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OPINION

Mounir Gwarzo and the chicken chasers, by James Ume

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Constructive criticisms are sometimes necessary for the smooth running of organisations. They help to keep the executives on their toes and call their attention to mistakes as they occur. Criticisms can also become pernicious and debilitating when they are made in bad faith. They are worse when they are based on false information and outright lies.
Mr. Mounir Haliru Gwarzo since he was appointed the Director-General (D-G) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), on May 20, 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan in a letter signed by the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, has had a feel of the effect of evil manipulation of information. He assumed office as D-G after serving as a member of the board of the commission for more than two years in the capacity of an Executive Commissioner having been appointed on January 2, 2013.
The Director General of the Commission is, to all intents, a political appointment that must have to pass through the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for screening and eventual approval. The candidate for the job does not necessarily have to be a career staff of the commission.
With his appointment as the D-G of SEC, he left from the board of the commission as a full time member and Commissioner as soon as the appointment was made. And if he had served for a minimum of two years on the board, he was entitled to all his benefits. A simple arithmetic will prove that from the time Gwarzo was appointed to the board and the time he was lifted to the position of D-G, he had put in two years and six months.
The board of the commission, at a meeting held on July 11, 2002 (eleven years before he was appointed to the Board of the Commission), approved, inter alia, that a permanent commissioner who has spent a minimum of two years is entitled to full benefits which can be monetized when leaving that office.  In the extracts of this board meeting, it was specifically mentioned that the benefits should accrue to permanent commissioners who have served for a minimum of two years of which the D-G was listed as one. To that extent, therefore, he is entitled to the benefits paid to him for his service as the Executive Commissioner of Operations Directorate. Mr. Gwarzo has not denied that these entitlements were duly paid to him as they were, indeed, his rights because they are attached to the office and not necessarily to the individual who occupies the office
Although a certain legal opinion was made public. But the fact is that in corporate governance, the decision of the board is binding on all. If there are contrasting views, opinions or objections and any other matter that is inconsistent with the decision of the board, the decision of the board renders those a nullity to the extent of the inconsistency.  Interestingly, the position of the Acting Head of Legal department relied upon by the mischief makers were dismissed by a counter opinion proffered by the Acting Executive Commissioner Legal & Enforcement and the Executive Commissioner Corporate Services of the Commission, both of whom are seasoned and senior legal practitioners.
Regrettably, these counter opinions were not made public by the chicken chasers as they make clear the true position. The mendacity of the allegation is further demonstrated by the fact that the benefits were not approved by the D-G for himself as canvassed, but approved by the Executive Commissioner Corporate Services, whose statutory duty it was. It is, therefore, a deliberate act of mischief for anyone to adjudge the payment to him as illegal or that it contravenes any known law of the land.
It is on record that Gwarzo as SEC D-G, supervised the purchase of three cars from Stallion NMN Limited, manufacturers and distributors of Nissan automobiles, as project vehicles. Once again, the mischief of the chicken chasers is exposed as records exists which shows that those vehicles were purchased in 2013 and not during Gwarzo’s time as Director General. At the time, all necessary approvals on the bidding process, purchase and other procurement guidelines in accordance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act were obtained from the Bureau of Public Procurement.
The vehicles were duly assigned to the various offices as project vehicles. They were never at any time assigned to or used by the person of the Director General or any other Executive Commissioner as private vehicles. Till date, the project vehicles assigned to the offices of Executive Commissioners which are vacant are packed in the premises of the Commission.
It is often said that a mischief maker is like someone drowning who desperately clutches to any available straw just to stay afloat. In their bid to cast slur on the excellent job the SEC D-G is doing since he assumed office, the chicken chasers (apology to Prof Chukwuemeka Ike) have been looking for tell-tale signs of abuse of office. And when one does not exist, it must be contrived somehow.  Government rules are clear on what a functionary should do in relation to other business interests. The matter is considered settled when the functionary in question resigns from or withdraws his interests in those other businesses. There is nothing in the statute books stopping those businesses as corporate entities from doing business with that or any other government agency. The intendment of the law in insisting on this is to avoid any conflict of interest.
