·         NECA Insists Board Never Met on Alleged Infractions

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has joined the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) to discredit the claims made by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, that the NSITF Governing Board met to consider alleged infractions against the top management of NSITF and made recommendations to Dr Ngige as Minister of Labour and Employment.

The NLC, speaking through one of its two representatives on the Governing Board of the NSITF, Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, who is also NLC’s National Treasurer as well as National President of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), told National Record that there obviously seems to be confusion around the suspension of the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, three Executive Directors and a number of other top management staff of the NSITF by the Minister of Labour and Employment on Thursday, July 2nd 2020.

Comrade Khaleel said the NLC, like NECA, is not aware of any financial infractions until the story came out in the media.

“There is a little confusion actually, and the confusion is that NECA and the NLC have two representatives each on the Board. We are not aware until we saw online news going round with the report that the management of the NSITF has been suspended due to some alleged financial infractions. I believe NECA responded based on their knowledge and information, just like our 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 with oversight functions. 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 sincerely, nobody has talked to me about any financial infraction; I just read the news,” Comrade Khaleel stated.

According to him, it was also from the media that he read about President Buhari’s approval for the suspension of the NSITF management, adding that the President must have been informed by “somebody somewhere that something was happening in the board and the President took that action.”

He said the Board has been summoned to a virtual meeting from where members will become clearer about what the issues are.

“But as it is, we the Board members are not fully aware of what is going on. That is the truth! There was not any meeting of the Board and 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.

“As I am talking to you as the Chairman of the Audit Committee of the Governing 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 all along because I don’t know what is happening; I don’t know from where this interest is coming.

“So I want to know more things about this issue before I talk more on the matter. We are going to certainly meet, probably even today, virtually. I just got a text message from the Board Secretary that there will be a virtual meeting today.

“Sincerely, I don’t think that the NLC is involved in this, unless if 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 our own image. If the NLC is to say anything about the NSITF, ordinarily it will have to be through us;” Comrade Khaleel stated.

Efforts to speak to the President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, failed as his mobile phone was repeatedly said to be switched off.

Calls to the General Secretary of Congress, Comrade Emma Ugboaja, on Sunday went through twice but he did not pick nor call back. SMS inquiries sent to his mobile and whatsapp Monday morning on NLC Secretariat’s reaction to the claim by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment that he consulted with the NLC and got its buy-in before he suspended the management of the organisation were not responded to as at the time of going to press.

Board Never Met – NECA Insists

Meanwhile, NECA continues to insist that the Governing Board of the NSITF never met or issued any report to Dr Ngige on any alleged financial and procurement infractions as claimed by the Minister in media reports.

In a press release issued by NECA and sighted by National Record on Monday (July 6, 2020), entitled: “NSITF BOARD NEVER MET ON MANAGEMENT’S INFRACTIONS OR DID ANY REPORT TO NGIGE,” NECA, through its Director General, Dr Timothy Olawale, maintained that the public is being “misinformed” by the Honourable Minister that due process was followed by him in seeking the President’s approval.  

“Our attention has been drawn to the several reports in the National media insinuating that the Governing Board of NSITF met to consider alleged infractions against the management of NSITF and consequently made recommendations to the Hon Minister of Labour Senator Chris Ngige. A basis upon which the public is being misinformed that due process was followed by the Minister in seeking Presidency’s approval for actions against the Fund’s management,” Dr Olawale stated.

He said while NECA is not in any way opposed to the investigation or probe of NSITF management if Government so wishes, as an independent organization representing the interests of Employers of Labour who contribute “the largest pool of fund to NSITF”, it is averse to being used “through impersonation to give credence to illegality of circumventing due process of doing what is right through the Governing Board of the Fund.”

Dr Olawale further stated: “We wish to clarify that there was no deliberation at any time at the board on matters bordering on alleged financial infractions by the management. These issues were never brought up, referred to the board or tabled for consideration, not to talk of any correspondence from the board to the Honourable minister for actions.

