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Discordant tunes as FG threatens sanctions on workers leaking official documents

As part of measures to curtail the backlash that heralded the series of recent leaks exposing wasteful and other forms of suspicious expenditures incurred by…

As part of measures to curtail the backlash that heralded the series of recent leaks exposing wasteful and other forms of suspicious expenditures incurred by public officers amid the worsening economic woes of the country, the federal government has announced plans to block leakages of official documents.

This was done through a circular with the Federal Government threatening to sanction civil servants leaking official memos and documents classified as sensitive to the public.

The memo signed by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (HoCSF), Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan, warned of severe sanctions in line with public service rules.

The memo dated February 19, 2024, said the leakages of such documents have become embarrassing to the government and as such become unacceptable.

The memo with reference no: HCSF/3065/VI/189 reads, “It has been observed with dismay, the increase in the cases of leakage of sensitive official documents in Ministries, Departments and Agencies. This is very embarrassing to the government and therefore unacceptable.

“As part of efforts to curb this undesirable development, all permanent secretaries are to fast-track the migration to the digitalised workflow system, and ensure effective deployment of the Enterprise Content Management Solution.

“This will reduce physical contact with official documents, thereby checking the increasing incidences of leakage and circulation of same.

“Furthermore, permanent secretaries are advised to strongly warn all staff against leaking and circulating official information and documents.

“Any officer caught engaging in such unbecoming act will be severely dealt with in line with the relevant provisions of the Public Service Rules and other extant circulars. This circular therefore reinforces the earlier circular on ‘Unauthorised Circulation of Official Document/Information on Social Media…dated 2 August 2021, and other regulations prohibiting unauthorized disclosure/leakage of official documents.

“Permanent Secretaries are to ensure strict compliance with the contents of this circular and draw the attention of the Heads of agencies under their supervision to same.”

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that there has been an increase in the leakage of sensitive government documents, especially on social media.

This includes a recent memo from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), Senator George Akume, which revealed plans to allocate N500m as allowances to members of the tripartite committee on minimum wage set up by the Federal Government.

The N500m approved by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was from the initial N1bn requested for by Akume.

The above came on the heels of the leaks exposing suspended Betta Edu’s controversial authorisation of payment of N585.2m into the private bank account of a civil servant at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

There was also a memo about a huge amount of money to be allocated as subsidy for Hajj which purportedly emanated from the office of the Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, to cushion the effect of high dollar exchange rate which has led to the astronomical rise in Hajj pilgrimage fare. 

Presidency’s initial move

Before the Dr. Yemi-Esan’s circular, the Presidency had called for an investigation into the civil service framework, to eliminate individuals it refers to as ‘moles’ who are loyal to the opposition parties in the country.

The Special Adviser to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on Information and Strategy, Mr Bayo Onanuga, had openly called for the investigation of moles allegedly responsible for the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents.

He also stressed the need for the Federal Government to take decisive action in identifying and removing individuals who are leaking classified documents and are believed to have allegiance to the opposition.

The leaks that led to the threats

One of the leaks showed that Mrs Edu had in December 2023 requested Mrs Oluwatoyin Madein, the Accountant General of the Federation, to transfer the money from the account of the National Social Investment Office to the private account of Bridget Oniyelu, an accountant of a federal government poverty intervention project called Grants for Vulnerable Groups, a project under Mrs Edu’s ministry.

The leaked memo also showed that a firm, New Planet Projects, traced to the Minister of Interior, Dr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, received N438m as payment for ‘consultancy fees’ from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation on Mrs Edu’s watch.

The development led to the suspension of Mrs Edu by President Tinubu.

While the interior minister denied any involvement in the contract, insisting that he was no longer involved in the running of the company after resigning as its director in 2019, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) asked Mr Tunji-Ojo to appear before it on Tuesday, 16 January, for interrogation over the contract scandal.

The minister, however failed to show-up at the CCB, citing prior official engagement. Nothing has been heard on this since then.

Even when the dust of the Edu-gate was yet to settle, another controversy arose with the request for N1bn by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Senator George Akume, to President Tinubu, for the workings of a 37-man national minimum wage committee.

