After weeks of a snowballing scandal of blackmail, calumny, baseless accusations and personal attacks against the Director General of Industrial Training Fund, Mrs. Juliet Chukkas Onaeko; the phantom crisis sparked off protests by hired goons and fifth columnists, who barricaded the ITF headquarters in Jos, as part of a purported strike by Union workers, calling for the sacking of the Director General. But it is now emerging that the smear campaign was manufactured by vested interests in what ITF officials described as an “entrenched chain of corruption” comprising contractors, political sinecures, sundry jobbers and consultants in a cesspool of corruption, who have been stealing the ITF blind and were dismayed to lose their unearned privileges to the reforms undertaken by the DG. To resort to such falsification of facts is indeed shocking and shameless.
Speaking recently at a media parley in Abuja, Chukkas-Onaeko noted that: “Corruption is something that when you fight it, it fights back even more aggressively and if you are not careful you end up being the corrupt one. That is the jacket that they have sown, but I refuse to wear it. Anybody saying I’ve taken millions illegally should come and check, the system is open for them.” She described the accusations made against her by some ITF staff members as “ridiculous and painful” and took particular umbrage at the lie that she donated N700 million from ITF funds to former President Jonathan’s re-election campaign. She said N700 million is a huge amount of money that cannot be withdrawn from ITF coffers without appropriation, saying those peddling the falsehood were doing so out of malice and sheer ignorance. “I am sure when they wrote that, they expected me to commit suicide or for the President to just shoot my head, but the truth is that the PDP never asked me for campaign money,” she said.
Admitting that she has stepped on many toes and ruffled many feathers with her reforms, she said hidden hands behind the paid propaganda that has been making rounds in the media know that their accusations are completely untethered from reality, and their resort to cheap media blackmail smacks of desperation to stop her reform agenda and return to the status quo ante. The director general said since taking over the helm at ITF, she has blocked avenues through which these entrenched vested interests were making easy money from the agency. One such avenue was the outrageous monthly rent of N9.5 million paid by the agency on a property housing its area office in Warri before she assumed duty. She disclosed that the landlord was forced to reduce the rent to N5 million monthly following her insistence that the rent either be renegotiated or the office be relocated to a cheaper accommodation, thereby saving over N4 million for ITF.
“Several other rented properties were also renegotiated in the same vain and by this act; I have been able to achieve great savings for ITF in the last one year. I know this is what the corrupt elements in and out of the system do not like and that is why they have tried every way to discredit me and my prudent policies. Up till now, they are still doing everything to sabotage my effort towards the full automation of the business process of ITF, which when completed, will help check some of the wastages and drain pipes, while driving up staff efficiency and more. I think this is one of the ways I’m stepping on many toes, because people who are used to making easy money will definitely react when you attempt to block them,” she noted.
Mrs. Chukkas-Onaeko dismissed as false, baseless and malicious, allegations of cronyism, managerial incompetence and financial misappropriation levelled against her by detractors and the vested interests behind the grievance statement titled: “Industrial Training Fund SSACTAC and AUPCTRE Joint Memo Titled “Sordid State of the Fund and Urgent Need for Resuscitation.” In the grievance letter, the union accused the DG of corruption, absenteeism, profligacy, high-handedness, extra-budgetary spending; violation of due process in contracts and procurement, non-remittance of pension deductions and donating her family land to ITF with the intent to collect N450 million from ITF. They also alleged the ITF is in dire straits as to warrant the Organized Private Sector, to call for its scrapping. The Union memo replete with halting grammar and rambling syntax oozes nothing but contempt for the ITF management, criticizing the ongoing policies and reforms at the agency.
She also debunked the workers’ allegation that she was insensitive to their welfare, saying that within her one year in office she had worked a lot on staff welfare. She stated that staff salary was doubled, while the money set aside for staff loan was also increased from N250 million to N500 million. According to her, the ITF is one of the first agencies to implement a Federal Government’s circular released in October 2014 on the increase of pensioners’ entitlements by 23%. She added that her administration was also able to pay a backlog of the increase spanning 63 months to the pensioners. The director general said that the issue of training and retraining programs was given utmost priority by the agency to update the knowledge and skills of its workforce. “As part of my efforts to motivate our staff and discourage them from sharp practices, within my first year in office, I have put in place, a brand new condition of service and salary structure better than any package the staff have ever had in the over forty years of ITF existence. For the first time, they are having an ITF salary structure that is robust and almost double of what they had before my coming.”
