Tension is building up at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development in Abuja over allegations that its Director General, Kamiyus Gamaniel, embezzled a World Bank grant to the Institute as well as funds meant for staff salary.
Mr. Gamaniel, a professor, was accused of cornering about $514,000.36 (N77.10m) out of the $744,000.38 the bank gave NIPRD to develop anti-diabetic phytomedicine , otherwise known as Step-B Project, rendering the research futile after eight years.
Staff also alleged that the professor diverted another N33 million meant for the payment of the salaries of the institute’s staff sometime in 2014.
Mr. Gamaniel has however dismissed the allegations
The allegations are contained in a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari by some staff of the institute under the aegis of “Concerned Staff.”
Copies of the petition, backed with relevant documents, were also sent to the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the State Security Service.
NIPRD is a federal government agency saddled with the responsibility of undertaking research and development on drugs and biological products.
It serves as a reference centre for biopharmaceutics , pharmacokinetics and stability of imported and locally manufactured products.
In the petition dated February 17, the staff said NIPRD had submitted a proposal to the World Bank for the development of anti-diabetic phytomedicine from selected Nigerian medicinal plants in December 2008 and requested the grant of $744,000.36 (about N111 million using N150 per dollar exchange rated at the time).
They said the bank, which gave ‘no objection’ to the proposal, released the first instalment of $230,000.00 (N34m) to the institute.
The bank subsequently released the remaining $514,000.36 (N77m).
A letter from the Federal Ministry of Education dated August 7, 2009 with reference number Grant No. FME/STEPB/79/3/22, to the NIPRD, informing the institute of the approval of the grant said, “We are pleased to inform you that the World Bank has given “no objection” that part of the money you applied for should be given to you for the projects you submitted.”
They said the first instalment of $230,000 was released and judiciously utilised but that in anticipation of the release of the second instalment of $514,000, Mr. Gamaniel rushed to the Mpape (Abuja) branch of Zenith Bank to open an account with which he receive the money.
According to the staff, this was in spite of the fact that the project already had an account in EcoBank NICON Plaza, Central Area, Abuja.
They said a letter of notification of account details was subsequently sent to Mr. Gamaniel by the bank.
In the letter marked “Annexture 1A” and dated June 07, 2012, the bank informed the DG that it opened the account in the name “NIPRD World Bank/Step B Proj ADCT,” with Account Number 1013054590 and Sort Code 057080280 at its Mpape Branch.
The staff claimed that although the project implementation team resisted Mr. Gamaniel’s plan to lodge the funds in a new bank account, he (DG) used his executive powers to overrule the team.
But the decision of the DG to change the account was to trigger a chain of events, which eventually crippled the project.
The petition said, “Following the refusal of the project implementation team to siphon the project funds the DG opened a new bank account for the project at Zenith Bank Mpape with account No 1013054590,” the petition said.
“On this notification, the principal investigation expressed her concerned to the DG via email with the copies to National Project Secretariat NPS (Prof. Adikwu) and the World Bank (Dr Adekola).
“Also other members of the project team wrote to the DG to expressed concern about the anomaly.
“The DG has no option after the refusal of the project team for diversion of the fund than to use his executive power to suspend the activities of the Step-B project on 28th June, 2013.”
In the memo dated June 19, 2102, which was also attached to the petition, the principal investigator, Hafsat Shittu, expressed deep concern about the future of the project.
She acknowledged that the first tranche of the grant – $230,000 – was judiciously used for some components of the project.
She listed them to include capacity building (local and international training) of Institute’s staff for effective project management, ethnobotanical surveys, development of database, purchase of cages and chemicals and pharmacology, microbiological and phytochemical screen, all of which culminated in the establishment of collaboration with the CIHR team in aboriginal and diabetic medicines at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Montreal, Canada.
She however said she had hoped that the release of the balance of $514,000.36 would enable the research group complete and sustain the anti-diabetic project, purchase equipment and carry out comprehensive anti-diabetic research towards gathering the preclinical dossier that will be presented to NAFDAC for clinical trials and subsequent buy-in by relevant stakeholders.
She also said she had hoped that once the grant at hand was judicious used for the anti-diabetic project, the NIPRD would seek more funds from the World Bank by submitting new proposals for its many long standing projects (animal immunostimulatory, antifungal and tuberculosis).
She then expressed concern about some developments, which included the diversion of some of the money to NIPRD projects (anti-malaria, immune-stimulatory, anti-fungal), opening of new account for the project and appointment of new principal officers to manage the project.
“I am concerned that if some of the money meant for the anti-diabetic project is diverted to other projects (for which there is budgetary provision by the Federal Government through successive administrations of NIPRD), there is no hope for millions of Nigerians who have diabetes mellitus but the asymptomatic, and undiagnosed can have access appropriate anti-diabetic treatments,” Mrs. Shittu said.
“I hope my concern will be addressed as I plead for your support to ensure that the anti-diabetic project does not drift.”
In his response, Mr. Gamaniel explained in a memo that he “opened a new account in order to have a firm control of the project since I cannot be responsible for what I cannot control.”
He stated further, “I am a signatory “A” to the old account but had never interfered monetarily. Not even once. Hafsat had used the phrase “diversion of some of the money” loosely.
“She has failed to see reason with other management staff and researchers that selecting equipment that cut across projects is key to revamping the research culture of institutions. She has refused to understand what we mean by having the STEP B project into the institutional research frameworks so as to boost the equipment infrastructure eventually.”
