For some time, peace has eluded the National Theatre, with allegations of corruption hanging over its management. The documents made available to The Nation indicate a systemic corruption and intrigues at the heart of the National Theatre. Assistant Editor Seun Akioye reports.
Looking from afar, one sees a picture of a masterpiece and a cultural landmark called the National Theatre. To outsiders, the magnificent structure remains the historical monument it was created to be with employees and management working in concert to achieve the aim of promoting cultural unity and enhancing artistic values. But, with hard documentary evidence and allegations of gross financial misappropriations, the National Theatre looks like an excellent script for one of the plays which are frequently on display at the theatre to insiders.
For about six years, employees and the management of the National Theatre have been up in arms against each other. The allegations are as legion and as weighty, ranging from a secret plan to sell off the edifice, and or, convert the “fallow grounds” around the complex into a multi- storey shopping complex, to financial fraud allegations against the General Manager, Kabir Yusuf.
There are allegations of high handedness, intimidation and harassment of members of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employee (AUPCTRE) by Yusuf. There were the court cases, the suspensions and dismissals of union leaders, the “unwarranted transfers” and other alleged sabotage against unionists.
Yusuf also has allegations and fights of his own; he instituted a court case against the union and its leaders and has been at loggerheads with the Governing Board of the National Theatre. The allegations though weighty, have largely been kept under wraps until now.
Allegation of frauds
Since his appointment as the general manager in 2009, Yusuf has not had much moment of respite. There have been several allegations of financial misappropriation, high handedness and dictatorial behavior against him.
According to sources, who pleaded for anonymity, Yusuf has been on a running battle with members and the leadership of the AUPCTRE.
But issues nosedived in July 2013 when members of the union forwarded a petition to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), detailing alleged financial misappropriation and corrupt enrichment by Yusuf.
The petition, dated July 26, 2013 and titled: “Formal complaint of corrupt practices and mismanagement of funds running into millions of naira by the General Manager of the National Theatre and demand for investigation,” was signed by eight executive members of AUPCTRE including the Chairman, Dayo Akogun, his vice Tiamiyu Adeshina, Secretary Ephesian Nodza and the Treasurer Kayode Ibukun.
The petition, available to The Nation, listed 17 “offences” against the general manager between from 2009 and 2013. The union accused him of embezzling the sum of N10.1 million, believed to have been expended on a “Roundtable Stakeholders Conference.”
The petitioners alleged that the event held at the Rockview Hotel Abuja between November 13 and 14, 2009.
They claimed the money was paid with the National Theater voucher number: NT/OC/CONF/155 and dated 02/11/2009 in the name of Abiodun Femi Joel, who was at the time the head of the Abuja Liaison Office of the National Theatre.
But investigations into the conference raised many issues. Such issues included a claim that the proposal for the conference was shallow and written in bad English riddled with grammatical errors.
Also, in the budget attached to the proposal, there were provisions for honorarium for 30 resource persons at the cost of N100, 000 each. Transportation was given at N50, 000 each and accommodation was pegged at N35, 000 per night. The huge number of resource persons who are also participants, aroused curiosity.
Also, provisions were made for the coverage of the event by a national television for N550, 000, a radio station for N170, 000 and two national newspapers for N320, 000 each. But, till date, there is no evidence that these media houses ever published or aired the proceedings from the conference.
Perhaps, of grave concern are allegations that Yusuf uses about three different companies as fronts to corner existing or non-existing contracts at the National Theatre. In the petition, N750, 000.00 was taken out of the coffers through a “fictitious fumigation contract”.
In March 2012, a company, El-Lado Ltd, with the address 30/32, Creek Road, Apapa, Lagos, was alleged to have been paid the said amount for fumigation contract. According to the union, El-Lado claimed to have fumigated the sub-station located at the basement of the National Theater, consisting of three rooms and a passage.
However, another company, Korr Clean Ltd was said to have been under contract by the National Theatre to “fumigate and clean the entire complex for a monthly contract of N596, 000.” Korr was said to have implemented the same contract in March 2012 and got paid by the general manager.
When The Nation checked out El-Lado at the prescribed address on Creek road Lagos, it was discovered that 32, Creek Road, belongs to ALUMACO Ltd and its co-occupant, First Bank Plc. The next building to ALUMACO is MRS Filling Station and the next building to it is number 34 and EL-Lado Ltd is not operating from there. Also number 33, Creek Road is a building housing the Enterprise Bank. Number 30 could not be located. In fact, there was no building number 30/32 on Creek Road.
