An ongoing probe, ordered by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, has uncovered a massive fraud in the Federal Government Youth Enterprise With Innovation In Nigeria programme.
A reliable source in the ministry of finance told The PUNCH that investigators had already discovered that some senior civil servants gave out or facilitated slots worth between N7m and N10m each to their spouses, children and friends.
Some of these awardees, the source said, would not have qualified for the grants if they were not aided by their “connections” within and outside the ministry.
An original initiative of the ministry which began during the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, YouWin was conceived to help youth entrepreneurs grow existing businesses and create employment.
The source, who insisted that the probe had not been concluded by the investigators, added that their initial findings were so worrisome that the minister had decided that the entire programme should be restructured.
“The fraud uncovered in the programme made the minister to restructure the programme and turn its focus into enterprise education,” the source added.
The source did not, however, state whether any of the country’s anti-graft agencies had joined the investigators whom our correspondent was made to understand were ministry of finance officials.
At different times, the YouWin project had been dogged by allegations of nepotism and underhand dealings by top civil servants for years.
The source in the finance ministry stated, “Actually, allegations were persistent that there was racketeering. Some of the applicants, especially those who lost out, claimed that some of the winners simply copied and pasted the plans of other applicants in order to win.
“Some of them also said they were asked by some civil servants to use specific consultants in order to be considered.
“Contrary to the rules of the game, awards were also given to some entrepreneurs that were operating outside Nigeria. In fact, some of these people simply took the cash and migrated to foreign countries.”
The source added that the investigators found out that the ministry under Jonathan awarded a “disproportionate” number of awards to people from a particular part of the country.
The source said, “Some of the members of the team used it to set up friends and family as awardees. In one case, a husband and his wife used the same address and pocketed N10m each. In another instance, a son of one of the directors in the ministry was given N10m.
“When the (current) administration got into power, one of the first things that the ministry did was to ask for the BVN of awardees. It was an attempt to find out if some of the awardees got more than a single slot and whether senior civil servants awarded slots to their family members.”
It was learnt that the BVN verification, which exposed the fraud in the programme and initiated the probe, might lead to the indictment of some senior civil servants.
Some of the documents sighted by The PUNCH showed the rot in the system.
One of the documents indicated that a former director in the ministry of finance might have awarded a slot to his son.
Investigators are said to be probing whether the son’s company met all the requirements.
Another document sighted showed that two awardees shared the same surname and the same address.
One of the documents also indicated that two grants were given to a couple running two different companies.
The husband’s company is said to be involved in building and construction projects while the wife’s business, stated on the form, is ‘food and catering’ services.
Sources in the ministry explained that the ongoing probe would see investigators thoroughly combing through the information supplied by the 1,491 awardees.
It was learnt that the investigators would check for alleged duplication of business places, duplication of BVNs, criminal entries and other culpabilities of some civil servants and whether the companies awarded grants existed.
Last year, some YOUWIN awardees had protested against the Muhammadu Buhari administration, alleging neglect.
After the protest, a Director of Information at the Ministry of Information and Culture, Na’inna Dambatta, said a total of 18,000 young entrepreneurs were trained in management and business skills under the YouWin programme.
Dambatta added that 3,900 of the trainees, including 1,200 women, got non-repayable grants ranging from N1m to N10m.
“The third edition of the programme, which is still running with 1,500 beneficiaries, has received the sum of N11.2bn in funding. So far, grants totalling N7.4bn have been disbursed to the awardees,” he had said.
Efforts to get the reaction of the Special Adviser on Media to the Minister of Finance, Mr. Festus Akanbi, failed to yield result on Monday.
Akanbi requested 10 minutes to get appropriate reaction when The PUNCH reached out to him for comments but did not get back to our correspondent as of the time of filing this report.