•FG shuns Kokori, Labour, inaugurates
•I haven’t been informed about Michael Imoudu institute’s appointment—Kokori
By Victor Young & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—Despite opposition by Labour, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, yesterday, amid tight security, inaugurated the Board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, with Austin Enajemo-Isire, as chairman.
The inauguration did not, however, go without protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, over alleged attack on labour members by suspected thugs at the private residence of the Minister in Asokoro and replacement of veteran labour leader, Chief Frank Kokori, as chairman of the Board.
While the inauguration took place at the Old Banquet of the Presidential Villa, the protest was staged at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, with the NLC vowing to expose the minister to international ridicule.
The Presidency had said in a statement on Sunday, that Chief Kokori was appointed as chairman of the Board of Michael Imoudu Institute for Labour Studies and not NSITF.
But Kokori in a swift reaction yesterday, said he was not aware of his appointment as chairman of
the board of the labour institute.
Inaugurating the board, Ngige recalled the alleged fraud uncovered under the past NSITF management which had been investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
He described the process leading to the inauguration as long and tortuous, adding that before the composition of the board’s membership, extensive investigations were conducted into financial crimes and administrative flaws perpetrated by the former board.
According to him, the output of the investigation was a useful guide for the composition of a new and promising board with the capacity to efficiently discharge its functions.
He said: “The route to this event of today (yesterday) has been long and tortuous due to conditions precedent that needed to be addressed and resolved to ensure a viable and progressive NSITF for today and the future.
“Extensive investigations, both for financial crimes and administrative breaches, had to be carried out in the NSITF with outcomes in the form of reports and recommendations that have provided guides for the formation of a new and better NSITF where a new board can thrive and efficiently discharge its statutory functions.’’
Ngige charged the new appointees to leave the day-to-day running of NSITF to the Executive Directors, and not award contracts or review upwards their remunerations and allowances by themselves.
He also added that the Board should always be made aware of whatever the Tenders Board of the NSITF was doing, in order to enhance checks and balances in the system.
The Minister commended the current management of the NSITF, led by its Managing Director, Adebayo Somefun, for improving the fortunes of the Fund and implementing its statutory mandate, but enjoined it to work in harmony with the new Board to continually improve staff welfare and other indices needed to make the Fund function optimally.
Ngige said: “Though this Board is being inaugurated much later than its contemporaries, the NSITF is, however, better set to welcome a new Board than it was at the time when the other Boards of the Ministry were inaugurated.
“As you all may be aware, the last Board and management of the NSITF left negative trails inimical to development and progress for both the human and infrastructural components of the agency.
“The criminal investigations by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, and the subsequent Administrative Panel of Enquiry investigations revealed financial atrocities that would go down the history of the NSITF as shameful and monstrous.
“At a time, the national dailies and social media were agog with the news of corruption and deep sleaze by some members of the previous Board in collusion with some top management staff of the Agency who aided and abetted the looting of both government and private sector funds of about N48 billion from the N62 billion contributions between 2012 – 2015 of the NSITF.
“This resulted in about four Board members, including the last chairman, being arraigned and charged to court by the EFCC. Some monies have been paid back to government treasury and about 37 houses are now under forfeiture. The Administrative Panel report also indicted some Board members and NSITF management officers.
“The affected officers have now been shown the way out, and many more indicted officers by the Auditor General’s Periodic Report on the NSITF will soon be made to refund the monies illegally taken from the Fund.
‘’The Auditor General of the Federation, AUGF, had to be prompted when it became clear that there was no audited account of the place for five years.
“The Administrative Panel also made some far reaching recommendations towards making the NSITF financially viable and plugging all the loopholes exploited by some members of the last Board. Permit me to say that we have implemented a lot of the recommendations in order to restructure and reposition the agency, especially strengthening the financial and audit points of the Fund through some strategic staff deployment.
“At least, N5 billion cannot now varnish in a day without audit trial or voucher! The Legal Department was also strengthened for their functions. The remainder of the recommendation will be passed on to the Board and management for their immediate implementation.
“Meanwhile, areas of financial haemorrhage which made the fund financially anaemic such as uncoordinated appointment of collection agents and indiscriminate investments as well as multiplicity of bank accounts have been also tackled.
“The Single Treasury Account, TSA, is in place and has made sure the issue of multiplicity of accounts and investment are handled and undertaken wisely. The Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, has vetted and appointed very few consultants for collection for a period of time.
“With all these in place, enough funds are now available to attend to staff salaries, allowances, and running costs of the agency, unlike 2015/16 when the Fund was living from hand to mouth.
“The Executive Directors appointed in 2017 have also adjusted and had within the time period been able to lift the Fund to a better level. Governments has also started paying up their contribution since 2017/18 and 2019, as they were initially reluctant to do so because of the massive looting that took place in the Fund in 2012 – 2015. In all, it was difficult to put up a Board without sanitizing the place.
