Staff recruitment and other scandals in NECO

Professor Charles U.B. Uwakwe, Registrar/Chief Executive of the National Examinations Council (NECO) and a number of top management staff of the Minna, Niger state based examination body have been on regular visits to Federal Ministry of Education, in Abuja’s central business district for the past three weeks. They are expected to return again this week, to the ministry which directly supervises the activities of NECO in the absence of an active Board. Uwakwe may be in a big trouble. So will five other  principal officers in NECO.

The five key officers are unofficially known as the cabal in NECO and consist of the Director, Special Duties,Dr John Tumba. Acting Director,Finance and Accounts, Olure  Amos Bamidele, Acting Director , ICT, OLukoya, Odutoya , and Head of Procurement, Adesina . They are said to be the officers who determine who gets what in NECO, since the appointment of Uwakwe  in 2016. Verbatim magazine can authoritatively confirm that the NECO management is now under discreet investigation for engaging in secret recruitment of 250 new employees and other scandalous activities which the ministry find embarrassing and unacceptable. An administrative coup of a kind is brewing in NECO.

Verbatim investigations revealed that a committee set up last month by Adamu Adamu, the Honourable Minister, is also probing other grave allegations and reports bordering on questionable expenditure of over N15 billion annually by the NECO management without any form of authorization; illegal sale of NECO guest houses in Abuja and inability to stem the rising wave of conflict with Union members. In moving into action, ministry was said to have been alarmed at reports and petitions from the union and outside sources, alleging that the Registrar and NECO management have been indulging in taking highly sensitive decisions in the past two years in the absence of a Board, and without ministerial approval in many instances. The investigation team is headed by Architect Sonny Ochono, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja.

Last week, in furtherance of its activities, the committee dispatched letters to Minna, demanding for documents and explanation on the recruitment exercise. The action of the ministry generated panic at NECO headquarters.

Exclusive documents obtained from the Registrar’s office in Minna , Niger state  by Verbatim showed that on March 8, 2018 the Ministry made a formal demand for NECO to produce seven documents within three working days. The deadline will expire March 14, this week.

Among others, NECO was asked to provide details of nominal roll for 2014 and 2016, as well as ‘’distribution of staff, state by state, based on the 2016 nominal roll’’. The Ministry also asked NECO to explain basis for determining the 250 staff recruited in 2017 and their distribution per state.

Three other items of demand listed in a letter signed by Auwalu A.Koko,Director, Human Resources Management and dated March 8,2018,include ‘’evidence of compliance with the Circular of September,2017 Issued by the Permanent Secretary, including approval by the Honourable Minister’’. The first of the remaining two items is a request for the status report for 2017 exercise and the current nominal roll.  The second, was ‘’evidence of approval for the distribution by the Federal Character Commission’’.

Verbatim learnt that the ministerial probe was propelled by the secret and the suspicious manner NECO followed in selecting the 250 employees it quickly  issued appointment letters. The process was seen as lacking in openness, flawed and highly discriminatory. One official of the Ministry of Education told verbatim in confidence that the Minister of Education did not even know and never approved of the exercise. The document authored by the Registrar on distribution of the 250 appointments lends credence to information from the Ministry. In the document, Bauchi state where the Minister comes from, only one slot was given out where as Imo state where the Registrar and Minister of State, Professor Anthony Anwuka comes from, got 49 slots, the highest allocation.   ‘’The first place to seek approval in the absence of the council is the ministry. No approval was gotten from the ministry on the recruitment. The process is flawed, clandestine, lopsided and largely illegal’’, the source said’’.

Dr.John Z.Tumba, Director, Special Duties in the Office of the Registrar/Chief Executive of NECO was in Verbatim office a few days ago .He was accompanied by NECO’s media officer, Abdulazeez Sani. The NECO officials came to offer explanations on why the examination body did what it did.

Tumba, who was part of the NECO management team that have been making several visits to the Ministry since last month, also offered further explanations to Verbatim Editor-in-Chief during a lengthy midnight interview, through WhatsAPP on Sunday, March 11,2018.

