OVER two months after the submission of report of the Presidential Joint Board and Audit Investigation Panel set up to probe alleged financial infractions levelled against the management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, has refused to make public the findings of the audit panel; an investigation by National Record has revealed.
The Audit Investigation Panel, which was chaired by the late Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, who was one of two representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on the Governing Board of the NSITF, was inaugurated exactly six months ago on July 16, 2020 by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr William Alo, on behalf of Dr Ngige. The panel was given three weeks within which to work and submit its findings.
National Record gathered that contrary to the three-week mandate, it however took the Audit Panel over three months before it concluded its findings and submitted a report to the Minister in a secret ceremony not covered by journalists and without a press statement subsequently issued by the ministry to that effect.
The only timeline for the submission of the report revealed to National Record by a reliable source at the NSITF is that “the report was submitted shortly before Comrade Khaleel died.” Khaleel died suddenly on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 in Abuja, reportedly after a game or two of badminton.
Content of report, findings masked in secrecy
Although several sources at the NSITF and the Ministry of Labour and Employment, including the ministry’s spokesperson, confirmed the submission of report, no one seems to have sighted it or its findings.
Sources at both the NSITF and the Ministry of Labour and Employment told our correspondent that the findings are still masked in secrecy with no one, other than the minister or his close aids, apart from members of the committee, sighting them.
Our sources also reveal that the reason for the delay in releasing the report’s findings may not be far from the suspicion that the panel may have found nothing to indict the suspended management.
“Obviously, the report didn’t find anything. That is why the Minister, Senator Ngige, is hiding it. We also learnt that he has hired external auditors to do the auditing all over,” one of our sources at the Ministry told our correspondent.
Another source at the NSITF corroborated this assertion, stressing that the Minister is fishing for evidence to prove his allegation of financial infraction.
“We heard that the Khaleel-led Audit Panel report cleared the Somefun-led management in its report clandestinely submitted sometime between the end of September and first week of October. We came to this conclusion because the Minister has refused to make public the findings of the report.
“Giving the controversy and media attention that surrounded the suspension, anyone would expect the Minister to rush to the public if the findings had indicted the suspended management; even if it is a preliminary report. There is apprehension everywhere here, including among the interim management,” stated the source who pleaded anonymity as he is not authorised to speak on the matter.
When contacted on Tuesday, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr Charles Akpan, confirmed to National Record that the report was submitted shortly before Comrade Khaleel died. He however stated that when it was submitted, it was not a full report.
“What I know about that report is that when it was submitted, it was not a full report, they were still expecting more reports to be forwarded. But presently, it has not been made public yet, it has not been made public,” Mr Akpan stated.
When asked if he is aware that the Minister had contracted external auditors to carry out further auditing of the NSITF, Mr Akpan said he was not aware of that. “I have no information on that, I don’t have much information on that panel, so I can’t speak much on that,” he said, directing this reporter to either speak to the NSITF or directly to the minister.
Efforts to speak to the suspended Managing Director/Chief Executive, Barrister Adebayo Somefun, proved abortive as his number rang out and a text message sent to his mobile was undelivered.
However, a source familiar with the investigation, who is also close to some of the suspended members of the management, told National Record that Mr Somefun and other suspended officers have rather committed their fate to God.
“All of them involved feel there is nothing they can do; that their fate is in the hands of God. They said they are waiting for whatever final outcome from the investigation.
“I am sure if you even get Barrister Somefun, he will not talk to you as he has resigned to keep quiet over this so that his utterances will not be used against him. I’m sure they must have heard that the report has been submitted but I think they will wait for the findings to be made public.
“I understand that the staff of NSITF are also curious that findings of the report have not been made public two months after submission,” the source said.
For the Director General of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Dr Timothy Olawale, who is one of two members of the Governing Board of the NSITF representing employers under the umbrella of NECA, he is not aware of any development.
He said the only person in the position to respond to National Record’s inquiries on the audit panel will be the Chairman of the Board of NSITF, Mr Austine Enajemo-Isire.
When called on Tuesday, Mr Enajemo-Isire did not pick his calls. The following questions were immediately sent to him via WhatsApp: “Given the gravity of the allegations against the suspended management, and the commitment of the Hon Minister to make them, and of course the NSITF, accountable, and given the controversy that trailed Hon Minister’s swift action, one would expect that the findings of the report ought to have been made public as soon as it was submitted.
“Sir, as Chairman of the NSITF Board, why is the report still not made public months after its submission? Secondly, when do you think the panel’s findings will be made public?”
In a terse response received moments before going to press with this story, Mr Enajemo-Isire replied: “Please liaise with the Ministry for the information being requested. Thanks.”
Echoes of 2018
For many staff of the NSITF and the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the current trend seems to be a typical re-enactment of the 2018 scenario when Dr Ngige cleverly unseated a former Acting Managing Director of the NSITF, Mr Ismail Agaka and a few senior officers.
After the suspension of Mr Agaka and the others, Dr Ngige set up an Administrative Panel of Inquiry to investigate the management. The panellists, who were handpicked from the ministry, worked and submitted their report but up to this day, the content of the report in terms of findings and recommendations remained known only to Dr Ngige after it was submitted to him on July 18, 2018.
Since then, those suspended have remained in suspension without pay, with a few of them recalled after they were alleged to have shown sufficient remorse and swore to kowtow to his whims.
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