Post Views: 344 Apparently tired of waiting for an official defence to allegations of financial impropriety that did not come since October 26, the Fe...
Apparently tired of waiting for an official defence to allegations of financial impropriety that did not come since October 26, the Federal Government, on Wednesday November 29, 2017, announced the immediate suspension of Mounir Gwarzo, Director-General of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).
The suspension was on the order of Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, Finance Minister, who directed Gwarzo to immediately handover to the most senior officer at the Commission, pending the conclusion of investigation by the Administrative Panel of Inquiry (API) set up “to investigate and determine the culpability of the Director-General.”
A statement by Patricia Deworitshe, Deputy Director, Press, Federal Ministry of Finance, which also suspended “two management staff of the Commission – Mr. Abdulsalam Naif Habu, Head of Media Division and Mrs. Anastasia Omozele Braimoh, Head of Legal Department – who have been alleged to engage in financial impropriety in the Commission.”
The SEC had in an October 26, promised response to allegations contained in a petition alleging sleaze perpetrated by Gwarzo and his cronies, regarding series of creamy contracts running into billions of Naira, promised to respond.
A terse response by Abdussalam to the petition titled “How SEC Director-General Illegally Paid Self Severance Benefit, Awarded Contracts To His Companies,” at the time had insisted that the allegations were a mere rehash.
We Are Aware
The commission, he said, became aware of the allegations contained in the petition since January 2017, following its receipt, but was silent as to whether any attempt was made to debunk them, as weighty as they seem.
Abdussalam however said the commission is now putting together an official response to be issued “shortly,” even as he assured “that no relevant policy was breached.
“As a tradition, the Commission follows laid down rules and regulations in all its activities, and in this particular case.”
One of the allegations in the report was that Gwarzo, until his appointment to replace Ms. Arunma Oteh, was Executive Commissioner, paid himself, against professional advice, N104.8m as severance package from a position he occupied for two years and four months, in “contravention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC Act), the Criminal Code Act and the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.”
Also, soon after assuming office in 2015, he allegedly spent N2bn on staff who voluntarily disengaged from the commission, a move that was meant to lower the commission’s overhead costs. The expenditure was however not captured the commission’s approved budget for that year, even as he soon began to hire replacements without advertising the vacancies.
The SEC DG, it is further alleged, received about N6m from the commission as payment for business class air ticket fare to travel to Hong Kong to attend the International Organizations of Securities Commission (IOSCO) Board meetings in October last year. This was in disregard of an April 2016 Federal Government directive (Vide Circular Ref. No. SGF. 6/S.2/X/545 of March 31, 2016), which explicitly states that all Chief Executives, Directors-General and other officials of similar ranks in Federal Government parastatals and agencies must undertake local and international travels in economy class.
The petition alleged, for example, that on May 26 2015, four days after receiving his letter of appointment, Mr. Gwarzo requested that he be paid the sum of N104.8 million as severance package in respect of the end of his appointment as Executive Commissioner, a position he occupied for two years and four months.
The request, made via a memo dated May 26, 2015, was referred to Mr. Chukwuogor Frana, acting Head of the commission’s Legal Department, for consideration and advice. Responding in a memo dated May 27 2015, Mr. Frana advised against honoring the request made by Mr. Gwarzo, arguing that the fact that he remains in the employ of SEC disentitles him to a severance package.
Citing an extract of the SEC Board meeting held on July 11 2002, Mr. Gwarzo had argued that he was entitled to a severance package.
While offering advice matter, Mr. Frana wrote: “The extract, however, does not contain the term ‘severance benefits.’ Therefore, to give an opinion on this matter, it is impossible to determine the purpose and scope/application of this extract.”
Mr. Frana also drew attention to the fact that opening line of the extract relied on by Mr. Gwarzo simply stated that the SEC management made submissions for the payment of retirement/resignation benefits to political appointees. He argued that while the policy specifies political appointees as Director-General and full-time commissioners, the words “resignation and retirement” appear to restrict the circumstances in which certain categories of persons could benefit from the policy.
The acting Head of the Legal Department argued that “retirement” refers to the expiration of the statutory tenures of beneficiaries, while resignation connotes the termination of services with the commission on account of resignation or other circumstances before the expiration of the stipulated statutory tenure.
“The usage of the terms, “resignation and retirement” can be interpreted to mean that the policy contemplates/assumes that the beneficiary has completed his or her service and has completely disengaged from the commission. Due consideration should, however, be given to the peculiarities of the appointment of the Director-General before the expiration of his term as Executive Commissioner. It is for this specific reason, therefore, that the Human Resources Department will need to provide the proper heading/articulation of the unique circumstances presented by the appointment. This is important because the use of the heading “Severance Benefits” in the payment request indicates that the beneficiary has left or is leaving the services of the commission through retirement or other contemplated ways,” Mr. Frana wrote.
Despite the advice, the severance package requested by Mr. Gwarzo was paid by SEC into Mr. Gwarzo’s Guaranty Trust Bank account (0023868895). The fraudulent receipt of the sum it is believed, amounts to earning wealth illegally, an action in contravention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC Act), the Criminal Code Act and the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
The DG also allegedly cornered contracts for himself, his family and other directors of the commission, who have interests in various companies to which contracts are routinely awarded.
A major beneficiary of contract awards, documents showed, is Outbound Investment Limited (RC No. 807317), which according to a search at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) showed that Mr. Gwarzo and his two brothers in-law, Messrs. Suleiman Mustapha and Kaloma Dahiru Mustapha, are the directors. The company has also exclusively supplied diesel to SEC since the DG assumed office, beside supplying air conditioners to SEC’s zonal office in Lagos and refrigerators to the commission. Payments for jobs awarded to the company by SEC are allegedly made into its account (Number 1016723428) domiciled at the United Bank for Africa. Sources at the commission also disclosed that the company has executed numerous other contracts awarded by SEC.
