· We Stand by Our Report, Says National Record
By John Ameh
COMRADE Ibrahim Khaleel, National President of the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) has disclaimed a report by National Record quoting him on the sacking of the top management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) published on Monday.
Comrade Khaleel who is also currently NLC’s National Treasurer, represents the Congress, as NLC is popularly known in labour circles, at the Governing Board of NSITF.
In a press release dated July 7, 2020, entitled: “A DISCLAIMER ON THE POSITION OF NATIONAL RECORD ON THE PROBE OF THE NATIONAL SOCIAL INSURANCE TRUST FUND,” Comrade Khaleel denied making the comments credited to him by National Record. “I wish to unequivocally disclaim the malicious and blatant lie that I made such comments to National Record or any other news medium,” he asserted.
Below is the full content of the press release:
“My attention has been drawn to a report circulating in the news media that I made statements to an online news platform, the National Record, on behalf of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to the effect that the NLC has condemned and rejected the intervention of the Federal Government, approved by the President and conveyed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment in the affairs of the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). I wish to unequivocally disclaim the malicious and blatant lie that I made such comments to National Record or any other news medium.
“What actually happened was that I received a phone call from a reporter, Mr. Onah Iduh, a former staff of the NLC and he said that he wanted to know the position of Congress on the suspension and probe of some top officials of NSITF. The reporter claimed he had tried to reach Congress President and General Secretary but was unable to. Well, I told him that as much as I am a representative of Congress on the NSITF board, I was not well briefed on what was going on with the probe. I then told him that the payments under probe, to the best of my knowledge, was never brought to the attention of the board of NSITF. I also told him that Congress would always insist on probity, transparency and due process since the funds in NSITF belong to workers. That was how my discussion with Mr. Onah Iduh ended.
“I was so embarrassed to read afterwards that I said that Congress condemned the intervention by the Honourable Minister. This could only have come from fantasies in the mind of the reporter.
“I issue this rejoinder as a disclaimer, just to put the records straight.
“Comrade Khaleel Ibrahim, mni
“7TH July 2020.”
National Record Stands by its Report
In a swift response, the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of National Record, Onah L. Iduh, said he stands by the content of the story as published on Monday.
According to him, he has Comrade Khaleel on record, as he did not request to speak off the record in the course of their conversation.
Giving background to his chat with Comrade Khaleel, Onah told this reporter that on Sunday, July 5, 2020, after NLC’s President’s phone number was repeatedly said to be switched off, and the General Secretary failed to pick calls made to him or respond to text message to him via sms and whatsapp, he decided to call Comrade Khaleel, whose number would ring once and cut off.
“After I called him the second time and the call was cut off upon first ring, I assumed he was engaged and had barred calls. I then sent a message via sms and his whatsapp, which reads: “This is Comrade Onah, I’ll like to speak with you briefly on the NSITF matter, sir. Let me know when I can call as I can see you’re engaged now,” Comrade Onah said.
He added that Comrade Khaleel did not respond to the message until the following day, Monday, July 6, 2020 when he called to say that he didn’t see the text in time. Below is the transcript of the conversation that took place between Comrade Khaleel and the Editor-in-Chief:
National Record: “Comrade President, good afternoon sir…sorry good morning!
Comrade Khaleel: Onah, how are you?
National Record: Fine sir!
Comrade Khaleel: Sorry, I didn’t see your text in time.
National Record: Okay. I wanted to find out this ongoing disagreement between, obviously, Ministry of Labour, and NECA on the suspension of the top management of NSITF.
Comrade Khaleel: I don’t think the disagreement is between NECA and the Minister of Labour. There is a little confusion actually.
National Record: Sir?
Comrade Khaleel: There is a confusion in the Fund and the confusion is that NECA as a Board member as well as the NLC whom we represent, the two of us [from NLC], also NECA has two representatives; we are not aware when we just saw an online news going round that the executives of the Board have been suspended due to some alleged financial infractions of the fund. I believe NECA responded based on their knowledge and information, just like our own side. Ordinarily, if there is any fraud allegation or whatever, it has to emanate from the Board because the Board is a full-fledged Board provided by the Act that established the NSITF and we have some supervisory committees, oversight functions committees of the board. As I am talking to you, I am the chairman of the Audit Committee of the Board, I am not aware of any financial infraction; and nobody talked to me, sincerely speaking, we just saw the news and it was later that we discovered that there was approval of the President on the matter. What we believe was that the President must have been informed, maybe rightly or wrongly by somebody somewhere that something is happening in the board and the President took that action. But we are going to meet as a Board within the week and it is from there that we will become clearer about what the issues are. But the truth is that even we the Board members are not fully aware of what is going on. That is the truth!
National Record: Why I even wanted to you yesterday desperately was because there was a statement or a story that NLC NLC was consulted and that they are aware and gave approval to the action of the minister…
Comrade Khaleel: NLC?
National Record: Yes, I will forward that report to you. We didn’t use it in our publication because we wanted the original statement which was signed by the Deputy Director of Press in the Ministry. When I got the [Deputy] Director of Press to send us the original document he said the minister ordered the report done without anyone issuing a statement and sent to him to distribute. So we were a bit suspicious of the report and we didn’t use it
Comrade Khaleel: He said NLC was consulted that he should just go ahead to do that?
National Record: Yes, that is what was stated in the report; I will forward it to you.
Comrade Khaleel: Okay.
National Record: When we got the report, we drew the attention of the person who sent it to the anomaly. That source didn’t use the story because we pointed out the flaw to him: where is the original statement upon which the report was based? This is more so when the Deputy Director of Press said he didn’t issue any statement that it was sent to him to distribute to press as a story and not as a statement. We are about to work on the same issue now because NECA has issued another statement this morning discrediting what the minister said yesterday as contained in the report I referred to.
Comrade Khaleel: That NLC was not consulted?
National Record: No, that they had a meeting…
Comrade Khaleel: There wasn’t any meeting, Onah, the truth is that if procedure is to be followed, we have an established Board for God’s sake and this Board is responsible for the management of this Fund and as I am talking to you as the Chairman of the Audit Committee of the Board, I am not aware of any complaints, I am not aware of any anything that will warrant taking this matter up to the Presidency; I am not aware of anything; but I decided to keep quiet because I don’t know what is happening; you know this is government; I don’t know from where this interest is coming. So I want to know more things about this before I talk more on the matter, and we are going to certainly meet, probably even today, virtually.
National Record: I think they said they will meet virtually on Tuesday, is today 7th or 6th?
Comrade Khaleel: Today is 6th!
National Record: Okay, I think the notice we got from a press release by the Chairman of the Board said the Board will meet virtually tomorrow
Comrade Khaleel: I just got a text message from the Board Secretary that there will be a meeting virtually today.
National Record: Okay, Okay; alright sir
Comrade Khaleel: But I don’t think, sincerely, that the NLC is involved in this, unless if may be the president of NLC was consulted without our knowledge, the two of us who are representing NLC on the Board of NSITF and if that happened, sincerely that will be so bad for even our own image.
National Record: That was why we were alarmed when we read that claim and wanted a response of the leadership.
Comrade Khaleel: If the NLC is to have or say anything about the NSITF, ordinarily it will have to be through us.
National Record: We think so too. Will forward the ‘story’ from the Ministry to you shortly through whatsapp. Thank you President.