The Federal Government is set to ask the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate allegations of corruption levelled against the management of the National Insurance Commission.
A top government official, who confided in The PUNCH on Thursday, said the government would next week forward a petition written by the NAICOM workers against the Commissioner for Insurance, Alhaji Mohammed Kari, and other management staff to the EFCC.
The source said already, the Ministry of Finance had summoned top officials of the commission to a meeting, adding that all the allegations levelled by the workers against Kari and the management would be independently investigated.
The source said, “The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Alhaji Isa Dutse, has summoned a meeting with the management of NAICOM. The meeting is going on now at the ministry, but what I can tell you now is that we have made it clear that all the allegations will be fully and independently investigated.
“This is a government that is determined to fight corruption and nobody is above the law.”
When asked if the EFCC would be invited to carry out the probe since the investigation would be independent, the source replied, “That is want it means.”
The Chairman of NAICOM’s branch of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services’ Employees, Mr. Abdullateef Ibrahim, said in an interview with The PUNCH that the union had sent the petition to the Presidency.
He said that the letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari was submitted on November 28 and that a copy of the petition was also submitted at the Ministry of Finance.
Calling for a thorough investigation of the issues raised in the petition, Ibrahim said that was the only way to guarantee industrial harmony in the organisation.
He expressed frustration that the Finance ministry had not invited the workers to substantiate their claims, adding that this ought to have been done since last week when protests against the management began.
Ibrahim said the workers were worried about the collapse of governance and administration structure at the commission.
He added that the management style of Kari had rendered the directors ineffective.
Apart from the issue of alleged mismanagement of funds and abuse of office by the management, he claimed that another thing that the government should investigate was the reason for the delay in compliance with the migration from the compliance-based supervision to risk-based supervision.
Ibrahim stated, “We have submitted a copy of our grievances to the Presidency and we have sent a copy to the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun. Before the incident, a lot of things had happened and we told the Ministry of Finance that if they don’t look at the issues, we could not guarantee industrial harmony in NAICOM.
“The petition submitted to the Presidency was addressed to Mr. President and that was done on November 28. While that of the Finance ministry was sent the same day and addressed to the Finance minister.
“We are waiting for them to call us so that we can bring up the issue of collapse of governance and the administration system at NAICOM.”
When contacted on the development, the spokesperson for NAICOM, Mr. Rasaq Salami, said that the grievances of the workers began when the inspectorate department was transferred from Abuja to Lagos.
He said the transfer affected the chairman of the workers’ union, adding that the decision infuriated his colleagues, who had preferred that he would remain in the Abuja head office of the insurance industry regulator.
Salami denied allegation of mismanagement at the commission, adding that since a board had not been constituted for NAICOM, the relocation of the inspectorate department was approved by the supervising minister.
He also denied the allegation that the workers were intimidated by law enforcement agencies, adding that the security agencies were deployed to the commission to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
When asked to react to the crisis rocking the commission and the workers’ claim that they had petitioned the President on the matter without any action taken against the insurance commissioner, the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Mr. Femi Adesina, asked one of our correspondents to talk to the Ministry of Finance that supervises the commission.
FG summons insurance commissioner, others
When one of our correspondents contacted the Ministry of Finance, the Director of Information, Mr. Salisu Dambatta, confirmed that the ministry was meeting with the management of NAICOM on Thursday night.
Dambatta also said the meeting, chaired by the Permanent Secretary, would address the issues raised by the workers.
When asked to respond to claims that the minister had refused to intervene in the crisis because of the perceived closeness of Kari to the President, he stated, “I can confirm to you that a meeting with the management of NAICOM has been convened by the ministry.
“All I can say for now is that the meeting will be chaired by the Permanent Secretary and it is about now holding in the ministry.”
Workers state grievances
The workers’ union had in a letter alleged that the Deputy Commissioner for Insurance (Finance and Administration), Mr. George Onokhena, appropriated the sum of $70,000 to himself on the excuse of medical treatment in the United States without necessary approvals.
In the protest letter, the union also alleged, “The present Commissioner for Insurance, Alhaji Mohammed Kari, was indicted in May 2002 by the Justice Obiora Nwazota judicial panel report on the N54bn ‘loot’ of the liquidated Nigeria Airways Limited.
“The report recommended that Kari, who was the then Managing Director of NICON Plc, and several others be held responsible for the sum of $13m transferred to Alexander Services Limited by NICON Plc.
“The questions should be asked how he ran Unity Kapital Assurance Plc, Nigeria Re-Insurance Corporation, NICON Insurance Corporation and Niger Insurance Plc.
“Was due diligence not done by the Presidency before his appointment?”
The workers also expressed dissatisfaction with what they described as lack of succession in NAICOM.
They claimed that it was in the habit of the management to fill vacancies of directors from outside instead of allowing workers in such departments to grow professionally.
They listed the positions filled through that process to include administration, inspectorate, authorisation and policy.
The letter read in part, “This issue is responsible for high level stagnation being experienced in the commission. The directors were brought from outside to fill vacancies.
“The director, inspectorate came in with an NCE certificate against the requirement of the advertisement that specifically stated a minimum of a degree or its equivalent for the position.”
Security agencies keep mum
There were reports last week that Kari was arrested by operatives of the Department of State Services following the protest by the workers.
But Salami said that the commissioner was never arrested by the DSS or the police.
“He was never arrested by the Department of State Services as it is being circulated. The DSS and the police attached to NAICOM for security only paved the way for him to leave the office and avoid any molestation at the entrance to the commission,” he had stated.
Attempts to get the DSS and the police to explain if Kari was actually arrested were not successful as of the time of sending this story on Thursday. The DSS has yet to get a spokesperson.
Also, the Federal Capital Territory Police Public Relations Officer, Anjuguri Manzah, did not respond to calls to his mobile telephone number and the SMS sent to him.
When one of our correspondents contacted the Special Adviser to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr. Nwachukwu Ngige, he said that he could not give an immediate response on the issue.
Ngige said the minister just came in from the Federal Executive Council meeting and had entered into another meeting at the ministry.
He said, “Honestly, I don’t know, and I am not with the minister now. Two, he just came in from the Federal Executive Council meeting.
“So, there will be no immediate action. I cannot meet with him because he is in a meeting.”
The Deputy Director in charge of Press at the ministry, Mr. Samuel Olowookere, did not pick repeated calls to his mobile telephone line on Wednesday.