• 1,000 Vacancies Sold For N300m
• 30% Prisons’ Staff With Fake Certificates
• N50m Used For Cgp’s Cars
• Firs Fumes Over Non-Remittance Of Taxes
The Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS)’s pivotal role in the administration of Nigeria’s Justice System is seriously being threatened. Musa Simon Reef and Nsa Cobham report on alleged corrupt practices currently ripping the Service apart
The Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) is certainly in dire need of reforms if the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration must achieve its cherished dream of effectively halting corruption in the polity. Presently, the NPS has become an anathema of a sort, with various allegations of financial improprieties and job sales to desperate applicants who will stop at nothing to secure employment in the Service.
The stench of nauseating fraudulent practices, according to insiders, did not start with the current management led by the Controller General of Prisons, Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu. It is an age-long practice that has enriched the top brass of the service and impoverished the rank and file. A competent source at the NPS told Forefront that a cabal, presently holds sway in the Service, hijacking the employment exercise and turning it into a commercial venture beneficial to an exclusive few. “The corruption in prisons is as old as the service itself. But there has never been a time the level of sleaze rose to an unbearable scale than in the last one year or so,” the source lamented. Concerned staff of the Prisons are alleging that most appalling is a situation where the recruitment/replacement exercise embarked on by the Service from 2014 only provided a goldmine for this privileged cabal that turned the entire exercise into a money-spinning venture. It was reliably gathered that for each employment letter issued to desperate candidates, the cabal demanded and got the sum of N300,000 (Three Hundred Thousand Naira). In their quest to make quick and free money, the cabal never cared if the new recruits were physically fit or not, as extant recruitment guidelines were completely ignored. “To avoid prying eyes, these newly recruited prisons workers were assigned to stations outside the NPS headquarters in Abuja. In one of the state commands, a newly recruited staff was delivered of a bouncing baby. The event caused a lot of consternation, with tongues wagging from various quarters as to how and why a pregnant woman qualified for the prisons’ job, when many able-bodied were turned away over their inability to pay the so-called ‘endorsement fees’. “The job scam episode is very disheartening and confirms why the NPS must undergo immediate surgery and thorough overhauling if the country must boast of an effective and time-tested justice system. Most worrisome is that letters of employment fraudulently issued to applicants were backdated to 2012. With these letters issued in 2014 and 2015, what happened to the backlog of salaries for the new staff?”, queried the source. This magazine was shown a copy of a letter of employment issued to an applicant and backdated to May 2012. While disclosing on condition of anonymity that he was forced to cough out N280, 000 for the job, the newly recruited staff was yet to be issued a letter of posting as at January 2016 ending. Another source close to the Prisons’ management hinted that in the recent past, there have been issues with the existence of a cabal, which specialises in issuing fake letters of employment to desperate applicants, adding that the management has been hard pressed tackling the menace of such undesirable elements. Closely knitted with the job scam is an in-house report that discovered over 30 percent of Nigerian Prisons’ workers have forged certificates and results from different institutions. Insiders revealed the then Acting CGP, Aminu Sule, had set up zonal committees to probe the genuineness of academic qualifications tendered by prisons workers. The Committee’s finding was shocking as over 30 percent of prisons staff was found to be using fake academic results. “The result of the academic verification exercise carried out in the various geo-political zones brought out shocking revelations on forged academic papers among the workers. Interestingly, the present CGP headed the Committee that verified academic results from the South-east geo-political zone. In short, the administrative report did threw-up the Prisons as an abode for academic fraudsters. Some concerned staff would readily tell you that the NPS may have become a safe haven for Nigerians parading phony and dubious educational qualifications. “Just when the Acting CGP Sule was about implementing the Committee’s recommendations, the then President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Ekpendu as the CGP and he quickly swept the report under the carpet. Since then, nothing has been heard about the entire exercise that cost the Service millions of Naira to execute,” one top official confirmed. Similarly, another source explained that, “The increased cases of forged results among prisons staff is due to high level of manipulations and ambitious moves by some officers to gain accelerated promotions. It is now a practice by Staff, who claimed to have acquired additional academic qualifications, to present same and be accorded promotion above their senior colleagues without such claims being verified by the authorities. This is already breeding indiscipline within the Service, as some workers now depend on godfathers in the system to gain speedy promotions over and above their superiors in the Service.” Furthermore, some concerned staff lament said the unfortunate development has led to the NPS being described as ‘House of academic frauds’ in several quarters. “If the NPS, as an integral part of the justice administration system, is burdened with fraudsters, there is no way justice administration will be smooth. So, there is need for the new Minister of Interior, General Abdulrahman Danbazzau, to quickly address this scam, among other issues ,militating against effective service delivery by the Prisons’ Service. N50m for Purchase of Cars for CGP Also, tongues are wagging over alleged use of N50 million to purchase state-of-the -art cars for the CGP who will be retiring latest June 2016. According to an insider, “Before the Minister of Interior was appointed, the Service had approved the sum of N50 million to