Tumba denied that NECO failed to follow laid down processes and guidelines in the recruitment exercise. He tendered documents showing that NECO obtained waiver of advertisement from the Federal Character Commission, waiver to employ staff for replacement from the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and Certificate of Compliance from the Federal Character Commission. He also produced documents from the 2016 and 2017 Appropriation Acts to show that funds exist to cater for the 250 new employees.

But the NECO officials produced no evidence to show approval from the Supervisory body, the Ministry of Education. The apparent lack of ministerial approval contradicted NECO’s claim to have followed all laid down guidelines and fulfilled all conditions for the exercise.

Also, Verbatim checks indicate that NECO failed to fulfill some other conditions and guidelines spelt out by the Federal Government for exercises of this nature. The  first in the list of nine guidelines was issued as Circular by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation on July 11,2017 to all ministries, agencies and departments of the Federal Government to check ‘’flagrant disregard of rules and established procedures for recruitments in the Public Service’’. It made it mandatory for MDAs wishing to carry out recruitment of staff to ‘’adhere to manpower budget for proposed recruitments, which must be approved by the supervising ministry or Agency.’’

Guideline number ix in the circular also stated unambiguously that ‘’in the case of Agencies/Parastatals, appropriate representations of the supervising Ministries and Agencies’’ are required ‘’to provide necessary guidance and give credibility to the exercise’’.

The letter of demand from the Ministry of Education to NECO was an expression of concerns over non adherence to guidelines i and ix in the circular. It showed also that the recruitment exercise was devoid of transparency and credibility.

Rather than tow the path of honour and credibility, Uwakwe led the NECO management on the suspicious easy way out by applying for waiver. He refused to advertise the job vacancies which could have paved way for competition and fairness to all Nigerians. In fact, to further ascertain the illegality of the whole exercise, checks by Verbatim indicated that the Registrar and his men executed the recruitment while the Council was fully on her annual break for 2017. Verbatim was told authoritatively that the issuance of employment letters and documentation of the recruits were done in Finance and Accounts department under the close supervision of Mr Bamidele Olure and select few in the department, and one Aderemi  Adesina , the Sokoto state officer who coincidentally was the Officer in charge of the 2015 recruitment which Professor Uwakwe revealed, was carried out without due process. Exercises of that nature ordinarily fall in the purview of the office of the Director, Human Resource.

Through waiver, NECO successfully carried out one criminal purpose: cover up of the capacity and competence of the people that they recruited under questionable circumstances.

One national goal which the exercise could also have achieved if carried out in the open would have been to narrow the unequal representation in the employment gap which exists in NECO presently. By his own admission through a document he signed, as reproduced in this publication, Uwakwe stated that in the present NECO, a lot of inequalities exist among states and geopolitical regions. His distribution of the 250appointments rather widened the gap.

Figures provided by NECO showed that the North West zone got 15 slots and South West, 66. North Central was allocated 52 slots and North East 24.South East got 72 slots while South – South got 20 jobs. The figures said nothing about the quality of the recruits, yet NECO stated in their letter to the Head of Service  in October 2017 that the aim of the exercise was to enable them fill 250 positions of ‘’disengaged staff in core professional/technical disciplines’’.

There are unconfirmed reports that the 250 were shared among key officials of NECO and some legislators. Some slots were said to have been given unofficially to some personnel in the Federal Character Commission, Head of Service and friends of the Registrar.

Tumba refused to be drawn into issues of qualification, in his midnight interview with Verbatim. He only provided a strait jacket answer. His words: ’’all those recruited are qualified Nigerians with relevant qualifications. To start asking who got what and who is related to who, is to me going too personal and am to be impersonal in discharging my duty as a Public Servant’’.

The Recruitment scandal in NECO appears to have predated Uwakwe.The Registrar stated that the administration of Professor Abdilrashid  Garba , a former Registrar also did not follow all guidelines when it recruited 72 people in 2015.

Uwakwe revealed that no documents exist today in NECO to indicate whether approval was obtained for the 2015recruitment .He stated also that there exists no document in the NECO file to show that there was certificate of compliance. Like in the current exercise he carried, the vacancies were not advertised in the 2015 recruitment.

