NCPC: The Stinking Road To Jerusalem, By Dele Agekameh
Some staff of the NCPC are believed to be in the process of filing a petition to the EFCC which will not only be an embarrassment to the Christian community and the SGF, but likely also to the VP, himself, a pastor. It is imperative that the ES steps aside for a proper probe of the Commission’s account or resign to save himself and everybody else the impending embarrassment.
Religion has proven to be one of the most vital aspects of life in Nigeria, even though the country is mostly identified as a secular state. Like in the case of ethnicity, Nigeria has multiple ‘faiths’ when it comes to religion, but Christianity and Islam are the two most practiced. The religious fervour in the country sees Nigerians of different religious affiliations embark on (mostly) annual pilgrimage to holy sites around the world. It is of so much importance to Nigerians that the government has, for years, funded and organised pilgrimages of the two major religions annually.
But all has not been well at the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC), the body that is responsible for Christian pilgrimage to Israel (Jerusalem). Ever since the Commission’s board was inaugurated on February 27, 2018, it has been at loggerheads with Tor Uja, the executive secretary (ES), a self-styled reverend, who hitherto had been running the Commission single-handedly for some years before the board was inaugurated.
According to information coming out of the Commission, it was not quite long after the new board settled down to work that it discovered that a lot of funds, running into millions of dollars, had grown wings. It was later discovered that the ES had allegedly been getting approvals for illegal and fraudulent transactions from a “super permanent secretary” in the office of the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), who may have been compromised with dollars and many pilgrimage slots by the ES.
Consequently, since the inauguration of the present board, there has been serious tension between the ES and the chairman/entire membership of the board. The ES is said to have unsuccessfully tried to bully the chairman, who himself has proved not to be an easy nut to crack. It got to the extent that the ES, who is said to have been recommended for the position by the vice president (VP), in the first place, was issued a query by the board and recommended for suspension. But it is alleged that the said permanent secretary in the SGF’s office sat on the letter for months, because of fears that he could be implicated in the course of the probe, over his many approvals of inexplicable withdrawals by the ES.
…it is understood that the ES had been advised to honourably resign so as to prevent the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-graft agencies from moving in. However, having initially considered this line of action, the ES is said to have later changed his mind when some “men of God”…confidently told him to hold on…for the matter to evaporate.
At a point, it was said that the board had to call in its legal head to interpret the NCPC Act to them so that the ES, chairman and entire board membership could understand the limits of their powers better. Not only this, the office of the SGF also, sometimes in October 2018, organised a retreat to address what seemed to be causing disagreement in all the MDAs under its supervision. But none of these seemed to help as the ES was alleged to have, among other things, gone over the board for approvals and, in some cases, violated the Procurement Act by acting alone on contract approvals beyond his official limit. Some staff of the Commission claim that the corruption in the government agency is worse than what allegedly took place in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
It is claimed that what the ES is doing in the Commission is unheard of, as recent discoveries made in its accounts department are mind boggling. For instance, it is said that there are two trainings going on in Lagos State for which he, the ES, is being paid, even when he is not participating, and all the staff are aware of this. Also, a staff member is said to have written a memo in November last year for a media parley and dinner, amounting to about N363,000. The ES is said to have arranged the same dinner this year for close to N1 million.
From available information, it is understood that the ES had been advised to honourably resign so as to prevent the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-graft agencies from moving in. However, having initially considered this line of action, the ES is said to have later changed his mind when some “men of God”, particularly a prominent Bishop in Ibadan, confidently told him to hold on while he goes into fasting and prayer for the matter to evaporate. It was learnt that the said Bishop is also a friend of the VP and has been making all efforts to convince the VP to intervene on the ES’s behalf. But the VP, being a man of truth, who strongly supports the anti-corruption war of the president, is unlikely to just support anything without thorough investigation and fact-finding. It is on the strength of this that he has requested to see the report that indicted the ES.
Initially, the arrowhead of the probe on the ES’s activities was the board chairman, also a pastor. The latest information, however, has it that the chairman himself appears to have been compromised after the ES assembled all the influential pastors in Nigeria to appeal to him to save his neck. It was also reliably gathered that the chairman may also have been settled through a proposed land that the Commission intends to purchase from Aso Bank, by inflating the cost by up to 500 per cent.
Public officials should be made to read and understand the Acts establishing their agencies and commissions, particularly the parts relating to their functions and the supervisory authority over those functions, before taking up their appointments and roles. They should also be made to sign pre-set forms that confirm they understand the limits of their powers and authority.
It is interesting, how this case is so similar to that of Usman Yusuf, the embattled ES of the NHIS, who is still under suspension. It seems that the Acts establishing national commissions and government agencies are so ambiguous with regards to the interplay of the duties and powers of the different officials and members of the commissions or agencies, and this leaves a window for abuse by some public officers. A well drafted Act would not inspire the confidence of errant public officers to embark on unlawful activities that clearly run foul of the law. In this case though, there is also the alleged connivance of a top official in the office of the SGF that puts a conspiratorial twist to the whole affair.
The NCPC Act, in Section 2 (1) provides for the composition of the Commission to include a chairman, six members, a secretary (ES) and a number of representatives from other organisations, including one from the Christian Association of Nigeria. However, the Act, in Section 7 (1), specifically dubs the secretary (ES) as an “Administrative/Accounting officer”, which in no way envisages a duty or power outside the control or oversight of the other members of the commission, also known as the board, or the chairman of that board. Like in similar Acts, what leads to abuse by glorified administrative officers is the omission of a clear provision that confirms the oversight function of the board, without the need for a community reading of the provisions of the Act.
Public officials should be made to read and understand the Acts establishing their agencies and commissions, particularly the parts relating to their functions and the supervisory authority over those functions, before taking up their appointments and roles. They should also be made to sign pre-set forms that confirm they understand the limits of their powers and authority. Such a development will save precious time in engaging in back and forth tussles after they have dug themselves into their position and made alliances that muddle the chain of command or line of authority. This case at the NCPC may turn ugly and public very fast if the necessary steps are not taken now.
Some staff of the NCPC are believed to be in the process of filing a petition to the EFCC which will not only be an embarrassment to the Christian community and the SGF, but likely also to the VP, himself, a pastor. It is imperative that the ES steps aside for a proper probe of the Commission’s account or resign to save himself and everybody else the impending embarrassment. The public fiasco at the NHIS did none of the people involved any favours, and it certainly was not good for the fast deteriorating image of the public service.
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