The management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) has said the minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige, approved the controversial N3.4 billion for the training of staff.
It also said all training, contracts and rehabilitation it carried out received the approvals of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment and the National Assembly.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, on July 2, approved the immediate and indefinite suspension of the Managing Director/Chief Executive of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Adebayo Somefun, and some members of his executive for allegedly lavishing N3.4bn on “non-existent” staff training split into about 196 different consultancy contracts in order to evade the Ministerial Tenders Board and Federal Executive Council approvals.
This comes over 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.
The SGF, in the circular, outlined what he said was the process approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for removing or punishing agency heads accused of wrongdoing.
While his action is contrary to that directive, Mr Ngige said President Muhammadu Buhari approved his announcement.
According to the Punch Newspaper, the NSITF management, in a statement on Sunday, said the training referred to by the minister was budgeted for in 2017, 2018 and 2019 appropriations for over 5,000 staff nationwide.
“There was no contract splitting, as claimed by the minister. The training referred to were budgeted for in the year 2017, 2018 and 2019 appropriations for over 5,000 staff nationwide, and Procurement Planning Committee Meetings were held for the procurement of goods, works and services to commence the procurement activities,” the statement reads.
“All these details were included in the budget for these years, taken for budget defence in the supervising ministry, officially endorsed by the minister himself, approved and transmitted to the National Assembly for necessary approval during the budget defences for these years,” the Punch Newspaper quoted the NSITF management as saying .
The suspended management members also faulted the allegations that they carried out the construction of 14 zonal offices running into billions of naira without board or ministerial approval.
“We hereby seek that due process be followed and the suspended staff should be allowed to return to their offices to prepare their defence to all allegations against them,” the statement reads.
The management alleged that there were reports that some of the documents needed to defend the allegations are being carted away from the office. “Consequently, it would be appreciated if the minister would comply with the SGF Circular Ref No. SGF/OP/I.S.3/T/163 dated 19th May 2020.”
However, the labour minister, in his response, directed the management team to tender their evidence before the Joint Board and Audit Investigative Panel set up to look into the financial and procurement breaches as well as gross misconduct in the NSITF for periods of 2016 to date.
“They should go to the panel and show all those things, and if they are correct, the panel will exonerate them,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association has said the board of the NSITF did not make any recommendations to the Ministry of Labour and Employment on the allegations of financial infractions levelled against the fund’s management.
The Director-General of NECA, Timothy Olawale, in a separate statement on Sunday, asked the labour minister not to mislead the public, “saying due process was not followed before the directors and workers of the NSITF were suspended.”
He said that NECA was not against the investigation of the management of the fund.
“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,” he said.
He said 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 the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Central Bank of Nigeria on the board are also alive to verify the truth,” he said.
Mr Olawale said representatives of NECA, who were alleged by the minister to be complicit to financial infractions, were currently a subject of litigation in the courts.