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Ezumezu Igbere: Lifting community through age grade

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Uniting for developmental projects

 

As a microcosm of the Igbo worldview of unity, development and progress, the Ezumezu festival of Igbere in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State is significant in many respects. It is a triennial festival in which everyone born in or married to the community identifies with irrespective of gender and social status, IGBEAKU ORJI writes

 

Ezumezu festival provides a veritable platform for review of events in Igbere community in the past three years and projections for the next three.

In most communities in Igbo land a day is set aside to appraise the performance of the community in terms of development and to make projections for the future. Most communities have used such platforms to lift the people. Aside, developmental projects, empowerment programmes have been undertaken. The result is that such communities no longer wait for government to provide them with basic amenities as the well-to-do are compelled by culture and tradition to give back a part of their wealth to the society.

Self-help community developmental projects are undertaken either by well-to-do individuals, organisations or the town union as the umbrella body that encapsulates the collective aspirations of the people. However, while in some communities some individuals who lack the means or the generosity to contribute may have no compulsion to do so, there is no such leeway in Igbere.

In Igbere, as in other communities in Old Bende area, including Abam, Abiriba, Ohafia, just to mention a few, the age grade system is a strong traditional institution through which projects are executed without waiting for government’s intervention. Everyone is involved either as individuals or through the age grade system.

Institutions like schools, hospitals, maternities, health centres, as well as projects such as bridges, culverts, town halls, scholarships and skill acquisition programmes have been provided for the benefit of deserving members of the community.

For instance, the popular Enuda High School, Egwuana Girls Secondary School, Akahaba General Hospital, among others, in Abiriba community, were built by the age grade whose names they bear. In some other communities with fewer people of means in which a particular age grade cannot singlehandedly complete a school or hospital project within record time, it will be given a block of classrooms to complete and hand over to the community as its contribution to community development before its retirement from community service. This explains the reason tradition compels everyone to participate in community development via the age grade system. Over the years the system has become stronger as it provides the community a pool of financial and material resources for its development. Beside developmental projects, the age grade as the police of the community, also provides security of lives and property.

The age grade system is a leveller; whatever attainment in academics, politics and commerce one has is subsumed under the bonding unity and sense of equality of the age grade. Such achievements, though by individual members of the age grade, is for the collective pride and honour of every other member. Every member of the age grade participates in community watch, night or day. Those, who reside outside the community and so by nature of business and residence, cannot take part personally, directly, do so by paying a token. Where the age grade system is strong respect for elders is sacrosanct. The tradition serves as a bulwark against the eroding blight of westernisation in which educational attainment and acquisition of wealth tend to replace age long honour and respect for elders. Political differences rather than destroy the fabric of the age grade system has no place in it at all as it serves as a melting pot for members from different backgrounds. The age grade has also become a platform for assisting members of the age grade itself who are handicapped to stand either in commerce or other endeavours in order to contribute their quota through the age grade to the development of the community.

The 2017 Ezumezu festival was held from December 24 to 27, 2017. It was a colourful celebration of unity, progress and development of Igbere community. It also served the triple purpose of the traditional retirement (Igbotomma) of the oldest age grade in service from community service, ascendancy of the succeeding age grade to the administrative authority of the community, naming of a new and youngest age grade and fundraising.

In neighbouring communities, the ceremony is called Igba Uche, Ila Oso, Omume Ogwe, Igba Ota Omu, Ipu Ogo, etc. Unlike its neighbours and indeed the larger Igbo land, Igbere has had the exceptional privilege of producing chief executives of three states at different times both in the military era and political dispensation. The late Commander Amadi Ikwechegh was the military administrator of the old Imo State. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu was the governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007, while Emmanuel Ukaegbu was at the helm of affairs in Enugu State. This explains the uncommon development of the rural community both in infrastructure and human resource. Though a rural community, Igbere has all the trappings of a modern city. It has a modern market and good network of roads not common in rural communities.

As the Oganihu Ebiri age grade steps out, Omezi Ebiri age grade takes over. The retiring age grade handed over the doctors’ quarters it completed to the community on December 25 as its contribution to community service. That was aside the ICT Complex at the Igbere Secondary School attracted by a member of the age grade and the Federal Character Commission, Dr. Iboko Imo Iboko. The service earned them a place of honour and retirement as they clock 65 years. No true member of the age grade is less than 65 years.

Chief Jones Udeogu, retired permanent secretary and former commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning, Abia State, a co-chair of the event, captured the mood succinctly in a speech delivered on the second day of the event entitled: “Consolidation of the Dignity, Tradition and Cultural Values of Igbere Clan.”

Udeogu identified four distinguishing features held jealously and bequeathed by their forebears which had kept the community ahead as “unity, unity of purpose, security of persons and community, preservation of our cultures and common heritage”.

He said: “Ezumezu is for unity, development and progress of our community. As we gather here every three years we contribute money for the development of the community. This Igbere Secondary School was built in 1975 by community effort. We have bridges, halls, health centres, library, market; all done by an age grade. It’s when we are here we gather and donate. The privileged ones will give more and the Igbere Welfare Union will manage the resources for the benefit of the community. As a clan, this is the only thing that holds us together, the Igbere Welfare Union. We have 13 age grades that cut across the 13 villages that make up Igbere.

“The new age grade is given a name and a project to execute for the community. It lasts for a period of 35 years. During the period you serve the community, you do contribution, you do night watch or you pay money in lieu.”
Also, while the autonomous status has torn some communities, which were hitherto one, apart, Igbere has remained uniquely one, according to Udeogu.

He added: “Look at what that unity brought to us. We have used unity both as a culture and tradition to give ourselves schools, hospitals, bridges that today are giving us the self-respect and a feeling of self-importance. Today, among the communities that enjoyed the autonomous largesse of the government Igbere clan remains an enigma. We are all autonomous of each other, yet we remain one community, one people under the same government. We cannot afford not to be united. This you cannot find in any other community in Abia State. Our problem is how to consolidate this unity as a tradition and culture in Igbere clan.”

While he paid glowing tribute to the visionary leaders who laid the foundation of progress and development in the community, Udeogu challenged the new generation to preserve and surpass it.

Udeogu posed some rhetorical questions to his generation to reflect on as far as the unity, unity of purpose and development of the community and its people were concerned.

He said: “The question now is how are we making these shared experiences and beliefs stronger for us and for our children so that we will continue to reap the benefits? Do we have unity in Igbere Clan as our elders envisaged and bequeathed unto us? It has never happened before that any part of Igbere will go to war alone. It had always been a collective Igbere war but today, we are fighting modern wars of environmental degradation. How collectively is Igbere helping each other? I am of the opinion that we should belong to different political blocks but what we do with our differences is entirely up-to us. Is it to betray your brother? Is it to betray your community interest because of political promises? Where is the mantra of Onye-agbala-nge-nge? Should our political differences destroy the rest of Igbere or the objectives of NdeIgbere? Does your dignity mean deceiving your community? Is this a part of the traditions?