Before his appointment as Executive Commissioner, Mr Gwarzo had interests in two companies owned by his family, Outbound Investment Limited and Medusa Investment Limited. He withdrew his interests in them before his appointment into the board of SEC. That was on December 12, 2012. As for the other companies his traducers are hinging on to blackmail him, they are companies doing business with SEC as an entity with no connections whatsoever to the D-G as a person. The Public Procurement Act empowers the D-G as the Chief Executive Office of the Commission to approve contracts within certain thresholds.
However, to ensure transparency in the procurement process of the Commission, the D-G has delegated every procurement exercise of the Commission to the Minor Tenders Board, completely excluding himself from the processes.
In the public service, there is a saying “if you don’t train them, don’t blame them”. It was in keeping with this aphorism that the Executive management of SEC considered the training of some its staff on some specific areas of its core operations. It is, therefore, surprising that staff training should be counted as a sin committed by the D-G. The initial plan was to assign that programme to a foreign trainer. But because of the exorbitant cost implication, the foreign trainers’ fee actually came to N700, 000 or its dollar equivalent per participant. The management, to cut cost, engaged the services of local trainers including the Lagos Business School (LBS) and were paid less for the same programme. Some received as little as N150, 000 except for LBS that got N300, 000. 
If updating the knowledge base of the staff is considered a sin, then it is a sufficient ground to assess the intentions of those alleging inappropriate conduct on the D-G especially with regard to what they think of SEC as a key play in the nation’s economy.
The circular restricting chief executives of government agencies to economy class in air travels was issued on November 2, 2016. Gwarzo travelled to Hong Kong for the IOSCO board meeting in October of the same year. He received payment for his airfare for that trip and travelled on Business class. Considering the time he travelled in October and when the circular was issued on November 2nd, only someone out to course mischief will allege misdemeanour on the part of the D-G. It is obvious that his trip to that Chinese city predated government restrictions on air travels and as such could not apply to that trip. This leaves me perplexed at the extent to which a person would fabricate tales to tarnish the integrity of another.
Every corporate organisation, be it public or private has its own ways of appreciating staff leaving service meritoriously. For SEC, it was called The Golden Hand Shake, a retirement scheme designed by the commission for certain categories of staff.
Upon assumption of office as D-G, the Gwarzo led administration noted that the Commission was top-heavy and rolled out this scheme, to encourage staff within the cadre of Senior manager – Director to voluntarily exit the system with certain benefits. The scheme was accessed by 47 staff of the Commission within those cadres and duly approved by the board and funded from the commission’s budget. Instead of citing anonymous sources, the mischief makers should have referred to the relevant sections of the Investment and Securities Act, 2007 that empowered the board to approve the commission’s budget as well as to establish and maintain a fund the proceeds of which it may apply to meet its financial obligations.  
The Golden Hand Shake organised by the D-G was carried out in line with statutorily laid down rules of the commission. Till date, some staff of the Commission have expressed regrets in not assessing the scheme at that time and have at various forum agitated for the re-opening of the scheme.
Interestingly, the SEC is not the only organization to have rolled out the Golden Handshake as sister organizations such as the Central bank of Nigeria implemented a similar scheme which is tagged as Operation Eagle.
As pointed out earlier, any chief executive will cherish constructive criticisms including from members of his own team. Raising false alarms on situations that does not exist can have diversionary effect that is not conducive for management practices. Gwarzo is human and like every human is susceptible to errors. When those errors are imagined, they are bound to be counterproductive. That is why they are frowned at especially in a sensitive corporate organisation like SEC. 
Given that these allegations posses no merit of any sought, I would be amazed that a respectable institution such as the SEC makes any response, because in my opinion, these mischief makers do not deserve the attention of the Apex regulator of the Nigerian capital market.
 
