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Nationwide Strike Looms Over N30bn NSITF Fraud



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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Labour Party Denounces Suspension of National Chairman Abure




The leadership of the Labour Party on Friday denounced the purported suspension of its National Chairman, Julius Abure, by the executive members of his ward in Edo State.

In a statement signed by the National Secretary of the party, Mallam Farouk Umar, the LP said the purported suspension is illegal and of no consequence.

According to the party’s constitution, Umar said it is only the National Convention that can suspend the national chairman and this must be through a convention called for the purpose of the suspension.

“Again, our Party Constitution is clear on who can suspend and who cannot suspend the National Chairman. They should go and read the party constitution. Only the National Convention can suspend the National Chairman of the Labour Party. It also must be through such a convention called for the purpose of the suspension of the National Chairman,” the statement read.

“We think that the sudden suspension was an afterthought of some opposition parties purely to distract the leadership of the Labour Party at this time. There is no reasonable party member now who will be thinking of such a thing when we are pursuing our presidential mandate in the court and all other mandates including the governorship, Senate and House of Representatives that were brazenly stolen.

“Who will be contemplating the suspension of any national party official now? It is on record that for the first time in the party’s history, the Abure-led leadership has succeeded in changing the country’s political narratives.

“A party from the blues competing with the top two political parties and in the process, winning eight Senate and 34 House of Representatives as well as numerous House of Assembly seats. We also won a governorship seat while we are in court to retrieve other mandates including the presidency.”

Channels TV

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Datti-Ahmed: NBC Slams N5m Fine on Channels TV




In a March 27 letter addressed to Channels Chief Executive Officer and obtained on Friday in Abuja, the NBC said the television station violated broadcasting code.

Titled “Broadcast of an Inciting Interview, A Sanction”, the letter was signed by Balarabe Ilelah, the commission’s Director-General.

It read in part: “The NBC monitored the broadcast of a live interview of the running mate of the Labour Party Vice presidential candidate, Dr Datti Baba-Ahmed, by the anchor of Politics Today, Seun Okibaloye, on Wednesday, March 22.

“Dr Baba-Ahmed said it will be unconstitutional to swear in an elected president on May 29, 2023, because of election irregularities,” Mr Ilelah said in the letter.

He noted that the broadcast was volatile and capable of inciting public disorder and therefore violated some sections of the broadcasting code.

This, according to him, includes the section that said no broadcast shall encourage, or incite, be repugnant to public feelings or contain offensive reference to any person or organisation, alive or dead or generally be disrespectful to human dignity.

Mr Ilelah added that according to the broadcasting code, broadcasters shall ensure that no programme contained anything which amounted to subversion of constituted authority.

He recalled that the NBC had engaged Channels Television severally to consider public interest before any programme is broadcast.

This, he said, was to ensure that the country was not plunged into anarchy.

“Consequently, on the following infractions, Channels Television is hereby sanctioned and shall pay a penalty of N5,000,000 (five million naira) only in the first instance,” he said.

He added that any further infraction by the television station would attract higher sanctions.

“You are advised to pay within two weeks from the day of receipt of this letter or the penalty will be graduated,” the NBC Director-General said.


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Olowu Spare Parts Fire: 19 Shops, Goods Worth Nmillions Destroyed




No fewer than 19 shops were burnt and goods worth millions of naira were destroyed on Thursday when fire engulfed the Olowu Spare Parts Market in the Ikeja area of Lagos State.

PUNCH Metro learnt that the fire started at midnight.

It was later put out through the joint efforts of emergency responders, including men of the Lagos State Fire and Rescue Services.

The spokesperson for the agency, Amodu Shakiri, said a call was made to the Ikeja Fire Station at about 3.19am.

He said, “We got there in three minutes of the call time. Unfortunately, we lost 19 shops. The owners of the shops along the street all trade in combustible materials. Most of them are condensers for refrigerators, air conditioners and the like.

“All these are volatile combustibles. It aided the widespread of the fire but we were able to curtail it in time so that we did not record further losses.

“We also asked Alausa Station to join us. Despite the combustibles that were involved, there was no injury because the traders were not around.”

It was further gathered that some of the traders rushed to the scene of the fire early in the morning to salvage remnants of their goods.

Shakiri, however, attributed the fire to power disruption.

He said, “The cause is basically negligence because some people probably left their electronics on before they left the shop or maybe as a result of power disruption.

“People are advised to always switch off their electronic devices and installations. It should also be unplugged from the wall socket when closing for the day.”

The Coordinator of the Lagos Territorial Office of National Emergency Management Agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, on his part, said the fire affected 13 shops, four warehouses and one restaurant.

He, however, said no injury or death was recorded in the fire.

Farinloye said, “A fire outbreak at Olowu Automobile Spare Parts Market was recorded early this (Thursday) morning.

“The fire disaster which was reported to have started at about 2.30am affected 13 shops, four warehouses and one restaurant.

“The Commandant 9th Brigade, Ikeja met the NEMA team while he was on an assessment visit to the scene. The cause of the fire cannot be determined as of now.

“But the Chairman of the trader association, Bassey Ikpendu while narrating the situation applauded the efforts of the State Fire Service that prevented the escalation of the incident due to the combustible materials that were involved.

“The chairman narrated that one of their apprentices slept in the building and noticed the fire but by the time he got out, the chairman said, the fire had engulfed the building and immediately fire service was contacted which responded promptly.

“No injury or death was recorded.”

The Punch

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