 

“Every three years, we celebrate our Ezumezu and we will make donations to the development of Igbere that will never be redeemed. Is this how we are consolidating our traditions and cultural values by deceiving our people? Ask all the age grades that hosted Ezumezu how much donations were made and how much is redeemed and by whom? How do we encourage the younger ones? By enslaving them, not paying them for the work they did for us? Do you attend Igbere

 

Welfare meetings in your domain?
“This Ezumezu, Ulo Nkuma, Obi ebiri Hall, Igbere Health Centre, the Primary Schools in Igbere, Igbere Secondary School and so many others are all a product of Igbere Welfare Union. Do you attend their meetings? Do you pay your levies? What is your contribution to these things that unite us? Culture and tradition is not all about dances. It is the people’s way of life and their shared interests. Igbere Welfare Union is our tradition and culture, how far have we supported it and its ideas? How are we preserving these cultural heritages for our children? The only university that teaches Igbere traditional and cultural values is Igbere Welfare Union meetings. Are you a part of it?”

 

It has not been all rosy. Igbere has had its share of upheavals common in most human societies. In 1998 a crisis that shook the community to its very foundation engulfed it but thankfully did not consume it. It emerged from the crisis stronger.

 

Udeogu said: “History is replete with gory stories of wars and enslavement. Igbere was never conquered by the slave raiders hence the name Igbere which means ‘Indomitable people or as some will say Igbo eri which means the impenetrable fortress of Eri the son of Manasseh the son of Jacob Israel”.

 

He, however, lamented that the rich history has been tainted with tales of burglaries, drug trafficking and armed robbery and challenged the Uke ji Ogo and Uke chegha Ogo (the community vigilance age grade) to rise to the new challenge.

 

The Chairman of the third day, Gordy Uche, SAN, noted that more than any other time, the issue of community development has become non-negotiable now that government has reneged on all its responsibilities to the people. Uche challenged the people to put the community first in their development agendum.

 

He said: “The Igbere Secondary School was so dilapidated that the students and teachers left. It is age grade and associations in Igbere that are now renovating the school with funds raised in this festival. The erosion menace in the community has been tackled with funds raised on this ground.

 

Former Governor of Abia State and prominent son of Igbere, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, described the event as a triennial celebration for sons and daughters from all walks of life to return home.

 

He said: “Our people from all walks of life are here. We are one community; we celebrate within our limit. You can see we are doing things to testify our common ancestry. It was at the same Ezumezu that President Muhammadu Buhari was given title here in 2003. So you can see we have a very fair minded developmental community who knows what we want.”

 

The President General of Igbere Welfare Union, Elder Uwakwe Okoronkwo, explained that “we do it to ensure absolute peace. Since three days ago we have been commissioning projects.”

 

The Chairman, Planning Committee of the 2017 Ezumezu festival, Dr. Uche Daniel Eke, said: “We use it to retire the aged age grade and to usher in an incoming age grade to take over their position. We also use the opportunity to raise fund for the development of the community.”

 

Deacon Ijoma Abara Abara, a retired permanent secretary, and a member of the retiring Oganihu age grade, said that the unique feature of the event and the community is the unity that pervades the 13 villages that make up the clan.

 

He said: “The unity that is pervading in Igbere is not easy to find in other places. There may be disagreement but the moment it comes to the Igbere general movement, there is no disagreement. That is why everybody is here. This happens every three years to formally come together and thank the age grade for what they have done and then formally retire them.”

 

From then onwards they are exempted from community levies, taxes, contributions and all of that.

 

But Abara advised his peers not to abandon the community on the basis of retirement since they are still strong and successful.

 

He added: “We built the doctors’ quarters which we handed over on December 25.”

Iyke Ekeoma was the Chief Press Secretary and Media Adviser to then Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu. He is a member of the Omezi Ebiri the age grade that has taken over the mantle of leadership. He is excited about the event because it has provided the platform for periodic get together and development of the community. The biggest event of the Ezumezu, according to him, is the retirement of the oldest age grade.

 

He said: “When you retire it doesn’t mean you are tired out, it only means that within the community nobody will ask you to pay anything.”

 

The ceremony confers on one the honour of being an elder in the community. Ekeoma said the strong age grade system was responsible for the success and progress the community has achieved.

 

“Here everyone identifies with his or her age grade no matter your status. The age grades are the ones that build and maintain this community and have done so since the existence of this community. For instance, this secondary school that you’re looking at was built by an age grade and every aspect of the school project was undertaken by the age grade.

 

“Another agency for community development is the development union; anywhere we are in Nigeria we have the Igbere Development Union there. For that reason things happen. For instance, the Igbere Development Union in America came together and rebuilt this school, that is what makes it unique and the reason you see everybody here,” he added.

 

Ogwo Ekeoma Ojum, a medical doctor and retired permanent secretary, belongs to the Omezi Ebiri age grade that has taken over the mantle. He said an age grade was formed within a three year range.

 

Those born within three years form an age grade and the retirement of the oldest ushers in the youngest to maintain the status quo of the number of age grades active in the community at a particular time.

 

He said: “As the next age grade to take over the mantle we built the market, we will renovate it and hand over in 2020.”

 

Also Igbere has what he called communal integration, with the motto Onyeaghala Nwanneya, which means “do not leave your brother behind”.

He added: “It might interest you to know that Igbere has produced three governors, Amadi Ikwechegh, who was the first, followed by Ukaegbu who was an administrator in Enugu State and then Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu who was governor from 1999 to 2007. And these governors were always looking inwards. The age grade will always pull him back to look in and develop our place, so that is why we are so developed.”

 

Mr. Ekwuribe Ugochukwu, the principal of Igbere Secondary School, the beneficiary of both the renovation and ICT centre saw it as a fulfilment of a life-long dream though it happened a few months to his retirement.

 

He said: “It is a fund from the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) that sponsored the school knowledge centre. It was funded by the Universal Service Provision fund and it was erected by Zinox Technologies. But the person that attracted it to Igbere happens to be Dr Iboko Imo Iboko of the Federal Character Commission.”

 

The ultra-modern centre has 40 brand new computer sets.

His Majesty Eze Uwakwe Onwubike Ukaegbu, Ofufe 11 of Amaofufe Igbere, a traditional ruler and a member of the retiring age grade, said “Ezumezu is a ceremony that helps Igbere community to develop itself. We have 13 villages and we have 13 age grades. We use it to help ourselves as a community. We have built bridge, road, which Ekeoma has built up to Ozuitem and rehabilitated the roads around the community.

“The Oganiru, my age grade, has 280 persons. I am the only traditional ruler in our age grade. We built health centre and doctors’ quarters in Igbere with borehole. The Igwu River Orji Uzor built for us used to be a death trap. In those days we used to go there everyone with stone to fill it to make it motorable when it was Bailey bridge. Evidence of God’s blessing/favour abounds in the community.

