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Nationwide Strike Looms Over N30bn NSITF Fraud

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By Ozioma Ubabukoh

Nigerians should brace for a nationwide strike as workers have bemoaned the Federal Government’s attitude over the N30bn fraud allegedly perpetuated by the last Board of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund and have threatened to down tools soon.

According to labour unions in the country, the NSITF, set up to bring succour to the working class, has been looted over the years and it has not been able to fulfil the reason for its establishment.

Trouble started for a former Managing Director of the NSITF, Umar Abubakar, and his co-defendants, (some of who are former board members and current staff of the Fund), when a whistle-blower petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accusing them of abusing their positions to divert public funds running into billions of naira.

Acting on the petition, EFCC operatives investigated the allegations and it was alleged that between 2012 and 2015, the accused received kickbacks in dollars while discharging their duties “and conspired to divert about N18bn, being contribution from the Federal Government as take-off grants and Employees Compensation Scheme for Ministries, Departments and Agencies.”

The EFCC said the money was diverted into personal accounts by an e-payment mandate. The offence is said to contravene Section 311 of the Penal Code cap 532 LFN (Abuja) 1990 and punishable under Section 312 of the same code.

The United Labour Congress called on the administrative panel of enquiry recently set up by the Ministry of Labour and Employment to conduct a thorough investigation into the alleged looting of the funds, and insisted that the government must bring the culprits to book “or risk a nationwide strike from all the labour unions in the country.”

In a telephone interview with our correspondent on Sunday, the General Secretary, ULC, Didi Adodo, said, “The ULC wishes to state categorically that we support this probe and any other action that the minister will take to sanitise the industry and make the NSITF to fulfil the aims and objectives of its existence.

“Hearing about the rot and the plundering that has taken place in that agency is enough for any right-thinking organisation and comrades to support a major probe that will not only unearth what has taken place, but to also bring the perpetrators to justice.”

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, in line with a presidential directive, had recently inaugurated all the boards of parastatals under the ministry except that of the NSITF due to the alleged fraud discovered in the agency.

The boards inaugurated by the minister are those of the National Productivity Centre, National Directorate of Employment, and Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies.

President Muhammadu Buhari had in October 2017 constituted the Board of the NSITF with the former President of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Chief Frank Kokori, as the chairman.

Giving reasons why the board was not inaugurated alongside others, Ngige said he had the consent of the President to stay action on the NSITF board pending the outcome of the administrative panel of enquiry set up by the ministry “to investigate the mindless looting of the agency.”

He urged members of the other boards inaugurated to be accountable in the discharge of their mandates to avoid a repeat of the rot in the NSITF.

Ngige said, “The operations of the various parastatals must strictly conform to financial regulations, especially Section 32 of the Procurement Act. The audited accounts of the parastatals must always be prepared and submitted to the relevant authorities as and when due.

“The NSITF, for example, is reeling from massive looting with no audited accounts for five years. A whooping sum of N5bn was unearthed by an audit panel of enquiry as having been taken out of the NSITF coffers with First Bank in a single day without vouchers.”

The minister added, “Worse still, the organisation maintained no cash book as required by financial regulations. This resulted in massive looting of funds by board members acting in concert with the management staff.

“When we say N5bn was taken in one day, that’s not the only amount missing. Over N30bn cannot be accounted for and the members of the past board participated actively in the looting.”

Adodo, however, said that members of the ULC hoped that after the probe, “the NSITF will be put in proper shape to deliver on its mandate.”

“We call on the government to do a detailed investigation about the fraud in the NSITF and Trustfund, as no stone should be left unturned. These two bodies have workers’ funds, their life savings and, in this era of the fight against corruption, there should be no sacred cow,” he added.

The ULC Deputy President, Igwe Achese, who shared Adodo’s views, demanded to know the roles that the representatives of labour and private sector on the board of the NSITF played in the alleged fraud.

He said, “The probe should be extended to the board members that served in the last tenure and they should be arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and relevant security agencies for prosecution. We need to know the roles and actions of all the board members, including representatives of labour when the fraudulent activities took place, as they were supposed to represent workers’ interest.

“If the representatives of labour were involved, Nigerian workers should rise up against the board members for not protecting their hard-earned life savings.”

Members of the Nigeria Labour Congress represented the organised labour on the NSTIF board, but when our correspondent contacted some of them, they declined speaking on the matter.

One of them said, “You know those who represented us on the board. Why not reach out to them.”

Achese said that the board members from the organised labour did not do well in protecting the workers’ savings, “which led to the high magnitude of fraud and embezzlement.”

