Date Published: 07/02/10
NSITF: The Curious Case of Enukora Okoli. By Uche Ohia
In the last few months, the main news coming out of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) concerns its Managing Director, Chief Enukora Joe Okoli and the petitions against him and the NSITF management with regards to the administration of pension funds. NSITF was established by the NSITF Act No. 73 of 1993 to succeed the defunct National Provident Fund as the agency statutorily vested with the function of providing social security for poor, aged, disabled and disadvantaged members of the populace.
Enukora Okoli was appointed as Managing Director of NSITF in February 2007 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Before then, he served as Chairman of the NSITF Management Board. Mrs Ngozi Olejeme was appointed as chairman of the Board in June 2009 by late President Umar YarÁdua. Barely three months later, Enukora Okoli was suspended from office as MD by the Board “to pave way for unhindered investigation” of allegations contained in petitions written by the Finance and General Purpose Committee of the Trustfund Pensions Plc (TPP) and the Joint Workers Association for Good Governance (NSITF Chapter). The latter is said to be a phantom body. The Board went further to appoint Alhaji Umar Munir Abubakar, Executive Director in charge of administration and finance at NSITF, as acting managing director.
The petitions against Okoli were investigated by the police and by a panel set up by the NSITF Board. The police cleared him of all the allegations stating in their report that “the petition was the handiwork of some wicked and faceless group bent on tarnishing the good name of the MD of NSITF”. The panel set up by the Board, on the other hand, indicted him. But it seems as if the panel did not give the man fair hearing. Neither did it take the police report into consideration. Still, the report of the panel has been widely publicized in the media even when the supervising ministry is yet to take a decision on it. One noticeable thing about the media reports is that they seem intended to cast Enukora Okoli as a villain. But there is need to look beneath the veneer of anti-corruption activism being exhibited by the NSITF Board.
Nigeria needs composite legislation on social security. Much of the crime and insecurity in the country are consequences of gross disequilibrium in the distribution of wealth. When the disparity between the rich and the poor becomes so wide, it precipitates social disharmony and insecurity. Social security packages help to bridge the gap by ensuring that no citizen is consigned to homelessness or starvation on account of age, joblessness or disability. The social security policy catalysed by the NSITF is yet to make any serious advancement. These should preoccupy the NSITF Board.
On the NSITF website, transparency and accountability are listed among the core values of the organisation. But transparency and accountability are not only about money, they are also about action. The Board has a duty to demonstrate transparency and accountability in it’s actions which does not appear to have been the case in it’s handling of citizen Enukora Okoli’s case.
Whatever the powers vested in it by law, the Board of NSITF cannot be an accuser, a judge and an enforcer all at once. That will be a violation of the constitution which grants every citizen certain rights including the right to be protected from unfair trial and trial by ordeal.
The Board certainly acted with imperial authority in deposing and imposing chief executives on NTISF. By virtue of the NSITF Act, the Board has no powers to remove the MD. The appointment and removal of the MD is a duty vested in the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Board cannot arrogate such powers to itself.
But there is a more curious angle to the NSITF saga. The position of the acting MD, Umar Abubakar, seems rather odd. By virtue of his office as Executive Director in charge of administration and finance, he is supposed to be the MD’s right hand man. He deputizes for him, represents him at public functions and also reportedly served as chairman of the tripartite committee of the National Pension Commission (Pencom), Trustfund Pensions Plc and NSITF responsible for reconciliations and transfer of assets which are the contentious issues in the petitions. He ought to be under investigation along with the MD in a situation where the management of NSITF and, in particular, the handling of funds is called to question. Why should he take over as acting MD and at the same time serve as a member of the panel set up by the Board to investigate the MD? Something must be wrong somewhere.
If Abubakar’s office was marginalized or made redundant under Okoli, how many alarms did he raise that he can now afford to distance himself from his MD and even sit in judgement over him? Or was he the whistle blower? In that case, he should have been a witness, not a judge. No one should be a judge in his own cause. The sanctimonious posture of Abubakar is incredible.
The bane of administrative inquisitions in Nigeria is selective justice. If a petition has been written against the head of an organisation, other members of the management team have questions to answer whether they were mentioned by name in the petition or not. What is required at NSITF is nothing that an audit cannot resolve. A comprehensive audit would determine whether funds have been stolen, misappropriated or misapplied.
With so many cases of blatant stealing of public funds, it is easy to conclude that every sleazy allegation of fraud must be true. But we must be careful not to inter the innocent with the guilty. The case against Enukora Okoli is cloudy. If he is guilty of any administrative lapses, appropriate sanctions should be applied without first denigrating the man in the media. The public need reassurance that the curious case of Enukora Okoli is not a witch-hunt. firstname.lastname@example.org; 0805 1090 050