Management characterised by abuse of office and highhandedness
Last Friday, May 29, 2015, history was made as the nation witnessed the swearing-in of an opposition leader in the country; but what do Nigerians really expect from the new President Muhammadu Buhari, asks Ohia Israel
By OHIA ISRAEL
Soon after winning the 2015 presidential election several people called on President Muhammadu Buhari to tackle corruption which he himself has also said is one of his main cardinal points, even as such areas mentioned to look into is the oil sector, the power sector, but as it is one major area which is like a cesspool of corruption and President Muhammadu Buhari will have to look into is the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC. Since the formation of that agency, even when it was DNCR, till when it metamorphosed into NIMC, it has been shrouded in various frauds and scandals.
Just recently, the Director General of the Organisation, Chris Onyemenam, was accused of embezzling N30 billion belonging to the organisation. Staff of the organisation further petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and even asked the previous government to wade into the matter as they want the NIMC boss suspended. Accordingly, Onyemenam the NIMC DG, was accused of misappropriation of funds and the wrongful dismissal of 406 staff.
It will be recalled that the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria last month concluded arrangements to call out its members nationwide “to commence an indefinite strike” over the planned sacking of over 1,000 workers by the National Identity Management Commission. Secretary-General of ASCSN, Alade Lawal, who said this in a statement in Abuja, regretted that the Federal Government had continued to condone and encourage lawlessness of the NIMC management, despite reports submitted to it on recent developments in the commission.
The union expressed disappointment that the NIMC Director-General, Chris Onyemenam, had continued to flout court processes “in respect of his unpopular decision to sack more than 1,000 senior employees for no just cause.”
Lawal said, “The directive by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity that parties should maintain the status quo pending the determination of the trade dispute on the matter and that of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation that he must subject himself to the court process at the Federal Court of Appeal, Abuja, by staying action on the planned sacking have been treated with contempt. “As we write, Onyemenam has summoned NIMC Board meeting for next week to ratify his decision to throw more than 1,000 senior employees into the labour market so that he can replace them with his kith and keen from Delta State as he did after he retrenched more than 5,000 junior workers in 2012.”
The ASCSN emphasised that since all legal means available to check the excesses of Onyemenam had been frustrated by the Federal Government, the ASCSN “has no other alternative than to paralyze the entire public service.” According to the trade union, all entreaties to the Federal Government to check the alleged culture of impunity by the NIMC boss and his Personal Assistant, had fallen on deaf ears.
The ASCSN said it had called for the removal of both the DG and the said Assistant General Manager. Lawal said: “It is inconceivable that after being in the saddle for more than nine years, Onyemenam has not been able to issue up to one million identity cards to Nigerians even though billions of Naira has been spent on the project, whereas, the Independent National Electoral Commission had issued more that 80 million Permanent Voter Cards to Nigerians in less than one year.
“The tragedy of this situation is that Onyemenam, who has spent nine years as DG of NIMC and whose term expired since 2013, has continued to sit tight, boasting that he would preside over NIMC affairs for 20 years because nobody can remove him from office. He is now playing God.”
The Union said that the first started in 2012 after 5,000 junior workers were thrown into the labour market by the DG of NIMC. Chris Onyemenam, after that move, commenced the plot to also sack 1,000 senior staff of the commission, stating “NIMC wanted those workers be sent back to the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation on the ground that they were not NIMC’s staff.”
However, the Federal Ministry of Justice in its legal advice told the NIMC’s management that by the 2007 Act setting up the commission, the staff in question which were inherited from the defunct Department of National Civic Registration are bonafide employees of NIMC. After the Federal Ministry of Justice gave that advice, Onyeneman, then started to campaign that the workers in question do not possess the requisite skills and competences as required by the commission. Later, he went on to accuse the staff of being fake, and at another time, alleged that irregularities have been discovered in their appointments, upgrading and conversion letters,” according to the union.
“For us however as an association, we have since found out that the DG is bent on retrenching those staff, in order to replace them with his own people and friends, just like he did after sacking 5,000 junior staff in 2012.
