By Adeola Oladele
His friends and family members placed advertorials in some national newspapers at the weekend congratulating him on his 60th birthday, which they said coincided with his retirement from the public service.
Though Mr. Jonah Otunla could be said to have retired from office as Accountant-General of the Federation, but WESTERN POST can reveal that the retirement came on the heels of allegations trailing him in office as AGF.
Otunla ought to have retired a couple of years ago because when he was appointed as AGF on June 28, 2011, he had just one and a half years left to retire. But he was given the sack on Friday by President Muhammadu Buhari who appointed the Director, Funds Department in the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Dikwa, as acting AGF.
Some of the allegations trailing Otunla, according to WP investigations, included the manner of his appointment as AGF and the N2.5 billion security agencies’ funds alleged to have been misappropriated by him.
Otunla was appointed AGF from the Ministry of Education where he was Director of Finance and Admin. Former Head of Service of the Federation, Prof. Afolabi, who worked with as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, was said to have influenced his appointment.
According to sources, 43 Directors of Finance in federal ministries wrote the qualifying examination for appointment as AGF following which the number was weeded down to 10.
The exams included written and oral interviews on computer appreciation and analytical applications.
Otunla was said to have been placed ninth out of the 10 candidates finally shortlisted for the job, but nonetheless, he was given the job following the intervention of Prof. Afolabi.
WESTERN POST sources, however, said the bigger allegation is in respect of the N2.5 billion of Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPS), which was domiciled in the AGF’s office.
Under the system, the names of serving and ex-civil servants were to be computerised and their payments done through their bank accounts.
It was learnt that the process that was supposed to be completed in less than a year took longer period and in the process many were not paid.
The AGF Office confirmed the removal of Otunla from Oyo State as AGF and the appointment of Dikwa as acting AGF in a statement late on Friday.
In the statement, the Office of the AGF said President Muhammadu Buhari approved the change, which takes effect immediately.
The statement did not say why Otunla was being removed. But WESTERN POST sources said it might not have been unconnected with N2.5 billion of security agencies’ funds alleged to have been misappropriated by him.
For instance, the AGF was alleged, sometime ago, to have withheld death benefits for families of dead Department of State Security Service (DSS) officials and some civil servants
Some families of members of DSS who lost their lives while fighting insurgencies across the country in 2013 up to date were ruled out of compensation as the OAGF allegedly withheld death benefits that are due to them.
The compensation is the annual premium due to the insurance companies handling the group life assurance scheme for civil and public servants.
Under the scheme, which kicked off in 2008, government was expected to pay the premium annually to the insurance companies who will then pay death benefits to the families of the policy holders that die within a particular year.
2013 budget allocation to compensate families of those that died that same year had been approved for payment since June 2014 but it is still being withheld at the OAGF.
Other paramilitary bodies affected included the Nigerian Custom Services, Nigerian Immigration Services, Nigeria Prison Services, Fire Services, and the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency NDLEA.
The Ministries of Power and Works are also affected.
A source in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) said the insurance companies handling the police and the military had to offer between N10 and N30 million to the officials in the OAGF before payments were made to them in December and March 2014.
He observed that members of the intelligence community were not being encouraged to put in their best with this act of the government.
“It is not worth dying for the country if the families left behind by the officials of the above agencies are not being cared for,” he said.
Findings at Budget Office
Findings at the Budget Office show the OAGF was acting in defiance of the Authority to Incur Expenditure (AIE) issued by the former Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The former minister had issued Authority to Incur Expenses (AIE) to the OAGF since June 2013 to pay the insurance premium for the group life assurance cover procured by the federal government for workers in these agencies.
Some SSS officials were killed in Abuja while trying to prevent a jailbreak by the members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect.
The implication of the non-payment of the insurance premium for these staff is that, their families and the families of other civil and public servants that were killed in 2013 would not be able to collect their death benefits.
This goes to show that the federal government has no regard for lives of those that have decided to safeguard and protect the sovereignty of the country.
The Federal government in 2008, started group life assurance scheme under which it procures life assurance cover for its workers.
Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, which is co-ordinate the scheme, ensures that premium for the workers’ life assurance cover is included in the annual budgets.
According to WP investigation, the insurance premium for the workers that were insured for the 2013 policy was approved for payment in June but was paid by the AGF in December after several pleas.
The insurance companies handling the police and some ministries got payment in December while the insurers of the members of the intelligence community, paramilitary agencies, and workers in ministries of Power and Works could not be paid due to errors in their bank’s account details.
The money, it was gathered, reverted to the federal government accounts in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
One of the insurance companies affected told WP that all efforts to retrieve the money from the AGF since December had been in vain.
“We have intimated the Budget Office about the development and had since submitted the correct account details,” a manager in one of the insurance companies said.