“For instance, in 1993 when I lit the unity torch and in 1996 I lit the second one, by 1999 my younger brother, Orji Uzor, was made governor of Abia State, in 2003, Emmanuel Ukaegbu was made Governor of Anambra State while Amadi Ikwechegh had been the governor of Imo State. So each time I pray it happens. God blesses us because we put God first in everything we do. We don’t consult mediums or sorcerers; what we know is the Bible and each time we read it God blesses us beyond our expectations. He fights our battles. There was an incident that would have torn Igbere apart, but God fought for us and restored peace. Today there is peace in Igbere.”

 

Chief Jerry Okechukwunyerem Kalu, a businessman and politician, and a member of the retiring age grade, described Ezumezu as “a time we exhibit our cultural heritage. It’s also a time when new laws/resolutions are made for the people to adopt. Igbere is unique in development and progress because we don’t discriminate the education of our children on the basis of gender. We give everyone equal opportunity because we believe that progress can come through anyone. It started from our forefathers, who were serious in everything they did including training their children.

 

“Also in the age grade system we try to help each other so that we grow together. We try to love each other, this is what we preach; we preach progress. If you forget your car key or phone here somebody will keep it for you, you don’t lose it. This is what we do and train our children to continue that way.”

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Insight

Exposed! Nigeria’s Deputy Speaker in N1.1bn water contract scam (II)

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In conclusion of this two-part story, MOJEED ALABI reports the details of the contract scandal involving the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Lasun Yusuff, who secures contract award from the same government he serves

 

Whereabouts of Nur & Company Nigeria Limited unknown
                                                      
Unlike the Sabbyn Nigeria Limited, it was easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for our reporter locating the whereabouts of Nur and Company Nigeria Limited. For a company that handled two out of the three projects at combined sum of N1.1 billion, it has neither website nor social media account. At the projects’ sites, the company fails to put up any signpost indicating details of the contracts, the contractors, among other necessary information, as required by law.
                                                      
New Telegraph reporters arrested
On Thursday, February 1, 2018, when our correspondent visited Plot 8, Impressive Close, off Dosumu Street, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos, which Nur and Company Limited quoted as its office in its documents with the contract awarding agency, the guards on duty at the house said there was no company with such name within the compound.
While our reporter, accompanied by his colleague, Mr. Stanley Ihedigbo, was attempting to gain graphic evidence, the security men accused him of taking photographs of the house without authorisation, and got him arrested by policemen.
The owner of the building, who was later identified as Mrs. Dupe Dare, and from whose company – Impressive Chemicals – the street’s name was derived, immediately ordered that the reporters be taken to the Alausa Police Station, where they were subjected to embarrassing scrutiny.
The visibly angry Dare had told the police that she suspected the reporters were members of an unnamed syndicate, which she claimed, had fraudulently used her property to secure loan from two banks without her consent.
In her narrative at the station, Dare said sometimes in 2015, agents of Skye Bank Plc., security men and court bailiffs, had besieged the property, chasing out all her tenants and employees on the allegation that the house was used to obtain a N660 million loan in 2012 without repayment.
“I was shocked to my marrow because I never banked with Skye Bank, and had never taken any loan. For more than six months, we were in court, with my lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, in charge of the matter,” she said.
Amid sobs, she further narrated her ordeal to both the Divisional Police Officer in charge of the station, Superintendent of Police Bakfur Kyes, and the Divisional Crime Officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police Johnson Domchak.
“I was told the fraudster had taken contracts from government in 2012 and needed money to execute them. So, that year, the bank claimed the individual had approached it, using fake version of my property document to secure the loan. The pressure was so much on my family that my mum could not bear it as she died same year.”
She said after about seven months of court processes, and following presentation of the property’s original documents, the court ruled in her favour, and the premises were reopened to her in 2016.
                                                          
Another bank lays claim to the property
The embattled property owner, who refused to reveal the identity of the individual or company illegally using her property to secure loan, added that in 2017, another financial institution, again emerged with another court judgement to gain possession of the property.
The troubled Dare said: “And this time it was Heritage Bank Plc. The bank claimed that before it acquired the defunct Enterprise Bank Plc., the suspect had taken a loan of about N70 million from the defunct bank, which he or she failed to service.
“Up till this moment, I cannot fathom why my property should remain the target of such fraudsters, and the way these people came to take photograph of my house, I learnt, was also how those fraudsters kept using the pictures of my property to secure loan. In fact, we are still in court over this.”
Based on this narration, Dare urged the police to charge the reporters to court to unravel the “real reason” for visiting her property.
However, after many hours of interrogations and cross-examinations, the police granted the reporters bail with the newspaper’s Crime Editor, Mrs. Juliana Francis, standing as surety, with instruction that they must return to the station on Monday, February 5, for further interactions, which they surely did.
 
Banks respond to enquiries
When contacted, the concerned financial institutions, which confirmed the development, however, failed to disclose the details of the transactions, claiming it was a confidential matter between the banks and the customers.
In a text message to our correspondent, the spokesperson for the Heritage Bank, Mr. Fela Ibidapo, had written: “Many thanks for your earlier text. Unfortunately, you would agree with me that the information sought is confidential between the bank and the customer, particularly as per pre-signed contract.
“Thus I ask that you permit me to decline any comment in this regard. Nonetheless, please let me know if I can assist in any other way.”
However, when our correspondent reached out to the Head of Information Unit of Skye Bank Plc, Mr. Nduneche Ezurike, he was directed to meet his colleague, Mr. Rasheed Bolarinwa, who, many weeks after messages had been exchanged, could not give definite response.
                                                                  
Nur & Company Nigeria Limited Officer declines comment
Sometimes in February, the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority made available to New Telegraph mobile telephone number of a representative of the company, who the newspaper later identified as Mr. Ebenezer Famgbebe, an engineer.
When called on the phone, the engineer, upon the introduction of our correspondent by name, had mistaken him for another member of the House of Representatives from Osun State, Prof. Mojeed Alabi. He immediately showed courtesies, but was astonished to learn that the caller was another person entirely.
He confirmed his relationship with the company but declined to make further comments on all the questions asked including the location of his company’s office.
To all these enquiries, he responded: “Please, I cannot say anything about our projects. Ogun-Osun River Basin is our client and I don’t have any mandate to talk to you. I cannot also tell you our office. Go to Ogun-Osun, you will get whatever you want there. Thank you!”
That was how Famgbebe ended the call.   
 
