Monday, September 16, 2013

Fresh strike may hit National Museums, soon

Fresh strike may hit National Museums, soon

…N20m burnt on Damaturu retreat, another N10m blown on 24-hr summit


The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) is on the boil again, mauricearchibongtravels can authoritatively reveal. Rarely far from controversy over the last eight years, the NCMM is an agency under Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation.

NCMM Director General, Yusuf Abdallah Usman. PHOTO: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Yusuf Abdallah Usman is Director General of the NCMM, some of whose workers have threatened to resume long-suspended strike, where lingering grievances were not addressed. It could be recalled that, for two weeks, beginning from 19 March, 2012; National Museums across the country were bogged by a strike called by the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE).

Similarly, national museums had also been shut over labour unrest in 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. In a memo, dated 3 September, 2013; members of AUPCTRE (NCMM Branch); threatened: “This union … will be forced to resume suspended strikes, if the issues … are not (expeditiously) resolved”. The labour activists have called on the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, “to, as a matter of urgency, look into the conversion of a portion of NCMM land in Jos into a filling station”.

Other issues raised by the union include “how N20 million (meant for) Amichi Project was misappropriated” as well as alleged embezzlement of N9million under the guise of furniture procurement. The AUPCTRE letter further alleged that the Usman-led NCMM leadership blew a whooping N10 million on a one-day conference involving less than 40 participants! Furthermore, another N20 million had been burnt on a different workshop that took place in Damaturu, Yobe State. The labour activists are also angry that the NCMM DG spent a further “N20 million on sensitisation programme”.

“The purported return of N248 million (unspent vote) by the headship of NCMM … (to federal treasury) in January (whereas) the total amount of money in NCMM account was N388 million” is another reason AUPCTRE members are spoiling for war. Wary of being victimised, museum workers that spoke to Travels did so on condition of anonymity.

Many of these respondents were dumb-founded by the disclosure that NCMM Management had almost N250 million unspent-vote, when basic stationery, such as typing sheet, envelops and file-jackets as well as toner for photocopiers were lacking at almost all national museums across the land. Moreover, numerous NCMM workers owed various allowances for more than two years said it was heart-rending that the Usman-led management preferred to return N248 million, while museum workers groaned under impecuniosities wrought upon them by what they described as “a wicked leadership”.

In the same vein, President of the Artefact Rescuers Association of Nigeria (ARAN), Mr. Agbo George, expressed shock that NCMM, which had been owing the body’s vendors N198 million since 2009; preferred to return unspent vote to settling its indebtedness to artefact rescuers. “The NCMM management’s refusal to pay us has encouraged antiquity flight and therefore loss of invaluable heritage objects”, George told mauricearchibongtravels during a chat in Jos. 

Lease of DG Residence at ridiculous rental

Until the relocation of NCMM headquarters from Lagos to Abuja, the Commission had an estate that served as residence for its director general. Interestingly, the compound curiosly escaped the radar during nationwide audit of Federal Government property. How the former residence of the director general of an important federal government agency could have been concealed remains a mystery.

But, what has blown into the open and now threatens to sack the entire NCMM leadership is the fact that the property was leased out under alleged dubious circumstances, and for a laughable sum. In its latest memo to the minister, AUPCTRE also claimed that the estate situate at 47 Adeola Hopewell Street in the highbrow Lagos neighbourhood of Victoria Island had been leased out for two years at a ridiculous rental of N10 million: i.e an incredibly paltry sum of N5 million per annum. Not surprisingly, insiders believe there was more to the transaction than meets the eye.

AUPCTRE insists that N24 million had actually been collected for that transaction, but NCMM leadership chose to remit N10 million to the commission’s coffers. When contacted, for clarification over what was actually paid for the 24-month lease, the NCMM Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA), Mr. Bode Oke, said he was not aware of the history of that transaction as it was never discussed at any Management meeting that he attended.

Pressed to explain how a business transaction that yielded N10 million or N24 million could have eluded him, given his office as director of finance, Mr. Oke had this to say: “My friend, you know that ordinarily, I should not speak with you, at all. I therefore advise that you contact the DG. If he directs me to speak with you, then we will get relevant files, cross-check, and then get back to you”.

Poised to return to the trenches

AUPCTRE’s latest memo also reminded the minister, that; in at least two letters, dated 13 June, 2012 and 2 July, 2012; labour had asked for “the constitution of a panel of enquiry” to look into allegations of massive fraud and corrupt practices on the part of NCMM leadership. Now, having waited more than 12 months to no avail, it might be forced to call another strike; AUPCTRE warned.

