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I NEVER BARGAINED FOR THIS HARD TIME – SUSPENDED NSITF BOSS

By NBF News

If the report of the police investigations into the allegations leveled against him is anything to go by, it could be safely concluded that the trouble is over for the suspended managing director of the Nigeria Social Security Trust Fund (NSITF), Dr. Enukora Joe Okoli.

Okoli was sent on compulsory leave on September 28, 2009, in letter signed by the board chairman, Mrs. Ngozi Olejeme, which asked him to make himself available anytime he was needed to clarify issues arising from investigations into the allegations of financial recklessness and abuse of office leveled against him by the a group of workers and his indictment by another special committee set up by the board to investigate him.

Reprieve did not come despite the fact the police report exonerated him of all wrong-doing allegations. Indeed the report signed by the Inspector General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo, declared that after thorough investigations, Okoli was found not culpable. The management of the NSITF refused to recall him, nine months after his suspension from office, insisting that the police exoneration notwithstanding, the suspended MD has a case to answer.

Going by the position of the Fund board, it would seem there is more to the issues than meets the eye. This is because virtually all the parties concerned did not accept the report. The Fund's position is captured in the reaction of its spokesman, Mr. Olabayo who in responding to Daily Sun's enquiry over the development, said: 'let him go and assume office if he believes he has been discharged of all allegations. I don't have anything to say, let him use the report to get back to the office, we are watching.'

Okoli told Daily Sun: 'They reported this matter to the police, I was suspended to allow for unfettered investigation, I accepted believing that I will be vindicated. I submitted myself to police investigations. At the end of the day, the police turned in its report and I was exonerated, what then do they want? I really don't know. I am just being punished unjustly.'

In 2006, following the Pension Reform Act, a pension fund administrator, Trust Fund Plc (TFP), took over the pension fund administration aspect of the function of NSITF, being wound up to transform into a wholly social security outfit.

Okoli was appointed chairman of NSITF in 2007, by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. However, when the MD of NSITF, Alhaji Ahmed Rufai, was retiring, Okoli was named the new chief executive, amidst protest by the stakeholders of NSITF, particularly, the labour and employers group.

Okoli was accused of refusing to transfer the remaining pension assets of the NSITF to the TFP, and without lawful authority dealt with the funds and converted it fraudulently. He was also alleged to have withheld for more than 20 months money collected from the sales of some of the NSITF properties which should have been transferred to TFP. Part of the allegations was that he did not transfer the interests generated from the principal amount held back.

These, he denied insisting that the allegations were orchestrated to get rid of him from the NSITF and damage his reputation. He said he presented documents relating to all the issues raised in the petition to the police and that investigators visited banks and other places required to arrive at a fair and just conclusion.

Apparently frustrated at the turn of events, Okoli said he did not bargain for all the intrigues that are trailing him: 'I remain committed to the Nigerian dream.

I consider what I am presently going through as one of the sacrifices that I need to make like many others if we are to build a great nation of good people.'   The police in the report addressed to the Minister of Labour said: 'It is apparent from the foregoing that the petition was the handiwork of some wicked and faceless group who were bent on tarnishing the good name of the Managing Director of NSITF.

'If the petitioners were sure of their facts, they would be very willing to come forward to substantiate the allegations, the petition is therefore refused false, please. 'Furthermore, Okoli was summoned to the Police Headquarters to respond to the allegations which he did with supporting documents. Other members of NSITF staff including the current acting MD, Umar Munir Abubakar, were invited to make statements in connection with the matter' and that revelations from the inquiries showed that Okoli was innocent of the allegations.

Stating that certain facts were revealed during the investigation, the police said the Joint Workers Association for Good Governance (NSITF Chapter) who allegedly wrote the petition are not members of the NSITF staff and are therefore not known. Also, it was revealed that all the monies that accrued to the NSITF between 2007 when the MD assumed office to date are either in the designated accounts or have been transferred to the Trust Fund Plc, 'there is no evidence of fraudulent withdrawal.'

The police equally said that the three cars sold to the MD were not in breach of the monetization guideline as it was in accordance with the relevant Federal Government circulars on the subject matter: 'The sale of the vehicles was duly authorized by the Honorable Minister through a letter no ML/ID/03/520/88 and dated April 29, 2009.' However, the IGP report rather than calm frayed nerves, triggered more concern among the key stakeholders.

The then Minister of Labour, Kazaure was said to have also disagreed with the report insisting that the Interim Report of Investigation earlier turned in by the same police had indicted the suspended NSITF CEO and therefore the new report from IGP has thrown up more confusion than clear the air. He urged the IGP to revisit the matter in view of the contents of the Interim Report and the recommendations of the NSITF Board Investigating Committee which was carried out with the aid of external forensic auditors and other experts.

In the same vein, the General Secretary of the NLC, Mr. John Odah, reportedly expressed shock at the final outcome of the IGP report and pleaded that the police should allow justice to run its course in the interest of all the stakeholders of the NSITF.