Minister, ICPC Wade Into Corruption Scandal In Zaria Leprosy Centre

 

National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Training Centre, Kaduna
National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Training Centre, Kaduna

Investigations show that the Principal of the Tuberculosis and Leprosy Centre in Kaduna has been stealing funds meant for staff and patients


By Augustine Agbo

The Minister of Health Isaac Adewole, has ordered a probe into the operations of the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Training Centre, NTBLTC, following allegations of financial misconduct against its management.

The minister’s action is a sequel to several months of allegations, counter allegations and building tension in the institution,culminating in an investigation launched by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences commission, ICPC.

The ICPC office in Kaduna confirmed the investigation and disclosed that several officials of the referral hospital had already been questioned.

Operations at the NTBLTC have been threatened for months by growing tension over allegations of gross financial mismanagement of funds and lopsided recruitment by the principal of the Centre.

The Principal, Shehu Labaran, a deputy director in the Public Health Department of the Federal Ministry of Health is battling for survival after staff of the hospital raised a red flag over his handling of finances, including the sum of N155, 622, 325 released to the hospital on July 20, 2015 from the Budget Office of the Federation.

According to a document from the Budget Office approved by Stella Toluwase, the Centre was given the said sum as payment of arrears for year 2013.

By the approval, according to the document, N137, 871,508 was meant for salaries, N13, 448,113 for pension and N4, 482,704 for the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS.

Things got out of control when staff of the hospital did not get the expected payment as workers claimed that only about N10 million was expended by the principal on salary arrears and that the management has diverted the balance.

The main nominal roll of the facility obtained by the icirnigeria.org shows that the hospital has 285 staff, with 108 of these between grade level 07 and 16 and 177 between grade levels 02 and 06.

Patients at the hospital
Patients at the hospital

As at the time our reporter visited the hospital in Zaria, the Centre had recruited more staff, personally handled by the Principal, pushing the number of personnel to over 500 and giving rise to another round of tension and suspicion of the management of the federal government owned hospital.

The past few weeks have seen series of allegations, internal fighting and bickering among staff of the Centre resulting in a petition against the principal who has also been accused of polarizing the hospital along ethnic, religious and regional lines.

In the petition written to the ICPC, the principal was also accused of running the federal government institution more like a personal empire than a public institution because the facility has no governing board.

For example, it is alleged that Labaran runs the hospital’s finances using his own personal account, while he also uses his personal email address to send official correspondences.

It is alleged that while those recently recruited into the hospital’s workforce have not resumed work, salary accounts number have already been generated for them at the United Bank For Africa, UBA, Zaria Branch and monies paid to them.

This, it is alleged, is a case of paying salaries to ghost workers.

Our reporter obtained a list of bank account numbers of staff of the hospital purportedly from UBA. The list has 100 numbers; 1 to 70 and 86 to 92 with names, while 71 to 85 as well as 93 to 100 are without names.

Only the principal was said to know the number of the new recruits who are so far employed by the hospital.

Another allegation is that financial mismanagement has led to a situation whereby the hospital cannot feed patients in its wards.

Other patiencts at the hospital

A staff of the Centre told our reporter that patients’ feeding has been cut from three meals a day to two.

“Before they get three but now due to the situation, it’s been cut to lunch and dinner only”, he said.

The situation has also attracted the attention of the ICPC, which this website can confirm has been quizzing some key officials of the Centre in the past few weeks after it got a petition.

As at the time our reporter visited the Centre in December 2016, the Account Officer and the Admin Officer were seen heading for ICPC’s Zonal office in Kaduna for questioning.

How Principal Labaran soiled his hands

Independent investigations by the icirnigeria.org showed that Labaran had, indeed, been dipping his hands in the hospital’s kitty, to the detriment of patients.

Searches at the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, revealed that Sambex Integrated Limited, a company that got several contracts from the hospital is registered, owned and managed by Labaran. The company has another director, Samuel Olugbemiro, who fronts for the hospital boss.

Invariably, the principal fraudulently awarded contracts to himself.

Interestingly, Labaran had been awarding contracts to Sambex Integrated even before he registered the company in January 2017 as documents obtained from the hospital showed that in 2012, the company got a total of about N14.1 million for various jobs in the hospital directly paid by the principal.

The CAC search also showed that another company, Sambex Farm, with Olugbemiro as the sole owner, was awarded contracts for the new Hematology laboratory recently completed with over N60 million allegedly remitted to the firm out of the N120 million contract sum.

Sambex Farms, according to findings, renders catering services including feeding of TB, TB/HIV, Multi Drugs Resistance-TB (MDR-TB) and Leprosy patients.

Workers in the hospital allege that the contractor has not been delivering on the food contract it got.

It was discovered that Labaran also awarded contracts to an unregistered company, Salley Zee Enterprise, contrary to civil service regulations. Another senior management staff member owns the company, according to sources in the hospital.

It was gathered that the Centre ran into trouble in 2015 after one of its main support organisation, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria, IHVN, was angered by the discovery of fake receipts to the tune of N3.5m claimed to have been used for the feeding of 20 MDR TB patients. It was later discovered that only nine patients were being fed.

Further investigations by this website revealed that the new Chemistry and Haematology laboratory had no new equipment although monies were appropriate for equipping it.

It is alleged that to appease visiting officials of the Ministry of Health from Abuja, the principal hired medical equipment from Kano to be brought to the main Lab Store.

The principal was said to have taken the visiting officials to the Monocular Laboratory unit and showed them the equipment there claiming they were meant for the new lab.

On such guided tours of the facility, no other staff member is allowed to accompany him, it is alleged.

Investigations by the icirnigeria.org revealed that the hospital is unable to restock its pharmacy because suppliers who are being owned are drawing back their supplies.