purchase one unit of Prado Jeep; one unit of Hilux; and two units of Peugeot 607. Curiously, the newly acquired cars disappeared to an unknown destination, and have been out of sight since then. We are told the cars have been taken to the Prisons boss’ personal residence to be used after his retirement slated for mid 2016. “The controversy surrounding the purchase is the deployment of N50 million that is far above the signing authority of the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary. So, we suspect some foul play among some top officials. It is needful the new Minister probes the whereabouts of these vehicles purchased with huge public funds.” Non-Remittance of Taxes to FIRS The burden of taxation is borne by many Prisons’ staff, especially the rank and file, as they groan under the monthly stress of both pension deductions and taxations. Forefront learnt that officials from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) have visited the NPS on several occasions to engage the Service over the continuous low tax remittances. While the Prisons’ workers complain of being overtaxed, the FIRS repeatedly accused the NPS of withholding and diverting taxes deducted from staff. This magazine was shown pay slips of some Prisons workers whose pension deductions did not reflect the exact figures remitted to their pension fund managers. “We are shortchanged in pension and tax deductions by the authorities. Equally, we are paid less than what is approved by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission. From investigation, prisons staffers receive less than 20 percent of their salaries and efforts in the past to rectify the problem have come to naught due to the uncooperative attitude of the management. We only hope the new Minister will resolve the problem,” a concerned staff enthused. A management insider at NPS confirmed to this magazine that non-remittance of taxes and pension deductions are hinged on shortfall in the salaries of the workers. “In a certain month, I think June 2015, there was a shortfall of about N700 million in the salaries of the NPS. The present wage bill of the NPS is N2.7 billiom. No management will fold its arms and remit taxes without paying the workers’ salaries. Efforts must be made to ensure staffers are paid their salaries before remitting taxes and pension deductions to FIRS and pension managers,” the official explained. Sale of Prisons Properties Few months to the retirement of Ekpendu as CGP, the management has been accused of selling properties belonging to the Service at criminally low prices. Some of these properties, according to our sources, include quarters in Enugu and Kwara States. The sale of these properties has caused a ragging storm within the Service, with some officers alleged to have bought and appropriated the properties through proxies. “There is no doubt that the sale of some properties in Enugu and Kwara States has raised eyebrows and certain top shots in the NPS have benefitted from the exercise. So, most of us want the Minister to institute a probe to determine who bought what and at what price. A situation where properties of the NPS are sold at giveaway prices should be avoided in the spirit of openness and transparency in the entire process,” the source added. Other Sundry Issues of Concern Worried workers of the NPS have also raised concerns over the continuous use of a particular hotel owned by a former Prisons’ boss to host de-radicalisation seminars for members of Boko Haram. According to insiders, the use of the hotel by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) then was meant to favour the interest of the former Prisons’ boss who is a PDP stalwart. In addition, the leasing of a building within the NPS headquarters as a hotel is causing security ripples among the workers, who fear that it could be used by criminal elements to attack the NPS Headquarters. “It is on record that the managers of the hotel are not in any way connected with the NPS. Guests who patronise the hotel are not subjected to any form of security screening and lawless elements of society may easily use the facility to launch an attack. The funds that accrued from the leasing of the building are still subject of muted protest among members of the Service. Considering the problems faced by the workers in securing accommodation, the leasing of such building, initially intended to quarter Prisons officers, cannot be defended in all ramifications”, a prisons officer posited. Closely related to the above, the Prisons Service offers accommodation to its rank and file without recourse to seniority. This action, according to a senior official, has led to a breakdown of discipline among the service. It is common to find wives of junior officers engaged in scuffle with senior officers over flimsy domestic issues. The introduction of 10 percent administrative charges on contracts awarded by the Direct Contract Award section is causing a storm, with several sources alleging that the charges is for the exclusive use of the Service’s top shots. “In the last quarter of 2015, the sum of N247 million was released for the payment of contracts. Out of that money, 10 percent was introduced as administrative charges. The question is: who collects this amount and for what purpose? The Ministry of Interior should probe why the 10 percent was introduced and who has been warehousing the funds,” the source insists. More importantly, some aggrieved staff members are calling for the professionalisation of position to ensure that round pegs are put in round holes. “Some top shots are holding certain positions that do not reflect their professional callings. In a situation where someone is appointed to head the finance department without any knowledge of that field is not right. It seems now that positions are based on loyalty and not competence or merit. For the Prisons to be reformed, professionalism, merit and competence should be made to play key roles,” the workers maintained. Efforts to speak with the Public Relations Officers of the NPS, Francis Enobore, on some of the issues proved abortive. A text to his phone to give an appointment to this magazine and respond to issues was not replied three weeks ago. When a call was again put to his phone, he claimed not to have seen the pervious text and promised to send his e-mail address so that he can respond to the issues. However, he did not send his e-mail address as at the time this magazine went to press.