1 October 2012

Nigeria: NECO Embroiled in Fraud

Besides the problem of saving students from mass failure, the National Examination Council (NECO) will have another problem on its hands, as members of staff seem at daggers drawn with management over allegations bordering on fraud and other abuses. The man in the eye of the storm is NECO Registrar, Professor Promise Nwachukwu Okpala.

In petitions written to President Goodluck Jonathan, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Head of Service of the Federation, Okpala and the management of NECO have been accused of fraud, abuse of office and diversion of funds.

According to the petitions signed by Abdulrasheed Lawal Rabana, the Chairman of the council's chapter of Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, Okpala and the Director of Finance and Administration Dr. Isaac Ishola, were said to have embezzled and misappropriated workers' tax deductions and non-remittance of contributions to insurance scheme, among others.

Rabana in the petitions stated that workers' contributions to the National Housing Fund were not remitted neither were premiums for insurance policies provided by Standard Alliance Insurance Plc remitted after deductions were made from staff salaries.

"We wrote a letter to the Federal Mortgage Bank on the 30th April, 2012 requesting contributions of our members in NECO and the reply which was signed by the state Controller, Mr. U. Y Garba, revealed several inadequacies, omissions and complete absence of schedules which should otherwise show details and number of individuals whose deductions were made by the council," the petition stated.

Regarding the premiums for insurance policies, the union said it discovered that remittance had not been made despite the fact that deductions had been made. It said it made the discovery when it took up the case of one of its members who was involved in a road accident while on an official duty in Akwa Ibom State in 2008, but who had received no compensation till date.

A reminder was written to the registrar on September 23, 2009 for payment of the insurance claim and the recipient was directed in a memo signed by Mr. Garba Wakili to contact the Finance and Accounts Department for his cheque but all efforts to get the cheque failed.

Rabana further lamented that members of staff have difficulty in getting tax clearance from the Niger State Board of Internal Revenue, ostensibly because of the non-remittance of their taxes.

He said the Permanent Secretary of the board, Alhaji Bala Moni, said in a June 18 letter that remittances were not made to the board by the NECO management.

Moni had said NECO had a liability of about N163 million in tax remittance to clear.

But the union said that despite the non-remittance of taxes, the management of NECO on August 6 announced a new tax regime, which forced the staff to unionise to fight the increase.

It accused the management of embarking on a mass transfer of staff to zonal and state offices in the 36 states of the federation to frustrate efforts to query the new tax regime. Although most of the staff transferred are said to be those who joined the union, the management argued that it had to carry out regular transfers to avoid staff staying too long in departments, which might lead to racketeering.

According to Okpala, the exercise was done in the interest of the council and for the protection of the sanctity and mandate of the council, so as to protect the integrity of the examination body. But the union, citing civil service rules, insisted that even those transferred were not paid their relocation allowances.

The registrar was also accused of abuse of office where he was said to have awarded contracts for building the zonal and state offices in the 36 states to his brother, Mr. Ifeanyi Okpala.

The union also accused the registrar of employing people without due authorisation and called for an audit to be carried out on all employments since 2009 and for the ICPC to investigate the activities of the management of NECO and prosecute liable officers.

When THISDAY contacted Ishola on the allegations last Friday, he claimed to be in Lagos and promised to respond to the allegations later.

However, since then, he had failed to pick his calls or respond to text messages sent to him.

When the question was asked at a press conference heralding the release of the June/July 2012 Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), the registrar bluntly refused to respond, insisting that he would respond only to questions bordering on the released results.

Shortly after the conference, Ishola and other staff members harassed THISDAY correspondent for daring to raise the allegations.

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