The federal information ministry has ordered the board of the News Agency of Nigeria to immediately commence investigations into over a dozen allegations of corruption and highhandedness against the agency’s boss, Ima Niboro.
In response, the board has raised a three-man committee, led by a board member, Ossai Ifeanyi, to thoroughly investigate the allegations against Mr. Niboro and report back to the board without delay.
The board will in turn furnish the information ministry with details of its findings with a view to determining whether Mr. Niboro is innocent or guilty of the allegations and whether he should be allowed to remain in office or be removed.
Sources at the information ministry also told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday that the ministry, which described the allegations as “grievous”, has already queried Mr. Niboro, asking him to respond to the charges.
The investigation commences more than one month after three staff members of the agency petitioned the information ministry, which has supervisory powers of NAN, accusing Mr. Niboro of financial mismanagement and authoritarianism.
The Chairman of the agency’s board, Ibrahim Buba, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday that investigation into the allegations against Mr. Niboro had begun based on the instruction from the information ministry.
The petitioners accused Mr. Niboro of distorting a functional organogram of the agency through “irrational transfers,” approving fund beyond his legal limits, awarding contracts without necessary approvals and running down the morale of workers.
Mr. Niboro denied all the charges in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES saying the petitioners – although faceless – constituted a cabal that mismanaged the agency before his appointment. He argued that the changes he has so far made at the agency put him at odds with the cabal after he shut down financial leakages and administrative recklessness at the agency.
“When you fight corruption, corruption fights back,” he said. “They accuse you of corruption to muddle the issues.”
The redesign and management of NAN’s webs infrastructure is foremost on the grievance list compiled by some staff of the agency. They accused Mr. Niboro of awarding the design of the news portal to Infomall – a Nigerian software development company – for N16.6 million without a tendering process which would have seen the contractor compete with other developers for expertise and cost.
“Indeed, the award was made on job proposal,” the petition told the permanent secretary, Ministry of information, to which they addressed their complaints.
The same company was awarded a second data archiving contract for N16.5 million and the sums paid instantly, “without certification by the technical or IT unit”.
Mr. Niboro however claims that iMate Ltd and Alpha International Ltd also bidded for the project, although he didn’t say why the project was not advertised as required by law. But the winner of the contract, Infomall, submitted its bid and was awarded the job within 24 hours.
In his short stay, his subordinates say he has acquired four luxury cars worth N50 million with the agency’s funds, while there is no drinking water in the agency’s head office in Abuja, and staff are owed allowances.
“Within the last one year, Mr. Niboro acquired two Ford Pilot trucks – both costing more N10.9 million each – and a Range Rover 2010 model worth N23.5 million. These were acquired nine months after the agency paid for the purchase of a Pajero,” the petitioners said.
Mr. Niboro admitted buying the Ford Pilot trucks with flash lights but argued that he acquired them for special duties including navigating difficult terrains for stories.
“I put one in Abuja and the other in Lagos,” he said. “I do not use them myself. I do not drive in convoy as the petitioners claim.”
Mr. Niboro is also accused of awarding contracts in shady circumstances, preferring to pay contractors huge sums in cash, rather than through bank processes. “Sometimes he pays contractors in full from start,” his colleagues said.
Mr. Niboro insists these claims are false. “They are lying,” he said, pointing at a table in an internal document suggesting the contractor upgrading the building had an outstanding balance with the agency.
He explained that the allegations that he paid huge sums in cash to contractors was false too. He claimed that he cashed out the sums in Naira, channeled it through a Bureau de Change who changed it into U.S. dollars before paying same into the agency’s domiciliary account from where the contractor was paid.
“No contractor was paid in cash,” he said. “It is a standard practice. Even in my private business, I’ve done it.”
The petitioners also accused the NAN MD of witch-hunting his staff and arbitrarily redeploying or transferring those he felt could challenge his actions out of the Abuja headquarters of the agency.
“On January 12 this year, he transferred from the editorial department the executive director and Editor-in-Chief, Isaac Ighure, to Marketing department,” the protesting staffs wrote in their petition.
This followed the outbound transfers of two other senior Managing Editors and Directors – Joe Bankole and Lawal Ado – in the Editorial department.
“These transfers had not only hindered editorial productivity but seriously dampened the morales of reporters and editors who are disillusioned by career growth uncertainty,” the aggrieved staffs complained. “It is a case of ‘when gold rust, what happens to iron?’”
Mr. Niboro argued that he made these transfers because of longstanding squabble between Messr. Bankole and Ado which had slowed the agency for years.
Mr. Niboro, a journalist, was the president’s spokesperson when he was vice president till shortly after Mr. Jonathan succeeded late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010. He was appointed head of the news agency in February 2014.
The investigative panel is expected to verify all the claims and issue precise verdict.
But while the Board investigation continues, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, the ministry has ordered Mr. Niboro to, on Wednesday, appear before another high-powered panel made up of the Minister of Information, Patricia Akwashiki, the ministry’s permanent secretary, Folashade Yemi-Esan and the Chairman of NAN board, Ibrahim Buba, over the same matter.