US$2.2 million GAVI refund: Group petitions EFCC, demands probe of Okonjo-Iweala

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The Civil Society Network Against Corruption has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over the ‎refund of US$2.2 million by the Nigerian government to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

In a petition dated September 23, CSNAC‎ requested the investigation of the alleged mismanagement of the US$2.2 million as well as the role played by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, who authorized the refund of the money to GAVI.

On Monday, GAVI announced the appointment of Ms. Okonjo-Iweala as chair of its 28-member Board.

The former minister’s appointment came months after she spearheaded a controversial decision to pay ‎the US$2.2 million to the Geneva-based organization, being a refund for funds allegedly mismanaged by Nigerian health officials.

The refund was made despite protests by officials of the health ministry that all GAVI grants had been judiciously used.

“Following our petition on this matter and reportage of same by local and international news media, our network received a response, accompanied with evidences, from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), controverting claims that were contained in the GAVI’s Cash Program Audit (CPA) report which was the subject of our petition,” Olanrewaju Suraju, CSNAC’s Chairman, said in the petition to the EFCC. 

“Through voluntary support of volunteers, partners and members of our network, we undertook independent investigation of the allegations contained in the CPA report and, confirmation of assertions and proof provided by NPHCDA. These included independent and unannounced visits by different volunteers to locations in Borno, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Kano, Kaduna.

“To our utter amazement and in consonance with your preliminary findings, our investigations revealed findings at variance with the allegations of fraud contained in report of GAVI, through its Cash Program Audit (C.P.A) on cash grants allocated to Nigeria between 2011-2013. The C.P.A had returned an indicting report of fraud and mismanagement of funds by the Nigerian government through Federal Ministry of Health and National Primary Health Care Development Agency.”

In October last year, GAVI released its findings from a Cash Programme Audit, CPA, of US$29 million it disbursed to Nigeria between 2011 and 2013.

The CPA findings claimed that funds – running into millions of dollars – meant for the procurement of vaccines and other immunization support activities in the period under review were mismanaged.

Mr. Olanrewaju said his organization found a letter written by the New York office of UNICEF officially debunking claims in the GAVI report, as it concerns their transactions with NPHCDA under the contract. 

“The Federal Inland Revenue Services did write to acknowledge receipt of taxes deducted by NPHCDA, as against position of GAVI,” CSNAC stated in the petition. 

“The Corporate Affairs Commission further provided evidence controverting malicious claims contained in the CPA report. The big question and worry for our network is, why would an organisation like GAVI embark on a smear campaign of such magnitude against a sovereign nation.

“Also, contrary to the misinformation and falsehood peddled by GAVI on the admission of guilt by the Nigerian Government, as represented by the Federal Ministry of Health, in reference to a letter titled ‘Letter of Understanding on the Principles Regarding the GAVI Cash Program Audit 2011-2013’, dated October 17, 2014 and signed by the former Health Minister, Professor C.O. Onyebuchi Chukwu, the Ministry had demanded a joint post audit reconciliation of the disputed CPA report, as it is the standard practice. 

“The minister had only committed the government to refund of any unused fund discovered after the joint reconciliation with GAVI. 

“The organization went ahead to deceive concerned Nigerians and the international community by twisting the intent and content of the LoU signed on the agreed joint reconciliation to mean an admission of guilt in the alleged mismanagement of $2.2m.”

The petition further stated that, in response to the GAVI report, CSNAC had petitioned the EFCC demanding investigation and possible prosecution of officials of the Ministry of Health and NPHCDA connected with the allegations.

“I should inform that GAVI was contacted by this group for evidence to corroborate the allegations of fraud contained in their report,” Mr. Suraju said. 

 

“Though, the report of fraud was deliberately shared with local and international media by GAVI, to attract negative attention and unfair criticism on the Country, the organisation failed to substantiate claims contained in its report much less respond to our requests. 

“Our findings, negating spurious allegations of GAVI, was shared with leadership of the organisation and its major funding partner, Bill and Melinda Gate foundation since March and no response has been received till date.

“It is to our chagrin and with consternation reading a letter from the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, alleging refund of the $2.2m to GAVI by the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, without recourse to the Ministry and demanding clarification from your Commission. 

“This is nothing but an act of sabotage, aimed at placating an international organisation at the expense of National integrity and reputation. Your findings, as contained in your preliminary report, further laid credence to this conclusion.”

CSNAC stated that with the appointment of Ms. Okonjo-Iweala as Chair of GAVI’s Board, there is every reason to suspect conflict of interest in the “unprofessional and unpatriotic” refund of $2.2m to GAVI by the former minister.

“CSNAC is therefore, by this petition, requesting an extended and thorough investigation into the abuse of office, unprofessional conduct and conflict of interest associated with the activities of GAVI in Nigeria and, the actions of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in connection with the refund,” Mr. Olanrewaju said. 

“Your timely and further action would correct the negative impression of Nigerian, created by the repayment.”


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