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OPINION

When blackmail becomes a tool: NTDC incessant workers’ strike, By Olajide Unde

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In sane climes, workers unions are partners in the organizations development  ensuring amongst others, good working environs and welfare for members of staff. Far from

antagonism or troublemaking, Unionism is majorly to serve as a platform where workers can collectively federate their observations, opinions and suggestions and pass it through their leaders to the management which cannot because of time, situation and circumstances allow a regular convention of the management and the workers.

After several of such conventions have been exhausted; strikes, sit outs or protests are embarked upon. Note, these are legitimate tools created by law and as vistas for workers to peacefully and decently express their worries, call attention to their welfare, caution the management, make suggestions and call the attention of the management to progressive correctional issues. This right is even an internationally acceptable recognized one sanctioned by International Labour Organisation, ILO.

So it came as a shock to industry practitioners when workers of one of the parastatals under the Ministry of Information, National Orientation and Culture being superintended by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria tourism development Corporation, NTDC, embarked on a protest that shut down the office located at the old Federal Government Secretariat, Area 1 Garki , Abuja.in the absence of the head of parastatal and without any forewarning or past dialogues with the Director General, Mr Folorunsho Coker.

Not undermining the right of workers embarking on a protest, strike or lockout, the onus here is the motive behind such and whether it is honorable or mischievous considering the timing.

With this in mind, industry watchers are of the belief that this particular strike action smacks of blackmail, which is so sad, particularly for a Director General who has spent less than one year in office and one who understands the importance of human capital development as highlighted in the organisation’s CHIEF plan introduced by Coker. H is Human Capital Development.

Fastidious in pursuing this path, Coker reiterates the need of developing new ways of making tourism work by working with people that can work effectively through their expertise to bring innovative and workable ideas to grow the tourism industry.

This he is presently pursuing by making sure his members of staff are up to date with happenings in the tourism community worldwide and also what it takes to operate a tourism agency in the age of new media. No small feat but one he his doing already.

If only NTDC Union leaders realise the joke is on them, blackmailing or intimidating the management will be relegated to the backburner.  What tourism generates in Nigeria is nothing compared to what fellow African countries like Seychelles, South Africa, Kenya etc generate yearly. A big shame for a country like ours.

Union leaders need to take a cue from their counterparts in other climes who are supposed clinical about their purpose, steering off sentiments and personal loyalty when it comes to union issues, welfare and condition of service.

Now, more than ever, it is important they realize, they are first employees of the organisation before being a member of the Union and the essence of their employment is to serve the organization not to play politics and know where to draw the lines between playing Union duties and being dutiful at their post of responsibility.

Going by these propositions, one has no tiff with the fact that the NTDC Union leaders called their members to strike. Of course they have the rights, however, going by the past trend, it has now become a sequential occurrence and modus operandi of calling sudden ‘Strikes’ as a means of blackmail and that has to STOP!

Those familiar with this trend can attest to the fact that the urge to strike reared its head immediately Mrs Sally Mbanefo was appointed as the Director-General, NTDC in replacement of Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, a media practitioner and a rambunctious personality who has the history of fighting three tourism ministers to a standstill.

Her appointment gladdened not many hearts especially with a predecessor who worked more on the pages of the newspaper than on the job. His affection for the media through his over-the -top generosity was returned with splashes all over the media but at the expense of the industry that suffered no growth. Despite, several junkets to travel markets in almost all continents, our tourism arrivals enjoyed continuous decrease and domestic tourism was at it’d lowest ebb.

Also, Mbanefo appointment came at a time of  economic recession leading to shrinkage of fund available to the corporation thus putting paid to access to free fund which can be employed and deployed to be a good DG either to the press, to staff in form of foreign trips and unnecessary free largesse and frivolous allowances and claims. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was bitterness arising from the abrupt sack of her predecessor who seemed to be angry that Sally lobbied him out of the job whilst nursing secret ambitions of returning to the job he was unceremoniously removed from while on assignment out of the country.

With constant interaction with the workers and the Union leaders who Sally inherited, the intrigue of the bitterness of a displaced DG who still has a lot of blind followers in NTDC with the union leader and workers who were not happy that things were not the same again, the era of strike crawled in. An examination of the reasons, modus operadi and demand of the workers will show that the whole strike actions being embarked in NTDC are out of tune, totally unwholesome and unethical.

Let’s read excerpts from some newspapers on the previous strike

 

On February 25, 2015, National newspaper under the Headline “NTDC workers’ strike enters the second week”, ‘The workers have vowed to continue with the industrial action until the agency’s director general, Mrs. Sally Mbanefo, is removed from office.

Last week, official activities at the parastatals Abuja and zonal offices were stopped.

The workers, through their union, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), have made several allegations against Mrs. Mbanefo.

They accused her of starving the agency of fund under the guise that the Federal Government was no longer funding the parastatal.

The workers accused her of “going behind to collect huge allocation from the Federal Government”.

The NTDC Chapel Chairman of AUPTCRE, Sam Unwuchola Okpomo, said as at July 2014, the Federal Government released N52,014,821 as capital budget and N342, 654,807 for training and other logistics to the agency.”

