, Zambia, Libya, Abidjan, and Sao Tome & Principe, to monitor the remaining six of the 23 projects/programmes approved under the NTCF 2013/2014 pipeline activities.
The requested money was meant to cover estacode, local running allowance, flights tickets, and airport taxi for the officials during the monitoring trips involving six different groups consisting eight officials each.
Part of the money was said to have been set aside to fund the current celebration.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that funds original approved for the purpose were part of the $229,000 and N800,000 allegedly diverted in 2016.
Following the minister’s approval on the same day, June 8, Mr. Kachallah wrote again to inform her about the agency’s receipt of the requested sum in its Zenith Bank UK Domiciliary Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
Later, Mr. Kachallah gave several approvals for the release of various sums, ranging from $36,619.21 to $40,093.84 to facilitate the trips by the six groups.
The minister was scheduled to lead the delegation, which included Mr. Kachallah and six others, for which approval was given for a total of $40,093.84 to be shared on the trip to Tanzania between July 3 and 7, 2017.
Another group of eight, led by the Chairman, Federal Civil Service Commission, FCSC, Joseph Akande, was to share a total of $36,619.21 for the trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between August 21 and 26, 2017.
The documents also showed four other groups collected various sums from for the same trip scheduled for different days.
The approvals for the release of all the monies were given on June 28, 2017, the same day the disbursements were also made to various beneficiaries, including one Garba Mohammed, Mahmud Adamu and Damian Musa, vide various vouchers, including Nos. 00651, 00652, 00653 and 00654.
Asked to speak on the monitoring trip he was scheduled to have made along with the Minister of State to Tanzania between July 3 and 7, 2017, Mr. Kachallah said although other members of the group were currently outside the country, both of them stayed back because of ‘exigencies of office.’
“A month or three weeks ago, the team for Tanzania went and came back. They are about writing their report. As (I) am talking to you right now, the team for Zambia are on their way at the airport,” he said.
Regardless, a source familiar with the matter told our reporter that not all the officials who collected money made the trip.
Mr. Kachallah also did not say what role the FCSC Chairman had to play in the exercise involving another agency.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the embattled official was in a celebratory mood.
In his review of the activities of the Fund since its inception, Mr. Kachallah said a total of 123 projects proposals were considered as at June 2014, out of which 69 were approved, 24 fully completed, and reports received, while 45 were at various stages of implementation.
“The NTCF is a demonstration of the practical implementation of Nigeria’s foreign policy initiative for Africa in promoting sustainable development and regional integration in the spirit of African brotherhood and solidarity,” Mr. Kachallah said.
To date, he said, the bulk of the fund, whose interest raised it to about $28.9 million, had since been disbursed for the execution of various projects in 54 countries, leaving a balance of about $3.7 million as at March 31, 2017, for further commitments.
PREMIUM TIMES reports that the trust fund was set up in 2004 to undertake projects and programmes capable of contributing to the economic and technological development of regional member countries, to promote regional cooperation and economic integration in Africa.
The focus of the Fund was on the development of science and technology, health, business and finance, agriculture, education, public administration, regional integration, climate change and green development, governance and gender issues.