“The records are there for verification and members of the board including representatives of NLC and CBN on the Board are also alive to verify the truth. NECA is not against the Minister as head of the supervising Ministry taking whatever actions he deemed right in his capacity but takes exception to misrepresentation and misleading information to the public.

“It would be interesting in public interest to divulge the identities of the board members behind the said petition. Some stakeholders may be fooled by misinformation and misrepresentations, but NECA refuses to fall for illegality as we owe contributors to the Fund who are employers of labour represented by us and the citizenry the duty of due diligence and forthrightness.

“As for repeated references to complicity by past representatives of NECA’ on the board, the matter has been investigated by government agencies and is currently a subject of Litigation in the courts. We will not dwell on it as it is subjudice.”

Board Chairman Calls Meeting, Confirms Suspension, But Mute on Board’s Position

The Chairman of the Board of NSITF, Prince Austin Enajemo-Isire, has summoned a meeting of the Governing Board of the organisation just as he corroborated the suspension of the Managing Director/Chief Executive of NSITF.

Prince Enajemor-Isire, in a press release sighted by National Record on Sunday, said the approval of the suspension of the management of NSITF was conveyed to Dr Ngige by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) on June 30, 2020 and that he was duly communicated.

Prince Enajemor-Isire however did not say anything as to whether the board deliberated and made resolutions on matters of financial infraction that remains the major point of disagreement between Dr Ngige and NECA, and now the NLC.

Prince Enajemor-Isire stated in the press release: “The attention of the NSITF Management Board has been drawn to the media being awashed with news of the suspension of the Managing Director, three Executive Directors and some top management staff of NSITF on approval of Mr. President.

This approval was conveyed by the Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF) to the Honourable Minister in a correspondence referenced SGF.47/S11/T./99 of 30th June 2020 for full implementation.

“The Honourable Minister has conveyed this approval and directives to me as the Chairman of the management Board for necessary actions, in terms of setting up a Board-driven investigative panel in order to give the affected officers the opportunity to clear themselves of the financial and procurement breaches and Acts of gross misconduct and other infractions that gave rise to their prima facia indictment.

“It is in this light that I have decided to call for an emergency virtual meeting of the management Board on Tuesday 7th July 202 to consider the modalities for our further action.

“In the interim, all staff are to keep calm while affected officers are advised to comply with the directive as transmitted to them by the Honourable Minister and the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and employment.

“In the same vein, we urge all our social partners to exercise restraint, as they will be updated with further development during this board meeting.”

Ministry’s Spokesperson Gaffes

In what appears to be a grievous blunder by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr Charles Akpan, Deputy Director of Press, on Saturday admitted that the widely reported statement attributed to him claiming that due process was followed in the suspension of NSITF management, does not exist.

When National Record discovered that rather than a statement claimed to have been forwarded to it, it was an already drafted story; it tried without success to get back to Mr Akpan to send the original statement from which the story was written, but his number was not available.

On Sunday (yesterday) when this reporter got Mr Akpan and made the request, he said “the original statement is with the Honourable Minister.”

When asked if he was not the author of the statement and ought to have it in his computer at the Ministry, he admitted writing a statement but insisted that he doesn’t have it. “I don’t have it; I don’t have it. If it is it with me, I would have sent it to you. The minister sent to me what you have now and asked me to circulate,” Mr Akpan said as he promised to get the original statement for our reporter on Monday.

But when called on Monday, Mr Akpan changed the narrative. “I told you we have no statement, it was written like that, it was written like a news story,” he said, but when reminded again that in the draft story sent to National Record, a reference was made to a statement; the following brief exchange ensued:

Mr Akpan: “There was no statement; we wrote a news story directly, it was written like a news story and not a statement.”

National Record: “Are you the one who wrote it that way?”

Mr Akpan: “Yes!”

National Record: “But in the story, you made a reference to a statement; that is why we are requesting for the statement.

Mr Akpan: No, no! Nobody wrote any statement.

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