Verbatim learnt that the ministry is also beaming searchlight on how Uwakwe and his team carried out huge expenditures from Internally  Generated Revenue between 2015 – 2017, estimated to be in the region of N30 to N34 billion. Sources told verbatim that the over N30 billion incomes were earned from sale of registration (scratch) cards for SSCE candidates alone.  In 2015 alone, more than N11billion was generated through sale of the registration cards to 969,991 candidates that were registered for the examination at N11, 350 per candidate.

In 2016, the figure of registered candidates was said to have jumped up to 1,005,242. From these, N11.4 billion was realized by NECO from sale of registration cards at N11, 350 per unit price.

In 2017, the figures for registered candidates nationwide were reported to have further jumped up to 1,055,988. At a unit price of N11, 400.00 this time, NECO was estimated to have realized well above N12 billion. Within the two years Uwakwe has been in office, NECO is further estimated to have also realized other huge sums of money from ‘’result checker’’ scratch cards and other sources which include direct budgetary disbursement from the Federal Government.  This is also outside other numerous sources of IGR for the Council, which the SERVICOM Unit of NECO compiled and conspicuously displayed on its notice board at the headquarters in Minna.

Tumba admitted, during his midnight interview with Verbatim that the controversial expenditure figure runs into billions of Naira. He claims it did not reach up to N14 billion for the period in contention. Tumba said: ‘’Public Accounts are not meant for publication as that of public companies. You can go to the budget office or AGF or National Assembly for verification. I said about N13billion, not N15billion.I did not mention a definite sum.’’

Verbatim learnt that the huge revenue inflow to NECO resulted to various forms of questionable and largely unaccountable expenditures. Indeed, NECO was reported to have been turned into a largely contract awarding body with some of its officials turning into contractors using fronts and collaborators from outside. It was because information filtered into the ears of officials of the Federal Ministry of Education that investigations were initiated.

Before the investigating committee led by the Permanent Secretary shifted attention to the recruitment scandal, they were first reported to have issued a demand of contract documents from NECO. The documents were to include list of all contractors who got jobs in the past two years, the nature of the job they did, tender documents, details of companies that bided and lost and how much was each contract given out and when. NECO was also requested to state the status of the contracts.

As at press time last week, Verbatim learnt that NECO had not fully complied with the demand. An inside source told Verbatim that NECO will find the demand very difficult to meet. ‘’Many people will go to jail if documents are released the way they are. There are bound to be forgeries, manipulation of figures and phony contract deals. It’s the same malpractice in many public offices. NECO  is likely to be worse’’, the source said.

Sources at the headquarters of the Council indicated that the Registrar and his cabals are working round the clock to deliberately cause unnecessary delay and hiccups in the ongoing investigation by making it inconclusive until the inauguration of a new Governing Board on Thursday 22nd March.  Emissaries have been dispatched to the locations of some of the members of the yet to be inaugurated board with special packages and pledges. The coming of the Board is seen as window of opportunity that can be used by the cabals to break their ranks and achieve soft landing .Verbatim learnt however that incoming Board Chairman, Dr Abubakar Saddiq, a lecturer at ABU Zaria, is a no nonsense who cannot be compromised for any pecuniary interest.

Three key and strategic departments which the ministry is paying special attention in its determination to uncover what may have happened in NECO are the office of the Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA), the office of Director of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and office of the Deputy Director (Head) of Procurement. The DFA’s office coordinates all finance matters and pays out contractors, among its functions.

From this function, office holders stand a chance of getting rich through kickbacks.  The last occupant, Ojebode, is reported to be so rich after leaving office that he opened a private university called Atiba University in Oyo state. The university which was to be initially called Oduduwa University was among the last set of universities registered by the National University Commission, NUC.  As at press time last week, there have been calls for full probe by the EFCC and other crime investigating agencies, of Ojebode’s source of fund for the university.

Ojebode’s influence in NECO is still strong, under the administration of Uwakwe. He is said to the mastermind of the appointment by Uwakwe, of an acting DFA ,in the person of Amos Bamidele Olure,a  Deputy Director whose appointment as Senior Accountant  at the Nigerian Tourism Development Commission, NTDC, was terminated in 1999 for ‘’financial misappropriation’’. In spite of knowing about his criminal record, Uwakwe had continued to retain Olure, even against advice by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation.

