By Victor Young, Abuja
The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment dismissed claims by the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, that the suspension of the management of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, violated the disciplinary procedure approved by the President.
Recall that President Buhari had approved the immediate, compulsory, and indefinite suspension from Office of the Managing Director/Chief Executive of NSITF Mr Adebayo Somefun, among other top management staff of the fund.
Also suspended from office are three executive directors, Mr Jasper Ikedi Azuatalam, Executive Director, Finance and Investment, Mrs Olukemi Nelson, Executive Director, Operations, and Alhaji Tijani Darazo Sulaiman, Executive Director, Administration.
Other management staff suspended are the General Manager, Administration/Human Resources/Maintenance, the General Manager, Finance, Mr Lawan Tahir, Mr Chris Esedebe, General Manager, Claims and Compensation, Mr Olodotun A. Adegbite, Deputy General Manager, Investment and Treasury Management, Mr Emmanuel Enyinnaya Sike, Deputy General Manager, Finance and Accounts, Mrs Olutoyin O. Arokoyo, Deputy General Manager/Acting Head, Legal, Ms Dorathy Zajeme Tukura, Deputy General Manager, Administration, Mrs Victoria Ayantuga, Assistant General Manager, Internal Audit.
According to the ministry, the supervisory Minister, Senator Chris Ngige indeed got presidential approval to suspend the affected officers because nobody could have turned blind eyes to the massive breaches the suspended management team was indulged in.
NECA had Friday a letter to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, through its Director-General, Dr.Timothy Olawale, among others, claimed abuse of due process in the suspension.
In the said letter, Olawale referred to the presidential procedure released by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, put in place to stem the arbitrary removal of Chief Executives of government and to ensure stability in the system.
But the Labour Ministry in a statement by the Deputy Director, Press and Publicity, Charles Akpan, debunked Olawale’s claim.
The Ministry stated unequivocally that the removal of the NSITF management followed due process, as the Federal Government hundred per cent owned the parastatal, insisting that the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment acted in line with the Constitution, Public Service Rules and NSITF Act.
According to the statement, the NSITF Act empowers the Minister to recommend fit and proper persons to Mr President for appointment for the post of chairman, Managing Director and three Executive Directors to manage the day to day affairs of the agency.
The statement noted that the suspension of the management became imperative after the preliminary investigation on allegations of corruption against the NSITF top officials, established prima facie infractions on the extant financial regulations and procurement Act and other acts of gross misconduct.
According to the statement “Some of the infractions uncovered include N3.4 billion squandered on non-existent staff training split into about 196 different consultancy contracts in order to evade the Ministerial Tenders Board and Federal Executive Council, FEC, approval. Non-existent unexecuted N2.3 billion was documented and paid while N1.1 billion is awaiting payment without any job done, all totalling N3.4 billion.
“Same goes for projects of construction of 14 Zonal/ Regional offices in 14 states running into billions of naira- a policy issue being done without Board or Ministerial knowledge not to talk of Approval. This was done in 2019 by the MD and his three-man Executive. Some of the projects are duplications and hence waste of funds, yet you are in the Board supposedly supervising.”
The statement maintained that the Ministry operated within the law in suspending NSITF management and assured NECA that the Board would be expected to play her role in this matter with her members purged of their already jaundiced stand.
“NECA does not have the full facts nor do they know that the Secretary to Federal Government, SGF, conveyed the Presidential approval to the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment for full implementation. If a Minister observes there are financial breaches earlier reported and gross misconduct he does not need to go back to a Board that has been complaining to the same Minister.
“We hope that NECA does not expect the Minister to fold his hands like his predecessor who watched helplessly when the last Board Chair in cahoot with the two NECA representatives, MD and officials looted N48 billion from the Fund and are being tried as of date by the EFCC.
NECA leadership should have been more restrained and responsive to the mantra of this administration like their NLC counterparts as the NSITF is a Federal Government Parastatal operating within the realm of the Constitution, Public Service rules and the NSITF Act, which empowers the Minister to recommend a fit and proper person to Mr President for the appointment for the post of Chairman, Managing Director and the three Executive Directors for the day to day management of the agency.”
The stamens revealed that these breaches in question started since 2016 to 2019 and were not limited to 2018/2019 as NECA claimed, stressing “Whilst the Ministry does not intend to go into a media altercation with a Social partner, NECA, the DG does well to emulate the NLC who liaised with the Ministry to be adequately briefed and were satisfied after the briefing, moreso when they had also received brief from their person on the Board.”
The spokesman of the Labour Ministry lamented “Olawale as representative of NECA on the Board sat there when the suspended MD of NSITF and some members of his Executive lavished N3.4 billion on non-existent Staff training split into about 196 different consultancy contracts in order to evade the Ministerial tenders Board and Federal Executive Council, FEC, approvals.
The President on the recommendation of the Minister also have powers to discipline…suspend or even remove totally depending on the circumstances of each situation.”