By Emmanuel Enebeli
ASABA/Nigeria: The era of embezzlement and corruption activities in government circle is likely not to end as even in small groups like multi purpose cooportives stories of officials eating fat, while the contributors suffer untold hardship before they could withdraw from their savings.
An investigation by an online paper, www.advocateng. com have revealed how some officials of the Delta State Government connived with the fraudulent executive committee of the Delta State Hospital Management Board Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society II (HMBMPCSII) to embezzle over N2.5bn of savings belonging to the workers thereby sending many to their early graves.
The workers who are in the employment of the State Hospital Management Board were coaxed into enlisting in the cooperative through the thrift scheme referred to as Health Workers Cooperative Savings.
Subscriptions by the workers into the scheme, are deducted monthly from their salaries at source by the state government through the Hospital Management Board and remitted to the Cooperative Society.
Advocate gathered that the intention of the scheme is to help workers save for their retirement and also build up funds for special projects, which they could access through soft loans with minimal interest rate spread between one to three years.
Upon attaining a certain amount of savings in the scheme, the workers are entitled to a 300percentage loan of his/her savings, which will subsequently be paid back monthly from their salary until loan is paid in full.
Unfortunately, for the workers who enlisted in the HMBMPCSII, this has not been the case as a result of a 2011 leadership crisis between the then Chairman, Mr. Nwanze Lawrence and Treasurer, Mrs. Onyenekunum Gladys that rocked the executive of the cooperative.
Leadership crisis and holding on to power illegally
Shedding light on the impasse bedeviling the cooperative, a member of the cooperative, Mr. Aggerh Isaac Aaron while speaking to Advocateng.com on the crisis bedeviling the cooperative, attributed it to power tussle amongst the leadership and the stay-tight syndrome of those charged to run the cooperative.
According to him, the Nwanze Lawrence-led executives who were elected to spend two years, stayed more than two years with the excuse that they are having a lingering court case.
“We don’t know who took them to court or whatever, but they were supposed to spend two years in office, and conduct an Annual General Meeting to determine their re-election or the election of a new executive, but they failed to hold the meeting and ended up spending about 4 to 5years in office,” Aggreh stated.
Speaking further, he said: “After 5 years our board members (organizers), DHMB, the Chairman of the board, heard our complain, forced Mrs. Onyenekunum Gladys to resign and hand over everything relating to the cooperative to this present executive, the lady refused and along the line, brought in the police to threaten them in the board which led to her sack; she was sacked from the Cooperative.
“This present executive which was suppose to spend six months has spent up to two years in office, yet they have not conducted AGM, neither have they given any statement of account of how the cooperative is faring.
“If you want to withdraw your membership, they will not stop deduction and if you write the HMB on the need to cease such deductions, the letter will not be attended to and this is how it has been for some months now.
“Of recent, news came that they have started paying dividends with some persons getting N2000 while others are getting N6000 for people who have over N2million in their savings, we don’t know the criteria of the payment and this has become a problem for us.
“Secondly, people who are retiring are not being paid anything. When complaints are made to the executives, they will be referred to the previous executives stating that they (current executives) do not have their records. Members of the scheme are bitter and no one is enjoying it any more.
“Presently, there is no account or whatever concerning the cooperative while the executive members are busy receiving cheques of about N40million every month as monthly subscriptions from our salaries.”
On measures being taken so far, he said: “The board decided to meet with the Permanent Secretary in the Delta State Ministry of Commerce, who is the supposed head of all Cooperatives, the meeting didn’t yield any positive outcome because there was no account or anything or whatever about the Cooperative, rather it was the issue of dividend that was being said.
“The main problem now is how to withdraw our membership, since they will not stop deduction even when you withdraw from the scheme and the court cannot really do anything since the cooperative is a free will organization and the law of the cooperative supersedes any court injunction. It is the duty of the Permanent Secretary to do something about it, but now, no positive respond and this has become our predicament.”
The main problem now is how to withdraw our membership, since they will not stop deduction even when you withdraw from the scheme and the court cannot really do anything since the cooperative is a free will organization and the law of the cooperative supersedes any court injunction. It is the duty of the Permanent Secretary to do something about it, but now, no positive respond and this has become our predicament.”
Also speaking, a health retiree, Mr. Joseph Udughe lamented that having retired from service alongside several others, stressing that for the past 7 years, they have been unable to access their funds with several others reported dead as a result of frustration.
He explained that the situation is very pathetic, because the supervisory ministries are playing games with the welfare of the workers, noting that “the aim of joining cooperative is to get your money six months after retirement with your personal money deducted for such.”
Giving a background of the crisis he said: “A friend brought in Madam Gladys who later became the treasurer and ended up being the President and the Treasurer, this lead to so much corruption everywhere and she was handling everything and turned it to a family business.
“Gladys was therefore ousted from office and an interim government which was suppose to be in office for six months, was set up but they ended up staying for two years, today they are just doing anything they like with the Cooperative.