In September 3, 2015, in the Hallmark newspaper under the Headline, “Fears of sack forces NTDC boss to back down …as workers call off strike”

“It would be recalled that the protesting staff, led by Comrade Anthony Benjamin, in a memo obtained by Hallmark accused the DG of not properly mobilizing funds for the activities of the corporation as it relates to administrative functions.

They accused her of incapacitating the staff with the claim of a shortage of funds to perform the statutory functions of the corporation but overhead will be released and go out through other sources.

The staff said,” the DG does not fund the zonal offices, she will visit the zone and stop at the airport to insult the staff of the zone to their integrity by asking them to go and source for funds from affluent individuals for the running of the office. She did not even appreciate the efforts of the staff in ensuring the success of her visit to the state.

”We are tired of a DG who claims to be promoting domestic tourism but will not fund the zones offices where tourism potentials are domiciled organization but will tell the staff there in no money for official works but there is money for other fictitious travels by herself and her associates to different destinations.”

Daily Trust Sept 3 wrote: Striking NTDC workers call for DG’s removal By Mustapha Suleiman | Publish Date: Sep 3 2015 5:47AM

‘On their demand, Comrade Kunama said: “We want her removal. She is killing the tourism sector. Except the government is not serious with tourism, but if the government wants to tap into the potentials of tourism to diversify the Nigerian economy, they have to remove her and bring in a professional that has a vision for the sector.”

The Federal government seemed to have seen through the malevolent and malicious intent of the unions or the workers and refused to pander to the unreasonable demands of the workers and refused to relief Sally of her job. Though Sally was removed in November 2016, it should be a matter of curious logic and interest that between November 2016 and May 2017 three DGs were in quick succession appointed and removed. Two of them, career officers and the other an outsider, none of them were accepted by the Union

And according to a presidency source, they were all removed majorly “due to the unnecessary antagonism to their appointment by the Union who was being used and manipulated and workers who engaged in writing acrimonious petition with some outsider who was willing to come back to NTDC who took solace at sponsoring media attack against the appointees’.

And the Federal Government brought in Coker, who has distinguished himself in the public sector, government and a memorable tenure as Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism. The problem with Coker according to an investigation commenced shows that his preference for domestic tourism as against the floundering of the meagre fund of the Corporation on foreign fair and Travel markets.

In December 1 2017 in the Nation’s online, under the headline “Protesting workers seek sack of NTDC’s DG’

‘Activities were paralysed at the headquarters of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), on Wednesday, following a protest by workers who called for the sack of its Director General, Mr. Folorunsho Folarin Coker, for incompetence. The workers accused Coker of highhandedness, saying the DG had not improved their welfare since his appointment.

They said they were disappointed by the “ugly development” in the corporation. The workers noted that Coker illegally set up a project unit, which, they claimed, is not part of the NTDC’s line of activity. They said the unit was a conduit to siphon public funds.’

A few online publications graced their platforms with this news under different slants. A cursory examination and contextual synthesis of the grievances of the works or union under Sally Mbanefo and Coker extensively exposed the rut of a corporation. The sole reason is “The removal of the DG without any concrete allegation or advocacy for workers!“

During the tenure of Sally Mbanefo, it is shameful that none of the allegation levelled against were strong enough to convict her till date. All allegations were unfounded and malicious. The lady was never found wanting or guilty.

Going through the protest letter sent out in 2017 against Coker, one can see that it is not only watery but of no substance. The fault is in not in the workers being teleguided sheepishly by a Union which is being sponsored and used by some external elements who believe NTDC is their birthright but shame of the successive superintending Minister who watch as NTDC is hijacked by the Union who seems to find listening ears and cooperation of the said  Minister. The fact is that NTDC needs urgent and prompt surgical operation. It is a corporation full of old doldorous pantaloons and deadwood evil servants who are loyal to persons, not the office. Some of them have no particular assignment or solids scheduled duty.

Any serious government will not only refuse to harken to their silly demands but will go a step further by appropriately restructuring and rightsizing the workers by separating those who want to work for the nation from the goons who want to play cheap politics and those who love to be used as agent of destabilization. NTDC should be clean and straightened up, the time to act is now.

However , the symbolism of the recent phenomenal changes being injected into NTDC by Folorunso Folarin Coker via the ‘Tour  Nigeria’  brand which has recorded intracontinental acceptance and  acknowledgement with the historic passing of the NTDC Bill by the Senate should not be truncated. Let the process of laundering the NTDC starts now. Let’s reposition it for purposeful activation

Let’s create the ambience for  productive piloting for  Folorunso Folarin Coker has within 6 months demonstrated and signposted the ability and sagacity of a reformer.

The ball is in the court of the President Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

I leave you with this: Nigeria tourism is beyond the concept of a single person. Is it not curious that  NTDC to some few minds cannot be a good corporation until a certain person or persons rule the place ? Or has not been okay since certain person has been removed ?  Why can’t we cast our minds on  this observation? Can’t we think beyond our personal and selfish consideration ? Why should we continue using the gullible Union leaders to  rock the  boat of NTDC and destroy the Industry just because the person there is not tending to our selfish demands or because the fellow there is not the person we would have loved to be there? The so called NTDC workers are only hitting themselves below the belt because they are only calling attention of the government to the fact that the place needs a surgical operation.

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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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