TETFund Scandal: ICPC detains Anambra Politician Paul Chukwuma over contract fraud

Founder and promoter of Fides Et Ratio Academy, an educational service provider, Paul Chukwuma, has been detained by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) over his alleged involvement in contract scandal currently rocking the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).

Mr Chukwuma was detained upon honouring ICPC invitation at the anti-graft agency’s headquaters in Abuja on Tuesday, PREMIUM TIMES can confirm.

PREMIUM TIMES in April reported how TETFund awarded a controversial N3.8 billion contract to Mr Chukwuma’s company and paid N2.9 billion to the company in four installments without following due processes.

Shortly after publication of this newspaper’s report in April, the anti-graft body detained TETFund’s Director of Finance and Accounts, Gloria Olotu, and grilled others including the Director of Human Resources and General Administration, Kolapo Okunola, and the Director of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Joseph Odo.

Mr Chukwuma’s detention is the latest major development in the ICPC investigation that dates back to April.

ICPC’s spokesperson, Ademola Bakare, on Wednesday, confirmed Mr Chukwuma was in the agency’s custody.

The suspect, a player in the education business in the country, was also on the list of members of governing councils of tertiary institutions recently released by the Nigerian government before President Bola Tinubu directed the review of the list.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES report had detailed how TETFund– a tertiary institutions’ funding agency under the Federal Ministry of Education– awarded the contract which it tagged: “Capacity Building Certificate Course (Communication, Entrepreneurship, and Productive Skill Development) inclusive of the Train-the-Trainer Programme for 502 (five hundred and two) Participants”.

Findings by this newspaper indicated that the funding for the contract was sourced from the 2023 annual direct disbursement budget domiciled in the agency for the use of about 251 beneficiary institutions – public universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education across the country.

Multiple sources confirmed that the institutions’ 2023 direct disbursement budget which totalled N15.2 billion was for Information Communication and Technology intervention projects.

However, rather than releasing the funds to the institutions as mandated by its operational guidelines, TETFund deducted the funds upfront from each of the institutions, amounting to a total of N7.6 billion.

During an interview with our reporters, the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Sonny Echono, told PREMIUM TIMES that each beneficiary institution contributed 50 per cent of its ICT funds while each polytechnic and college of education contributed 25 per cent of theirs to the project.

The choice of the project, the sourcing of the contractor, and signing f a memorandum of understanding with the vendor were undertaken by TETFund. This development angered the administrators of most of the institutions.

Also, while the project designs and modalities were yet to be finalised, sources confirmed that within a month of the award of the contract TETFund on 30 June 2023 credited the company’s account with Fidelity Bank Plc with over N550 million (N550,380,780.23) by the Central Bank of Nigeria on behalf of TETFund.

The transfer is with mandate number CBN/PROJ/224/JUN2023.

Over N820 million (N820,223,850) was additionally paid into the account on 12 July 2023, while on 26 July 2023 and 17 November 2023, N1.5 billion (N1,503,743,850) and N62.68 million (N62,684,036.05), respectively, were credited to the account by the CBN on behalf of TETFund.

Contractor defends project

Meanwhile, despite the various supposed beneficiary institutions denying the execution of the project, Mr Chukwuma, during a meeting between PREMIUM TIMES’ reporters and the company’s management, said the project “has been done and dusted.”

PREMIUM TIMES is aware that the project was designed for training 12 ICT officials across the 251 beneficiary institutions, and to onboard more than 500,000 students for both physical and virtual sessions. However, only two ICT officials in each of the tertiary institutions have taken part in what some of these officials described as engagement sessions.

Mr Chukwuma promised to make documentary evidence to back his claim to PREMIUM TIMES in April but as of the time of filing this report he has yet to do so.

He said his company was only helping Nigeria to achieve the very best for the students and the schools, saying the courses being offered the students through the programme has been “ridiculously subsidised.”

Invitation by ICPC

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr Chukwuma was on Tuesday invited to give a statement concerning his involvement in the contract scandal being investigated by the agency.

However, sources confirmed that after going through his statement, the antigraft agency imposed strict bail conditions that require the suspect to produce highly placed persons as suretees, among other conditions.

The agency’s spokesperson, Mr Bakare, who confirmed that Mr Chukwuma was in ICPC custody, said the suspect remained in detention because he could not satisfy the bail conditions.

“Yes, Chukwuma is in ICPC’s custody, unable to fulfil bail conditions,” Mr Bakare wrote in a terse statement shared with our reporter on early Wednesday. As of 6.05 p.m. when contacted over the telephone again by our reporter, Mr Bakare said he could not immediately ascertain if the suspect met the bail conditions before the end of official work hours.

‘TETFund executive secretary not yet invited’

Meanwhile, ICPC said the Executive Secretary of TETFund was yet to be invited, and not in its custody as being allegedly circulated.

It, however, said the investigation into the scandal was still ongoing and that it could not rule out the possibility of arresting anyone who played roles in the matter.

“Echono wasn’t invited but investigations are still ongoing,” Mr Bakare said.

By Teen Trust

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