Ume wrote in through james@channelkoos.com 
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OPINION

Before you crucify Primate Ayodele, By Lukmon Akintola

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Those who know Primate Babatunde Elijah Ayodele would acknowledge that he is one of the finest prophets of God.

As far as prophesy is concerned, Ayodele, has been the most consistent, prophesying on both local and international fronts.

His prophesies that have come to pass are countless and as such it would be a waste of time reeling them out. However, for the sake of those just familiarizing themselves with the servant of God who leads the flocks of Inri Evangelical Spiritual Church both home and abroad, his prophesies includes demise of Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, death of General Sanni Abacha and the return of Olusegun Obasanjo as President.

Others are the reorganisation of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the travails of the Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, a loss in profit by social media platform Facebook, and attacks on camps of Internally Displaced People (IDP). Also, he did prophesied about about the sack of erstwhile Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and the death of Punch Newspapers Chairman, Gbadebowale Adeborin

His annually released collection of divine signals titled ‘Warnings To The Nations’ is verbosed on his prophesies, and till date remains one of the best collector’s item and reference point of call any day or time.

However, in recent times a misconception about a certain prophesy by the man of God involving the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, has necessitated clarifications.

The spirit of God is necessary for the understanding of prophesies in some cases, while at other times common sense would suffice. One prophesy which has been consistently heard from Primate Ayodele remains his prophesy that “Only Saraki can up seat President Muhammadu Buhari if given the right support by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)“. While there is no denying that the man of God had said this, there is the need to understand the meat of the prophesy. Primate Ayodele severally said “Only Saraki can up seat President Buhari if given the right support by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He however didn’t make mention of the fact that he (Saraki) would win the PDP primaries, something which is currently being confused by a lot of people who have been trying to misconstrue the prophesy. Indeed, you have to win the primary election to be able to contest for the President.

While it might be easy to confuse both positions, they are indeed very clear cut and separate issues. There is a clear difference in the statement that “Only Saraki can up seat President Buhari if given the right support by PDP” and his winning the primaries. While the confusion has been ragging on for a while, it would make more sense if in February when the Presidential election hold Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate defeats President Buhari in the polls. Then, the talking point would be that the man of God was wrong in his prophesy and that someone other than Saraki had up seated President Buhari.

However, claims that because Saraki lost the primaries to Abukbakar, thus Primate Ayodele’s prophesy is wrong is like trying to tag the north and south pole as the same.

The need to be precise and on point when when analyzing cant be overemphasized, but at this point, it is very important to clarify that the the chance to crucify Primate Ayodele would only come after the general election. For now, please let Primate Ayodele be.

 

* Akintola wrote from Lagos? Nigeria.

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OPINION

A.B.C Orjiako, Shebah Petroleum and creditor banks: Getting the facts right

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Facts emerging in the on-going case between Shebah Exploration and its creditor banks which has been reported by few media channels since a Thisday newspaper publication of Sunday October 14, 2018 have provided actual  insights.

Further investigations into recent reports reveal that actual facts are at variance with contents of the publication.

In the said publication, the writer made references to an ongoing legal matter involving Shebah Petroleum, its owner Orjiako and some of their creditor banks.

Sources knowledgeable about the matter indicate that the story contained some misrepresentations leaving the facts of the matter at variance with the contents of the publication.

Contrary to the publication, it was the banks: Afrexim bank, Skye bank (now Polaris)  and Diamond bank who filed the action at the Lagos high court, where they registered the judgement of the English Court. So, any suggestion that the judgement was registered in Nigeria with the knowledge of the defendants is false.

The fact of the matter is that Shebah Exploration, Allenne Ltd and Dr Orjiako merely filed defensive action against the registration of the summary of the English court’s judgement.

Now to the issue of payment; contrary to the insinuation that Shebah had only paid back about $6.1million, the fact is that Shebah has been working to negotiate and settle with the creditor banks and meet its obligations in respect of the facility. Going by evidence filed at the Federal High Court Lagos, Shebah has paid back over $68 million in principal and interest to the creditor banks and is committed to full resolution of the issues of the loan.

Another fact that was glossed over in the report is that creditor banks suffered a huge setback when they made an attempt to obtain a Mareva injunction (freezing order) and failed as the presiding judge ruled against the creditor’s application on 25th September, 2018 according to the records of the court.

SEPCOL is a foremost indigenous player in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, which became the first indigenous company to operate an offshore shallow water block with an FPSO, following the acquisition of 40% working interest in OML 108 from ConocoPhillips in 2004. SEPCOL was producing and meeting its obligations until 2014 when it suffered inconclusive workover program due to inadequate funding and collapse of oil prices. Consequently, the creditor banks called the facility on the company after two and half years tenure. The default in the facility was further triggered when the lenders declined a $50m repayment offer from a reputable Nigerian bank that offered to join the syndication with an additional facility in the sum of $200m

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OPINION

In NHIS, corruption fights back even harder, By Suleiman Abdulaziz

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The Executive Secretary (ES) of the NHIS Professor Usman Yusuf’s effort to sanitise and rid the NHIS is being sabotaged and resisted every step of the way by Agents of the corrupt both within and outside the Scheme. When the scheme was created about 13 years ago, it was expected to provide affordable healthcare to all 180 million Nigerians and give them the comfort of reducing their out of pocket spending and a net of protection from huge bills associated with serious illnesses.

But several years after, the Scheme’s coverage is an embarrassing number of little above 3 million in-spite of the massive Federal Government’s contributions on behalf of its employees.

Billions of Naira have gone down the drain without any obvious benefit to majority of Nigerians who still have to pay for critical services from their pockets and are not treated well in hospitals.

This was the national embarrassment and injustice that no one had the courage to challenge until Prof. Usman Yusuf, a Bone Marrow Transplant Physician based in the United States of America was appointed the Executive Secretary in 2016. Prior to his appointments, no one was talking about the massive corruption perpetrated by Health Management Organizations (HMOs), the middle men paid by the NHIS to pay hospitals on behalf of contributors.

