Two days after the dissolution of the governing board of the National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB), the chairman of the dissolved board, Leonard Shilgba, has accused the Federal Ministry of Education of covering up fraud in the examinations agency.
Mr. Shilgba made the accusation in a statement he issued on Wednesday in response to the announcement of the dissolution of the governing board.
He alleged the Ministry of Education ignored the report of corruption in the agency and that the Minister, Adamu Adamu, blocked his attempts to meet him over the report.
The governing board had acted on the report of a special investigative committee it set up on allegations of corruption at NABTEB by suspending the registrar of the agency, Ifeoma Abanihe, and four of its directors.
According to The Punch newspaper, the four other directors suspended are those of Finance and Accounts, Examination Administration, Examinations Development, and the Procurement Officer.
Their suspension was approved by the NABTEB Governing Board at its meeting on June 19 in Benin, Edo State.
However, on Monday, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the dissolution of the governing board with immediate effect and the reinstatement of the Registrar and four directors.
According to Mr Echono, “The purported suspension of the Registrar, Prof. Ifeoma Abanihe, and four (4) other Directors of NABTEB has been nullified as it did not conform with due process especially in the case of the Registrar, because the Board went beyond its powers and in contravention of section 5 and Section 6 of NABTEB Act.”
Responding to the turn of events through a statement on Wednesday, the chairman of the dissolved governing board, Mr Shilgba, said it acted in line with its statutory powers and called on President Buhari to intervene.
He said the governing board suspended the reinstated officials after an investigative panel found them guilty of some infractions.
Mr Shilgba further stated that the board reported the findings of the investigative panel to the ministry before sanctioning the officials, but the Ministry ignored the report and failed to act on it.
“The board communicated its actions to the Minister for further necessary action via a letter referenced, NABTEB/GB/CH/HME/001, titled: ‘Some Urgent Decisions of the Governing Board of NABTEB,” Mr Shilgba stated.
According to him, “I further requested a physical meeting with the Minister via an email, dated June 20, 2018, and also by a text as follows:
“‘Dear Honourable Minister, greetings, sir. I have sent to your email address certain urgent decisions, which were unanimously taken by the Governing Board of NABTEB at its first regular meeting on June 19, 2018. I seek an appointment with you on Thursday or Friday this week to give you hard copies of the documents cited in my mail to you.’”
Mr Shilgba said he flew to Abuja on Thursday and stayed till Saturday but the minister did not grant him an appointment or respond to his emails or text messages.
“According to Rule 160201 of the Public Service Rules (PSR), ‘The Minister exercises control of Parastatals at policy level through the Board of the Parastatal only,’” he said.
“What should a Governing Board do, when the Minister avoids it, and there are matters requiring his urgent attention?”
Mr Shilgba said it was a violation of paragraph 13 of the administrative guidelines for the Minister to avoid meeting with a Governing Board.
Giving further insight into the issue that led to the suspension of the five officials, Mr Shilgba said the governing board ordered investigations after it was made aware of alleged corruption at the agency.
It set up a five-member special committee headed by Charles Imaru to investigate the allegations.
The committee in its report claimed that the registrar ignored a query it issued her.
According to the report of the committee sighted by newsmen, the registrar dismissed the query by stating: “The tone of the letter was arrogant”
The investigative committee further reported: “All contractors of NABTEB have not performed satisfactorily. This is glaring as the NABTEB has accumulated debt of over N400 million as a result of shoddy contract deals and mismanagement.
“Therefore, the contractors should not be patronised further by the Board.”
The panel reported uncovering irregularities in contract awards, stating that about N49, 779,000 was not accounted for by the registrar.
It also made recommendations to the board, including the suspension of the key management officials of the agency.
The panel also recommended that all certificates of examinations conducted by the agency must be released latest six months after the examinations.
“The backlog of certificates not released since 2013 must be released as a matter of urgency,” the panel further stated.
Mr Shilgba said the governing board considered the report of the investigative panel and adopted its recommendations at the board meeting in Benin on June 19.
It therefore issued letters of suspension to the registrar and the four officials indicted by the investigative committee report.
The suspension letter of the registrar, Mrs Abanihe,partly read:
“The committee submitted its report at the first regular meeting of the Governing Board on Tuesday, June 19, 2018, which was given to you.
“After deliberation on the report, you, the Registrar of NABTEB, was asked to respond to the findings of the committee. Your defence was, ‘I apologise’, which is not an admissible defence under the Public Service Rule”
“Accordingly, the Governing Board unanimously approved your suspension as Registrar/Chief Executive of NABTEB, having regard to Rules 030301, 030302, 030304, 030305, 160501, and 160502 of the Public Service Rule, and recommended accordingly to the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, for further necessary action, who has since been informed together with the Permanent Secretary, Sonny Echono.”
Mr Shilgba has appealed to President Buhari to intervene in the matter.
Efforts to get a response from the federal ministry of education spokesperson, Chinyere Ihuoma, were unsuccessful as she did not respond to the text messages and calls.