The attention of the Management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust (NSITF) has been drawn to news items, including newspaper editorials on termites said to have eaten vouchers at the organisation. It has therefore become overly important for the Management to state the facts as well as its position on this false narrative about the fund, especially in the background of the Senate Public Accounts Committee Hearing, probing the 2018 Audit Report of the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation(AUGF) on N17.15b out of the nearly total of N58B, which was misappropriated from the Fund between 2012- 2015.
We wish to officially make it clear without any shred of doubt that these financial infractions have nothing to do with the Current Managementwhich is just a year old. They were rather financial violations and sleazes committed by the former managements and board who superintended over the affairs of our organisation between 2012 and 2017. Some members of the present management team were not even staff members of the organisation at this period in question. However, knowing full well that government is a continuum, we presented ourselves before the Senate Committee as well as rendered every assistance necessary for it to carry out its statutory oversight functions.
Indeed, when the Senate Committee initiated this current probe in 2021, we had to set up an internal committee to retrieve from First Bank and Skye Bank, detailed transactions involving the NSITF under the period as requested by the Committee. The documents were subsequently submitted to the Senate Committee. And to further assist the Senate Committee in the performance of their function, at their prompting, we equally invited the former Managing Directors – Munir Abubakar (2010-2016) Ismail Agaka(2016-2017) and Bayo Somefun(2017-2020) under whose tenures these infractions as reported in the Auditor General’s Report took place, to respond to some of the questions raised in the reports of 2018 which the Senate is probing. Nigerians who attended the Senate Public Hearing on Thursday, 11 August , 2022, know and understand undoubtedly, that beyond mischief and the attempt to make mountain out of mole hill, the circumstance under which reference was made to termites, when one of the past Managing Directors had claimed that the vouchers for the N5B payment made in 2013 would still be in a container in the compound of the fund.
At this juncture however, it is crucial that we recall the background of this entire ugly saga, especially for the members of the public who might have forgotten. In 2015, the EFCC acting on petitions and tip-off from whistle blowers investigated the accounts of the NSITF and discovered massive looting to the tune of N62B. It subsequently arrested and charged the former Chairman of the Board of the Fund, Ngozi Olejeme and two other board members,Aderemi Adegboyaga and R.U Uche to court. Others equally charged included former top management staff – former Managing Director , Munir Abubakar, the Deputy General Manager Finance, Henry Ekhasomi, General Manager Legal, Adebayo Aderibigbe and one other .
We put on record also that it was the Office of the Minister of Labour and Employment, our supervising Ministry that requested for the special periodic check of the Auditor General of the Federation in 2017, having noticed that the Fund breached all the financial regulations and had no annual audit reports for five years between 2012 -2017. It was also the Minister who sought for the EFCC Report on the matter. The Senate Committee on Public Accounts therefore has made no new discoveries or acting on fresh report as skewed in a section of the press. It is only acting on the 2017 Auditor General’s Report submitted to the 8thSenate in 2018.
Besides the EFCC acting on this matter, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, following presidential assent in 2017, also set up an Administrative Panel of Inquiry into this financial haemorrhage to unearth the administrative and financial lapses that gave rise to the unfortunate situation. The Panel was led by K.C Awotu, a chartered accountant and former Director of Finance at the Ministry of Labour and Employment. The Awotu Report submitted on July 18, 2018 made more damming revelations.
It established that about N30billion was carted away in one week, and that N5billion vanished without vouchers in one day! According to the report, the internal audit mechanism of the Fund broke down completely and couldn’t check the fraud even up till 2017, reason being that some of the avoidable breaches and the massive fraud were still ongoing. It noted that the former Chairman of the fund and part time non-executive directors transmuted into Executive Directors against Public Service Rules, Financial Regulations and Public Procurement Act 2007, started awarding phoney contracts that were not executed, making payments for them and money siphoned. This was later traced by the EFCC to private accounts and Bureau de Change operators, where they were exchanged for dollars.
It consequently made far reaching recommendations for the reform of the Fund, including compulsory leave and later retirement offour management staff members and others directly and indirectly involved in the fraud, besides those already charged to court but still at work in NSITF against the Public Service Rules. It is public knowledge that though this matter is still in court, the EFCC has made recoveries which include about 48 property worth billions of Naira from Olejeme, who was the Chairman of the Board when this heist was committed. The anti-graft agency also secured interim forfeiture of the houses and items, apart from various sums in cash equally recovered from other accused persons through plea bargain.
Again, it is pertinent to re-emphasize that what the Senate Public Account Committee is probing is not new but a matter that has equally been taken care of by due process of law, administratively and by the judiciary in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Similarly, it is imperative that in resolving this issue of the so-called termites that we state clearly that in 2015/2016 deposition before the EFCC, the former Managing Director, Munir Abubakar admitted that monies were removed from the accounts of the NSITF and without vouchers because there was none and that it was only the former Deputy General Manager, Finance who could explain the reason.
Now fast forward to August 2022 before the Senate Accounts Committee. The same former Managing Director was asked why N5b was paid from NSITF accounts in two banks to some persons without vouchers and he deviated from his earlier statement on the same matter in 2015 to say that the vouchers might be at the NSITF’s strong room or container where documents were kept. It was at this juncture that the current Managing Director, Dr. Michael Akabogu interjected that if the container he was referring to is the one abandoned together with the contents by him-Munir and his successors- Agaka and Somefun to inclement weather for years, then, it must be a deliberate ploy to allow these vouchers, if they ever existed, to be feasted upon by the elements. Indeed , there is no termite at the NSITF ! It is our stand therefore that the former Managing Directors of the Fund between 2012 – 2017 should explain if there were vouchers actually. And if the answer is Yes, where they kept them.
We state finally that we have no problem with the Senate Public Accounts Committee carrying out its functions. Our concern however is the usage of such Public Hearing to distort facts or create an unnecessary bogey that will rub off on the new management and our organisation that have made giant strides since July 2021 when this new management took over the affairs of the NSITF.