“Therefore, they should be made to face the wrath of the law,” he added.

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ECOWAS Court Finds FG Guilty of Violating Rights of #EndSARS Protesters

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The Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS, has ruled that the Federal Republic of Nigeria violated the human rights of Obianuju Udeh and two others.

The court found Nigeria in breach of Articles 1, 4, 6, 9, 10, and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, specifically on the right to life, security of person, freedom of expression, assembly and association, prohibition of torture, the duty of the state to investigate, and the right to effective remedy.

The applicants, Obianuju Udeh, Perpetual Kamsi and Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, alleged that these violations occurred during the peaceful protests at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State on October 20 and 21, 2020.

The presiding judge, Justice Koroma Sengu, who delivered the judgment, dismissed the allegation that the right to life as guaranteed under article 4 of the ACPHR is violated.

He, however, said that the Federal Government must pay each applicant N2 million as compensation for violations of their security of person, prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, duty to investigate human rights violations, and right to effective remedy.

Additionally, he said the Federal Government must adhere to its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, investigate and prosecute its agents responsible for these violations, and report to the court within six months on the measures taken to implement this judgment.

The applicants alleged that during the peaceful protests against the SARS unit of the Nigerian Police Force at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20 and 21, 2020, the respondent committed several human rights violations.

Triggered by the alleged killing of Daniel Chibuike, the protests aimed to address police harassment and brutality.

The first applicant’s claims include that the soldiers shot protesters, resulting in deaths and injuries, which she live-streamed, subsequently receiving threatening phone calls that forced her into hiding and eventual asylum.

The second applicant, responsible for protesters’ welfare, described how soldiers began shooting after a power cut, leading to her hospitalisation due to police tear gas.

The third applicant recounted narrowly escaping being shot, observing the refusal of ambulance entry by soldiers, and later witnessing inadequate hospital care for victims.

She argued that she and her colleagues took over the victims’ care and she faced ongoing threats and surveillance, believed to be by respondent’s agents.

The applicants sought declaratory relief and compensation from the court for these violations.

The respondent denied all claims made by the applicants, asserting that the protesters unlawfully assembled at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020, under the guise of protesting against SARS.

The respondent also maintained that its agents followed strict rules of engagement and did not shoot or kill protesters.

It argued that the first applicant incited the crowd by playing music and using her Instagram page to stir disaffection against law enforcement, who were targeting escapee members of Boko Haram and bandits.

The respondent contended that the second applicant’s logistics and welfare support provision indicated her support for the violent protest.

It claimed that soldiers were present to restore peace until the police arrived, denying any harm inflicted on protesters and the refusal of ambulance access.

The respondent also denied that the third applicant’s presence was peaceful, asserting it was meant to escalate violence.

It argued that the Lagos State Government managed the treatment and care of the injured and submits that the applicants have not provided credible evidence to support their claims, or the reliefs sought.

In its judgment, the court found there was no violation of the right to life.

However, the court held that the respondent breached several articles of the ACPHR which occasioned fundamental breaches of human rights violation therein.

Furthermore, the court declared that the applicants were denied the right to an effective remedy.

The court ordered that the respondent make reparations to the applicants for the violation of their fundamental human rights.

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We’re Already Preparing 2025 Budget, Pro-Wike Lawmakers Are Gone – Fubara

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The Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, on Wednesday, said his administration has started the process of preparing the 2025 budget.

The governor also dismissed the threat by the Martin Amaewhule-led faction of the state House of Assembly that he should present the 2024 budget again, saying that having defected to the All Progressives Congress from the Peoples Democratic Party platform on which they got election, their seats remained vacant.

Fubara said this when he received on a solidarity visit, the leadership structure, critical stakeholders, opinion leaders, women and youths of Etche and Omuma Local Government Areas, led by Ogbakor Etche, the apex socio-cultural organisation of Etche Ethnic Nationality Worldwide, at the Government House, Port Harcourt.

In a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Nelson Chukwudi, and sent to newsmen, the governor described the recent ranting of the Amaewhule faction as noise-making from delusional folks.

He urged the “25 former lawmakers” to wake up from their slumber, adding that the ship of governance in the state was sailing smoothly.

The lawmakers loyal to the former governor and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, had been having issues with Fubara over the political control of the state.

After an unsuccessful attempt to oust the governor, resulting in the demolition of the Assembly quarters, the lawmakers announced their defection to the APC, a move the state PDP latched on to declare their seats vacant.

A Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, the state capital, granted an interim injunction restraining the pro-Wike lawmakers from parading themselves as legislators in the state.

