Minister speaks on ‘irregular’ N11 million staff say he pocketed

The Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, has acknowledged benefitting from a payment made by the Energy Commission of Nigeria, days after staff of the commission alleged he had been corruptly paid.

But the minister said the money funded an international trip by a Nigerian delegation he led.

Striking workers of the energy commission, which the minister supervises, had on Tuesday accused the leadership of the agency of ineptitude and corruption, and accused it of paying N11 million into Mr. Onu’s account. The workers said the payment was “irregular”.

They demanded the removal of the director general of the commission, E.J Bala, whom they said did not understand the mandate of the agency.

“The director had described the commission as a research institute and this is at variance with the mandate of ECN which is strategic planning and coordination of policies on energy,” said Promise Chukwu, the chairman of the staff union.

Mr. Chukwu also said the management made payment of N11 million through the project account of the commission to the account of the minister, Mr. Onu.

Mr. Onu acknowledged there was a spending by the commission, but did not say the amount. He said the money was not in his favour, and that the claim that the payment was “irregular” was “baseless and untrue”.

“No money was ever raised in favour of the Honourable Minister,” a statement by a spokesperson for the ministry, AbdulGaniyu Aminu, said.

He said the money was to fund the travelling expenses of the minister and other officials to the last Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), held at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirate in January 2017.

“The delegates to the Assembly, who were accredited by the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, comprised of officials from both the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) and the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN),” the statement said.

“Nigeria’s delegation comprised, among others, the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, the Director-General of the Energy Commission as well as the Director/Technical Adviser to the DG. The Honourable Minister is expected to serve as Head of Delegation,” the statement read.

IRENA is an inter-governmental agency established in 2009 with headquarters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and with membership of over one hundred and eighty (180) countries. Its objectives are to promote the widespread and increased adoption and the use of all forms of renewable energy. These types of energy include, inter alia, bio-energy, hydropower, solar, wind, ocean tides and waves as well as geothermal energy.

The statement said as the focal agency for the co-ordination of matters relating to Nigeria’s membership of IRENA, the Energy Commission supports all members of the national delegation through its budgetary provisions.

The statement said Nigeria benefitted from participating at the conference.

“During the 2017 Assembly, the Honourable Minister was able to secure for Nigeria the position of Vice-President of the Assembly up to 2018. The Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the Agency,” it said.

It described Mr. Onu as “a man of impeccable character who has demonstrated high moral standard and integrity in piloting the affairs of the Ministry”.

When contacted on Saturday, the chairman of the staff union, Mr. Chukwu, said the strike had been suspended after the management agreed to meet some of the union’s demands.