Samson Folarin

The Governing Board of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research has told the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, why it cannot reinstate a former Director-General of the institute, Chima Igwe.

The board, in a letter detailing the genesis of the problem, accused Onu of supporting Igwe at the detriment of the integrity and values of the agency.

Igwe’s doctorate controversy came to a climax recently with the decision of the FIIRO disciplinary committee to demote him to the position he held 18 years ago.

This was after it emerged he did not have the PhD he claimed he got in 2001, and on which basis he had got several promotions.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission had also indicted Igwe.

However, the minister, in a letter to the FIIRO board Chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Gwarzo, overruled the ICPC’s report and faulted the decision to demote Igwe.

Onu, in a two-page letter, said the 58-year-old was not given a fair hearing and the ministry was not carried along in all the processes.

He noted that the appointment of the new acting Director General, Dr Agnes Asagbra, was not in line with public service rules.

“It is in the light of the above that I write to inform that the leadership of the ministry has concluded that decisions taken by the board on February 13, 2020 as outlined are in error and deemed null and void.

“Accordingly, the decisions of the meeting of February 25, 2020 as given below should be fully implemented: That the decisions taken by the governing board as contained in 1 (i) to 1(iii) above is of no effect as Chima Igwe remains the overseeing director-general of the agency,” he said.

However, the board chairman, in a response to the letter, expressed “dismay” at the accusation of the minister that Igwe was not given fair hearing.

He said Igwe was given two years to present a certificate after over 17 years of his claim to have graduated from Universite d’Abomey Calavi, Benin Republic.

“The crisis on Mr. Chima Igwe’s certificate began in September 2018 when the governing board received a petition that he presented a fraudulent Ph.D certificate to FIIRO in 2002.

“Prof. Gloria Elemo (former DG) also informed the board that all efforts to get Mr. Igwe to submit his thesis to the library of FIIRO as required of all Ph.D holders in the institute since 2015 proved abortive.

“The board directed Prof. Elemo to investigate the allegation and she reported at the next board meeting that the High Commission of Nigeria in Benin Republic had assisted with the verification and presented a letter written by Igwe’s university that he registered for Ph.D. programme for three consecutive years.

“The board noted that the letter neither confirmed that the attestation sent for verification originated from the school, nor that he completed the study and was awarded a Ph.D. Based on these observations, the board directed the director general to request Igwe to present his certificate, but he couldn’t.

“The matter came up at another board meeting when the board was informed by the then director-general that the case had been taken to the ICPC for investigation, and she was directed to give Igwe one- month ultimatum to submit his certificate; but the ultimatum expired without Igwe’s compliance,” he added.

The chairman said after some time, the DG was asked to institute disciplinary actions against Igwe.

He noted that the board, while looking for Elemo’s replacement called for the files of all research directors and it was discovered that everyone had a PhD certificate, except the embattled worker.

Gwarzo said it was the reason the next most senior officer was initially recommended to the minister as acting DG, which was ignored by Onu.

“After Igwe took the acting appointment as director general, the ministry gave him an ultimatum to produce his certificate within three weeks after he reported the board to the minister for having an ‘anointed candidate’ for the position, but he also failed to comply.

“Rather, he wrote to the ministry to request more time and presented a sworn affidavit that he had requested his certificate from the university, meaning he lied under oath because he had yet to qualify for a certificate he claimed to have applied for.

“The governing board called the attention of the ministry to Igwe’s failure to submit his certificate months after the ultimatum lapsed, but no action was taken, making it clear that the ministry was backing and supporting Igwe’s recalcitrant attitude,” the letter added.

The board said instead of the minister querying the appointment of Asagbra, Onu should have known that the appointment of Igwe as acting DG was irregular because he had no PhD certificate as required by law.

The FIIRO leadership said the 58-year-old ought to have been a principal research officer and not a director, as provided in the Schemes of Service of Research Institutes.

“His appointment by the ministry contravenes Public Service Rules 160201 and 160301, which stipulates that the governing board shall be responsible for all appointments, promotions and disciplines of staff and the Conditions of Service for Federal Research Institutes, College of Agriculture and Allied Institutions Chapter 2.1.3 (c) which guides that the board shall conduct the process of appointment of the head of the institutions and recommend three most qualified candidates to the President through the minister.

“It therefore, amounts to breach of administrative process for the minister to make appointments which the governing board is empowered to make,” he added.

Gwarzo said it was “immoral and unjust” to keep the leadership of the institute hanging for Igwe to complete his academic programme, when many of his colleagues had lost years of promotion and seniority for not having the same certificate.

“The board did not deem it appropriate to encourage such favoritism and double standard. A certificate is a prerequisite for appointment and not appointment, then presentation of certificate!” he added.

The board chairman added that Igwe became a director by laying claim to a PhD he did not have.

He added that based on official communication from the Benin varsity, the board established that he completed the doctorate in February 2020.

“Igwe does not possess the requisite post-doctoral years’ experience to lead the institute and should revert to the grade level commensurate to his new academic status.

“Mr Chima Igwe is currently facing disciplinary action for insubordination, disobedience to board directives to return to his department until otherwise guided and unauthorised absenteeism from work since February 12, 2020, till Friday, May 8, 2020; an offence that attracts dismissal from office.

“Any officer with a pending case for which penalty is dismissal cannot be reinstated to assume leadership position in the institute until the case is determined; unless the ministry wants to encourage indiscipline and acts of serious misconduct in the institute.

“The ministry had treated the board shabbily and never given fair hearing, but always took sides with Igwe. Correspondences of the governing board to the ministry on Igwe, including its conclusion during the board meeting of March 17, 2020, were never acknowledged by the ministry, whereas every submission of Igwe received prompt attention,” the letter added.

The board challenged the ministry to go to Benin Republic for clarification of the issues.

Copyright PUNCH.

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