“At some point, more than 1,000 workers were issued queries the same day. Is that the way to run a government agency? The point is that if all government wants to retrench all the employees they inherited because of change of name or policies, there will be anarchy in the industrial relations arena in the public service.”
The Union also said: “When we declared a trade dispute, the ministry appointed a conciliator. In its letter of 22 December, 2014 to the NIMC, Minister of Labour and Productivity invoked the powers conferred on him by the Trade Dispute Act, CAP T, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, and ordered that both parties must maintain the status quo to enable a peaceful industrial relations environment for its resolution.
“It is also necessary to state that the dispute is also currently being adjucated upon by the Court of Appeal, Abuja. And in line with the respect for the rule of law, the office of the head of civil service of the federation in a letter on the 3rd of March this year, urged the NIMC’s management to take note of the fact that the matter is before a court of appeal, and as such, both parties should maintain the status quo. That status quo, for us as an association, is in line with the civilised tenets of decorum in the public service, as that is what we want, until the matter is satisfactorily adjucated upon,” the Union stated.
The Union also said that it picketed the organisation DG because it became imperative to stop NIMC from sacking the workers, because in spite of the directives from the ministry of labour, and the office of the head of civil service of the federation, coupled with the fact that the matter is at the court of appeal, the NIMC director general still wanted to carry out the sack, by summoning a board meeting at night to get ratification for his action; “We also picketed the offices, because the DG wanted to use the opportunity given to ministries, departments and agencies by President Goodluck Jonathan to prepare their handover notes to remove the names of the workers from the payroll.”
The union leadership also hinted that the picketing was meant to save the jobs of more than a thousand workers. As an association, we cannot understand a situation where Nigerians who have worked meritoriously for 23-25 years should just be thrown into the labour market because of the intransigencies of one man. Besides, there is the need to check the culture of impunity that has become the bane of Nigeria’s political space, particularly amongst chief executives of government agencies and parastatals.”
The Union went on: “We are calling for his sack by government. What is very clear now is that Barrister Onyemenam is not running the affairs of the NIMC satisfactorily. How can it be that since 2012 the NIMC director general has been pre occupied with sacking of workers for no just reason, other than to satisfy his ego? Even till today, Onyemenam has produced only 245,000 national identity cards, after spending more than nine years in office, and in spite of the billions of naira made available to him for that purpose by the Federal Government.
“If the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, produced over than 50 million permanent voters’ cards within six months. What other evidence do you need to prove that Onyemenam is incompetent? Onyemenam runs the NIMC as if it is his private estate, recruiting his kinsmen and women who are not qualified and experienced to replace the sacked staff. In some instances, he has engaged his relations as coordinators of NIMC offices throughout the country. You cannot run a federal government agency in this manner and expect good results,” the Union said.
“This is why we are saying Barrister Onyemenam must go. Not only that, his tenure as NIMC director general must also be probed. If President Jonathan refuses to do the needful, the incoming President elect must not only sack Onyemenam whose tenure has since expired, but must also bring him to account for the stewardship, including the production of national identity cards for Nigerians which he has not done.”
Meanwhile, the State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Soladoye Ekudayo, revealed that there is no iota of transparency in the ongoing verification exercise. He also confirmed that the DG was only using the exercise to retrench workers in order to employ his own people in the commission.
This is as aggrieved workers of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Ondo State office, have protested against the ongoing verification exercise of the commission, saying it is a means to retrench many workers. The protesters last month shut down the gate to the Igbatoro office of the commission in Akure, the State capital, and demanded that the ongoing verification exercise be put on hold.
They described the ongoing verification exercise as a fraudulent and unfavourable means to retrench workers in the commission. The protesters chanted solidarity songs for several hours and called for the removal of the Director General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Chris Onyemenam. The workers accused the Director General of partiality and favouring some workers at the expense of others.
They also accused the local chapter chairman of the Association of the Senior Civil Servants, NIMC branch, Gbenga Abileko, of sabotaging their efforts and refusing to speak up for workers rights. The aggrieved workers were all armed with placards bearing various inscriptions such as “The verification exercise is a fraud”, “We say no to retrenchment of workers”, “This impunity must stop”, “NIMC is dying”, “NIMC workers demands for justice”, “Chris Onyemenam. must go”.
