The crisis rocking the Lagos branch of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN) has taken a new turn following fresh controversy over the addition of another signatory to the branch’s account.
A member of the institute’s Governing Board, Chief Innocent Okunamiri was purportedly added as a signatory to the branch’s account with Zenith Bank, without the knowledge of two of the original three signatories, Mr Harold Echendu and Mr Harris Ibekwe.
Embattled Chairman of the branch, Engr. Timothy Iwuagwu is the third original signatory to the account.
Okunamiri is the head of the institute’s electoral committee that conducted the October 7 Lagos ISPoN branch election which enmeshed the branch in crisis.
In a February 15 WhatsApp message circulated to some branch members and obtained by this newspaper, one of the signatories, Harold Echendu claimed that the branch chairman and the institute’s president made the decision without recourse to the Governing Board.
He further alleged in the message that a total of N641, 500 was withdrawn in tranches from the same account few days after the addition of the new signatory.
The message read, “‘We are very sorry,’ that was the message that I saw on my phone on Saturday (February 11) morning from the A/c officer of Lagos ISPON account in Zenith Bank to which I am a signatory with Mr Ibekwe and Mr Iwuagwu. With this message, I suspected that something happened to the acct.
“I called Mr Ibekwe to confirm what it was but he said he did not know. I then called the acct officer who told me that Mr Iwuagwu and the president added another signatory to the acct.
“I fixed an appointment to meet her on Monday the 14th Feb. That was yesterday. I went with Mr Ibekwe.
“The lady showed us a copy of the policy guideline and a copy of a recently circulated document by the president titled COMMUNICATION FROM GB (Governing Board) OF ISPON and told us that by the policy guidelines, the president has the power to add signatory to the acct without recourse to any person.
“Since they briefed her on the happenings in the Institute, I played the election video and called her attention to section 17(4) of the policy guidelines and informed her that the branch Exco has not been constituted since Chief Okunamiri the newly added signatory is not a member of the Exco though it is not yet constituted, it is therefore wrong for one person alone to run the acct of a branch.
“We made efforts to get statement of our acct but she refused because Iwuagwu must sign. She rather gave the details of the transactions on the acct on 10th Feb which amounted to #641,500 and advised us on the situation.”
Echendu told Safety Record Newspaper on phone that the controversies rocking the branch had made him and Mr Ibekwe refuse to sign checks until “things were done the right way”.
He further lamented that the addition of the new signatory rendered them irrelevant to influence withdrawal of funds from the account.
“They don’t need our signatories now to go and withdraw money anyhow they want and that is what we are protesting,” he said.
When contacted, Chief Okunamiri, whose name was added to the list of signatories, described those aggrieved by the decision as being ignorant of the ISPoN Act 2014 and General Policy Guidelines guiding the institute’s operation.
He said no state branch has the right to open and operate any account without the approval of the Governing Board. The Governing Board is headed by the president.
According to Okunamiri, the list of signatories to a state branch’s account should be the branch chairman, branch treasurer, branch secretary and a member of the Governing Board of the institute.
Okunamiri, who earlier urged our reporter to get acquainted with the ISPoN Act 2014 and General Policy Guidelines of the Institute, said, “…they are going round to tell people that another person has been added to the list of signatories to the Lagos state account. Why I asked you to go and read the ISPoN Act is that the Act gave the Governing Board the power to open account.
“Did it give Lagos state branch the power to open account? When you are writing, consider what is right – not hearsay from these boys who may not have read the ISPoN Act. Some of them may not have even read the ISPoN General Policy Guidelines.”
Checks by Safety Record Newspaper showed that Section 5(1) of ISPoN Act 2014 which established a Governing Board for the Institute also empowered it to “provide general policy guidelines for the effective administration of the Institute.”
Further checks by this newspaper showed that the General Policy Guidelines empowered the president to appoint a member of the Governing Board as a signatory to a branch’s account.
According to Article 17.0(ii) of the Institute’s General Policy Guidelines, “The funds of the Institute shall be banked in the name of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria with such bank or banks as the Governing Board may appoint and shall be operated by the signatories appointed by the Board, and only the Governing Board shall effect change of signatories.”
Furthermore, Article 17.1(4&5) of the guidelines stated in part, “(4) Branches shall have approved training/activities budget plan annually, no expenses shall be incurred outside the branch approved budget.
“(5) Branches shall open only one account to which the approved budget shall be lodged. Three signatories to this Branch Account shall be i) The Branch Chairman, ii) Branch treasurer and iii) President’s appointed board member. The branch account name shall differ slightly from Board account name eg Board account name: “Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON)” while Branch account name shall be “ISPON Lagos” or “ISPON Delta”, etc. No Branch shall operate more than one bank account.”
Okunamiri added that those protesting the additional signatory to the branch’s account did not love the institute and were trying to blackmail it.
“The person who is telling you these stories is trying to blackmail the institute. Some of the people in Lagos state (branch) who are fighting over this, over that don’t love the institute,” he said.
Tracing the genesis of the crisis rocking the branch, Okunamiri said that some members could not get over the fact that their preferred candidate for the chairmanship of the branch was disqualified by the electoral committee he headed over non-conformity with the electoral guideline of the institute.
He stated that the electoral guideline stipulated 75 per cent attendance at monthly state branch meetings for any individual vying for the chairmanship position and the electoral committee reserves the right to disqualify anyone who did not meet the set criteria.
The electoral committee chairman said, “First, election was organised in Lagos state, as in other branches. Now, when it came to Lagos, they brought in someone who is not qualified to contest based on the electoral guidelines. When this person was eventually disqualified, hell broke loose.
“What are they saying? That we should have closed our eyes and allowed somebody not qualified to contest election? Like I have always said, if Lagos state people were really serious in removing the incumbent chairman who is Engr. Tim Iwuagwu, they would have brought in somebody strong enough to contest with him. Is it not?
“But they didn’t do that. That means they were not really serious about removing the incumbent chairman. When they saw that this man (Lucky Oderhohowo) had been disqualified, the following day they came out with list of allegations against the chairman.
“I said this should have come even before the screening. Why did they wait until after the screening and it was in the election hall that they brought out (the list)? Is that how to do things?”
He added, “If you say you are going to fight somebody to wrestle him, won’t you bring someone strong enough to wrestle the person? Will you go and bring one weak person that the man will give one blow and he will fall down?
“This is an election. They were not serious wresting power from Tim Iwuagwu. They should have brought somebody who’s qualified, not somebody who will absent himself from meetings.
“Out of 12 meetings, the person absented himself seven times. And he was talking about apology. Where in life does apology equate presence at meetings?
“Seven times! If it’s once or twice that the person absented himself, and we have apology with reasons, that can be considered.
“We’re looking for 75 per cent attendance at meetings and the person scored 41 percent, and the Lagos people are saying we should have qualified that person. Common! There are things people say that make me mad. I can’t understand.
“There are some people supporting these boys and these are the people who want to tarnish the image of the institute but they will not succeed.”
Efforts to get the embattled branch chairman’s comments on the development were unsuccessful as our correspondent couldn’t meet up for the meeting before going to press.
However, in a personality interview with Safety Record Newspaper in October 2016, Iwuagwu alleged that some members of the state executive body were trying to frustrate his administration at inception by denying it funds to function.
“This administration came in and was deprived of having money to function deliberately by connivance of members of this same exco,” Iwuagwu said at the time.
This paper could not establish if this latest move was to address this situation highlighted by the branch chairman at the time.