Also in September 2012, another company, String Sets Ltd, was alleged to have carried out fumigation of the entire complex and was paid N2, 216,500. But, according to the petition, no job was carried out by String Sets because the contractual company – Korr Clean – fumigated the complex the same month and was paid the contractual sum.
On September 18, 2012, String Sets sent a proposal to the general manager, detailing cost for fumigation work in Exhibit Hall I & 2, Conference Banquet Hall and Cinema Hall 1 & 2. The total money demanded was N2, 216,500.00. One Michael Osho signed the proposal as general manager. It was curious to note that the exact sum was paid to String Set on the same day the proposal was received by the management of National Theater. The Nation called “Osho” to enquire about the transaction but “Osho” ended the call and never picked again nor responded to text messages.
Another company allegedly favoured by the management is Faida Venture Ltd with two different addresses, all located in Kaduna. On September 1, 2011, an offer of contract award was written to Faida Ventures with the address N0. 7 Kafur/Isa Kaita Road Kaduna. The letter, which was signed by Yusuf, had its title as “Award of contract for the supply and installation of standard sound equipment in Exhibition Hall 1”. It reads in part: “ The Tenders Board of the National Theatre, after a careful selection has awarded to your company, the Supply and Installation of Standard Sound Equipment at the sum of N39,354,800.00 (Thirty-nine million, three hundred and fifty-four thousand, eight hundred naira only, VAT and Tax inclusive.”
In December 2011, a voucher was raised for the sum of N9, 838,700.00 as 25 per cent payment on the contract, while on December 20, 2011, the balance of N29, 516,100 was paid to Faida Ventures. However it was curious that the address for Faida on the payment voucher of the National Theatre was Plot G2, Emir Road, Off Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway, Kumin Mashi, Kaduna.
The Nation investigated both addresses in Kaduna and found that no such company existed there at all. In fact, like El-Lado, none of the numbers existed.
The petition also alleged that the company supplied the same equipment to the three exhibition halls for the same contract sum. But, this contract, according to the union, was inflated. According to the petition, the Peavey sound equipment, which was supplied to the three halls in the regular market, could not have cost more than N13.8 million against the cumulative N118.5 million paid to Faida Ventures.
In May 2012, Faida Ventures was also awarded a contract to supply Barton End Suction pump 100-315 x 37 KW (50HP) for the sum of N5, 713,930. 53. But the union insisted in the petition that the pump was never supplied as the same company had supplied and installed water pumps at the water reservoir in 2010/2011.
There are other allegations of financial misappropriation levelled against Yusuf, for instance in May 2012, another company, Markxel Engineering Services Limited, allegedly got a contract to supply banquet hall chairs for the sum N37, 533, 485.00. The amount, believed to have been grossly inflated, according to sources, was paid with invoice numbers NT/OC/241/11 and NT/OC/197/11.
Interestingly, Markxell also has its company address as Faida Ventures’ on Plot G2, Kunmi Mashi, N/Extension, Off Nnnamdi Azikiwe Expressway, Kaduna. The petition also alleged that all the companies used in procuring large contracts from the National Theater were owned and operated by one Alhaji Abdul Jafar, who lives in Kaduna. The same man also allegedly carried out all the contracts.
In the petition, Yusuf was accused of casualisation of labour. In December 2012, he was said to have terminated the contract of Korr Clean, then converted the 25 employees of Koor to permanent casual workers of the National Theatre and paid monthly salaries ranging from N9, 000 to N12, 000 in cash through an account staff. The union said it was a corrupt practice at variance with the e-payment policy of the Federal Government.
Another Kaduna-based company, which has allegedly benefited from multi-million contracts from the National Theater, is Fais Investment Nig. Ltd, situated at 54, Ilorin Road, off Independence Way, Kaduna.
On May 3, 2013, the company sent a memo on notice for payment to the general manager. The memo was signed by the Director, K.D Saulawa and titled: “Re-Contract for the surveying and pegging of the plots of land in the national theater.”
It reads in part: “We are pleased to inform you that the survey and pegging exercise has been completed and the report has been submitted to the Group Deputy Managing Director, BGI Limited…. In the light of the above, it will be appreciated if the contract sum of N20, 000,000.00 (Twenty million naira only) will be paid into our account.”
Fais Investment was allegedly covered through the voucher NT/OC/059/13 for N20 million. Again, The Nation’s investigation revealed that Ilorin Road, Kaduna is not numbered to 54. Aside two commercial buildings, the other structures are residential, proving that Fais Investment may be a snake oil company.