The workers were joined by the Ondo State Chapter of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Association of the Senior Civil Servants who came to show their solidarity. Addressing the Protesters, the Ondo State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Soladoye Ekundayo alleged that the ongoing verification exercise seeks to retrench many workers of the commission and accused the Director General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Mr. Chris Onyemenam. of nepotism.
“The Director General, Chris Onyeama once told us that the commission would embark on a verification exercise to look into the certificate of workers for promotion and we told him to go ahead so far it’s carried out transparently. To our surprise, the Director General carried out the exercise and it was discovered that the verification was to witch-hunt and retrench workers of the commission.
“Here in Akure, Ondo State, they have laid off close to 30 workers as a result of the ongoing verification exercise and they have employed 3 people which have resumed to the office while the exercise is still ongoing”. He also disclosed that the Director General has breached a contempt of court by refusing to be transparent in the verification exercise after the union had met with the management of the commission on several occasions over the outcry of the workers on plans to retrench them.
Meanwhile, another report carried by online news media Premium Times stated how the organisation was enmeshed in corruption and embezzlement. The report stated that the National Identity Management Commissions [NIMC] has been engaged in expensive media razzmatazz and glitzy photo ops with top politicians and other prominent Nigerians in the past year. But these may just be a facade to hide the fact that the national identity card project currently lie in a legal limbo that may eventually cost the government as much as N44 billion of tax payers money in damages for an alleged breach of contract.
The report further stated that the current legal logjam hovering over the project was occasioned by what the Managing Director of Chams Consortium Limited, Demola Aladekomo, described as an abuse of office and executive highhandedness by the Director General of NIMC, Chris Onyemenam. Chams, which was the initial concessionaires of the project, has therefore dragged NIMC to a Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking an order to stop further implementation of the programme. It is also asking the court to order the Federal Government to pay N44 billion in damages.
In interviews with the online medium, Mr. Aladekomo said his company was awarded the concession in a transparent bid process that involved 65 international companies in 2007, following the recommendations of a 2006 Presidential Implementation Committee, headed by the then Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai, on how to deliver on a project that has gulped several billions but has remained largely in limbo for decades.
Other notable members of the committee were the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia and Chairman of Heir Holdings, Tony Elumelu, Mr. Aladekomo said. He said trouble soon started after Mr. Onyemenam started dilly-dallying in getting the concession agreement ready. He said it took the NIMC chief executive three years to prepare the concession agreement.
“Unfortunately for us, the DG NIMC just got a law degree a year before he was appointed,” Mr. Aladekomo said. He then used us as guinea pigs to practice his law. From May 24th when the contract was signed it took him to July 26, 2010 bofore he signed the concession agreement. He became more Catholic than the pope. He became more civil servant than the civil servant. He asked us to draft the concession agreement we drafted one and gave it to him. He appointed a law firm, Banwo Ighodalo and Co. He said what they drafted was not good. He now started to write the concession agreement himself in 2008 and finished in 2010.” He explained that in-between that time the company had invested upwards of N7.1 billion into setting up the facilities for the kick-off of the project.
“Meanwhile, because we have promised the president that we were going to deliver in 2009 and he said ‘don’t wait for the concession agreement, start work’. We invested. We did an IPO, raised N8.4 billion, spent N7.1 billion on the project. One of the things we got out of the project was the Guinness World Record for the Chams City that we built. We built a switch that could handle 100 million Nigerians. We built a card plant that could produce 1.7 million cards a day in Abuja for national ID. We spent 7.1 billion of shareholders money preparing for the take off so that we can do consumer finance and credit bureaus, this man was busy writing concession agreement,” he explained.
Mr. Aladekomo said by the time the concession agreement was ready for signing; Mr. Onyemenam had another surprise waiting for Chams. “By the time the concession agreement was ready we said let’s start he said. ‘No no no, I want to see all your designs, I want to see all your partners’. We gave him all our designs and showed him all our partners and had a big meeting in Abuja. We gave him our final design and showed him all our partners in 2012.