Corporate Affairs Commission spills the beans
This rather unusual development compelled New Telegraph to apply to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) through a lawyer, request for the company’s details as part of efforts towards ascertaining its authenticity.
On February 12, the CAC released the result of the search conducted listing the company’s shareholders as Mr. Yusuff Sulaimon Lasun of 3, Sarumi Street, Orelope Bus Stop, Egbeda, Lagos; Yusuff Olamide Ayomide, Yusuff Gbemisola Feyisara and Yusuff Omowunmi Rasheeda, all of the same address, as above who New Telegraph found out are the deputy speaker’s wife and children.
It further listed the four individuals as the company’s directors with the addition of Oladimeji Ayodeji Yusuff, with the same address, as the fifth director.
Meanwhile, in another document supplied by the CAC, Mr. Yusuff Rafiu Olalekan, who New Telegraph found out to be the deputy speaker’s immediate younger brother, was listed as a director of the company. His quoted address was, Investment House, 2nd Floor, 21/25, Broad Street, Lagos State.
However, in a message addressed to the CAC in 2011, the company conveyed the decision of Mr. Yusuff Rafiu Olalekan to resign as one of its directors, and the appointment of Olamide Ayomide Yusuff, Gbemisola Feyisara Yusuff, Oladimeji Ayodeji Yusuff and Omowunmi Rasheeda Yusuff, all as directors.
A copy of Mr. Rafiu Olalekan Yusuff’s resignation letter, which was attached, was dated April 12, 2011, with the company’s address quoted as Investment House, 2nd Floor, 21/25, Broad Street, Lagos State.
                                                               
Efforts to get deputy speaker’s reaction proved abortive
Through the Special Adviser (Media) to the deputy speaker, Mrs. Lara Owoeye-Wise, New Telegraph made spirited efforts to get the reaction of the parliamentarian but all efforts yielded no fruit.
On January 10, when our correspondent visited the National Assembly, neither the deputy speaker nor his special adviser was on ground. Mrs. Owoeye-Wise then suggested that a copy of the letter should be photographed and sent to her via WhatsApp which the correspondent did as instructed.
After waiting patiently for days without response, our correspondent sent a text message to Owoeye-Wise on January 22, for follow-up and she replied via a text message thus; “I’ll give you a response tomorrow, unfailingly. Thank you.”
On January 25, she sent another message, saying; “The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) said he had reached out to your editor. That is what he said when I discussed with him yesterday. Thank you.”
On January 26, Owoeye-Wise advised our correspondent to recompose his message and resend to her via her WhatsApp, promising to forward same to the deputy speaker directly and provide the feedback in less than 24 hours.
Our correspondent’s message had read: “Good morning, Aunty Lara and thanks a lot for your efforts. As a follow-up to my last discussion with you concerning the FoI request letter from New Telegraph Newspapers over the mini-water schemes in Ila Orangun, Ipetu-Ijesha and Ife-Odan, I write to let you know that we are yet to get any response like you promised.
“Recall you said you would discuss with the CPS and that he would contact me after you asked me to make my request official. If you recall ma, I sent the letter to you on January 10 but by Thursday January 11, I received a call from someone who later identified himself as Mr. Wole Oladimeji and CPS to the DSP (Deputy Speaker). He told me the DSP knows nothing about the project but I simply advised him to discuss with the DSP first. My Editor, Mr. Ayodele Ojo, told me same person called him and that he was the one who directed him to me. Since then, neither my editor nor myself, has received any response, either in written or verbal form, until I reached out to you again and you told me the CPS had contacted my editor. Your sms, which claimed my editor has been contacted by the CPS was not only surprising to me but also to my editor.
“However, further investigations have revealed the DSP is linked to one of the companies that handled the projects, especially those of Ife-Odan and Ila-Orangun, that is; Nur and Company Nigeria LTD. All we need is a clarification ma. The other people involved have given their own side of the story ma. Thank you very much ma as I await your intervention to get an official reaction from the DSP.”
Till date, New Telegraph is yet to receive any response from the office of the deputy speaker.         
 
Other National Assembly members kick
Two months after the inauguration of the projects, and precisely in April 2017, some members of the House of Representatives, who said they were inundated by complaints from the beneficiary communities, had embarked on a tour of the three projects to ascertain the authenticity of the people’s claims.
The House of Representatives Caucus comprising Mrs. Ayo Omidiran from Ayedaade/Irewole/Isokan Federal Constituency; Mr. Yinka Ajayi, representing Boripe/Ifelodun/Odo-Otin Federal Constituency; Mr. Gafar Amere, representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal constituency and Mr. Ajibola Famurewa of Atakunmosa East/Atakunmosa West/Ilesha East/Ilesa West Federal constituency, visited the locations.
According to Famurewa, officials of the Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority and two representatives of the state Water Corporation were part of the inspection tour.
He told New Telegraph that prior to the inauguration, apparently frustrated by the slow pace of work at the sites, the members of the National Assembly had in 2016 petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to report suspected foul play, even after all the budgeted funds had been released to the contractors.
“But rather than inviting us, we never heard anything from the EFCC till date. The only thing we noticed was that the contractors returned to the sites in a surreptitious manner,” Famurewa added.
When New Telegraph approached the EFCC for details of the matter, its spokesperson, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, demanded an acknowledged copy of the petition to locate the exact unit of the anti-graft body handling the matter. But none of the petitioners could provide a copy.
Meanwhile, Senators Babajide Omoworare and Olusola Adeyeye denied complicity in the matter, saying it was unfortunate that the projects were poorly handled.
Adeyeye said: “Personally, I had suggested that we fixed Ojutu bridge in Ilobu but eventually the governor said we should do water. And to do water, none of us could singlehandedly fix the water and so we decided to have three mini-water schemes across the three Senatorial Districts.
“It was Lasun that was given the assignment to link up with the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority for the execution. You know very well that I am neither an engineer nor a contractor. So, when they claimed they had finished it, honestly I thought they had finished, it was later on that we heard that the thing was not working and that the people had done a very shoddy job. I am told that some members of the House of Representatives have written a petition to the EFCC to look into it.
“Let me tell you, the crisis on the matter, I should not intervene for now, because if I do, I will make things worse. Let them handle it because in the end, it is the people that would be the beneficiaries. But if in the end they sweep it under the carpet, it can be very dangerous for them. The man, who supervised it at the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority, came into my office and he was crying. But I drove him out. I told him that if he had been given a project and he didn’t do it well or he awarded it to a fraudulent contractor, he should go and fry in his own smoke.”
In a similar vein, Hon. Omidiran also distanced herself from the allegation of fraudulent practices in the execution of the projects, saying she was saddened by the development.
When contacted, the duo of Senator Mudashiru Hussein and Honourable Rotimi Makinde, who had failed to win their re-election bid, said since they are no longer in the parliament, they could hardly give any information on the matter. They directed our correspondents to the incumbent members of the parliament.
 
