By; YUSUF ALLI.
A crisis of confidence has hit Nigeria-Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Authority (JDA), following alleged arbitrary sack of 35 workers by the management.
The crisis is threatening the $300 million oil deal between the two nations.
Of those sacked, 16 are Santomeans. This led to a diplomatic tension between the two countries. It was gathered that a former presidential aide in the administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was calling the shot through a stooge he put in JDA in 2010.
The IDA top shot was sacked by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo but Jonathan’s former aide brought him back.
The government of São Tomé and Principe was said to be unhappy with the development in the JDA.
But the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hajiya Khadijat Ibrahim, was said to be looking into the petitions against the management.
She is the nation’s leader of delegation to JDA and empowered by the treaty to look into any infractions.
The treaty between the two countries led to the auctioning of five blocks in 2004, 2006 and 2007 over $300 million.
Production was, however, yet to start due to administrative bottleneck and the two nations were yet to earn post-licensing round profit.
The setback was attributed to the mismanagement of the JDA by the officers in charge.
The management crisis reached its peak in June, leading to the exit of some Santomeans.
According to a document obtained by this writer, the management laid off 35 of the 56 workers in one day without the permission of the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) and in violation of Article 7(2) (b) of the treaty.
The workers were given letters in June, which some refused to collect.
Although the letter indicated that the JDA was scaling down, it was gathered that the workers were asked to go after a disagreement between the management and workers.
The points of disagreement are: alleged diversion of N900 million voted for JDA Secretariat in Abuja to private use, alleged collection of N260 million bribe from contractors handling the secretariat, deliberate frustration of JDA activities, undermining the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) by the Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Kashim M. Tumsah. Others are witch-hunt of workers through abuse of disciplinary procedures,non-auditing of JDA’s account since 2008; and budget for LPG plant now being used for administrative purpose.
Copy of the sack letter, obtained by this writer was signed by Chairman of the Board/ED C and I, Luis Prazeres and Tumsah.
The letter, exclusively obtained reads: “As you are aware, the JDA has been facing serious challenges due to dwindling revenue and lack of contribution by the state parties.
“You would recall that at the Board/ Staff retreat in February, the board published finances of the organisation and informed staff that unless funding is received, the current funds could only sustain operations till June 2016 and the JDA will be left with no option but to scale down its activities and staffing.
“The financial situation has been further exacerbated by the absence of an officially constituted JMC and lack of response from the states parties on the JMC constitution and funding challenges.
“Furthermore, the level of operational activities in the JDA/JDZ does not justify the current staffing, emolument and overhead costs.
“Thus, the board and management consider it necessary and expedient to scale down operations of the JDA temporarily to review the staffing, structure and funding of the JDA to ensure and sustain its continued survival in line with the treaty.
“Consequent upon the above, the board has decided that you should not report for work, effective Monday, June 13, 2016, due to service exigencies pending the conclusion of the restructuring and reorganization of the JDA and/or when the funding challenges improve.
“While you are at home, you will not be entitled to any pay due your lean finances of the organisation. You will receive further communication in due course.
“Please, note that this letter supersedes and replaces the previous one sent to you regarding your annual leave.
“You are to hand over JDA property in your possession to your head of unit or department as the case may be on or before June 15, 2016.”
A top source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The JDA is now a shadow of itself and the overall objective of earning more oil revenue had been derailed by mismanagement.
“For instance, it is unthinkable that a management will sack 35 of 56 staff in one fell swoop without recourse to the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC). Article 7(2) (b) of the Treaty says the functions of council shall include the following to approve rules, regulations (including staff regulations) and procedures for the effective functioning of the authority.”
“The sacked staff have good records of performance. No previous query other than mutual suspicion. The management was just rattled by grouses bordering on alleged waste of N900 million on the uncompleted secretariat of JDA.
“The sacked staff, including Santomeans, were baffled by lack of commitment to transparency and probity. Most of them were subjected to inhuman treatment and they had to sell their cars to return to their country.
“Since we earned $300 million from licensing rounds in 2004, 2006 and 2007, we have not recorded any post-licensing profit.
“In fact, the budget for LPG plant is now being used to run the administration of the JDA.
“The Santomeans are frustrated, Nigerians in JDA are disenchanted. Yet staff cannot talk. At a point, the director of Monitoring and Inspection Unit in JDA was locked out of his office.”
Another highly-placed source said: “Despite a new government in place, a former presidential aide under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan still controls the JDA. In 2010, the aide reinstated a deputy director, who was sacked by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“They now take any decision on JDA to the former aide, who is undermining the new administration.”
It was learnt that Hajiya Ibrahim was in the receipt of petitions against the management of JDA.
“The ball is in the court of the minister, who is resolute to address problems of JDA, including the illegal sack of staff.
“Although one of those behind the crisis is said to be from Yobe State as the minister, her level of commitment to the resolution of the crisis has been encouraging. We want her to put the nation above any other interest.
“At a time Nigeria is looking for more oil revenue, this Treaty must be allowed to work.”
By; YUSUF ALLI.