Also creaming off at the commission, according to the allegation first reported by Sahara Reporters, is Medusa Investments Limited (RC No.326829), where CAC documents also showed that Mr.Gwarzo is a director along with his wife, Khadija Mustapher. The SEC D-G is also a signatory to the company’s Guaranty Trust account (No. 0023953920).
Another vehicle through which the Gwarzos are illegally amassing wealth is Northwind Environmental Services (Registration No. BN 2389176), which was registered in February 2016. A search at the CAC revealed the proprietor as Mr. Haris Haliru Gwarzo, younger brother to the SEC D-G.
Northwind is the sole provider of cleaning services to the commission’s zonal office in Kano since Mr. Gwarzo assumed office in addition to a variety of other contracts. The company gets paid for jobs executed through its account (No. 0095179297) held at Diamond Bank Plc.
Mr. Gwarzo’s personal interest in the identified companies is a clear contravention of the regulation, which explicitly prohibits public officers from being in situations that bring their personal interest into conflict with their public duties. Also, the use of the companies as suppliers to the commission, said government sources, amounts to earning wealth illegally and contravenes the EFCC Act as well as the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
Sources informed SaharaReporters that the DG is not the only SEC top shot having fun at the commission’s expense. Mr. Gwarzo has also erected a structure of gratification for his favorite staff in the commission by allowing them to companies that bid for contracts in the commission. Among these are Micro-Technologies Limited (RC No. 17305) and Tida International Limited (RC No. 26414).
Searches at the CAC revealed Mrs. Anastasia Omozele Braimoh, Head of SEC’s Legal Department, and her husband, Mr. Samuel Onimisi Braimoh, as the only directors of the company. The company has, since Mr. Gwarzo became DG, documents showed, executed numerous contracts, including for the supply of projectors and facilitation of staff training programs. Tida International has been similarly favored. SaharaReporters’ investigations at the CAC showed the directors as Mr. Abdulsalam H. Naif, SEC’s Head of Media Department, and his siblings and other members of his family. They include Abdusalam Habu, Abdusalam Jamai, Abdusalam Fuad, Abdusalam Alwan, Abdusalam Amar and Abdusalam Zawad. The company has been a major supplier of office equipment to the commission, in addition to numerous other meaty contracts since Mr. Gwarzo assumed office.
Other beneficiaries of Mr. Gwarzo dodgy kindness are his friends for whom other suppliers are overlooked in the commission’s wonky tender process. Mr. Gwarzo, said sources, also takes kick-backs from his supplier friends when the commission pays them for contracts executed. Kick-backs, disclosed sources, are paid into the account (No. 0023953920) of Medusa Investments Limited at Guaranty Trust Bank. The DG, investigations showed is a director of Medusa Investments Limited.
Companies in this category include Outlook Communication, which has Messrs. Ahmed Mohammad Jamila, Yahaya Karami Haulatu and Aisha Ahmad Aisha as directors. The company has benefited from a steady stream of contracts including publishing and media consultancy from SEC under Mr. Gwarzo. The company is paid for jobs executed through its account with Jaiz Bank (No. 0000642716).
Another sweetheart of Mr. Gwarzo is Acromac Nigeria Limited (RC No. 10687864), whose directors are Messrs. Abdulahi Dahiru, Mahmud Dahiru Barkindo and Nura Ali Rano.
With Mr. Gwarzo at the helm, Acromac has constantly received patronage through the execution of contracts, including the supply of photocopiers, office furniture and other office items to the Nigerian Capital Market Institute (NCMI), a subsidiary of SEC. Documents show that payments to the company are made through the company’s account (No.1013495360) with Zenith Bank. Yet another favorite of Mr. Gwarzo is Balfort International Investment Limited (RC No.109153). Its directors, SaharaReporters according to SaharaReporters findings are Messrs. Dahiru Abdullahi, Ali Nura Rano and Dahiru Halima Bello. The company is a major supplier of office items to SEC and the NCMI in addition to various other jobs it regularly gets. It is paid through its Zenith Bank account (No. 1013495377). Equally favored by the SEC DG is Interactive Worldwide Nigeria Limited (RC No. 779442), which has Messrs. Tukur Umar, Saratus Abubakar Sadiq and Uzoma Nwakuche as directors. The company has maintained a hold on contracts awarded for the fumigation of the SEC head office, NCMI and the Lagos Zonal Office in addition to many others.
The DG’s catalogue of misdeeds also contains activities carried out to siphon public funds. One of his preferred ways is the use of the commission’s annual staff training line his pockets and those of his friends. SEC sources told SaharaReporters that before the DG assumed office, SEC regularly paid between N60,000 and N150,000 on each staff to top-tier training institutions such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), Financial Institutions Training Centre (FITC), Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Lagos Business School (LBS) and the Centre for Management Development (CMD) to provide training for staff of the commission.
Curiously, under Mr. Gwarzo, SEC began paying amounts that range between N700,000 to N780,000 on each staff. The sums, sources added, are paid to quack training firms run by Mr. Gwarzo’s friends and associates. Some, added insiders, impersonate reputable foreign training organizations.
“The training institutions are evidently owned and managed by Nigerians and run locally. This unfortunately led to poor quality training programmes for the commission’s staff, which implies that SEC paid much higher for lower quality,” explained a source.