Tumba confirmed that NECO knows much about the Acting DFA’s criminal record, but he insists that he has no case to answer. ’’As per Mr.Olure, I repeat he has no case to answer. His Matter was thoroughly treated  by NECO,FME and Office of the HOS. No one is in doubt over his termination by his former employee for financial misappropriation’ ’he told Verbatim.

Outside the termination saga, Olure has two confirmations to his credit.  One, as a staff of NTDC, and second as a staff of NECO.  This is against Extant Civil Service rules.  An individual is not allowed to obtain two different confirmations, especially when the grounds for obtaining either of them are questionable.  In the case of Olure, he failed to disclose his former employment status at the point of being offered new employment by NECO.  The disclosure of his termination for financial misappropriation was as a result of investigation by this Magazine.  Ordinarily, the information would have remained elusive except for the investigation conducted on the case.  In as much as this case is corruption related, no stone should be left unturned to adequately sanction the offender.

The ICT is said to be one of the biggest fraud hubs in NECO, through contract manipulations. In 2008 for example, NECO was reported to have been confronted with an inexplicable situation where the sum of N536,150,850 was fraudulently transferred to  the bank account of  a private ICT company called I-Web Global Solutions Limited in a First Bank branch in Minna,Niger State. The bank account, with 4172030001106 was traced to Tayo Odukoya, then head of ICT in NECO. Checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission was to later show that I-Web Gobal solutions limited ,with registration number,1752897 had Odukoya as one of its Directors and as a core signatory to its bank accounts.

The case against Odukoya was reported to the EFCC and ICPC for investigation. Till date, no official report had been obtained from the security agencies, as to whether Odutayo was cleared or not. Instead, Odutayo who joined NECO in 2000 as Head of ICT when it was  just a unit had enjoyed progression to when the unit was upgraded to a Department,and Tayo was made acting Director of the Department.

A New ICT firm called Biz Desk Global Solutions Limited, with headquarters at No 17 Second Avenue road, Kado-Diko, Gwarinpa,Abuja  has been actively doing business for NECO since then as a replacement for I-Web global Solutions Limited . There are calls in many quarters for inquiry into the ownership and activities of Biz Desk Global Solutions Limited which handles billions of naira ICT contracts for NECO, with a view to unmasking whether Odukoya is indeed the owner as many have speculated or not.

Investigations have also been recommended to confirm if Odukoya or his cronies also own and serve as landlord to the NECO office in Lagos. The office which is currently in a deplorable state is said to have been rented for N20million which NECO pays for annually till date. It is also alleged that the property NECO presently occupies and pays for in Abuja on Arab Road in Kubwa belong to Mr.  James Ojebode, the retired DFA .

It is curious that NECO whose IGR now runs to multi billions annually still operates on rented apartments. Verbatim learnt that apart from the offices in Anambra , Kwara and Oyo states which are NECO properties, the other  offices of NECO in 33 states are rented apartments and many of the rented apartments are said to belong to former Directors of the examinations body.

So many sordid affairs are reportedly still taking place at NECO.  One other area where requests for fresh enquiry have been called for is in the way and manner NECO guest houses in Abuja were sold. The matter is currently being handled by the EFCC and ICPC.

As the Ministry of Education enters into a critical stage this week, for a more intense investigation into various forms of corruption and controversies in NECO, attention will be indeed focused on Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education to see how he can move the process faster. Verbatim learnt that petitions and recommendations have continued to flood the office of the Honourable Minister of Education, urging him to dig deeper into the matter.

The most current came from the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NECO branch. In a letter to the Honourable Minister of Educated, dated March 7,2018and signed by Stephen O. Adebunmi, as Chairman, the union called for an immediate suspension of Uwakwe. The union reasoned that the recommended suspension will deny Uwakwe ‘’further access to essential documents and most especially, the council’s finances’’.  They cited example with the case involving a former Registrar of NECO, Prof Promise Okpala who was suspended even when there was no monumental corruption established against him. ‘’It is therefore apt for the Honourable Minister to act now without delay in order not to jeopardize the future of the entire Council and indeed millions of Nigeria students whose hopes might be dashed if NECO crumbles’’.

The outcome of this enquiry and its implementation will help to determine how seriously Nigerians will continue to take the war against corruption in Nigeria.

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