She also dismissed the allegation that she transferred N1.2 billion to the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA) without due process. She explained that the money was provided for in the agency’s 2014 budget to fund the ITF-NECA Technical Skills Development Program (TSDP) launched in 2009. “Every year, there is funding provided for it, which is in the budget and is approved by the National Assembly. By the time I came on board in 2014, they had already disbursed about 70% of the money. That budget wasn’t drawn up by me.
“What I saw in the trend was that on a yearly basis, the money allocated for the program was increased by between 10% and 20% to reflect current economic realities. But, in the 2015 budget, which is the only one I have presided over, I refused to approve the increase. Instead, we increased the number of participating companies from below 10 at inception to the current 14 which is against the initial arrangement. I expected to be commended for that,’’ she said.
Huhuonline.com discovered that upon her appointment on May 19, 2014, Chukkas-Onaeko inherited a rundown agency with over N20 billion debt; a huge back log of unpaid SIWES – Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme – reimbursements, decrepit training centers and Area offices, operating far below average capacity, over 580 pending court cases, and a backlog of staff loan applications amongst other challenges. The new director general then proceeded to renegotiate some of the contracts and worked out a payment plan to phase out the existing debts.
Because of the huge decay at the staff school, the new DG had to develop a three year comprehensive school improvement plan to re-position ITF Staff School as a model school that can become a feeder school to ITF training schools as well as a teacher retraining center of some sort. In addition, within a month of assuming office, the new DG was able to pay off a four year debt owe the Singaporeans, to enable the graduation of the first ever batch of Model Skills Training Centre (MSTC) trainees whose graduation had been pending for over a year because ITF had not paid their outstanding bill.
Undoubtedly, the ITF faces enormous challenges, but the new director general remains undaunted, having set out to meet these challenges with resolve and determination to overcome despite all the odds. She has articulated a four-point agenda which aims to; achieve 100% efficiency in SIWES administration; full automation of the business processes of the ITF; training at least two million youth annually and achieving 100% efficiency in Revenue generation.
One of the pillars of this reform agenda is collaboration with key stakeholders. Huhuonline.com learned this collaboration with other agencies and organizations has led to the training of 4,000 Artisans and Building Technicians in 10 states in partnership with the Cement Technology Institute of Nigeria (CTIN). “In one year, and working on the same budget, we have doubled the companies we are collaborating with under ITF-NECA TSDP, from eight to sixteen. We have also graduated over six batches of trainees from the different centers and commissioned new centers such as Ruff n Tumble, Lagos for the training of Garment Technicians. We have graduated the first batch of our trainees under the ITF-DVT collaboration, (Dual Vocational Team from Germany) and we have increased the number of our centers participating in the collaboration from one to two. We have also signed several MoUs and commenced training under different collaborations and programs. This is in addition to ITF initiated and sponsored programs such as the NISDP program where in the last three months of 2014, we were able to train 37,000 unemployed youth across the 36 states and the FCT.”
The new director general has also introduced several new initiatives to scale up skills development and youth empowerment such as the national skills gap study; a joint initiative with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) that will serve as the basis to inform future government investments in skills development in Nigeria. It will also help the government and ITF in particular to more efficiently align training services to market/ industry needs.
Put in perspective, the campaign of vilification and paid press propaganda against the ITF director general is a well-choreographed arm-twisting effort by special interests groups to blackmail Mrs. Chukkas-Onaeko and stop the positive reforms she has initiated towards charting a new strategic direction for the ITF in line with the change agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. To which end, the smear campaign is part of the mischief intended to discredit Mrs. Chukkas-Onaeko and her reform agenda. It is indeed unfortunate that some journalists put up stories without cross checking and without credible basis. This is a sad example of bad journalism that the media must endeavor to eradicate from our public discourse.
The central nexus of Mrs. Chukkas-Onaeko’s new strategic realignment aims to amongst others; to facilitate and scale up job creation through the training and retraining of at least two million youths annually; to match skills development to market/ industry needs; reposition skills development as an enabler for industrialization and economic diversification, and to improve the country’s industrial competitiveness regionally and globally through skills development. All the allegations made against her are patently false. The belated attempt to politicize her leadership of the ITF appears to be a part of the fear psychosis by some disgruntled elements within the ITF establishment who are resisting change engendered by her reform agenda and day in day out; sweep her achievements under the carpet and highlight the failings, real and imaginary.
But the fact of the matter is that at ITF, Mrs. Chukkas-Onaeko isn’t just thinking outside of the box, she is creating a new box; putting her mouth where her work is. The critics and detractors should therefore judge her in the right perspective.
via Huhu Online