Vice President, Senator Kashim Shettima, had on January 30, 2024 inaugurated the Tripartite Committee on New National Minimum Wage at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

A letter dated 18th January 2024, addressed to the President Tinubu by SGF Senator Akume, urged the President to approve a budget of N1bn.

The letter titled, ‘Request For Approval of Funds and Inauguration of The Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage,’ reads in parts: “This memorandum seeks your approval in respect of the above subject matter:

“The release of the sum of One Billion Naira only for the above exercise. This has been scaled down from N1.8 billion.”

The committee under the Chairmanship of Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji, a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation cut across Federal and state government, private sector and the organised labour.

Commenting on the controversy surrounding the approval, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, said that most of the governors of the 37-member Tripartite Committee On Minimum Wage were not paying the N30,000 minimum wage to civil servants in their states.

“Most of the governors in the minimum wage committee are those who are not paying minimum wage or paying them in breaches. The governors who are in full compliance with the minimum wage are not adequately represented.

“So, whatever made the Federal Government bring in those who are not compliant or compliant in breaches to form the bulk of the membership of the minimum wage committee from the state government will unfold with time,” Ajaero said.

Commenting on the development on his X handle, a former federal lawmaker from Kaduna State, Senator Shehu Sani, said “The Minimum Wage Committee just allocated the maximum wage for themselves.”

Also, the National Secretary of Coalition United Political Parties (CUPP), High Chief Peter Ameh, who expressed shock over the development also expressed sadness over the reported approval by President Tinubu through the Chief of Staff, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to the suspended Mrs Edu to expend N3bn to verify the national register of the poor in the country.

“This reckless and mindless spending on verification of national register reflects a lack of fiscal discipline and responsibility that has become a hallmark of President Tinubu’s government who in the guise of helping the poor, keeps elevating cronyism as an art, which we ignorantly thought had gone with President Buhari’s administration,” Ameh said.

But Hon. Gbajabiamila, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, asked law enforcement agencies to investigate what he called a campaign of calumny against him by mischief makers.

CSOs wades in

Speaking on the development, Executive Director Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, said that discussing democracy without transparency and accountability is impossible.

He said that the absence of transparency in governmental affairs has led the nation to a regrettable condition.

“The Head of Service is completely wrong as the funds being allocated are public resources, and it is the citizens’ entitlement to be informed about how their resources are utilized by the government. Unless Dr Folashade is suggesting that the public should be kept in the dark, her statement holds no validity,” Zikirullahi said.

Also, the Coordinator, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, Dr Chido Onumah, expressed surprise that the government is coming out with this kind of memo (from Dr Yemi-Esan) or position on this issue.

“What exactly are they trying to hide? Even when they say documents are classified, ultimately these are documents in the public interest. Somehow, these documents would come out eventually because if the government is in the interest of the people, even when these documents are classified information, and they come out, it shouldn’t be something that should cause the government any kind of embarrassment. So, if they’re worried that these memos would leak or shouldn’t leak, then they have to worry about the kind of things that go into this memo.

“I think Nigerians have a responsibility to protect the public interest. When people see things going wrong and they’re not comfortable with these things, it’s commendable they respond. We have a whistleblowing policy that the government put in place in December 2006.

“And then people see a government budgeting N1bn to set up a committee. Is it a committee of 200 million people? What exactly are they supposed to do? And we are supposed to be happy that the president cut the budget in two, making it N500m?” Onumah said.

The Senior Communications Officer at Yiaga Africa, Mr Mark Amaza, said that it is important to make a distinction between what kinds of official documents are classified and which are not.

“This is especially important against the context of where the government has a culture of not disclosing relevant information to citizens, even disregarding Freedom of Information (FoI) requests from citizens.

“As such, citizens should not be deprived of information about how the government operates. After all, democracy dies in darkness and we have to ensure that it stays in the light,” Amaza said.

Also, Mr Tunde Salman, the Team Lead/ Convener Good Governance Team (GGT) Nigeria, said that the government should prioritise the rights of citizenry which they swore to protect and access to information is vital in upholding that.


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