He stated that the AGF on January 23, 2013 wrote to the Budget Office for the new account details of the affected insurance companies and which the Budget Office sent via a letter on January 27.
“We thought things would be sorted out with the correspondences between the two offices but it was not to be as the money is still with the AGF till today”.
The insurers and the families of the dead workers, according to him, are worried because the AGF had in one of their several discussions disclosed that the money would not be paid again after March 31, 2014.
The Federal Government had drawn curtain on award of contracts under the 2013 budget in September while all the unspent allocation of the 2013 budget would have reverted to the treasury by April 1.
This development pressured one of the insurers, Arm Life Plc, who handled the ministries of Works and Power to which N65.7million insurance premium is due, to write the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, seeking the intervention of E.O Oyemomi, the Permanent Secretary, CMO in the issue.
The letter dated January 24, 2014 and titled “Non-Payment of Premium on the Group Life Assurance Scheme of Federal Ministry of Works and Ministry of Power (HOS),” drew the attention of the permanent secretary to the refusal of the AGF to pay the premium for the 2013/2014 assurance scheme.
“We write to remind you that we are yet to receive the group life premium for the year 2013/2014 renewal on the above two schemes that we are leading on.
“However, it is pertinent to let you know that a month has gone by when the disbursements of premium were made to other lead underwriters on other Head of Service accounts.
“In this wise, we implore you to please use your good office to facilitate the payment of the premium to us as we do not want to flout the position of the guideline of our supervisory body (NAICOM) on the “No Premium No Cover”.
Arm Life Plc sent similar letter signed by Bowale Olanrewaju, Head, Public Sector Unit and Julius Araga, Head, Compliance Unit to the regulator, NAICOM titled “Unremitted Renewal premium on Federal ministry of Power and Federal Ministry of Works”.
“We wish to seek your intervention on the above named ministries under the Head of Service (HOS) unified scheme that we are leading on, and for which we are yet to receive their premiums despite the fact that all other underwriters have received theirs on the 24th December , 2013”.
“We were made to understand at the office of the Head of service that there were errors in the account details and name supplied from the office of the accountant general of the federation (federal ministry of finance) when our premium was to be paid to us. We had since then been making concerted efforts on getting the premium paid but to no avail as at date”.
In view of the above, our major concern now is how the continuous delay of the payment would not distort the effective date of December 24, 2013 as agreed by the underwriters on the unified scheme under the Head of Service. We therefore seek your advice on how this delay can be handled without flouting the “No Premium No Cover” guideline.
Following up on the Arm Life Plc complaints, NAICOM wrote the AGF seeking the payment of the premium to the company and the Industrial and General Insurance Company, who is the insurer of SSS and paramilitary agencies.
In the letter referenced NAICOM/AGOF/CFI/HOSGLA/037 and signed by its deputy insurance commissioner, George Onekhena, the commission noted that the Budget office of the Federation informed it that funds allocated for premiums under the 2013 budget was duly released and had not been withdrawn.
In the letter titled “Unremitted Premium In Respect of the Group Life Assurance Cover for Employees of the Federal Government”, the NAICOM stated that “whilst other companies were paid on the 24th of December, 2013, as part of public service-wide scheme, the payments due to the companies-IGI and Arm Life Plc were not successful due to errors in the account numbers presented to your office. We are aware that these companies promptly amended the details and advised your office accordingly”.
NAICOM’s noted further that “if the premium remains unpaid, employees in these agencies will be uninsured, thus death benefits will not be paid by insurers”.
The regulatory body drew the AGF’s attention to a similar scenario that occurred in 2013 and how it had resulted in a huge un-budgeted liability for the government, and which has not been addressed yet.
The implication of the continued withhold of the premium, according to NAICOM, “The armed forces and the intelligence community are affected and the national security implications in view of the effect on the morale of personnel in these agencies cannot be over-emphasized”.
Otunla had been linked with many choice properties in and around the South-west particularly Ibadan, which included Ventura Mall.
Otunla was born on 12th June, 1955.
He attended Baptist High School, Saki, Oyo State, where he had his basic education between 1968 and 1972. He obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Sciences from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1979.
Otunla qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1986 and also became a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria in 1998.
He began his working career in Lever Brothers PLC (now Unilever PLC) in August 1980 and rose to become the Financial Accountant in 1987.
He then joined the World Bank Assisted Oyo State Agricultural Development Programme in 1989 as the Chief Internal Auditor and later became the Director of Finance.
He was thereafter appointed the Accountant General of the Oyo State in June 1989, a position he held till March 2004, before he transferred his services to the Federal Civil Service and joined the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
He thereafter served as the Director of Finance and Accounts in various Ministries and Agencies of Government namely, the National Hospital, Nigerian Immigration Service, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Education.
He was appointed the Accountant General of the Federation on 28th June, 2011.