Procurement Laws bar public officers from taking government contracts
An officer of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), a non-governmental organisation, focused on procurement monitoring, Samuel Offia, has explained reasons government officials are banned by law from taking government contracts.
According to Offia, towards promoting transparency, fairness and accountability, and to avoid unholy interference in procurement processes, Sections 58 and 59 of the Public Procurement Act 2007, forbids public officials from participating in or awarding contracts.
Citing specific laws, Offia said: “Part 5 (VI) that is, from Section 25 down to Section 38 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 provides for the steps, conditions/due processes to be followed in award of contracts. So contract offence(s) are clearly itemised in Section 58 of the Act. 
“One of the ways we can curb this menace of corruption rubbing our nation is to have the system open at all times, and by so doing, citizens will get to know what is being done or was left undone and then ask questions at every stage of the process.”    
 
Constituents should recall representatives –SERAP boss
The Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, has described as an impeachable offence the use of companies belonging to public officials to execute government contracts.
In an interview with New Telegraph, Mumuni said the rot in the National Assembly could be stopped when the people show concern about how they are governed and they realised their power to determine the fate of elected officers.
He said: “If the allegations are found to be true, it is enough for the constituents to initiate recall process and seek for prosecution of the concerned representative(s).”
 
•This is the concluding part of an investigative budget tracking report with the support of Macarthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)

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Exposed! Nigeria’s Deputy Speaker in N1.1bn water contract scam

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Communities cry over shoddy projects

 

After about four months of investigations, New Telegraph’s reporter, MOJEED ALABI, exposes the corrupt practices in the execution of controversial N1.7 billion mini-water schemes in three communities in Osun State by members of the National Assembly, including the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Lasun Yusuff

 

On Friday, January 5, the sun was fierce and scorching in Ife-Odan, a nascent community in the West Senatorial District of Osun State.

Ileri-Oluwa Oloyede, an SS 2 student of Faith Foundation College, Ife-Odan, had just returned from market where she had helped her mother in her palm oil business. But the 16-year-old girl still had one more chore to do; to fetch water for the urgent need of the household.

Considering the stress she had gone through at the market, Ileri-Oluwa’s parents advised her to wait till sundown. But the longer she waited, the more difficult her chances of getting water became and the longer it would take the family to prepare dinner.

“If I wait for the sun to go down, many more people will be at the well, and that would worsen the situation. And if the crowd becomes uncontrollable, the landlord may lock his gate and drive us out,” she said.

Thus, while the sun was yet to finally recede, Ileri-Oluwa and her younger sister, Florence, hit the road for a three-kilometre trek in search of clean water at the nearest well.

It is the same story for Michael Adeoba, who was also on the road, almost at the same time, with his father’s motorcycle to fetch water into some 20-litre jerrycans.

Adeoba, who had battled to get the motorcycle started, apparently due to some mechanical faults, decided to push it to a nearby mechanic workshop for a quick fix before going for the water.

He said: “This is what I go through every other day. Whenever I am on holiday, I always dread this experience. In fact, it is more of punishment than chore.”

The experiences of both Ileri-Oluwa and Adeoba reflect the pains and pangs of the people of Ife-Odan in their efforts to access clean water.

The situation is similar in many communities in the agrarian state, particularly during dry season when many wells and streams are dried up and public water supply is scarce due largely to poor electricity supply.

Addressing this perennial challenge was the concern of 12 parliamentarians, who represented the state in the National Assembly between 2011 and 2015, comprising three senators and nine House of Representatives’ members.

The federal lawmakers, who were elected on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) before the party merged with others to form the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), had pursued common agenda, apparently towards fulfilling their party’s campaign promises.

One of them and now the Chief Whip of the eighth Senate, Prof. Sola Adeyeye, representing Osun Central Senatorial District, told New Telegraph that the senators and the nine members of the green chamber had agreed to facilitate the execution of joint projects in the state, through the National Assembly’s Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP), otherwise known as “constituency projects.”

Therefore, when the 2012 budget was being prepared in 2011, they agreed to jointly facilitate the construction of a mini-water scheme in each senatorial district.

But Adeyeye’s original plan for his district, he claimed, was the reconstruction of the narrow Ojutu Bridge in Ilobu, headquarters of Irepodun Local Government Area. However, this position was overruled by Governor Rauf Aregbesola, “who said we should do water.”

“But none of us could singlehandedly fix water, so we decided to have three mini-water schemes across the three senatorial districts,” Adeyeye added.

After a careful study, Ife-Odan was chosen as the beneficiary community in Osun West; Ipetu-Ijesha in Osun East, and Ila-Orangun in Osun Central Senatorial District, for the construction of the mini-water schemes.

As captured in the 2012 Appropriation Act and contained in the South West Geo-Political Zone Mapping of Capital Projects by the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO), a total sum of N1,666,666,668 was budgeted for the projects at the rate of N555,555,556 for each.

But according to Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA), the contract supervising agency, it eventually awarded the Ife-Odan scheme at the sum of N538,412,653.06; Ila-Orangun at the rate of N539,128,429.13 while N541,193,861.23 was approved for Ipetu-Ijesha project. Thus the new total sum released for the project stood at N1,618,734,943.47.

There was also additional budgetary allocation of N100 million each for the three mini-water schemes in the 2013 budget proposal but there was no evidence that the money was released.

Projects excite communities

When the beneficiary communities received the news of their selection for the location of the projects, they heaved a sigh of relief that potable water would no longer be a luxury.

According to the Risapetu and Regent of Ipetu-Ijesha, High Chief Ayodele Olayinka, some government representatives had approached the community’s palace on a Sunday in 2012, and demanded a parcel of land for the location of the project.

“We told them to wait till Monday but they insisted they needed to start that same Monday. Though Kabiyesi was still alive then, he was already very old. So, with two other chiefs, we  went there, and gave them the site. We were very elated and anxious to see the project commenced,” the chief explained.

He said true to their words, the contractor resumed to the location on the appointed Monday and began with the clearing of the bush.

“We were then visiting the site on a regular basis, at least, to show solidarity and support,” the chief added.

The experience was more exciting in Ife-Odan, where the government’s dam, created many years ago from Sekunrebete stream, which supplies water to the community and its environs, had been facing a series of challenges, including theft of its generator.

According to an officer of the state Water Corporation and the dam’s Superintendent Officer, Mr. Adeyemi Oyekola, who reluctantly spoke to New Telegraph, apart from the power issue, the dam was enough to serve the community.

He said: “In fact, there is no point bringing up a new water scheme. What this place needs is just a good generator, and repair of some of the machines and the reticulation networks, then, the community will be good for it.

“The major challenge here is power because the voltage is always low and cannot power the pumping machines.”

Thus, the desire to see the water scarcity problem addressed and the prospect of job opportunities at the site for the youth of the community inspired a farmer, Mr. Azeez Moradesa, to donate about four plots of land for the project.

The parcel of land is part of Moradesa’s inheritance and located beside his house at Araromi area of the town, which is less than two kilometres to the crisis-ridden dam.

He said: “So when they started the construction, I was employed as the security guard by the contractor. They were paying me N20,000 every month.”

Similarly, a former student of the Osun State College of Education, Ila-Orangun, AbdulKadir Oladosu, who was in year one when the construction work started at the Ila-Orangun site in 2012, said the students, in particular, were excited, “due to the suffering we were going through to get water.”