However, the Court of Appeal in Abuja, on July 4, affirmed Amaewhule and 24 other lawmakers as members of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

Holding a session at the state Legislative Quarters on Monday, the court-reinstated lawmakers asked Fubara to re-present the 2024 budget to the Assembly and gave him a one-week ultimatum.

The government, in a swift move, approached the court to restrain the state Chief Judge and others from recognising the Amaewhule-led Assembly, while it also appealed the judgment of the Appeal Court at the Supreme Court.

Foreclosing the idea of presenting the 2024 budget again, Fubara said his administration had commenced preparing details of the 2025 Appropriation Bill, with priority placed on education, healthcare and agriculture.

“Let me assure you that agriculture is an area that we have promised the very special and peace-loving people of Rivers State that our 2025 budget, which we have already started preparing, will address.

“Don’t bother about those people that are delusional. They think we are still sleeping. Let me tell you people so that they can hear anywhere they are.

“I wanted to help them, sincerely because I know them. And I have said it before, these are people that I have helped. I paid their children’s school fees. I paid their house rent. So, I wanted to help them.

“We all knew what happened when they crossed (defected), and how did they cross? Because of our God, for them to make that mistake, they crossed. They are gone, and they are gone. Now, let me tell you: when I wanted to help them, I accepted to help them because we are all one. We disagree to agree as it is said,” he said.

He added, “They thought they were smart. What is holding them is the declaration of their seats vacant as done on December 13, 2023. We are not doing any budget to nullify that decision. It is what will send them to their villages.

“As I am talking to you, I have started preparing my budget for 2025, which I am going to present very soon. And, in that budget, my key areas will be education, healthcare and agriculture.”

Fubara said the three priority areas would ensure that even if more roads were constructed, emphasis would be placed on quality healthcare services for the people of the state.

“Our children need to go to quality schools. Even if they can’t go to private schools, let them go to the public ones that have standards. We need to go to good health facilities owned by the government and get standard healthcare services.

“Even if we cannot afford those private hospitals, when you go to the public ones, you can get the same services with qualified professionals. That is our thinking.

“And when we get to the issue of agriculture, it will address the issue of unemployment. When we start engaging our youths, they won’t have time to be involved in crime. So, our thinking is to secure and protect our state,” he added.

He reiterated that he was fighting nobody as insinuated, adding that being loyal did not mean losing one’s liberty, sense of discretion and doing what was right.

“I want to assure you of one thing: we are not fighting anybody. We appreciate what God has used people to also do in our lives. But, we are not going to rule (govern) this state on our bent knees. We will rule standing this way I am standing.

“If it is only being on our knees to rule that is the way that they will see us as being loyal, then, I will pack my few things that I have here, and go and relax in my house comfortably, because it will be a disaster, not just to me but to everyone in the state and even my generation.

“So, I will continue to stand tall and stand on the side of the truth. Let me thank the President General (of Ogbakor Etche) for bringing your people, the great people of Etche and Omuma together to come and pay us a solidarity visit,” he said.

Fubara urged the people of Etche Nation to sustain their support for his administration because its vision was clear and encompassing to advance the well-being of all Rivers people.

He promised to work with the Nigeria Police to resolve the issue of herdsmen attacks on farmlands and farmers in the area, including the issue of illegal dredging activities.

The Punch

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Yoruba Elders Council Rejects Agitation for Yoruba Nation

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The Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) has voiced its opposition to idea of carving out Yoruba Nation from Nigeria.

The group, through a statement on Sunday, said it would rather commit to true federalism in Nigeria.

The statement read: “We have perused the document on the position of YSDM on the state of the Nation and their views for the Yoruba race to be separated from Nigeria. The Yoruba Council of Elders remains firm in its position that the entity called and known as Nigeria should remain as one Nigeria.

“Accordingly, the YCE has pooled-in all shades of thoughts, which show that majority of the Yoruba race feel cheated by the present lop-sided arrangement of the federating powers but they are solidly against going away from the Nigerian arrangement. They would rather go back to the agreement of our founding fathers when the Region administration was autonomous.

“YCE, therefore, stands firmly on the position of the founding fathers, who maintained togetherness but operated independently and contributed their quota to foster administration at the centre. To this extent, we would rather have a restructured Nigeria which will allow states to function independently as part of a whole.

“YCE wants Nigeria to remain one but, like the American arrangement, stay and function administratively devoid of interference by the centre. Let it be known that the strength of the unity lies in the socio-cultural inheritance of each section of the country and these can be deployed through education and efficiency of management. Our great country must rise again and we all will be in it together,” it added.

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