The suspended Managing Director of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Mr Adebayo Somefun has accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige of hijacking the management of the agency,
He made the accusation during the investigating hearing over misappropriation of N3.4 billion.
In his explanation, Mr. Adebayo Somefun said that the N3.4 billion alleged by the Minister of Labour and Employment to have been spent on “non existent training’ was actually money spent for training between 2017 and 2019, adding that the training were duly approved and carried out.
Testifying before the House of Representatives ad-hoc Committee, Mr. Somefun also said that the Minister acted outside the public service rules, circulars from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation on how appointed Chief Executives should be disciplined and the Nigerian law of fair hearing.
He told the committee that despite the achievement of the fund under his management, the Minister leveled series of allegations against him and without following laid down procedure, proceeded to suspend them, while setting up a panel to investigate the same allegations made by him.
“The normal procedure would have been for the board to investigate any allegation against the management and forward their report to the Permanent Secretary who will in turn forward same to the Minister.”
“What the Minister was expected to do is to forward the report to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation who will set up an independent investigation before recommending a course of action to the President.”
He accused the Minister of totalitarianism, saying “how can an interested party be the one to appoint an investigative panel. This is against the principles of fair hearing.
“The Minister was being economical with the truth when he told Nigerians that they spent about N3.4 billion on a non existing training and tendered documents before the committee which he claimed were evidence of approvals for the training, beneficiaries, certificates awarded to them and payment made to them through the remital platform being operated by the fund.”
Mr. Somefun said the Minister personally wrote letters to the Bureau of Public Procurement and the office of the Auditor General to investigate the fund, but did not wait for the report from the two agencies before suspending them.
He also claimed that while he was on his annual leave, the Minister ordered the General Manager Finance to pay the sum of N81 million for a training that was not done saying “when I returned from leave, I queried the GM, Finance and insisted that the training must be held. That is one of my sins that I was not forgiven”.
He also accused Senator Ngige of personally writing to the Management to carry out some promotion which were not inline with the rules of the organizations, pointing out that despite his insistence that it will cause disaffection within the staff, the Minister insisted that it must be carried out.
He also alleged that the Secretary to the NSITF board was appointed by the Minister without following due process, while the Minister unilaterally suspended the Acting President of NECA from attending the board meeting of the fund.
Both the suspended Executive Director, Finance and Investment, Jasper Azuatalam and Executive Director, Operations, Kemi Nelson said their suspension came to them as a shock as the reasons adduced for their suspension were strange to them.
“I called for the letter of suspension. The same letter they used to suspend the MD was the same letter given to me. I am not a member of the tenders board and have nothing to do with procurement. But that was the reason for my suspension.”
Kemi Nelson who said she has built a reputation for herself and would not want anybody to tarnish it also said she was accused of an offence he has nothing to do with and suspended.
” My duty is operations. I have nothing to do with finance and procurement. I don’t spend money, I only bring in money into the fund. But they are accusing me of things that are outside the purview of my office”.
The committee also took evidence from the Permanent Secretary in charge of Insurance in the Office of the Head of Service who incidentally is the wife to the Minister of Labour and Employment.
She told the committee that the letter she wrote to the Ministry of Labour was addressed to the Permanent Secretary and that the letter was to be communicated only to treasury funded agencies under the Ministry and not to NSITF which is not a treasury funded agency.
She explained that she was only performing her duty as directed by the Head of Service, saying “I did not write to the Minister but to the Permanent Secretary. I don’t have power to write to Ministers. Only the Head of Service has that power”.
Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Mariam Onuoha said the Committee was set up to investigate Procedural Breach of the Presidential Directives by both the Ministers of Labour and Employment, and Power, the Alleged Breach in Procurement Procedures and Financial Malpractices and Malfeasance by those Agencies.
She said that the House considered the allegations to be of serious nature, very weighty, grave and worthy of the attention and concern generated at Public discuss.
“The matter before us today is the case of the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment who was alleged to unilaterally without due process prescribed in the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund NSITF Act, procured Presidential Directive, to suspend the Top Management of the Nigeria social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), over alleged infractions of the Public Procurement Act and Financial Regulations by the Top Management of the NSITF.”
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige was not present at the hearing, but sent words appealing that the Committee should give him another date to appear.