A few hours after her suspension, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday arrested the National Coordinator and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA), Halima Shehu.
She was still being detained as at press time last night.
Halima Shehu was picked up in connection with the movement of N17 billion from NSIPA account to some suspicious accounts within one week.
N17billion Deal: Why EFCC detained social investment scheme Coordinator
The interception and recovery of the cash followed some alleged payments of billions of naira by the agency without presidential approval.
It was learnt that the EFCC might have recommended Halima Shehu’s suspension to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Her suspension, based on preliminary investigation, was to pave the way for an unfettered probe of the infraction.
Operatives of the commission, who were drafted to the National Coordinator’s private office and home, arrested her at about 8pm yesterday.
After searching her home and office, she was taken into custody at about 9pm for interrogation.
It was also learnt that the EFCC was closing in on a director of the agency, who was allegedly complicit in the huge payments into the suspicious accounts.
But, some crack operatives of the EFCC will today interrogate a former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, for allegedly laundering N37, 170,855,753.44 during her tenure through a contractor, James Okwete.
The ex-minister has disowned the implicated contractor.
She might be quizzed today by a team of interrogators.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that following intelligence, the EFCC uncovered “unusual movement of billions of naira” from NSIPA’s account.
A top source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The EFCC raised a red flag on the suspicious payments of billions of Naira into some individual and corporate accounts. Preliminary investigation showed that there was no presidential approval for the payment of such humongous funds
“Pre-emptive steps were immediately put in place to track the suspicious funds. So far, about N17 billion has been intercepted and recovered from some accounts by this commission.
“Our team is working round the clock to trace the remaining billions of Naira suspected to have been laundered from the Social Investment cash.”
An EFCC source told our correspondent how the NSIPA boss was arrested.
He said: “Shortly after her suspension, EFCC operatives laid siege to her office in Maitama District but it took almost two hours to arrest her. While the siege lasted, the EFCC chairman directed that the operatives should not break into her office or her residence.
“Eventually, she was arrested and detained by our team. Her grilling immediately started based on preliminary findings.”
As at press time, it was gathered that the EFCC might have recommended Halima Shehu’s suspension, pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigation.
Before Halima’s appointment, she worked as the National Coordinator of the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme .
She also served with the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development between 2017 and 2022.
Investigation confirmed that the president wielded the big stick yesterday because Halima Shehu had earlier defied a presidential directive to work with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu, to pay the outstanding and statutory stipends to beneficiaries of the N-Power programme before Christmas.
The N-Power programme was created by ex-President Muhammadu Buhari to address youth unemployment with the beneficiaries earning N30,000 monthly.
About 400,000 beneficiaries have not received monthly stipends in the past few months.
A highly-placed source said: “The suspended National Coordinator did not work with the minister as expected on N-Power. Following the defiance of the presidential directive, the presidency asked the minister to liaise with the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to pay the N-Power beneficiaries.
“In the midst of this challenge, the EFCC intercepted suspicious payments by NSIPA. The president had no choice than to approve her suspension as requested by the EFCC.”
The EFCC was on the trail of a director of the Social Investment Agency who was central to the suspicious payments.
On Umar-Farouq, a source said: “We have invited her. Our team is set to interact with her because the affected contractor has made some statements which we need to interrogate.”
In a letter to the ex-minister, the EFCC said: “The commission is investigating a case of money laundering involving the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development during your time as minister..
“In view of the above, you are requested to kindly report for an interview with the undersigned. Scheduled as follows: Wednesday, 3rd of January, 2024. Time: 10am. This request is made pursuant to Section 38 (I) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004 & Section 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.”