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Confusion trails suspension of NSITF management

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The management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust (NSITF) has insisted that their suspension from office by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, did not receive the authorisation of President Muhammadu Buhari.

This comes as the minister insisted that he got the approval of the President to suspend the management staff of the Fund, though he did not display the approval.

The Guardian gathered that steps have been taken to barricade the headquarters of the Fund on Monday to prevent entry of the suspended staffers, even as the handover to interim management members nominated by the minister is expected to take place in the morning of the same day.

Speaking on the development, NSITF’s Executive Director, Finance and Investment, Jasper Azuatalam, said the minister’s arbitrary suspension of management members is a cause for concern.

He stated: “I am very worried and worried not by the purported suspension, but by abuse of government processes. I read where the minister mentioned that the management and some senior staff of the Fund have been suspended on the directive of Mr. President.

“I can categorically say that the management has not received any letter from the President pronouncing us suspended. We got a letter from the minister with the headlined, ‘Financial and procurement audit of the NSITF,’ this week Monday and then he wrote suspension from office beneath it. He wrote to inform us that we have been suspended from office, because he is carrying out audit of the NSITF.

“Two months ago, the minister wrote a petition against NSITF to the office of the Auditor General and Bureau of Public Procurement, that there were infringements in the NSITF and that the two offices should investigate the NSITF. The BPP wrote that the investigation would commence on June 29, this year, on the audit of the Fund for 2017, 2018 and 2019, which will last for one week. The minister then wrote on Wednesday that a case of prima facie has been established against the management and some staff.

“We do not know when the minister carried out his own audit and what the findings were and by who.”

Indeed, a circular from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, with reference number SGF/OP/1.S.3/T/163, dated May 19, this year, headlined, ‘Approved disciplinary procedure against Chief Executive Officers of Federal Government Parastatals, Agencies and Departments,’ outlined how public officers should be disciplined.

The circular stated: “Accordingly, when an act bordering on serious misconduct against a chief executive is reported, it shall be the duty of the supervising minister, through the permanent secretary, to refer the matter to the Governing Board for necessary action in line with the relevant provisions of the Establishment Act and the principles guiding Chapter 3 and 16 of the Public Service Rules.”

The NSITF management argued that the minister neither reported the allegations to the Board of the Fund nor the permanent secretary, as authorised by President Muhammadu Buhari through the SGF.

Azuatalam dared the minister to make available the letter that authorised their suspension by the President Buhari, adding: “The minister should feel free to give the media the approval he got from the President regarding the suspension.”

Azuatalam maintained that the management members were open to any form of investigation by the appropriate agency, saying there was nothing they would hide or is hiding, saying until otherwise directed by the President, the management team of the NSITF would continue to discharge their responsibilities as dictated by the President.

“We have been in receipt of several letters and petitions by the minister and we will make all communications available to the public and relevant authorities. The management of NSITF is still discharging its duty as appointed by Mr. President.”

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) has flayed the alleged suspension of the affected staffers.
Its Director General, Timothy Olawale, stated that the other bodies that constitute the Board members of NSITF, such as NECA, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) were not aware of any of the claims made by the minister.

He said NECA had expected that in line with the aforementioned government circular on approved disciplinary procedure against chief executives of government parastatals and agencies, the minister ought to have referred the matter through the permanent secretary to the Governing Board, which is still in existence, for necessary action, in line with the relevant provisions of the Establishment Act and the principles guiding public service rule.

NECA noted that the NSITF should not be run outside the laws of the country, the enabling Act establishing it and the guidelines/directives of government.

It advised that the managing director, executive directors and other suspended general managers be allowed to continue their lawful duties without hindrance, adding that the observed infractions on the Financial Regulation and Procurement Act and every other acts of gross misconduct in the Fund should be referred to the duly constituted Governing Board through the established procedure for attention and appropriate actions.


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