“The day we showed him all our partners and gave him all our design that was the last day he spoke to us. The same night we introduced our partners to him in Abuja he went to all their rooms in the (Transcorp) Hilton that they should be dealing with him directly,” he said.
When contacted Mr Onyemenam said he was not interested in engaging in media debate on the issue with Chams as it is a subject of an ongoing litigation. “As of today I am under advice to not speak on the concession which has been cancelled and over which Chams has gone to court and the next hearing has been fixed for sometime in June 2015,” he said in an email.
Giving a breakdown of how the organisation has become a cesspool of corruption, the report described the organisation as a black hole, it stated; “The current controversy surrounding the project is not unprecedented. In fact, it is just another chapter in the troubled history of the Nigeria national identity card project. Since 1981 when the first contract was signed by the Shehu Shagari administration, the project has been a prime waster of taxpayers’ money.
“It is a financial black hole that consumes everything thrown at it without a trace. Like a compromised slot machine, it consumes but never regurgitates. From then to date, more than N121 billion has been spent on the project, meant to authenticate the true identity of every Nigerian, with nothing to show for it.”
An extensive review of government papers, contracts, court documents, newspaper articles and interviews with people who are knowledgeable about the deals and agreements by medium shows that the project has been repeatedly torpedoed by executive high-handedness, mind-boggling corruption, sheer irresponsibility of government officials and asinine abuse of power.
But how come a project that would have been immensely beneficial to Nigerians as the national Identity card project ends up stymied every step of the way. The answer could be traced to its corruption-laden beginning.
In 1976, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, then a military Head of State, first conceptualised the national identity card project. However, the kick-off of the project didn’t happen until 1981 after Mr. Obasanjo had transferred power to a civilian elected government headed by Mr. Shagari.
The project was rigged to fail from the beginning. According to a 2001 TELL magazine report, six companies originally bidded for the project but the contract was awarded to Avant Incorporated, a company disqualified by a technical committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for its inability to provide a performance bond and its annual reports for three previous years.
But the absurdity had only just begun. The project had a price tag of a $100 million, an amount too high for the government of the time to raise. So it ran to politically connected Arab-Jew, Nessim Goan, who brought in Optife of Switzerland, a company where he is major shareholder. While Avant handled the procurement and supply, another company owned by Mr. Goan, Afro-Continental was to build the infrastructures across the country. By this calculation, Mr. Goan became the financier and the executor of the contract.
The Shagari government also naively signed a loan repayment agreement that was not tied to the completion of the project. Though the contractors had 18 months to deliver the project, it became clear that Afro-Continental didn’t have the requisite know-how about identity card technology. Also not a single computer was even supplied.
In a scramble for it to deliver on the project, which by this time was way past its deadline, Mr. Goan sublet the infrastructure phase of the contract to French technology heavyweight, Sagem. The arrival of Sagem marked another phase in the sordid history of the identity card project. Meanwhile Mr. Goan wasn’t done with Nigeria yet.
Before Sagem could unpack its bags after it arrived the shores of Nigeria, the Shagari government was overthrown in a military coup. The identity card project was abruptly discontinued by the Muhammadu Buhari-led military junta.
But after the Buhari regime was overthrown in 1985, the Ibrahim Babangida regime went back to doing business with Mr Goan. In fact, it ironically compensated Afro-Continental for not delivering on its earlier contract by awarding the company a new contract worth N70.7 million to refurbish containers for shipping goods to Nigeria, upgrade some of the computers supplied by Avant in 1982, install equipment as well as construct 20 computer centres across the country.
This contract also fell through following alleged sharp practices between civil servants and officials of Afro-Continental. As if the old cow hasn’t been over milked already, in 1992, Afro-Continental was awarded another $73.4 million contract for the procurement of Automatic Finger Print Identification System (AFIS) and the re-activation of the computer centres across the country.