A controversial concession
The National Theatre is not new to controversy. At least in the past 10 years, there have been unending speculations about the future of the complex. Constructed in 1976, just in time for the celebration of the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77), the complex is the epicenter of culture and performing arts in the country.
It has a 5,000-seater Main Hall with a collapsible stage, and two 700-800 capacity cinema halls, fitted with facilities for simultaneous translation of eight languages. It was designed and constructed by Bulgarian construction companies and resembles the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna, Bulgaria.
Ironically, the idea to privatise the edifice was first introduced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the military Head of State when the complex was built. The suggestion drew serious opposition from stakeholders and the plan was temporarily shelved.
But the fear and suspicion that the edifice would be sold and converted, first into an hotel and later, into a shopping mall never fully went away. Indeed, it gained momentum with the appointment of Yusuf, who formed a partnership with former Tourism, Culture and National Orientation minister Edem Duke.
The workers contended that the Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE) is the only agency of government empowered to sell off public properties and should be allowed to finish the work it has started on the concession of the National Theatre.
On August 14, a memo with the reference NT/GM/ C14/53 was delivered to Senator Hassan Baratu, former Senate Committee Chairman on Culture.
The memo signed by Yusuf was titled: Investors Road Shows on Developing the National Theatre Fallow Land Using Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Model.” The memo informed the Senator about a proposed road show in Lagos, London, Dubai and South Africa, which was to stimulate investors’ interest to the concession of the fallow land.
Immediately after the shows, Yusuf planned a “Ground Breaking” of the project to be performed by former President Goodluck Jonathan and scheduled for December 18, 2014. A budget was attached and the 26 names of officials, who will be on the trip, including the Duke, Senator Baratu, Board chairman, Markus Ishaya and other officials. A N39, 650,000.00 budget proposal was prepared as the cost of the road shows.
But the news that came from the road shows was anything but palatable. In December 2014, an Arab on-line news media, Gulf Africa Review (www. gulfafricareview.com) carried a story indicating that a Dubai-based company, Mulk Holdings (www.mulkholdings.com) will be investing $40 million to rebuild the National Theater.
The report read “Sharjah’s Mulk Holdings, a diversified UAE-based business conglomerate, has announced its entry into the retail sector in West Africa through a $40m joint venture to develop Nigeria’s National Arts Theatre in Lagos into a duty-free shopping centre in partnership with the Suzanne Group.”
The news generated interesting permutations in the arts & culture industry and in a swift reaction; Yusuf denied that the edifice had been sold. “We have not sold the National Theatre and we are not going to sell it, he said.
But the controversy never abated. According to some of the workers, the total cost of the road shows was exaggerated. They also alleged that many of those who were scheduled to be on the trip did not go and monies already allotted to them were never returned to the coffers.
The suspicion triggered a May 18, 2015 memo written to Yusuf by the Governing Board chair, Markus Ishaya, asking among other things, an account of the project.
Ishaya wrote in the memo: “The board is however surprised to hear that the amount was spent knowing well that not all members and those listed in the proposal were able to make it (sic) travel to all the places mentioned. It is therefore important that all the beneficiaries with the amount paid to them be accounted for and the balance which would have been returned to the treasury receipted.”
Moreover, the ground breaking ceremony which would have effectively seeded the “fallow grounds” which was scheduled for either May 20 or 21, 2015, The Nation learnt was abruptly called off.
According to a memo which was shown to The Nation, the ground breaking ceremony would have cost a whopping N61,310,247.00 ( Sixty one million, three hundred and ten thousand, two hundred and forty seven naira). The memo with reference number NDGM/C115/Vo11V/34 dated May 11, 2015 and addressed to the Tourism minister contained some rather unusual budget provisions.
For instance, cutting of grass was allocated N2 million, hiring of excavators (N150, 000 per day for three days), cable works (N500, 000). Also, artists for the day would have earned N5 million, comedian (N1.5 million) and a master of ceremony (N2 million). The tickets for dignitaries would have cost N8 million and refreshments N6 million.
The war within
However, the workers of the National Theater alleged that when the union confronted Yusuf, he resorted to the use of threats. Letters were allegedly dropped inside offices of leaders and their houses were photographed and photographs pasted on notice boards around the complex.
AUPCTRE chair Dayo Akogun was said to have sought police protection after photographs of his house and the names of his family members were pasted around the complex.
Some of the workers, who spoke on strict conditions of anonymity, told The Nation that after the threat strategy failed, Yusuf began to transfer key members of the union out of Lagos. First to go was the chief technical officer, who supervises the Electrical/Electronic Section on November 26, 2013. He was later recalled to Lagos and finally dismissed in March, following an allegation of incompetence.
