Nigeria: Controversy As Nigerian Agency Promotes Demoted Ex-DG Facing Prosecution

Meanwhile, when approached for his comment on the matter, the chairman of the newly constituted governing board of the agency, Magaji Gambo, said he would not like to speak to our reporter.

A fresh crisis is brewing at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Lagos, following the promotion of the agency’s embattled former director-general, Chima Igwe, as a departmental head, in contravention of the recommendation of a panel set up by the office of the head of service of the federation, which had approved his demotion to the position of a chief researcher.

The latest decision, which was reportedly sanctioned by the minister of science, technology and innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, and contained in an internal memo dated March 21, 2022, was signed by the acting director, human resources management and administration, C.A. Ibe.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, was titled, ‘Reverting to Status Quo on the Position of Dr Chima Igwe as Director, Chemical, Fibre and Environmental Technology Department.’

It read in part, “I am directed to inform you that following the recommendation of a report of the ministerial committee on the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, the directive of the Governing Board and the approval of the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, the status quo on the position of Dr Chima C. Igwe is hereby maintained. Consequently, all staff under the above-named department are expected to comply accordingly. Kindly note, for the sake of emphasis, that Dr Chima C. Igwe remains the substantive director of the department.”

The latest development has also ignored an ongoing prosecution of Mr Igwe at the Ikeja Special Offences Court in Lagos by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

Mr Igwe, who is being tried on three count charges including certificate forgery, however, pleaded not guilty when his trial started in November 2021.

Union kicks

Meanwhile, the agency’s branch of the Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRAI) has condemned what it described as “a clear demonstration of impunity on the part of some officials of government.”

According to the union’s chairman, Mumeen Togunde, the commitment of the workers towards restoring sanity to the research institution will not be allowed to be compromised.

Mr Togunde said since his demotion, the embattled official had failed to resume work but “turned the minister’s office to his place of work where he is busy lobbying for his reinstatement.”

“But I can assure you that this impunity will not be allowed to stay. We fought tooth and nail to expose the fraud, we cannot rest on our oars now when the matter is still in court,” he added.

He said it was not clear if the official had refunded the agency as recommended by the probe panel, insisting that the position being recommended for the demoted official is meant for a senior officer.

Board chair declines comment

Meanwhile, when approached for his comment on the matter, the chairman of the newly constituted governing board of the agency, Magaji Gambo, said he would not like to speak to our reporter.

“If you need information on FIIRO kindly contact the agency directly, I have no information for you,” Mr Gambo said.

The acting DG of the agency, Yemisi Asagbara also gave excuses for her inability to speak on the matter.

Mrs Asagbara, who returned our reporter’s call on Tuesday evening, said she was on another call and pleaded that our reporter should call back. But many calls to her phone were not returned even on Wednesday morning.

On his part, the spokesperson for the ministry of science, technology and innovation, Ajibola Afonja, said he would confirm the authenticity of the claim and revert to the newspaper later.

“I will make enquiry to know the true picture and authenticity of this claim and get back to you in due course please,” Mr Afonja said in a short message to our reporter.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for FIIRO, Christopher Olumuyiwa, who was called many times, said he was on the road and that he would speak with our reporter whenever he got to the office. However, as of 11a.m on Wednesday, Mr Olumuyiwa said he was not yet in the office but assured our reporter that he would call back.

Backstory

Mr Igwe was appointed the acting DG of the institute on May 13, 2019, and sacked in February 2020 after failing to present his PhD certificate more than 17 years after claiming to have bagged the degree from a university in the Republic of Benin.

He was said to have been promoted many times based on the purported certificate. His alleged offence came into the limelight when his colleagues petitioned the ICPC.

According to information on the institute’s website, the 57-year-old joined as a research officer 1 and rose through the ranks to become the director of Chemical Fibre and Environmental Technology Department in June 2010.

Meanwhile, despite his indictment based on the ICPC conclusion, the minister, Mr Onu, still wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari seeking the confirmation of the embattled Mr Igwe as the substantive DG of the agency.

But rather than acceding his request, Mr Buhari, in a memo in September 2021, which was signed by Ibrahim Adamu, senior special assistant to the President (Administration and Operations), directed the minister to allow the board to function freely.

Mr Buhari also asked the ICPC to prosecute Mr Igwe for giving false information to his employers, even as the governing board was mandated to initiate the process of appointing a substantive DG.

But some concerned stakeholders have suggested that the new development is part of the ploy to appoint Mr Igwe the substantive DG by Mr Onu.

Trial

In his ongoing trial, ICPC told the court that the embattled officer did not defend his doctorate thesis, and is not qualified for the position he was offered.

In February, a prosecution witness and an investigator with the ICPC, Vera Esideme, told the court in February how the investigation was conducted.

Ms Esideme explained that one Mr Olusanya (late) was sent to the university where Mr Igwe claimed to have acquired the doctoral degree in the Benin Republic “to enquire about the certificate and our findings revealed that the defendants completed the coursework in 1999-2002 but, however, failed to defend his thesis publicly.”

“He did not actually obtain the certificate which he presented to FIIRO in 2002, which he used in getting to a level of a director in FIIRO and which also gave him the privilege of even being an acting DG of FIIRO,” Mrs Esideme said.

She added that; “Also, he applied to the university for him to be enlisted to defend the thesis as it was a condition for him to be issued a certificate and the findings also revealed that they had given him a date to make a public defence but he did not go for it.”

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