How DMO DG Oniha Crippled Agency With Her Footsteps Of Corruption In Three Years
When leaders come on board the ship to take the steering, their leadership qualities are seen from afar, but when those whom the gods destined to be born as incompetent takes over the affairs of leadership, their first steps reeks of inexperience.
They face the wrath of equals and subordinates who are only beaten into the line of loyalty by force, but grudgingly revolt. This is currently the case of the Debt Management Office (DMO) which is currently in shambles just a few years after Dr. Abraham Nwankwo who built it to an enviable level among Federal Government agencies handed it over to Ms. Patience Oniha in an elaborate ceremony that held in Abuja.
Ms. Oniha was appointed as the DMO boss on July 1, 2017. The DMO is the government agency responsible for coordinating government strategy for the management of public debts. Information reaching SecretReporters from sources familiar with Ms. Patience revealed that contrary to claims that she’s a good manager; the opposite result is the case, as she has run the DMO aground in less than four years of taking over the mantle.
The Office has continued to swim in allegations of financial impropriety. Recall, Ms. Oniha was recently accused of embezzling money amounting to N1.08 billion. It was learned that the large-scale financial wrongdoings in the office have drawn the attention of anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The corruption is allegedly being perpetrated through various means ranging from awards of contracts, operating on temporary files, unauthorized overseas trips, organization of fictitious events, and production of fake transport receipts, and destruction of official documents.
In December 2017, the office requested the then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun to approve the sum of N90 million to cover travel expenses to states for eight DMO Staff to carry out reconciliation of the Paris Club Refunds. Adeosun approved N60m for the exercise. The money was released to the DMO via AIE No. CMD/SW/REC/008/2018 dated 12th January 2018 but the members of staff nicknamed ‘the Task Force’, we gathered, never traveled to any states.
They rather worked in-house to conclude the assignment, using the records already in the possession of the DMO. It was gathered that the money was subsequently withdrawn in tranches, brought to the office, and distributed to the staff contrary to extant regulations The first tranche of the money, it was learned, was N4.8 million, the 2nd, 3rd & 4th tranches were released in the sum of N20 million each and N15.2 million respectively totaling N60 million.
It was also gathered that the eight staff of DMO who did the work were only given about N2,500,000 each on average, making a total of about N20 million with the balance of N40 million allegedly diverted. Incidentally, the money which was an advance payment from the Ministry of Finance to DMO has not been retired to date.
Litany of fake events, trips totaling N130m
In November 2019, the office also approved money to be paid for events which included sensitization workshops on “various products recently introduced” by DMO in four commercial cities of Ibadan, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, and Owerri.
The events and trips, for which a total of N130 million was expended, it was gathered, never existed, or took place. N401.3million paid on contract splitting, media consultancy, using temporary file (T1- T1 million) Between 2018 and June 2020, the office had approved the payment of about N401,348,818.00 for an unknown media consultancy firm believed to be fake without due process. Contracts were said to have been split and awarded to the vendor on a monthly basis for each project, exceeding the monetary thresholds of the office, depending on the nature of the project.
By the act establishing the office, the DMO’s approval power, it was learned, is not expected to cross the threshold of N2.5m million. Figures outside this amount pass through the DMO’s tenders board to be discussed by other accounting officers who will determine the viability and the propriety or otherwise of the project. Where it exceeds the approval powers of the boards, it is then taken to the ministerial tenders board for approval and or the Federal Executive Council, FEC as the case may be.
This, however, was done without an active file to establish the history of the transactions but in a Temporary File (T-File) ranging from T1 to T1million. It was gathered that payments were however made. Interestingly, in a transaction of N10 million, for instance, the invoice would be broken into smaller amounts and paid to the same vendor on the same date and on the same project in a bid to make them fall within the office threshold. There is also approval for projects whose amounts were beyond the power of the office.
These projects which the aggregate is estimated to the tune of over N350 million were supposed to pass through the DMO’s tenders’ board or Ministerial tenders’ board.
But that was not the case as due process was not adhered to, an offense which contravenes Section 17 (ai-ii) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and Section 2906 and 2916 of the Financial Regulations and other relevant sections of the Act and extant laws. During her stay as the agency’s Director of Market Development Department for eight years; her performance was poor and it only became an active department when she retired.
Her incompetence as DG DMO came to the fore on her handling of the Sukuk which brought the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to be at loggerhead with the Federal Government.