“I said it in our platform that, this is a financial crime, reportable to EFCC. So, the media should come in, the government should be aware and also the Ministry should probe the fraud going on.
How Onyenekunum connived with Govt officials to embezzle over N1.5b
Mrs Onyenekunum, then Treasurer was made a sole administrator with the alleged backing of the two Permanent Secretaries, in the Hospital Management Board and that Ministry of Commerce and Industry which is the supervising ministry for cooperative societies in the state.
Advocate further gathered that having succeeded in compromising some Directors and Permanent Secretaries, the iron lady as she was then popularly called, subsequently turned the cooperative into her personal estate having embarked on a buying spree of choice properties including petrol stations and choice properties in Asaba and its environs.
It was further learnt that Mrs Onyenekunum, with her cartel in government stopped giving loans to workers with retirees being unable to access their savings and also refuse to pay dividend for about five years while she held sway as sole administrator.
Things got to a halt when the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa-led administration appointed new Permanent Secretaries and in pursuit to the petition by some members of the cooperative, she was asked to resign, but rather than taking the path of honour, she brought in the police to harass the government officials which led to her being sacked.
To cover her tracks, a bitter Onyenekunum took with her all financial documents of the cooperative and refused to submit the account details to the caretaker committee set up to midwife the AGM, within six months and elect a new executive.
Our investigations also revealed that under her watch over N1.5b of the worker’s savings was allegedly fleeced in connivance with some top officials of Hospital Management Board and that Ministry of Commerce and Industry which also led to a subject of litigation.
All efforts to speak to Mrs Onyenekunum on her involvement were unsuccessful as she didn’t pick calls to her mobile phone or reply to messages sent to her phone line as at the time of going to press.
Azino Committee continue the fraud, fleeced over N1b
The state government in 2016 through the state Hospital Management Board and Ministry of Commerce and Industry set up a caretaker committee for the scheme headed by one Whisky Azino with a mandate to organize the AGM within six months and elect a new executive.
However, the committee rather than initiate the plans to hold AGM and elect substantives executive for the corporative society, employed under hand tactics to stay put in office with the backing of some Directors in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Azino in connivance with some top officials of the Hospital Management Board and Ministry of Commerce and Industry also continued in the ignoble paths of its predecessors, by refusing to grant loans to workers or pay those who have retired from service of their savings in the past two years plus.
Advocate gathered that the Azino-led committee since coming on board in 2016 has being getting N40m monthly as workers subscription from the Delta state government, but like the Onyenekunum-led executive, failed to give out loans or pay workers who have retired.
Our source also added that many of the workers have applied to the Hospital Management Board to stop monthly deduction from the salaries into the scheme but the compromised management board has refused to act on their letters, and all protest to the Permanent Secretary of the HMB has not yielded any result.
When Advocate contacted Mr Azino on the phone, he confirmed that the cooperative is experiencing some challenges caused by improper hand-over by the previous executive, which is making it difficult to get the true records of worker’s saving, adding that he cannot talk much on phone.
He said: “It is unfortunate sir. I won’t be able to disclose anything to you in regard to the cooperative on this platform (on phone) because I don’t know who I am talking to and who and who reported this to you? Who are the bodies that reported the issues of the Cooperative to you? If you want to find out the details about the Cooperative, we are to meet one on one, not on phone please.
“I respect your office. Whatever they have told you, might by true and might not be true. As a journalist, it is good you verify and process information before you display them. I advice please, and please, this forum is not the best place to disclose the information you need about the Cooperative, for now I cannot say anything and thank God I have your number, I will get back to you.”
However, he didn’t call back as at the time of going to press, after three days that he promised to get more details.
I have no idea of the crisis -Chika Ossai
Meanwhile, when Advocate contacted the Ministry of Trade and Investment, as the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is now been called; the Commissioner, Mr Chika Ossai and his Director of Corporative Societies, Mr Onyeapu Chukwudi, were speaking in disjointed tones.
Mr Ossai told our correspondent in a telephone interview that he is not aware of any crisis in the HMBMPCSII, a ministry he supervise and thereafter referred us to the Director of Corporative Societies, whom he says is in a better position to avail us information.
However, Mr Chukwudi when asked if he was aware of the crisis in the cooperative, disclosed that the ministry was aware of the crisis and that a caretaker committee was setup to reposition the cooperative, adding that to his knowledge the committee is doing well in managing the crisis.
According to him, “we are aware, members are aware too, because of that they step up a caretaker committee to handle the matter.”
He said in order to repair the damage caused by the immediate past management committee led by Nwazi, “we, together with the caretaker committee are looking for ways to revive the Cooperative. That is the extent to which I am aware, if there is any other development I am not aware.”
On the complains by members not being paid their retirement savings or giving out of loans to those who applied, he said; “they should complain to the present caretaker committee, and if there is no result, they should lay their complains officially, that is, writing to the ministry that everything is not phone.
“It was previous complains written by some members that made them to set up a caretaker committee to handle the matter,” adding that any other written complains, he is not aware of.