Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The suspended management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) has raised an objection over the neutrality of the investigative panel set up to probe alleged financial infractions against them.
The suspended Managing Director, Mr. Adebayo Somefun, and others facing an audit investigating panel said they approached the National Industrial Court to enforce the spirit of fair hearing on the allegation of infractions levelled against some staff of the Fund.
Somefun, who was reacting to the statement by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, that the affected staff dragged him and President Muhammadu Buhari to court to challenge their suspension, said they are not satisfied with the composition of the panel.
The eight-member audit panel headed by the National President of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Alhaji Ibrahim Khaleel, with the Director of Human Resources in the National Productivity Centre, Mrs. E. Ogriki, serving as secretary/member is currently investigating the financial infractions.
Somefun, who is yet to appear before the panel, explained that under the principle of fair hearing, the panel saddled with investigating the minister’s allegations ought not to have been empaneled by him, who is an interested party.
He added that all that were done in the award of contracts, training and budget of the Fund were approved by the minister and the Parastatals Tenders Board as the case may be.
The embattled NSITF boss also queried the omission of the representative of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Taiwo Adeniyi, who heads the finance committee of the NSITF board.
He alleged that the strange and suspicious barring of Adeniyi from the board, who is also the President of NECA, from the joint audit and investigative panel, indicates the possibility of an already pre-planned indictment of perceived non-loyalists within the Fund.
The MD said the suspended staffers are ready to be investigated by an independent panel of inquiry but not the one set up by the minister.
According to him, “We hold in high esteem the office of the president and that of the Minister of Labour and Employment as the representative of the president. We did not drag the president to court. The office of the president is highly revered and regarded by us because he was the one who appointed us in the first place.
“We owe our stay in office at his pleasure, and we do not take that lightly. We respect the constituted authority.
“However, what we are in court for is to enforce our right to fair hearing. The minister accused us of perpetrating financial infractions and then set up a panel to probe issues he has already accused us of.”