The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has maintained he acted within presidential directives on the suspension of top management and executive committee members of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
The minister stated this in his submission at the investigative hearing by the House of Representatives’ ad-hoc committee on the ‘arbitrary breach of presidential directives on the suspension of management and executive members of NSITF and other agencies by ministers’.
Mr Ngige, on July 2, approved the immediate and indefinite suspension of the Managing Director/Chief Executive of the NSITF, Adebayo Somefun, and some members of his executive for allegedly lavishing N3.4 billion on nonexistent staff training split into about 196 different consultancy contracts in order to evade the Ministerial Tenders Board and Federal Executive Council approvals.
The suspension came a month after the Secretary to the Government of the Federation’s (SGF) restrained cabinet ministers from removing heads of agencies and parastatals they supervise.
‘I did no wrong’
In a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday evening by the spokesperson of the ministry, Charles Akpan, the labour minister said he did not go contrary to presidential directives,
He said the suspension “followed procedural compliance to the relevant authorities (Constitution, Public Service Rules, NSITF Act, Presidential Directives).
The minister said the suspension was hinged on issues bordering on financial and procurement infractions, “as well as acts of serious of misconduct.”
Mr Ngige said the Auditor General’s Specific Periodic Report check into the affairs of the organisation from 2013 to early 2018 showed evidence of infractions to Financial Regulations and Procurement Act involving the past acting managing director, as well as the new officials.
“In the face of such observed infractions, and acting in the best interest of the nation, he made recommendations and got Mr President’s approval for the suspension of the affected personnel,” he said.
According to him, “by a letter dated 30th June 2020, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) conveyed Mr President’s approval to all the recommendations submitted by my office in respect of issues bordering on the Financial and Procurement infractions and acts of serious of misconduct and referred to the guidance on implementation to a letter from the Chief of Staff to the President (CoSP) and further requested the Minister to avail his office with records of the implementation of Mr President’s approval, especially in the areas of personnel charges”.
“Upon the suspension, a Presidential Joint Board Committee, comprising members from the office of Head of Service (OHOSF), Auditor General of the Federation (AuGF), Accountant General of the Federation (AcGF) and Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, with Chairman NSITF Board Audit Committee as Chair, was inaugurated to look into the breaches and issues of serious misconduct involving those officials,” he said.
Mr Ngige, according to the release, said staff in the general manager cadre, heading departments and who were preliminarily established to have a case to answer, were also suspended.
“As the supervising minister to the agency, I do not need to wait for a petition from the management board of the Fund before he could act,” he said.
He said the finance and account department of the ministry “had countlessly informed the NSITF MD about flouting of Section 30 of the Financial Regulations which stipulates that parastatals, whether treasury funded or self-funding shall give an income vs expenditure to the supervising ministry monthly.”
Mr Ngige said the NSITF also failed to submit its annual audited accounts to the minister to assist in preparing annual reports to Mr President.
“Infractions, involving lots of procurement anomalies, irregular award of contracts, and irregular payments involving huge amounts of money include: foreign international travels without approvals; non-submission of internal audit reports to the office of the Auditor General of the Federation; contract payment without evidence of performance…
“Others are unauthorised foreign travels – sponsorship of executive directors and their spouses to overseas countries for annual leave; procurement – conversion of contract from the supply of toners to the supply of Toyota Prado Jeep without approval; and irregular payment on QS consultancy fees for claims evaluations/failed Public Private Partnership (PPP) M/S D&B Ltd, among other infractions to Financial Regulation and Procurement Act.
“The Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment complied and submitted the copy of the report and alleged gross misconduct again by a letter dated 23 June 2020,” the statement added.
The minister said “suspension is not dismissal, but a stage in disciplinary procedures in the public service”.
He said the presidential committee was set up to give the suspended officials the opportunity to clear themselves.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Ngige inaugurated a panel to probe alleged N3.4 billion financial infractions levelled against Mr Somefun, and three other directors.
The committee was chaired by Ibrahim Khaleel of the Nigeria Labour Congress and assisted by the chairman of the audit committee of the NSITF.