By Solomon Gowon
Depression and nervousness are the bane of staff of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on the fate that awaits them. Panicky directors and other staff facing the EFCC‘s noose are becoming more vicious in plots to obfuscate the truth and save their necks.
The EFCC is probing the alleged siphoning of N2.5 billion from the agency led in this crime by the former Director-General,(DG-NEMA) Mr. Mohammed Sani Sidi and at least, six directors.
EFCC’s preliminary report exposed very mindboggling acts of sleaze perpetrated by the former DG-NEMA in collusion with some directors and an appreciable number of staff of the agency at the lower cadre.
Sensing danger in no distant time, should the EFCC probe is allowed to run conclusively, these throngs of indicted civil servants have conspiratorially vowed to make NEMA ungovernable for the incumbent DG-NEMA, Engr. Mustapha Maihaja, who is insisting on transparency, accountability and due process in the running of the agency.
In somewhat an impulsive reaction, the indicted staff petitioned the House of Representatives through the Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness chaired by Hon. Ali Isa for intervention. This was after the Governing Board of NEMA chaired by the Vice President; Professor Yemi Osinbajo approved the suspension of the serving directors as requested by the anti-graft agency to insulate the investigations from interference.
That the House of Reps, strangely sided with the petitioners is no longer news. And it directed the agency to reinstate the suspended directors. But instead of focusing attention on the subsisting alleged N2.5 billion fraud perpetrated by the directors, the House of Reps rather repressed the issue and mandated its committee to probe the less than year old tenure of the current NEMA-DG.
So far, the House Committee has not come out with a proof of any financial impropriety against the leadership of Maihaja.
Sadly aware that the pranks they played and refuge sought in the House of Reps are not creating the desired impact, the staff resorted to a strike. And frivolous reasons and unwarranted demands have brandished before the public to portray the current management as inept and incompetent. The gimmick is to divert focus on the fraud under investigation in the agency, which most of them are complicit.
To sustain the battle against NEMA’s DG, Engr. Maihaja, the striking staff have embarked on bitter and disparaging media propaganda to attract public sympathy. One of such hoopla came in form of an article captioned, “Incessant NEMA Crisis: Time for Mr. President to Act.”
The writer, obviously on a hatchet job, frantically sought to distract attention from the issues of accountability and the alleged N2.5 billion fraud rocking NEMA. So, he exculpated the former DG-NEMA, Mr. Mohammed Sani Sidi and the six directors of the agency fingered in the fraud. But it is the NEMA administration of Sidi that the misinformed and unconscionable writer praised to high heavens.
In the media outing, it is easy to infer the Biblical “hand of Esau and voice of Jacob.” So, instead of subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of the anti-graft agency, the supposed culprits are expending huge sums of money to stall the probe.
Now, NEMA staff have been instigated by the same forces to embark on strike, advancing frivolous reasons and making demands, some of which are clearly outside their official jurisdictions. It’s unfortunate that Nigerians have over time been oriented to believe all is fair, so long as personal interests are fraudulently serviced.
Therefore, these embattled officials feel through media hype, enriched with falsehood, public and official attention would be diverted from them and the heat would cleverly be turned against the current NEMA DG, Engr, Mustapha Maihaja.
It could not astound anybody, the reference to the organized, focused, transparent and accountable leadership of NEMA under Maihaja as fraught with “scandalous activities.” The puritan sanity of the propagandists never compelled them to even mention the fraudulent administration of the immediate past NEMA DG and his conspirators. But this is a case which EFCC preliminary investigations are smoking with their complicity, which they seek to frustrate.
But truth cannot be repressed and former NEMA DG and his directors whom the writer has positioned himself to sycophantically praise sing as the best, crippled the agency and in fact, laid the foundation for the prevailing decay, which Maihaja is gradually trying to impose some positive changes.
And abuse of due process has been deeply entrenched in the system and it is natural for those who regale in illegalities to resist any attempt at cleansing the agency. Staff committed financial frauds with uncommon sophistry and in a manner that has confounded the expertise of financial crimes investigators in the anti-graft agency.
The EFCC report alleged direct diversion of foods and relief materials meant for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East; the use of fake companies and weigh bills to secure NEMA contracts by some directors; embezzlement of votes for staff training; the incorporation of personal companies to secure the agency’s contracts; with some directors owning between 5 – 10 companies and payment of the agency’s funds into the private accounts of family members of some directors and creation of fake IDP camps, where they claimed phantom delivery of relief materials among others.
There were also alleged frivolous overtime claims by some directors and workers of NEMA, with some vouchers of individual staff demanding as much as N20 million refund as expenses or debt incurred for the agency.
But the striking workers are complaining of redundancy, unpaid claims and lack of working tools. It is possible for Maihaja to have grounded all the working tools of the agency in less than one year in office, as portrayed by the pen undertaker? If they were redundant under Maihaja, how did they arrive at the overtime claims and liabilities of nearly N3billion?
Come to think of it! Unsentimentally, If the votes for capital expenditures were captured in the 2018 budget, which was signed into law barely two weeks ago by the Presidency, is more time not required for funds to be released to MDAs? So, is the strike timely?
If words are anything, Maihaja’s antagonists wrote: “It would interest you to note that the present crisis rocking the agency became manifest as soon as the administration came into being.” It means the current NEMA boss exported the problems into agency on arrival, to encourage the staff to early restiveness?
If the striking staff are clamouring for the investigation of the current leadership of NEMA, there are anti-graft agencies saddled with this statutory responsibility, like the EFCC. Or perhaps, the staff are expecting President Muhammedu Buhari to personally preside over the probe? Is it not tidier to package whatever allegations of sleaze against the management of NEMA to either the EFCC or the ICPC, with the relevant proofs, than playing to the gallery with strikes and shielding their liability in the scams?
When and how was the about N2.8 billion liabilities, including the N655 million outstanding claims by some staff accumulated? Could it have been possible for Maihaja to accumulate such huge liabilities to staff in less than one year of his headship of the agency?
And part of the discovery of the EFCC investigating the N2.5 billion fraud was the heavy claims by staff, some up N20 million, an indication that some of the staff were too wealthy and funding the agency, instead of the other way round.
Maihaja complied with the House of Reps directive for the reinstatement of suspended directors indicted in the fraud, even against sound wisdom. But the issue is that if the staff are so concerned with financial sanity, what is the motivation for canvassing for the reinstatement of staff under investigation on the same desks and offices? Is it to rubbish any evidence that could possibly aid the EFCC’s investigation?
The former NEMA-DG and the indicted directors are behind this latest spiteful media hype against Maihaja’s leadership. But they have no option than to get used to the new order in a reformed Nigeria, where due process counts and where stealing is not only corruption, but a big and serious crime under the Buhari regime.
Gowon is a humanitarian activist based in Jos.