Did Tunji-Ojo turn off President Tinubu’s mic?

Political analysts and commentators have alleged a pattern of corrupt practices involving the Minister of Interior, Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo. Some of these allegations range from the credibility of his academic qualifications to pervasive corruption during his term as Chairman, House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission, and most recently, the scandal involving the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry.

Tunji-Ojo’s company (New Planet Projects Ltd) was one of the beneficiaries of Dr Betta Edu’s Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs’ contract scam. Although he has denied the allegation and claimed that he resigned as a director of the company and is not involved in its day-to-day running, yet in the same breath Tunji-Ojo admitted that he is still a shareholder of the company. It is therefore imperative to analyse the obvious irregularities in the contract between Betta Edu’s Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and New Planet Projects Ltd.

First, we must establish whether a mere resignation leads to the relinquishing of all interests in the company and absolves Tunji-Ojo of the resulting conflict of interest as a shareholder of the company, within the purview of his role as a public officer. I must state from the outset that New Planet Projects Ltd. is not quoted in the Nigerian Stock Exchange, rather it is a limited liability company owned by Tunji-Ojo and his wife, Abimbola Tunji-Ojo, who is also a civil servant with the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) – advertently contravening the civil service rules. The benefits and liabilities of the company are borne by the shareholders, and the contract sum is essentially in the pocket of Tunji-Ojo.

Assuming, without conceding that Tunji-Ojo resigned his directorship of the company but retains ownership of his shares, does that void his interest in the company? Statutorily, a shareholder in a company owns the company or part of it and enjoys certain rights, privileges and responsibilities. The Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 provides that, anyone with 5 per cent shares or interest in a company is deemed to have a significant control of the company. Pursuant to this provision, Tunji-Ojo holds significant interest in the company, making his resignation immaterial to the resulting conflict of interest.

Having established the existence of a conflict of interest, it is important to ask other pertinent questions.

Why is a private company carrying out enumeration on behalf of a government ministry, despite the existence of a National Population Commission which is saddled with the responsibility of mining data, collecting, analysing and publishing data for the government? To buttress the point, in 2023 a budget of over N200 billion was approved for the National Population Commission to conduct a census. This then begs the question: Why is the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs duplicating efforts by collecting data that should have been part of the 2023 census?

Supposing that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs is in the right position to collect this data, what was the procedure for selecting the company to perform the enumeration? Was the process transparent? Was there a public tender that allowed companies to bid for the enumeration role under the Public Procurement Act? If there was, did New Planet Project Ltd participate in it?

Assuming these questions are answered affirmatively, the contract would still fail the third test of value-for-money standards and practices for public procurement set by the Bureau for Public Procurement, since there is already a National Population Commission saddled with that responsibility and having budgetary allocations for it.

Other pertinent questions would include: Was the award of a contract by Betta Edu to Tunji-Ojo a quid pro quo? Was she awarding the contracts to her colleague in order to launder money and hold it in trust for her or their political party in the event that elections come up? Could this be why President Bola Tinubu’s mic has been off on Tunji-Ojo?

A cursory look at these irregularities shows us that if Betta Edu’s suspension and investigations by anticorruption is anything to go by, then Tunji-Ojo should also be dancing to the same music. Except President Tinubu’s mic has been turned off, just as his House Committee tried turning off Senator Akpabio’s mic during the corruption scandal that rocked the ministry of Niger Delta.

If this administration seeks to fight corruption, then the President has a responsibility to ensure that his government does not have the selective anticorruption baggage that plagued the Buhari administration.

Mbasekei Martin Obono is the managing partner at Tap Legal Services.