Again, in 1998, the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime called for tender that would kick-start the national identity card project from scratch. This time, a consortium, led by a Nigerian company, Chams Limited, was awarded a $38.4 million contract to produce 52 million cards within four years. In April 1999, Chams delivered a pilot of 1 million cards.
In 2001, as Chams was waiting for the government to fulfill its obligations such as the purchase of four personalisation machines as stipulated in the contract for the second phase of contract to begin, the Obasanjo administration called for the submission of tenders for the printing of a new 70 million identity cards. The administration explained that it meant to harmonise the identity card project so it can be used for voters’ identification during the 2003 general elections and for the 2006 population census. But it soon became clear that the entire process was actually set up to hand the contract to one company – Sagem.
According to Mr. Aladekomo, the company immediately informed the Obasanjo administration of the subsisting contract it signed with the Abdulsalami regime to produce 51 million cards and the legal implications of continuing with the fresh call for tenders. But Mr. Obasanjo and other top ministry officials ignored several letters explaining the subsisting deal sent to them by Chams and went ahead with the fresh tenders.
In fact, the counsel to the government, F.B.I Egolum, testified at a Justice Kayode Esho arbitration hearing on the matter that officials of the Internal Affairs Ministry recommended that Chams should either be allowed to completely execute the subsisting contract or handed an upgraded one.
“At the end of the day, even though the claimant [Chams] was recommended by officials of the Ministry for the award of the contract, the government in its wisdom decided to award it to someone else,” he said while answering questions during the arbitration hearing on why the deal was not awarded to Chams but to Sagem.
In the statement of his ruling on the matter, Justice Esho said the Obasanjo administration acted with unprecedented irresponsibility. “The respondent [government] showed obvious legally indefensible irresponsibility on the part of a government which could not complain of lack of warning not of the knowledge of the legal consequences.
“The respondent intended to and did commit a breach of the agreement. They went on a curious voyage of governmental legal recklessness, probably unprecedented in a government wishing to be guided by law. They deliberately jettisoned the contract, which they had with the claimant,” he explained.
While ruling against the government, Justice Esho awarded total damages of $410,390.60 to Chams. The government appealed the arbitration judgment and the case dragged up to the Appeal Court before it eventually settled for an undisclosed negotiated settlement with the company.
The Sagem contract turned out to be another fiasco. The company managed to print only 35 million cards. Along the line, three ministers – late Internal Affairs, Sunday Afolabi, his successor, Mohammed Shata, former Labour Minister Hussain Akwanga – were implicated in a $2 million bribery scandal and the company was eventually blacklisted by the government.
In awarding the contract, Mr Obasanjo also ignored warning from Nigerian intelligence agencies that Sagem was too close to the French intelligence network and that there was no telling what it could do with the data gathered from the project.
Sources familiar with the behind-the-scene deals leading to the award of the contract to Sagem told online medium in its report that the French technology company had no business winning the contract in the first place. They claimed Sagem didn’t even make the initial shortlist from the bidding process. “Sixty-eight companies bidded worldwide,” one of our sources said. “It was an international bidding in 2001 but it took about a year and two months before the bid could be analysed because some people tried to compromise the process. Eventually the first six companies were invited.
The first company was Chams followed by MINT [Nigerian Minting and Printing Plc], then a Nigerian company and an American company. Sagem was the fifth company. The way tender was done in those days was that only the one to three is called, but they took it to six because Sagem was in number five.
“At the end of the presentation to the exco, the companies retained their ranks but when the recommendation got to the president, some civil servants from internal affairs got Sagem to meet Obasanjo and said that the committee decision was wrong and that Sagem had made a lot of promises.
“The French foreign minister flew in on a Thursday night, met the president Friday evening. The president called the 16 ministries involved, including INEC and the National Population Commission to a meeting on Saturday morning, Late Afolabi was there, Shata, his Minister of State was there, late Guobadia of INEC was there, Akwanga was there.
“The meeting held on Saturday 11 am, the president asked if anybody has taken money from Chams? They all said no that the process was transparent. The president said if nobody is confessing that they took money from Chams, he is going to give it to Sagem. That was how it was awarded to Sagem,” he added.
Management characterised by abuse of office and highhandedness