Inauguration of uncompleted projects

Five years after the projects were initiated, in February 2017, the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA), having allegedly certified the contractors for jobs well done, held a symbolic inauguration at the Ila-Orangun plant, and handed them over to the Osun State government, through its water corporation.

Though, the inauguration took place at Ila-Orangun, the documents and keys to the other two projects were also handed over to the state government. Thus, by this handover, New Telegraph learnt, it became the responsibility of the corporation to manage and operate the facilities for the benefit of the people.

Projects dead on arrival

Six years after people’s hope had been raised, New Telegraph’s investigations revealed that the projects have failed to ameliorate the water scarcity the communities face. In Ife-Odan the massive water plant erected by the contractor is yet to produce a drop of water.
When visited by our correspondent, the facility had already been overtaken by weeds and cobwebs, without anyone found in the compound.

The guard, Moradesa, who, apparently was disappointed by the turn of events, was not on hand to conduct our reporter round the facility. But his son, Joseph Moradesa, who did, was not impressed by the development.

When he eventually spoke to our correspondent, the guard expressed regret that six years after the project was initiated, there was yet to be water for the people at the plant.

Moradesa, who spoke in Yoruba language, said: “Even as the guard, since February 2017 when the place was transferred to Osun State Water Corporation, my salary has been reduced to N15,000 and I received the last one in October 2017. What pained me most is that this place is already abandoned and the purpose for which I donated the land may have been defeated.”

Also speaking, a palace chief, the Obajio of Ife-Odan, Chief Amoo Adegbite, expressed regret that the people’s hope had been dashed by the alleged poor handling of the project, saying the whole community was disappointed after so much expectation.

Adegbite said; “Many of us had thought what they wanted to do was to connect the dam and make the water supply easier. But we were surprised when they started digging borehole just few kilometres away from the dam, and we were worried that it might turn out to be a wasted effort due to our experiences with boreholes here.”

Son of a late traditional ruler of the community, Prince Gbade Morenikeji, who had visited the town for the New Year celebration, said one of the reasons the community voted against the return of one of the 12 representatives, Senator Mudashiru Hussein, was largely due to the abandoned water project.

Morenikeji, who works with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, noted that following the death of Senator Isiaka Adeleke, Hussein had been represented by the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), for the rerun election, “but because the water project he had facilitated to the community during his first term was seen as a scam, the people said, no way.”

Meanwhile, the superintendent at the community’s dam has revealed that with the construction of the water scheme, the pipes laid from the dam to the community had been destroyed by the contractor. He said: “Even if there is power supply it will be difficult to supply water because of the damage done to the pipes when they were laying their own pipes.”

In the same vein, at Iloro area of Ipetu-Ijesha, just a few metres away from Grammar School Road, location of the community’s own water plant, an ND I student of the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, Kwara State, Aduragbemi Idris, was guarding jealously a padlocked well.

She denied knowledge of any public water scheme in the neighbourhood, saying her uncle and owner of the house, reluctantly locked the well because of the pressure from the public.

Similarly, the Regent was livid with anger, as he showed our reporter his well within his own compound.

Chief Olayinka explained: “When they were laying the pipes, they fixed them in the wrong side and I told them that the side would not be good for the pipes due to the telegraphic poles. They didn’t take my advice, but after they had laid the pipes for about a month, they heeded my advice and moved to the other side. Later, we didn’t see them again.

“So, people are back to the streams as it was the practice in the olden days. We are just lucky that our people are not affected by water-borne diseases. Of course, it is now an abandoned project, and that is sad. This is because some of the ‘honourables’ (National Assembly members representing the state) who started the project are no longer in government. The new ones are now embarking on new projects individually, which are also already being abandoned.”

But when New Telegraph visited the plant at Ipetu-Ijesha, a security guard on duty, Mr. Adeleke Faleti, explained that the facility had been operational since 2016 till sometimes in November 2017, when it developed mechanical fault.

Faleti, who is an employee of Evermore Securities, a private security company, explained that apart from the challenges posed by erratic power supply and non-availability of diesel, the facility had served the few available ‘town tap points’ until it developed problems.

He said: “The engineer in charge is not on ground, and I am aware he has written to the state to complain about the mechanical faults developed by some machines.”

Also, a civil servant who lives in Ila-Orangun but craved anonymity, said apart from the four tap points sited at the water plant, there was no other public tap point within the vicinity that he was aware of.

The plant, which is located at the College High School area, in the community, serves only the people living within the neighbourhood.

“I cannot even attempt to fetch from the well in my house because it is too deep, and can take five minutes to get a single bowl of water. So, I have to drive to the water plant to fetch into jerrycans, at least every two days,” the source explained.

Osun State Water Corporation kicks, rejects projects

Embittered by the poor work done allegedly by the contractor, the state Water Corporation rejected the projects at Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan. It said the water yields at the two sites were grossly inadequate due to the shoddy jobs done.

The corporation’s Deputy General Manager, Operations and Production, Mr. Ademola Odejide, an engineer, said the three projects were handed over to the corporation in February 2017, but after a careful study, those located at Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan were returned to the agency for correction of all identified defects.

Odejide said: “Immediately we received the projects we wrote down our observations and recommendations, but our memo did not get to the governor on time because he was not around.

“But as soon as we received the go-ahead, only the Ipetu-Ijesha got our approval, so we sent back all the documents handed over to us for Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan with the instruction that they should go and correct all the defects. We recommended a better industrial borehole for Ila-Orangun and raw water supply at Ife-Odan because the boreholes sunk could hardly yield 20 per cent.”

According to Odejide, the Ila-Orangun scheme is later provided with the required industrial borehole but the Ife-Odan project was  now being linked to the dam, which hasn’t been completed.

But another officer of the corporation, who craved anonymity, explained that the problem with the project is that both the OORBDA and the contractors failed to do their due diligence. According to him, researches have shown that borehole water in a basement complex terrain like Osun State cannot yield the required volume of water to serve a whole community.

“You know, in engineering, when something is not in your field, you can hardly know it; OORBDA is only known for dam, not for water supply. In fact, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources carried out a survey on water projects, which indicates that there are so many boreholes being drilled across the state especially in our own area, which are not yielding desired results because of the differences between the basement complex terrain and sedimentary basin.

“In Lagos, and parts of Ogun, borehole can easily yield required volume of water because it is a sedimentary basin. But these contractors don’t like to hear this. In fact, the contractors had in the past threatened to eliminate some of us, saying we are running them down. When the National Assembly invited some of our officers for explanation on the matter, because we explained all this, the contractor, which we later learnt is a federal lawmaker, threatened to ‘waste’ us.

“The current Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly owns the company that handled the Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan projects. It is a secret arrangement between him and the contract awarding agency because it is against the law. Even, most of his colleagues who facilitated the projects didn’t know this until more than three years after, when the projects began to constitute problems,” the source said.