These HMOs were considered as untouchable sacred Cows because they are owned by strong and powerful politicians that are well connected to the corridors of power.

He was advised to tread carefully and not to “rock the boat” if he wanted to finish his tenure in peace. Little did they know the measure and resolve of this unassuming Patriot. He took time to do a thorough analysis of the situation. What he found shook him to the core and he vowed that he was not appointed to “rock the boat” but to “sink this boat of corruption “.

Prof. Yusuf started the cleansing process by reaching out to all stakeholders including Anticorruption and Security Agencies for help. He started cleaning the procurement, finance and ICT departments. He created a Department of Enforcement to go after defaulting HMOs. He started recovering NHIS funds from HMOs, Banks and Contractors.

At the time he came in, the State Security Services (SSS) was in the middle of an investigation of the Scheme’s corrupt practices. This investigation was completed and the report submitted to Prof. Yusuf in April 2017.

The report, which this writer was privileged to have seen at the time, indicted some top members of Management of the Scheme who colluded in compromising the database of NHIS by padding the number of enrollees to favour some HMOs.

The Management also paid over N1.5 billion to these HMOs in fraudulent financial transactions within a year. The scam is perpetrated by the insertion of non-existent hospitals and ghost beneficiaries in the database and using the corrupted data to release funds to HMOs who smile to their banks monthly. Of course, their accomplices at NHIS are carried along and adequately compensated.

This was the kind of work environment Prof Yusuf walked into and had to choose either to rock the boat or join the gang that had turned the NHIS into an automatic teller machine. Predictably, he chose to be a change agent and decided he was going to stop the rot, especially knowing very well the stand of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration on corruption.

Out of the six recommendations for executive action, two turn out to be the reasons Prof Yusuf incurred the wrath of some powerful interest groups.

The first is the recommendation that the ES should place all staff of the ICT Department on suspension to allow for a thorough screening of the NHIS database and find out those culpable in the scam.

The second is that all payments to HMOs must be put on hold until all irregularities in the NHIS database were rectified.

While he did not suspend all the ICT staff as recommended, Prof Yusuf simply redeployed these staff and seconded new people from other Federal Government Agencies including the EFCC to clean the organization’s database. The new staff in the ICT department discovered thousands of ghost beneficiaries of the scheme. More than 23,000 names of ghost enrollees were flushed from the database in a moth by these seconded staff resulting in savings of N23m fraudulently paid to to HMOs monthly. Not only that, dozens of hospitals were also fraudulently listed among those offering services to enrollees of the scheme.

The discovery led to sanction of some top guns at the NHIS and further re-gig of the administrative organogram. The status quo was torpedoed to pave way for a sanitization of the scheme.

But entrenched interests were determined to fight back, and they have been fighting back throwing spurious allegations at the NHIS boss and mobilizing workers to protest in their interest. Redeployment of new staff to hitherto ‘lucrative’ departments, especially ICT led to allegations of nepotism against Prof Yusuf. In the minds of his adversaries, he must have brought his own men to continue the milking of NHIS funds.

This explains all the recent unsubstantiated allegations by Unions who are merely foot soldiers of the corrupt. They accused him of seconding his ‘brother’ to the procurement department “so that he can prepare the ground for him to award contracts” to his brother’s company. How can you read only such a sinister meaning into a redeployment made to correct long-standing irregularities in the operations of NHIS? In any case, how can someone be found guilty of an offence he has not yet committed?

It is sad that labour unionism is today is bereft of all vestiges of patriotism and people-interest. Whether at the levels of national, state or organizations, labour activism has been reduced to promoting narrow interests of leaders and paymasters, and not the interest of the majority of workers. The welfare of workers and their families is no longer the motivation for protests, but the threat to the interests of a few.

Why has the labour union of NHIS not hold any demonstrations calling for the delisting and prosecution of HMOs that have fed fat on people’s Contributions?Why would a patriotic and worker-centered Union not call for the sack of any staff implicated in the corruption of NHIS database?

Why is the focus of the Union on the Executive Secretary who has come to clean the system?

Who are the people that have turned the NHIS into automatic teller machines? Workers must start asking the leaders of their Unions questions and demanding answers.

I call on all well meaning Nigerian to speak up and support Prof. Yusuf in his quest to rid the NHIS of corruption.

Nigeria needs more of this fearless patriot.

LONG LIVE THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA.

Abdulaziz wrote in from Abuja

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