BY BODE GBADEBO, Abuja
Plethora of crises is currently bedeviling the Nigeria–São Tomé and Príncipe Joint Development Authority (JDA) over alleged corrupt practices, nepotism, victimization and flagrant disregard for laid down rules and regulations of the civil service.
It will be recalled that the JDA, with head office in Abuja, is an organization established by a treaty that regulates the two countries’ Joint Development Zone in the Gulf of Guinea. The Joint Development Zone is along the maritime borders of Nigeria and São Tomé and Príncipe.
LEADERSHIP Sunday reports that the Joint Development Zone is an area in the region of the Nigeria–São Tomé and Príncipe boundary region that is speculated to be rich in oil and gas reserves.
Because neither country could have explored the resources in the zone without interfering with the maritime territory of the other country, the countries agreed in a treaty to create a Joint Development Authority that would assist both countries in benefitting from the economic potentials of the zone.
The JDA is a colligate organization in which the board is made up of four executive directors (EDs)-two from each nation party, heading the four departments in the organization.
Consequently, since inception and based on mutual agreement, the Nigerian executive directors have been in charge of Monitoring and Inspections (M&I) and the Finance and Administration (F&A) departments while the executive directors from Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe have always been in charge of the Commercial and Investments (C&I) and Non-Hydrocarbon Resources (NHR) departments.
Inside sources told our correspondent how over N1 billion meant for the building of a permanent head office for the JDA has been mismanaged or diverted.
“The money was fully released by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2014 for JDA’s permanent headquarters. The project is on a ‘fixed contract’ basis with ‘no room for variation.’ However, the contractor has shown lack of required technical and financial capabilities to successfully complete the project and has since abandoned the project,” the source said.
This is even as certain staff of the authority have allegedly been penciled down for persecution and undue punishment as their salaries have been denied them for almost two years now.
Another source hinted that troubled started for the affected staffers when on April 18, 2016, during a general staff briefing, the staffs were informed that an anonymous petition had been written to the DG SSS, chairman of EFCC, minister of State for Foreign Affairs, chief of staff to the president and the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
They were told that the petition alleged fraud in JDA and the subject of the allegations was the executive director, Finance and Administration (ED F&A), Mr. Kashim Musa Tumsah. The board therefore accused eight members of staff of involvement in the writing of the petition.
Our correspondent gathered that the accused eight staff then sought the intervention of the Joint Ministerial Council via the Honourable Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (HMOSFA) to ensure justice was done as provided in the JDA Staff Regulations and Conditions of Service (JDA COS) because they observed that the board had circumvented the laid down procedures and regulations for dealing with the matter as evident in its alleged apparent persecution and witch-hunt.
All efforts by the affected staff to get justice by seeking the attention of relevant authorities on the matter have failed despite appealing to the Nigerian JMC delegation under the leadership of the Honourable Minister of State Foreign Affairs (HMOSFA), Hajia Khadija Bukar Ibrahim, to prevail on the JDA board to follow the procedure stipulated in the JDA Staff Regulations and JDZ since April 2016.
Sources also informed our correspomdent of various acts of impunity being perpetrated in the JDA. In the face of the dwindling finances of the organization, the board in November, 2015, employed six Nigerian staff and one staff from Sao Tome and Principe. A source added that “curiously” some of the new staffs were retained as “essential staff” while more experienced staff were sent home.
Another bizarre event occurred on October 7, 2015, a day after the end of the first six-year term of the ED M&I as he was barred from entering the office on the instructions of the board despite the provisions of Article 10.1 of the JDZ Treaty.
“In full glare of all staff, the ED (M&I), was unlawfully prevented from entering into the office building and his particular office was padlocked and remained so, until the relocation of JDA to a new headquarters building.
“The provision on a vacuum and ensure balanced representation on the JDA Board was contravened. The former ED C&I from DRSTP, Mr. Jorge Dos Santos spent extra two years after the expiration of his tenure while the former ED M&I, Mr. Anthony Fiddi, who was seconded from the NNPC for a period of four years could not leave after the period elapsed, until the then president appointed a replacement.
“It is worthy of mention that Nigeria, although having the larger share of the JDZ project (60%), has been represented by only one executive director since October 2015. This has also meant that the organization has been without an executive director in charge of oil and gas operations resulting in the inability of JDA to successfully negotiate investment in the JDZ.
“The current ED (F&A), Mr. Tumsah, whose tenure expired in October, 2016 paid himself his full terminal benefits in December, 2016, and has remained in office till date allegedly on the directive of the minister of state for Foreign Affairs,” the source explained.
Also, after more than one year of the accused staff suspension (April 2016), the board has not disclosed the outcome of its investigation or reimbursed the accused staffs’ salaries withheld since May 2016.
“Also, even when some of the accused staff, resigned in January and March 2017 out of frustration, the board computed their terminal benefits to stop at June 2016, deducted a month salary from them and alluded that their resignation saved them from a guilty verdict, which would have resulted in a dismissal,” another source confided in our correspondent.
When our correspondent spoke with some of the allegedly persecuted staff on suspension, the preponderance of views were for immediate resolution of the matter and payment of their salaries and allowances which has been withheld for almost two years now.
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