Search for contractors begins

Apart from the Ipetu-Ijesha project where the carcass of a billboard indicating the contractor’s name and other details could be found standing filthily on the wall of the plant’s fence, there is nothing to link the Ila-Orangun and Ife-Odan projects to their handlers. This informed New Telegraph to approach the OORBDA, as the contract supervising agency, for the details of the projects.

 

Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA) responds

 

At a brief meeting held in January with our correspondent at the office of its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Olufemi Odumosu, in Abeokuta, Ogun State, the Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority suggested to formalise its response to New Telegraph’s enquiries, saying further communication could be established afterwards.

Thus, in a tersely-worded letter, dated January 18, 2018, and addressed to New Telegraph, it explained that after competitive bidding processes, two companies were awarded the contracts in 2012. They are Sabbyn Nigeria Limited, an oil and gas company, and Nur and Company Nigeria Limited, an engineering company.

The letter, which was signed by Odumosu, also stated the locations awarded to each of the two firms and the amount approved for each of the projects, adding that the duration for the execution of the projects was 12 months.

It said the Ipetu-Ijesha project was handled by Sabbyn Nigeria Limited while the ones located at Ife-Odan and Ila-Orangun were awarded to Nur and Company Nigeria Limited.

The letter reads in part: “The contract award process was in line with the provisions of the Procurement Act 2007.”

However, the agency failed to supply other vital information including the details of the bidding processes, registration numbers of the selected companies, how money was paid to the contractors, reasons for the alleged abandonment of the projects, allegation of poor productivity, among others.

The agency had initially claimed its officers could no longer lay their hands on the projects’ documents because “it was a long time it worked on the files,” but following unrelenting requests from our correspondent, on January 31, 2018, the agency’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Saliu Adeniyi, sent the registration numbers and the addresses of the two companies via text messages.

CAC links Deputy Speaker to Nur & Company Nigeria Limited

Unlike the Sabbyn Nigeria Limited, which details were easily accessed on the internet, the details of Nur and Company Nigeria Limited, which executed both the Ife-Odan and Ila-Orangun projects, seemed to have been shrouded in secrecy, as the name could not be traced anywhere. It has no website, contact details, or even a social media account.

Its address at Plot 8, Impressive Close, off Dosumu Street, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos, as reportedly quoted on its application document for the bidding exercise, belongs to a different owner entirely. The issue of this address alone caused more controversies than could be imagined, leading to the death of an octogenarian over the fraudulent acts of some alleged individuals.

But the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) helped in no small measure to unravel the mystery surrounding the owners of the companies, including the Nur and Company Nigeria Limited, which is owned by Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Lasun Yusuff.
The deputy speaker, according to our findings, used his personal company to secure the two projects, even as investigations also revealed that the high ranking parliamentarian failed to execute these projects as specified by the awarding agency.

Deputy Speaker keeps mum

The series of New Telegraph’s enquiries sent to the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Lasun Yusuff, through his media aides, including his Special Adviser (Media), Mrs. Lara Owoeye-Wyse, were unanswered.

However, upon receiving New Telegraph’s letter, which was submitted to Owoeye-Wyse on January 9, the deputy speaker’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Wole Oladimeji, called our reporter on Thursday, January 11, on behalf of his boss to deny any knowledge of the projects. But when asked whether he had raised the matter with his boss before giving defence, Oladimeji said no, and promised to revert. He has since not got back to New Telegraph till date.

Meanwhile, in the second part of this report, many interesting twists about the whole issue will be revealed.

 

Sabbyn Nigeria Limited found

Locating Sabbyn Nigeria Limited, which handled the Ipetu-Ijesha mini-water scheme, wasn’t a difficult task. A simple search on the internet revealed the company’s website, its owner, and contact details. Its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Abayomi Collins, an engineer, had represented Ifo/Ewekoro Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2007. He was Chairman, House Committees on Petroleum Resources, National Planning and Economy, and Water Resources.

Collins took time to explain his own side of the story, insisting that his company executed the project to specifications and that all rules were followed to the letter.

He said: “This project was handed over, inaugurated and was operational. We have certificates to prove this. When you complete such a project you are first given a mechanical completion certificate. Every system, generator, water and other things were certified okay. And it was handed over to Osun State Water Corporation because it is the end beneficiary.

“We completed the project in 2015 and men of the Osun State Water Corporation came to the site to understudy the situation. But officially, it was taken over in June 2016, which was even pretty long. People in the town can confirm that as far back as 2015, they were receiving water far away, where we terminated the pipeline at the Osun State University campus in the town, which is the remotest part of the reticulation network.”

Collins added that after the expiration of the six-month-defect-liability period, his company was discharged of any liability to the project.

“As a matter of fact, we were discharged completely in 2016, and since then we have been requesting for the payment of our own five per cent retention fee which was N26.7 million. Up till now, they have only paid marginally N8 million,” he said.

Asked why an oil and gas company would be awarded a water project, Collins explained that his company provided services to oil and gas, and that water service was also one of them. “So, it is part of the services we render. The company is registered with CAC. I am ready to open books for you on this.”

Collins also responded to the delay in the execution of the project. “This is typical of government projects. Projects progress as funding is made available in yearly budgets. We have several government projects with Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority, which have not been funded in the last four years. We will only be able to continue when they are funded.”

 

•This is the first part of an investigative budget tracking report with the support of Macarthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)

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Banks’ contract staff: Slaving for peanuts

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To cut cost in the face of dwindling economy and stiff competition, financial institutions hire contract staff who earn peanuts. But this has jacked up fraud in the banking industry, reports TONY CHUKWUNYEM

 

Until January 31, Chinyere Amadi was a contract worker with one of Nigeria’s tier one banks.

 

Nowadays, she sits at home, taking care of her 11-month-old baby and thinking of what job to apply for or what business to do to support her husband who, according to her, is finding it increasingly difficult relying on his meagre monthly salary to take care of his young family.

 

“Given my husband’s situation, I sometimes feel that, perhaps, I should not have resigned from the bank. But I had reached a point where I could no longer continue working as ‘a contract staff ’ in that organisation.

 

“Despite the fact that my husband is finding it difficult to support us with his poor salary, he fully backed my decision to quit,” she said.

 

 

Chinyere attributed her departure from the bank to the fact that not only was her monthly salary of N64,000 hardly sufficient to relieve the burden on her husband, her job as a contract worker was so tasking that it had begun to negatively impact her ability to look after her baby.

 

Indeed, she said that she spent three weeks in the hospital last December as her baby was admitted for an ailment which had become quite serious because her work schedule made it impossible for her to detect the problem before it got complicated.

 

Slavery She said: “The job required that I leave home as early as 5.30a.m., to return sometimes as late as after 10p.m. We were also expected to be at work on Saturdays so there was very little time for us, especially nursing mothers, to spend with our families.”