The National Project Secretariat of the Step-B/NIPRD also expressed concern about Mr. Gamaniel’s plan to open a new account, according to the petitioners.
In a letter dated June 20, 2016 to the DG, the NPS , after a meeting, said it would “mandate a team to investigate whether or not there was reason to warrant such change,’ and that “when the reasons are convincing to the NPS (National Project Secretariat), the NPS will give approval whether or not to effect the change.”
However, in a memo dated June 26, 2012, Mr. Gamaniel, who was then abroad representing the Health Minister at a meeting, sought to stop the investigation.
He said, “Should you decide to go ahead with the said investigation, I would suggest at this point that no further action should be taken especially in respect of fund disbursement to any account that bear the name of NIPRD without due clearance from my office as doing so may expose the project and Institute to more risk.”
He also said he had addressed the issue of the new bank account and the modified team in an earlier “letter of acknowledgement” and expressed hope that” a meeting between NIPRD Management and the STEP B project Secretariat would help to create harmony and successes.”
Following the controversy, the Director of Administration, Remi Joseph, in an internal memo of June 28, 2012, said the management had “decided to suspend all activities of the Step B project pending when investigations are concluded.
He also requested the project manager to submit to him an inventory of all items in the project office on or before close of work the following day.
But the investigation, the staff claimed, was never conducted.
They said when Mr. Gamaniel’s alleged plan of diverting the fund was aborted he resorted to changing the signatories to the original account of the project domiciled in EcoBank.
In a letter dated August 9, 2012, Peter Oladosu and William Adama were replaced with Adeola Jegede and Dzarman Levis, both of who are special assistants to the DG.
Mr. Gamaniel and Ayi Ettoh, the Institute’s director of finance and account, who jointly signed the letter to the bank informing it of the change of signatories, said the decision was reached at a meeting on July 25.
Besides, the staff alleged that Mr. Gamaniel changed the project team, saying “On August 9, 2012, the DG now replaces (sic) the project team, except the principal investigator.”
The staff said while the research activities were under suspension one of the herb-specialists, Oladele Rahoof, who was collaborating with the NIPRD on the project, started a legal process to have the institute present to him the result of the research and compensate him accordingly.
To compound the problem, the NAFDAC Presidential Committee requested the NIPRD to submit to it anti-diabetic product urgently for consideration.
This request was made known to Mr. Gamaniel by Martins Emeje, a professor, who represents the institute on the committee, in a memo dated March 10, 2104, but there was no product to send to the agency.
An angry, Mrs. Shittu, who had lamented the refusal of Mr. Gamaniel to release funds, wrote the DG on the NAFDAC request.
In the memo, which was attached to the petition, she lamented that the anti-diabetic research team in the phamarcology and technology department did not have a product. According to her, “Our research has been on freeze dried recipe collected from herbalists.”
The staff said, “The DG/CEO deliberately killed the World Bank project without a product.”
On the alleged diversion of staff salary totalling N33.60 million, the staff said the money was paid to NIPRD in July and December 2014 through Zenith Bank with account number 1012332491 for the payment of staff salary, but that the DG diverted the money and shared it with his cronies.
The staff said when the Medical and Health Worker’s Union of Nigeria branch of NIPRD confronted Mr. Gamaniel in a letter on July 9, 2015, on the matter, the DG replied through the acting Director of Administration, Robert Ali, that the money was “appropriately applied to settle staff, board expenses and departments, including commissioning (of laboratory complex) expenses.”
But the staff insisted, “The money was diverted and shared by the Director General and his cronies…”
The petitioners not only demanded the suspension of Mr. Gamaniel, but also asked Mr. Buhari to “use his good office to direct an investigation into these acts of corrupt practices and gross abuse of office by Prof. K. S. Gamaniel and his cronies with a view to bringing the culprits to justice.”
Gamaniel Denies Allegations
When contacted, Mr. Gamaniel denied the allegation of siphoning the project fund but admitted opening a new bank account at Zenith Bank Mpape.
He explained that “the account was opened to safeguard the integrity of the project after I was alerted that a member of the project management had submitted an illegal work plan for approval from the World Bank and the bank was going to honour it.”
The DG admitted that he reorganised the project management team and still included all the old members in the new team for continuity and communicated with the project secretariat.
Stating that though his action was accepted, the DG said it “did not go down well with some who still wanted to continue to run the project their own old way and they continued to sabotage the project.”
Mr. Gamaniel also denied that he diverted N33 million meant for staff salary, saying the NIPRD was one of the first institutions to migrate to the IPPIS platform in 2012 and later, the GIFMIS.
He added, “Since then, personnel salaries, shortfalls, allowances etc had been handled entirely by the IPPIS, meaning that it couldn’t have been possible to receive personnel money through any money deposit bank such as the Zenith bank PLC. This shows the level, the character and intent of the petitioner.”
The DG who was once accused of paying “ghost workers,” explained that the Zenith Bank account in question was opened with the approval of the Federal Ministry of Finance, adding that the purpose was clearly defined and had been used for projects that staff needed to participate in by themselves.
“No such fund was received and/ or disbursed in the manner described by the petitioner,” he said contrary to what Mr. Alli had claimed in a July 30, 2015 memo to the staff union.
Mr. Gamaniel said the petition was a write-up put together by some NIPRD staff who think that public service is about personal benefits.