The reinstated registrar of the National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB), Ifeoma Abanihe, has spoken about the circumstances that led to the dissolution of the agency’s governing council.
Mrs Abanihe, who was suspended by the board of NABTEB, rejected allegations of corruption against her, and instead accused the sacked chairman of the dissolved governing council, Leonard Shilgba, of wrongdoing.
In a document made available to PREMIUM TIMES, titled “Putting the records straight”, the registrar said the purpose of the “clarification is to disabuse the minds of the general public in order to stop the former chairman from feeding the public with deliberate falsehood and to debunk his claims as an advocate of due process and anti-corruption.”
Mr Shilgba had earlier accused the federal ministry of education of covering up fraud in the examinations agency.
The board said it acted on the report of a special investigative committee it set up to probe allegations of corruption at NABTEB, and decided to suspend the registrar of the agency, Mrs Abanihe, and four directors in June.
The directors were those of finance and accounts, examination administration, examinations development, and the procurement officer.
The panel also ordered the registrar to refund N49.7 million she allegedly could not account for, to the coffers of NABTEB.
But the permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, on June 25, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the reinstatement of the registrar and the four directors and the dissolution of the governing board with immediate effect .
According to Mr Echono, “The purported suspension of the Registrar, Prof. Ifeoma Abanihe, and four (4) other Directors of NABTEB has been nullified as it did not conform with due process especially in the case of the Registrar, because the Board went beyond its powers and in contravention of section 5 and Section 6 of NABTEB Act.”
In the documents she sent, the reinstated registrar alleged that the reason Mr Shilgba resolved to suspend and remove her was because she did not succumb to his plan to loot NABTEB and enrich himself.
Mrs Abanihe said she refused to accede to several corrupt demands made by the former chairman because she did not want to violate existing rules of the government.
The documents accuse Mr Shilgba of beginning to harass the registrar with demands for financial assistance from NABTEB more than six months before he was formally inaugurated as chairman of NABTEB’s governing board in 2017.
It accused Mr Shilgba of pushing for an ‘urgent’ employment of six staff, including one that aspired to be engaged as a deputy director without cognate experience and another, a driver without a valid driver’s licence.
“Contrary to his self-acclaimed love for due process, Mr Shilgba did not feel any qualms about flouting several Government regulations” NABTEB said in the document.
NABTEB also said Mr Shilgba single-handedly introduced what he termed “Standing Orders”, inconsistent with extant laws and regulations as follows:
“15% of N10,000.00 enrolment fees for NABTEB examinations, translating to N1,500.00 per candidate was to be appropriated for governing board members while 5% was appropriated for staff logistics.”
The board also said the chairman, who is part-time, was not entitled to a permanent office, but he insisted on being provided with an office, as well as assistants, in the NABTEB Liaison Office in Abuja.
NABTEB said the office was furnished according to his dictates, thereby depriving the zonal office of the space needed for control of “examination materials”, which is a major activity of the examination process.
NABTEB also accused the former boad chairman of disobeying the Procurement Act by bringing vendors to bid for contract of online service providers without advertisement in Federal Government Tenders Journal and two other national dailies.
According to the board, the climax of Mr Shilgba’s overzealousness and disregard for due process and rule of law was demonstrated in his desperate and reckless attempt to change the signatories of the NABTEB TSA accounts at the Office of the Accountant General.
“Mr Shilgba actually directed the NABTEB director of administration to send letters to the Office of Accountant General of the Federation to execute the plan to change the signatories in Abuja”, the document said.
The registrar of NABTEB, Mrs Abanihe said before her suspension, she was neither interviewed by the committee nor given the opportunity to defend herself contrary to the rules of fair hearing as entrenched in the 1999 Constitution.
She said the investigative committee which presented its report to the First Governing Board Meeting, on the basis of which the former Chairman suspended the her, was not properly constituted as it did not meet the criteria stipulated in the NABTEB Regulations.”
“On the issue of illegal recruitment ,the board did not recruit thirty staff, rather only fifteen staff who hail from five geopolitical zones were employed to replace exited staff while noting that approval was obtained from the supervising ministry in July 2017,” Mrs Abanihe said.
Suspended chairman reacts
The allegations have not been independently verified. But when contacted on the allegations against him, the former chairman, Mr Shilgba, told PREMIUM TIMES that a special committee of NABTEB consisting of two presidential appointees, representative of federal ministry of education, representative of WAEC, and representative of PTBTA, representative of the Federal Ministry of Education” found Mrs Abanihe guilty.
Mr Shilgba said the registrar was asked and allowed to make a response before board members on June 19, 2018.
“Her predominant defence was, I apologise. I must also add that not one of the 12 members of the governing board of NABTEB present protested the decision to suspend Professor Ifeoma Abanihe,” Mr Shilgba said.
Mr Shilgba said he turned down a contract offer from the registrar.
“If, after she came to my hotel in Abuja on Monday evening of May 21, 2018 (I have witnesses) to beg me to let her off, I yielded and agreed to team up with her to perpetrate the corruption in NABTEB, would any Nigerian have heard about the rot?” he asked.
Civil society reacts
Meanwhile, Hassan Soweto, the national coordinator of Education Right Campaign (ERC) in a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES considers the dissolution of the governing board of NABTEB and the reinstatement of the registrar without any effort to look into the weighty allegations of corruption levelled against her and four other members of staff by the board as an attempt to cover up a sleaze within NABTEB.
According to him, the whereabouts of the sum of N49 million is the most important issue for the tax-paying public and other stakeholders in the education sector besides the “power play going on”.
Mr Hassan said the group is demanding a full disclosure on the status of the investigation into the allegation of corruption leveled against the NABTEB registrar and four principal staff noting that tax-paying public deserves to know the truth.
He said the education minister will be held responsible if “the matter is swept under the carpet” as has happened to several cases of alleged corruption in several parastatals and agencies under an administration that claims to be devoted to fighting corruption.
“This administration has largely turned this corruption fight into a selective exercise in which only foes are guillotined while cronies continue to make away with our public wealth,” he said.