He also allegedly relieved the head of Stage Lighting Unit and posted him to Electrical Workshop Unit. Henry Ndubuisi was moved to Taraba with a portfolio to cover Maiduguri and Ashiyanbi Bolanle to Enugu.
Also, the vice chairman, Tiamiyu Adesina, was transferred to Calabar, Abdullahi Usmar, an Assistant Marketing Officer, was moved to Kano on April 9, 2014. The union leaders were routinely issued queries allegedly to tarnish their records and to pave the way for their eventual sack.
“I have worked here for over 15 years and never had one query in my file only commendation letters and suddenly, because of these issues, I have lost count of the queries I have received,” a member said.
The Nation could not trace all of the union leaders, but said the transfers were a waste of public fund as there was no other National Theatre outside Lagos.
“The transfers were done in malice to silence the Union. There were no offices outside Lagos except Abuja and when those people got to their various posts, there was nothing on the ground,” they alleged.
In July 2013, following the petition of the union to the ICPC, Yusuf instituted a court case against the union and its key leaders at the National Industrial Court (NIC).
However, in a ruling by Justice K.I Amadi on May 14, the court directed that the “ parties in this suit are hereby reverted to their various positions, posts and offices as they were in December 6, 2013 when the parties were ordered to maintain the status quo ante.”
The court also directed the following acts to be reverted:
·Dismissal of Comrade Ephesians Nodza via a letter of dismissal dated December 15, 2014.
·Indefinite suspension of Comrade Akogun via a letter dated February 24, 2014- Akogun was this year dismissed.
·The issuance of query dated February 20, 2014, to Henry Ndubuisi for attending court proceedings
·Two months suspension given to Ndubuisi
·All transfers made were declared null, void and of no effect and subsequently set aside.
But Yusuf told The Nation thatall the allegations of financial misappropriation had been given to the ICPC which had conducted investigations into it and found him blameless.
“They have written to the ICPC and the EFCC, they went and made statements they can go and write anything. Are they the judges in their own case? They are complainants, I have gone there to the ICPC and back,” he said.
He showed The Nation a letter from the ICPC dated July 24, 2014, which exonerated him, describing as “mischievous and without bases.”
In an interview with The Nation, Yusuf said the concession project which was initiated by him and the immediate past minister, was meant to complete the original master plan of the National Theatre. He said the concession refers only to the fallow land around the National Theatre, which is about 134.03 hectares.
He showed The Nation a prototype of what the area would look like with facilities like a five star hotel, a shopping mall, offices, land and water parks, leisure and entertainment centres and a multi-level car park.
Yusuf denied that the process has not been transparent, saying all relevant stakeholders were carried along including the Lagos State government, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and the Federal Ministry of Works, which led to the inauguration of the stakeholders committee on September 20, 2012.
He said a transaction adviser, BGL Capital PLC, was employed and an Outline Business Case (OBC) was sent to and approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan on July 2, 2014.
Following the investors’ road show in 2014, seven of the 11 consortiums that indicated interests and tendered their bids were pre-qualified for request for proposal. Out of the seven, only three however submitted technical and financial bids.
“After evaluations, Topwide Apeas/Chris Michael Ltd emerged as the preferred bidder and Calzada Nig. Ltd as the reserved bidder. This result has been certified by the ICRC and the two companies have been communicated to accordingly,” Yusuf said.
A simple check of the preferred bidder on the internet returned nothing on Topwide Apeas, but Chris Michaels Ltd had a web address at www.chrismichaelsltd.com and the Chief Executive Officer is one Chris Ogan. However, The Nation noted the website was last modified on Monday, February 25, 2013 at 6.13am.
Besides, the web page appeared uncompleted as most of the menu had “this page is under construction” under them.
Among the projects listed are: New city mall, Theatremall, Owerri mall, Banana Island mall, Oasis mall, all with uncompleted menus.
But more instructively, he discarded the ruling from the NIC, saying it was faulty and cannot stand. Yusuf said three cases are still pending in the court. The one which the ruling was given was in error because that case was already struck out and therefore the ruling could not stand.
He said: “There are three cases in industrial court. We had four rulings. So, you cannot just take one ruling in isolation and that wasn’t even a ruling. The judge struck out the case and once you strike out a case, you cannot make a ruling on it.