 

The young mother, who graduated with a Second Class Upper degree in Economics from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, in 2010, disclosed that although she knew about the challenges of being a bank contract worker in this country, she had reluctantly taken up the appointment in 2014 when no other offer was forthcoming.

 

She said: “I did not initially want the job as it was common knowledge that despite having almost the same qualifications, contract staff earn far less than their colleagues who are employed on a permanent basis. But I had little choice because at that time, the most common opening for young graduates in the banking industry was being employed as a contract worker.

 

“However, it did not take me long to discover that the job was a form of slavery. We (contract staff) hardly have any breathing space; you cannot take or receive calls on your mobile phones while you are at work and getting permission to attend to urgent personal matters is a big problem.”

 

Amadi added that those who had permanent employment usually look down on the contract staff. “Apart from the tough work schedule, the insults and abuse that we frequently suffer in the hands of bosses who just wanted to show that they don’t have the same employment status with us can be so annoying that many people chose the option of quitting instead of being provoked into doing something rash.

 

“You can imagine that while the permanent staff who clearly don’t work as hard as contract workers earn about N150,000, we were paid N64,000.

 

Besides, while permanent staff are entitled to annual leave and leave allowance, its usually very difficult for contract staff to be granted leave and even then, they receive no allowance whatsoever,” she added.

 

Amadi emphasised that although she was yet to find another job and was having a tough time raising funds to start a business, she really did not regret resigning from the bank. 32,359 bank contract staff

 

However, it would seem that the likes of Amadi who have the courage to resign are quite few as data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in February shows that as at December 31, 2017, no fewer than 32,359 staff in the banking industry were employed on contract basis, accounting for 35.8 per cent of total bank staff, which stood at 90,453.

 

 

The NBS in its Selected Banking Sector Data for the fourth quarter of 2017 reveals that the number of contract staff in banks had consistently grown to 32,359 in the last quarter of last year.

 

Specifically, the report shows that banks had gradually increased their number of contract staff from 20,237 in the first quarter to 21,837 in the second quarter and 27,032 in the third quarter before increasing it by 19.71 per cent in the fourth quarter.

 

 

The report further shows that the number of executive staff of banks dropped from 197 in the third quarter to 188 by the end of last year, while the number of senior executives had dropped by 3,852 from 20,420 to 16,568 as at December 2017. Also, in the last three months of 2017, the number of executive and senior staff of banks declined by 4.57 per cent and 18.86 per cent respectively.

 

Cost cutting Analysts point out that banks began to increasingly employ contract staff and reducing hir-ing of executive and senior staff as part of aggressive cost cutting measures introduced in the wake of the crisis which hit the industry in the last decade.

 

The crises, which led the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to take over several lenders that were close to going under, resulted in massive job cuts in the industry with the departing staff being replaced with younger contract staff, who were ready to receive salaries that were less than half of what permanent employees were getting.

 

How it works New Telegraph findings show that banks adopted the strategy of outsourcing the hiring of contract staff to firms which usually have some form of close relationship with the lenders. For instance, the firms could be owned directly or indirectly by a relative/associate of a top shareholders or executive director of the bank.

 

Although the hired contract staff are seconded to the banks, these firms undertake all the processes required in the hiring of the contract staff, including advertising vacancies, conducting tests/interviews and issuing employment letters.

 

Also, in the event that the bank complains about the worker’s conduct, the person will not be sacked, but will be simply sent back to his or her employer. Industry sources said that while lenders pay outsourcing firms huge amounts for hiring contract staff, these companies pay the workers small salaries despite the challenging tasks they perform in the banks.

 

Rising fraud Interestingly, regulators have attributed the rising rate of fraud and forgery cases in the banking industry to the increasing number of contract staff employed by banks.

 

For instance, in the last few years, the Managing Director and Chief Executive of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Alhaji Umaru Ibrahim, has been repeatedly warning banks against the use of outsourced staff, pointing out that in 2015, over 75 per cent of fraud cases in the banking sector was traced to outsourced bank staff.

 

Last year, he revealed that bank examination reports indicated that the high incidence of fraud and forgeries in the banking system was linked to outsourced or contract staff.

 

The NDIC boss also stated that in as much as regulators appreciated the necessity for banks to cut costs, it was incumbent on all stakeholders to fashion out capacity building and other strategies to motivate all employees to contribute positively rather than engaging in criminal acts that impact adversely on the entire banking system.

 

Ibrahim told finance and business journalists in Ilorin in October 2015 that 64 per cent of fraudulent activities in the banking industry in 2014 were traced to temporary staff of banks.

 

Similarly, two years ago, the CBN Director, Banking and Payments System Department, Mr. Dipo Fatokun, disclosed that the apex bank had advised lenders to desist from giving sensitive banking roles to contract staff as they might not have a stake in the financial institution.

 

He said: “A temporary staff may not have a stake in the bank so to say. So, it is encouraged that if they have staff that are not permanent, they should not give them responsibilities or roles that will expose them to critical functions of a bank.

 

 

“If you are giving somebody an authority to approve transactions of high magnitude and he does not have a stake in your bank, then you are already exposing yourself. So, this has been going on and I believe many banks understand the need to rely on their key staff for major duties. That is one of the reasons the fraud attempts have been rising, but the value lost declining.”

 

 

However, findings by New Telegraph indicate that despite these warnings, banks not only continue to hire contract staff, but have started assigning these employees to sensitive roles that were previously reserved for full time or permanent staff.

 

An industry source attributed the development to the increasing need for banks to cut costs in the face of a tough economy and rising competition. The source said: “Before now, contract staff were not assigned to Automated Teller Machine (ATM) watch duties.

 

You will also hardly find them being told to perform customer service duties. But all that has changed. Also, in the past, most banks usually set a maximum value of between N200,000 and N500,000 as the limit for risky transactions that a contract staff can undertake, but these days, this limit has been raised to N1 million.”

 

According to fraud statistics contained in the latest Nigerian Electronic Fraud Report, which was prepared by the Banking and Systems Payment Department of CBN, the banking industry recorded 31,736 fraud cases involving N16.5 billion between January 2014 and December 2016.

 

The study shows that the frauds were perpetrated through various payment channels such as Across the Counter, ATMs, cheques and electronic-commerce platforms. Others are Internet banking, mobile banking, Point-of-Sale and web transactions.

 

The report states that in the last three years, there had been more attempts in the number of fraud cases, adding that the development could be linked to the tough economy. Commenting on the issue of banks’ hiring of contract staff, a management consultant, Mr. Dafe Edeki, blamed the situation on the country’s sluggish economy, which, according to him, continues to drive cost minimisation by companies. He said: “The banks are not exploiting the contract staff; it’s strictly business.

 

Any organisation that wants to stay competitive would take advantage of the demand and supply gap in the labour market by offering small salaries because there are millions of people who are ready to do that job for half the pay. Anyone who is not comfortable with the terms of employment should not sign the employment letter.”

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