“As at today, the Fund is in arrears in her Audited accounts – the period is 2012 – 2018, a period of seven years. We need these Audited Accounts as soon as possible, to enable us send our Annual reports to Mr. President.
“More work will also be needed in the area of resolving the issue of unremitted PAYE Tax, which were deducted from staff but not remitted to the State Tax Boards resulting in the sealing up of many branch offices, e.g. Port Harcourt, Owerri, etc.”
He admonished the members to ensure proper conduct of the affairs of the Agency to “restore the confidence of the Nigerian Public in the administration of the fund collected for the execution of the Employees’ Compensation Act (ECA), 2010 which is now the major mandate of the Fund, especially in view of the fact that it is the funds contributed by the Public and Private Sectors to execute this mandate.
Other members of the board include Mr Olawale, Osuolale Timothy, (NECA); Dr Mohammed Yinusa, Dr. Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, Mrs. Dutse Aminu, CBN; Mr Jasper Azuatalam, Executive Director, Finance; Mr Tijani Suleiman, Mrs Kemi Nelson, Executive Director, Operations and Mr. Ade Bayo Somefun, Managing Director & Chief Executive, while the secretary is Mrs. Ijeoma Okoronkwo
Protesting the inauguration yesterday, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, and presidents of affiliate member unions moved from Labour House, Abuja, at about 9 am to the Ministry of Labour and Employment building at the secretariat. Their movement disrupted traffic on the adjoining highways for several hours.
At the Federal Secretariat, the protesters blocked the private entrance of the minister into his ministry.
Among the protesters were members of ASUU, SSANU, NUPENG, NULGE and other unions.
Most of the union leaders, who spoke, passed a vote of no confidence on the minister, accusing him of deliberately delaying the inauguration of the NSITF board to achieve selfish objectives.
Addressing the protesters, Wabba accused Ngige of masterminding the impasse in order to retain control of the NSITF money.
He said: “We will expose the minister because even under the military rule, force against armless workers was not witnessed. The law says the right to protest and picket does not require authorisation but police presence.
“We call on the Federal Government to come clean and offer an explanation for the removal of Frank Kokori as the NSITF board chairman, even before his inauguration, after being named by the government and passing security screening.
“Kokori is eminently qualified to lead NSITF. The only thing he has not done is stealing money. Our money has been stolen by these people. Failure to consult labour before taking the decision in NSITF is in itself an illegality.
“If you want to swap Kokori, why not say it early enough? Ngige invited Kokori four times to discuss NSITF issue with him after he was nominated. One of the meetings took place in Ngige’s residence. Kokori is not an orphan because we will always be with him.’’
In his remarks, the national president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, said the attack on workers was an attempt to erode democracy which had been planted in Nigeria.
“The government on its own approached Kokori in order to purge NSITF of corrupt tendencies. If that is the case, we are saying that if Nigeria is ready to fight corruption, Kokori must be allowed to lead NSITF and if someone has violated that, Nigerian workers call for an investigation,” he said.
Ogunyemi asked President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a powerful panel to investigate the attack on workers at Ngige’s residence.
President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), William Akporeha, in his remarks, said although the Presidency had spoken on Mr Kokori’s case, the workers were not ignorant of the fact that Kokori’s uprightness and integrity were factors that were used against him.
“Workers know the truth; Kokori is an icon. Why do we avoid people of integrity in Nigeria? We are blessed to have Kokori around us and we will not abandon him,” he said.
I’m not aware of Imoudu institute’s appointment — Kokori
Giving further clarification about the controversy yesterday, Chief Kokori said he was not aware of his appointment as chairman of the board of Michael Imoudu Institute of Labour Studies, MINILS, in Ilorin, Kwara State.
He reacted to reports that he rejected the appointment to head the board of the institute.
Kokori said in an interview with Vanguard yesterday: “Nobody has informed me about being appointed as chairman of Michael Imoudu Governing council. Nobody has talked to me about it or written to inform me.
‘’So, the question of whether to accept or reject it is not even the issue. I cannot reject or accept what I know nothing about. I only saw it on television.
“Unlike the case of NSITF, after the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, then acting President, appointed me the board chairman in 2017, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, called me to congratulate me within two hours after the announcement.
‘’His predecessor in office, Chief Emeka Wogu, also called to congratulate me. Like I said earlier, Ngige invited me for a dinner a week after the announcement. I went to the dinner with my son where Ngige and I discussed issue of my inauguration, among other things. We (Ngige and I) had over four meetings to discuss the issue of my inauguration.”
On the next line of action, he said: “ I have left the issue with Labour to handle. I wait for them. My constituency, which is labour, is handling it.”