“We instituted a case, saying we are not interested again. There are two other cases and there are three rulings on that suit. Now, the hearing is June 26. We have appealed that judgment in the Court of Appeal, the status quo cannot remain because if the judge says a case is struck out, and he cannot make a ruling on it again.”
Yusuf also made many allegations against Akogun (the union) .
He said: “Did Comrade Akogun tell you he was dismissed because he went and installed fake equipment and stole the money. He was given money to install equipment, he went and installed substandard cables the National Theater would have been burnt. It was later discovered that those cables were sub standard and a committee was set up to investigate him.
“The professional committee found him guilty and he said he is not going to subject himself to the committee and a recommendation for his dismissal was made which was ratified by the board.
“So, if he has any other issues, he should go to the same industrial court and make his case and not on the pages of newspapers.”
Yusuf accused Akogun of high handedness, disrespect, corruption and staying perpetually as chairman of AUPCTRE. He alleged that the genesis of his problem with the union was his refusal to be controlled by Akogun and his group.
Yusuf also identified the issue of the weigh-in allowance, to which only members of RATTAWU are entitled, as a major cause of the problems. He said AUPCTRE has only 26 members while RATTAWU has 210, yet Akogun as leader of the minority union, kept causing disaffection.
“He has stayed 14 years as the leader of the union. He is a law unto himself and even members of his union feared him. He wants to be a parallel management. He built a house which he has not declared to the code of conduct, we have the pictures,” Yusuf told The Nation.
According to him, all the contracts awarded by his management followed due process and were advertised in national media.
Yusuf showed some of the documents of what he claimed were evidences that all contracts went through tender. He denied ever corruptly enriching himself and insisted that his administration has transformed the National Theatre.
Toyin Muhammed, Principal Officer, Corporate Affairs, who took The Nation on an inspection tour of the facility, said the AUPCTRE members are fighting because Yusuf refused to dance to their tunes. He praised the general manager’s transformation agenda.
He said the Banquet Hall has been refurbished with customised carpet and chandelier, while the Theatre Hall too was upgraded with new equipment and digital lightening. Also some of the corridors have new tiles and have been painted.
“This man wants to transform this place but these people don’t want as long as they won’t be in control. If we can concession the fallow land, there is a clause that a certain percentage would be used to refurbish the main bowl and we will bring Victoria Island to this place,” he said.
It was difficult getting across to Akogun for reaction to Yusuf’s allegation. He simply cited the Justice Amadi ruling, which ordered that all party maintained the status quo ante.
But, other members of the union, who are not parties to the suit, said the case of dismissal against Akogun was a big set up.
The Nation learnt that the allegation of a substandard cable was discovered when Akogun was on leave and has been transferred out of the department.
One union member said: “Akogun was on leave when the issue came up and it was the time they transferred him out of the department. So, he had no idea what they were doing there.
“He refused to go to the committee because the members are also part of police investigation into the threat to his life and as a senior officer; the rule says he can only be disciplined by the board.
“All of that were just a way to dismiss him. For three straight years, he was the best staff in the National Theatre and suddenly, he is buying fake cables and being incompetent. How logical is that?”
Interestingly, in the letter of dismissal – a copy of which was shown to The Nation – with reference number NT/PF/AK014/C/1 dated April 24, 2015, no reference was made to the issue of cables, contrary to what Yusuf said.
In the letter, Akogun was dismissed for “absenteeism without leave, insubordination and assault on a superior colleague.”
Curiously too, the chairman of the Board, Ishaya, also had germane issues against the general manager. In an interview with The Nation, he accused Yusuf of not carrying the board along on major decisions.
Ishaya said: “The main thing is that the board members are not carried along and he alone cannot be the board. During the road show, he made estimates that I wasn’t aware of how he got to that amount and up till now, he has not called back on it. I am thinking of calling an emergency meeting to investigate.”
The board chairman also frowned at the various court cases instituted by Yusuf against the union and its leaders. “The general manager should not always be in court with his staff, it doesn’t speak well of him, and I have instructed him not to appeal on behalf of the board because we didn’t ask him and he cannot be taking unilateral decisions on behalf of the board.”
Ishaya has recommended Yusuf for investigation over the various accusations and if found guilty, should be sacked.
“He should be investigated and if he is guilty should be sacked he is not above that,” Ishaya said.
But, unknown to Ishaya, Yusuf had already appealed the judgment according to what he told The Nation.
As the union members await the implementation of the court orders, which would have reinstated them, the general manager, through his appeal, may have surprises in store for them. Besides the fact that this action has effectively put paid to any hope of a quick resolution of the controversy, it has opened another flank of crises with the board.