This has affected prescription to patients of normal across – the counter – drugs supplied by local dealers.

However, it was found that the highly specialised drugs for Tuberculosis, Leprosy and HIV/AIDS treatments have remained in good supplies because they come from the Global Fund organisations which are strategic partners to the Centre.

The NTLTC is supported by IHVN and Global Fund, which also include the federal Ministry of Health, Netherlands Leprosy Relief and a host of other donor organisations in the fight against Tuberculosis and Leprosy.

In the wards toured by our reporter, patients confirmed the cut in their daily feeding from three to two meals a day. Also affected are the special patients tagged ‘Multi Drugs Resistant Tuberculosis, MDR, patients who are placed on sophisticated drugs.

It’s all vendetta – Labaran

The embattled principal, who vehemently denied all allegations levelled against him, claimed it was all a scheme to unseat him.

When our reporter met him in December last year, Labaran declined being interviewed “until I am done with ICPC.”

He denied claim that his patients get only two meals a day even though the patients had earlier confirmed that.

He said his troubles started after he declined some of the request of some staff members who wanted him to employ their candidates who are not qualified to work in the hospital.

“It is just a vendetta against me, I came in with good intention even as employment has not been done in this place for 13 years.

“The staff I employed are not from my state – Borno. They are mainly from this area. I employed 202 junior and 33 senior staff awaiting confirmation.

“Some of the staff I gave slots wanted more and since I refused them, they now gang up against me raising all sorts of allegations”, he stated.

According to Labaran, the nominal role for salary with the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information Systems, IPPIS, for NTBLTC is 565 even though the number of old and new staff based on document seen is less than 500.

He didn’t give any specific figure of the old staff of the Centre but staff members say they are not more than 196 personnel currently in the employment of the hospital.

On why the Centre should have so many workers at this time when payment of salaries is a thorny issue for government, Labaran said that the newly constructed Primary Healthcare Centre, PHC, located within the premises of the hospital is to absorb the new entrants.

He claimed he built the Centre, but workers say the PHC was constructed by the federal Ministry of Health, which will also provide the basic staff.

The principal also claimed that the Ministry of Health gave him all waivers in the recruitment process including advertisements.

However, the documents obtained by our reporter were signed in 2014 by Ali Pate, a former Minister of State for Health in the last administration.

The documents revealed that the waivers the Centre got officially elapsed in 2014.

On the allegation of running the Centre with personal accounts, the principal denied the allegations but staff members were quick to provide an employment letter issued by Labaran on December 2, 2015 and sent from his personal e-mail address as against the official email of the Centre.

“This is just one example on how the Principal runs this Centre like a personal business where he hires and fires at will and transfer money using his personal accounts”, another staff alleged.

It was also alleged that he remains the only signatory to the hospital bank accounts, which gives him unfettered access to public funds.

Records from the 2014 Appropriation Act shows that the federal Ministry of Health was allocated the sum of N264.5 billion for the 2014 fiscal year out of which the NTBLTC got the sum of N605.5 million.

The Centre was allocated N453.6 million out of the ministry’s N259.7 billion for 2015 and in 2016 the Centre was allocated N517.8 million out the N257.4 billion respectively.

There is no clear record available to this website on actual releases to the Centre in the last three years but while defending himself, Labaran revealed that he has about N252 million unreleased funds from between 2015 and 2016 budgets which he has been working hard to access.

On the equipping of the new laboratory from which he was accused of siphoning N60 million, the principal did not come forth with explanations but only denied taking any money from the project

He also stated that it cost about N24 million monthly to settle salaries for the staff currently at the Centre and N1.3 million for the payment of Youth Corps members and students on Industrial Attachment. “It cost the Centre over N1 million to power the hospital monthly,” Labaran added.

In getting his deals perfected, the Principal has been accused of conniving with his superiors in the ministry of Health in Abuja and top government functionaries in the Budget Office, Office of Accountant General of the Federation and the National Assembly.

Labaran is said to be perpetually in Abuja, settling government officials so that they do not pry into the operations of the Centre.

A worker at the hospital said that Labaran, contrary to civil service regulations, has remained in the position of deputy director for more than a decade, refusing to go for promotion examination, so that he would not be transferred from the hospital.

But the embattled principal said his visits to Abuja were for the good of the Centre, claiming those who are complaining are only being mischievous and planning his downfall.

When our reporter contacted the Federal Civil Service Commission, FCSC, and the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, OHSF, for comment, the former simply told him that it knows nothing about the recruitment and that it only deals with ministries and not a unit or departments.

But the director of communication in the OHSF, Haruna Imrana, said his office could only react only if it gets communication from the Ministry of Health.

He referred our reporter to the ministry, saying that all waivers for recruitment into NTBLTC must come from the parent ministry.

The director, Media and Public Relations in the Office of the Minister of Health, Boade Akinola, who had no knowledge of the development in Zaria quickly informed her boss, the minister of Health, Issac Adewole.

Akinola informed our reporter that the minister immediately ordered the Permanent Secretary of the ministry to commence investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, when the icirnigeria.org contacted the Zonal office of ICPC in Kaduna, a staff of the commission acknowledged receiving a petition against the principal and that investigations had commenced while some members of staff had been questioned.

Since the petition got into the hands of the anti-graft agency, the Centre has been thrown into confusion, with a battle line drawn between the embattled principal and the aggrieved staff.

In all this, it is the patients, for which the Centre was set up, who are suffering.

The TB and Leprosy Centre in Zaria remains Nigeria’s foremost hospital for the treatment of the contagious diseases and it equipped with highly sophisticated equipment that require the best of hands to manage.

The hospital receives samples from all parts of the country for analysis and many workers in the facility observed that the authorities must deal with the matter as quick as possible to avoid operations coming to a halt.

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