When the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, in her usual candor alleged that the federal government’s National Social Investment Programmes, NSIP, superintended over by the immediate past Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments Programmes, SIP, Maryam Uwais, has failed to justify its annual N500 billion budget, many waved it aside as one of the infightings that have characterized the Muhammadu Buhari administration and her penchant for criticising her husband’s appointees.
And responding to Mrs Buhari’s diatribe, Uwais had countered that the President’s wife was perhaps not well informed, but LEADERSHIP investigations have revealed the President’s wife may not be far from the truth, as the former SA to the President on SIP has allegedly turned the NSIP, which remains the flagship policy of the incumbent administration, into a cesspool of impunity, injustice and corrupt practices.
LEADERSHIP findings revealed that from the day she was appointed SA on SIP to President Buhari, Ms Uwais, through her actions in the NSIP, set out to promote personal interest high and above national interest, as she was alleged to have targeted taking total and absolute control of all the projects under the NSIP platform, especially those with assistance and support from the World Bank.
Investigations showed that the SA, SIP plotted and succeeded in sending away the former National Coordinator of the National Social Safety Net Coordinating Office, NASSCO, Mr Peter Papka, simply because, according to insider sources, his insistence on following World Bank procurement due process had thwarted the SA’s plot to use a commercial bank, where she had substantial interest, for the project.
LEADERSHIP reliably gathered that that decision became a setback for the project as the World Bank could not meet up with designated timelines for the payment of cash transfer to targeted beneficiaries of the project, thus leading to the country’s loss of the expertise and experience of Mr Papka, a retired director of immense experience who had successfully implemented Local Empowerment and Environmental Management Project, LEEMP; Youth Employment and Social Support Operation, YESSO; and Community Social Development Project, CSDP, all World Bank-assisted/supported projects.
At Mr Papka’s exit, the SA, to complete her total takeover and control of the NASSCO, began a search for a new National Coordinator, and one who would not only be her stooge, but act according to her whims and caprices.
She was alleged to have succeeded, through subtle manipulation and the support of some World Bank staff, and settled for one Mr. Apera Iorwa, who, according to reliable sources who pleaded anonymity, came a distant third in the hierarchy of competence.
They alleged that this was simply because he was the preferred candidate for the hatchet job the SA planned to carry out in the National Social Safety Net Project, NASSNP, supported by the World Bank and the Swiss government, through the Abacha restituted fund.
The office of the National Coordinator NASSCO, according to project document was supposed to be occupied by a person of not less than the rank of a Director in the civil service, a criteria which Mr Iorwa was said never to have met before he was foisted on the NASSCO.
Mr Iorwa, a 1998 graduate of Actuarial Science from the Ahmadu Bello University, was born in 1973, listed nine jobs on his profile on LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional community.
He said he had over 25 years’ experience and laid claim to a Doctorate degree in Marketing from the Benue State University, BENSU. However, LEADERSHIP investigations revealed that BENSU has no Department of Marketing.
LEADERSHIP reliably gathered that against all laid down ground norms, Mr Iorwa, since his assumption of office as National Coordinator of NASSCO and with the support and backing of the SA, SIP, Uwais, has illegally replaced most civil servants on the projects with consultants, who are mostly youth corps members; an action which is in contrast to the project document. The procurement officer seconded from the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, LEADERSHIP learnt, has also been rendered ineffectual by Iorwa.
LEADERSHIP gathered that as at the time of this report, he has sent away two project accountants deployed to the project by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, OAGF, through unbridled harassment by the SA.
In fact, LEADERSHIP scooped that the current project accountant deployed by the office of the OAGF, who had faced serious evil machinations from Mr Iorwa and Ms Uwais; remains on the job through the insistence of the AGF.
Other civil servants remaining on the project wondered why the Office of the International Economic Relations Department, IERD, of the Federal Ministry of Finance, cannot do what the office of the OAGF did, by insisting that only career civil servants should be saddled with the responsibility of implementing the project, and not consultants, and if consultants are to be used at all, not those who are not by any means qualified to run this sensitive and important social investment project, which is one of the major programmes of the incumbent federal government administration.
Those who spoke to LEADERSHIP under condition of anonymity said that as a major financier and supporter of the project, the role of the World Bank in all of these seems not clear, even as LEADERSHIP gathered that all of these happenings, which are inimical to the success of the NASSNP, happened under the watchful eyes of some World Bank staffers, without any serious attempt to correct the wrongs being perpetrated in this project.
One of the civil servants who spoke to LEADERSHIP on condition of anonymity described what is going on as a “a well thought out plot to entrench a system of impunity and fraud. These frauds manifested in procurements of goods and services, which have resulted in loss of several millions to the project; to the benefit of Iorwa and Uwais, his boss.
“The consultants hired are the livewire of this fraudulent process. It is undisputable that he inflated all contracts he has ever awarded since his advent as National Coordinator and that he did not only inflate the prices, but also ensured that he collected his cut from the service providers.”
Investigations further revealed that the success of the SA and the National Coordinator of NASSCO in replacing career civil servants with consultants provided the conducive environment to carry out fraudulent activities in NASSCO; a development which was said to have further emboldened and encouraged the perpetrators to plot a repeat in the National Cash Transfer Office, NCTO, the office saddled with the responsibility of disbursing the Abacha restituted fund released by the Swiss government.
It was also alleged that despite the fact that the President has sacked all political appointees in his first term; Ms Uwais refused to vacate office and still continues to operate as if she is still the SA to the President on NSIP.
According to insider sources, all of these have led to high turnover of fiduciary staff in the NASSCO. They argued that at this point in time when Nigeria has overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world, “all eyes are on us to prove the world wrong. Therefore, Nigeria cannot afford to allow mediocrity to reign in an important programme like the NSSSNP.”
The staffers argued that the President has consistently demonstrated through his actions that the era of impunity is over and expressed sadness and pain how the new Nigeria that the President and his team are committed to building is being threatened by the action of a privileged few in no other place than an office established to empower Nigerians and bring hope and succour to the poor.
They therefore called on the President to act immediately so that this would not be allowed to continue, adding, “This needs to stop. The time to act is now.”
When contacted for his reaction to these sundry allegations, the National Coordinator, Mr Iorwa, denied carrying out the bidding of the former SA. He told our correspondent, “I am not doing the biding of the former SA. As an appointee of government, I am only implementing what has been signed between the government and the World Bank.”
Defending his use of consultants over career civil servants, he said, “The Federal Government of Nigeria appreciates the fact that there might be certain skills set that might not be readily available within the civil service; and in such instances, consultants could be employed to fill such gaps.”
He also justified the use of youth corps members as consultants to the project, saying, “The government permits the retention of Youth Corps members who have served their country well.”
On the project accountants, the National Coordinator said that the OAGF is “responsible for recruiting and deploying accountants to projects; ours is no exception.”
He added, “The OAGF could withdraw and replace these accountants even at short notice to fill other gaps within the system.”
Efforts by our correspondent to reach the former SA, SIP to the President proved abortive as calls made to her phone number could not go through.
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