Basically, AUPCTRE’s complaints over the years revolve around the same issues. Aside from those already mentioned, there is also the matter of “Missing lion and recurrent deaths of animals at National Zoological Garden Jos”. According to the labour activists, the wave of deaths blowing through Nigeria’s only National Zoo “is as a result of malnourishment and inadequate care on the part of the Zoo manager”. AUPCTRE had also severally reiterated alarm over alleged threat to its members’ lives as well as non-payment of Transfer Allowance to deserving NCMM staffers.

One of the recent memos, entitled Corrupt Practices in NCMM: The Hon. Minister and National Assembly Dimension, dated 17 June, 2013 was jointly signed by Comrades Omonkhua Ikhuehi and Adogah A. Abdullahi; Chairman and Secretary respectively of NCMM chapter of AUPCTRE. Going by the said letter, AUPCTRE members are piqued that 12 months after the attention of the minister and members of the House Committee on Culture and Tourism were drawn to alleged shenanigans, Usman, the NCMM DG, had not been sanctioned, in any way.

However, AUPCTRE’s appeals have not always fallen on deaf ears. In response to an 26 April, 2013 complaint, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Culture and Tourism, via a memo dated 9 May, 2013; actually demanded explanations from the NCMM DG. The legislators’ memo, with reference number NASS/7HR/CT.23/Vol.2/124, signed by Clerk of the House; states: “The Committee awaits response from you not later than Tuesday, 14 May, 2013 before 1.30pm; to enable it act accordingly”.

Interestingly, Mr. Abdallah Usman had responded in good time, through a three-page memo with reference number CAA.168/Vol.1/106, dated 14 May, 2013. No pun intended: but, the long-standing differences between AUPCTRE and the NCMM Management have spawned so many badly-worded exchanges that one could find enough material for the kernel of a collection to start a Museum of Awkward Correspondences. Although both sides’ submissions have shed some light on the issues, their letters, which are often riddled with bad grammar and misspellings; have willy-nilly provided clues to the shortcomings on the part of either disputante.

For example, Mr. Usman’s letter to the House Committee on Culture and Tourism threw up the following howler: “No formal approval HAVE been granted to any of the ventures”. This was part of Usman’s refutation regarding allegation that a portion of Jos Museum land had been leased out to a company that has built a filling station on that estate.

On the issue of alleged threat to the lives of AUPCTRE members, Usman literally detonated another howitzer: “Management is awash of the regular recourse by AUPCTRE to … crying WOLVE where there is none. It is instructive to note that no LIVE of any union leader … is being threatened”.

Usman again: “It might interest you to know that the issue BEEN presented before you …”. Not to be outdone, AUPCTRE “is surprise and disturb”, while challenging claims by NCMM Management that N250 million was returned to FG coffers.

To be fair, Usman couldn’t have recorded only negative strides since assumption of office as NCMM DG four years ago. But, for more than two years, we sought, to no avail; to meet him to spell out his successes. Finally, our attention was drawn by an NCMM staff to a paid advertorial in one publication. Excited, we rushed to read Usman’s catalogue of his contributions. And, alas! Even this advertorial is marred by more IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) of the grammatical kind!

If poorly written correspondences from ordinary trade union activists are inexcusable, then gaffes and other blunders in official documents from the exalted desk of a director general in Nigeria’s federal civil service can only be condemnable. Usman, the NCMM DG, is currently pursuing a doctorate degree; therefore, his spelling of staggered as STARGGARD; must elicit worry over the future of this country. On a less depressing note, there must be some area Usman might excel in, but museum work ostensibly isn’t his forte.


Respondents pointed out that, where the allegations raised by AUPCTRE were not investigated and those found culpable dismissed and prosecuted, if need be, it would be a glaring proof that the current federal administration’s anti-corruption posturing is no more than mere make-believe. Consequently, other civil servants will feel encouraged to indulge in similar faux pas.

Apart from the minister, a copy of the 3 September, 2013 memo was also served on the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF); Head of Service of the Federation; Minister of Labour and Productivity; Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Tourism and Culture; Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity; Chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism; and, Chairman, House Committee on Culture and Tourism; among others.

Therefore, those that failed to act accordingly, even in the face of perceived overwhelming evidence, could in the future be held responsible for aiding and abetting corruption.

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