The governing board of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, Lagos, has asked a former acting Director-General of the agency, Chima Igwe, to refund the salaries he collected for the period he gained fraudulent promotions.
This was contained in a letter served on Igwe affirming his demotion and asking him to revert to the position of a Principal Research Officer.
Our correspondent learnt that the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, allegedly bypassed the board and submitted Igwe’s name to the Presidency for approval as DG of FIIRO.
He was said to have been asked not to usurp the power of the board.
The Emir of Kano and some top government officials, including a senator, were reported to have pleaded on Igwe’s behalf as the governing board refused to back down on its decision.
PUNCH Metro had reported how Igwe was appointed the acting DG of FIIRO in May 2019 by Onu despite the controversies surrounding his PhD.
The doctorate had been a subject of investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, the basis for which the board initially opposed his appointment.
While the ICPC dithered in revealing its findings on the matter, investigations by our correspondent revealed that Igwe had used a phantom PhD to gain three promotions.
He used an attestation letter from Universite d’Abomey Calavi, Benin Republic, where he was running a doctorate programme, to claim he concluded his studies in 2001.
The document, dated 2002, was signed by his supervisor, Professor Mansour Moudachirou.
But Moudachirou and the varsity’s Director of Postgraduate Studies, Professor Joel Tossa, revealed to our correspondent that the document never meant he graduated, adding that he had yet to defend his thesis.
The ICPC initially cleared Igwe, before backtracking and reopening the case.
The agency’s former spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, said investigations showed that Igwe had yet to complete the programme.
The 58-year-old was subsequently suspended and replaced by another FIIRO official, Dr Agnes Asagbra, as he hurried back to Benin Republic to defend his thesis.
The Benin varsity, a day after defence, issued him another document dated February 2020, saying he had become a PhD holder.
Meanwhile, the FIIRO disciplinary board, after concluding sitting on the case, recommended that he should be returned to the position he held before laying claim to the degree.
But the Minister of Science and Technology, Onu, in a letter to the board, dismissed the ICPC indictment of Igwe and ordered that he should be reinstated.
The board Chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Gwarzo, however, insisted that FIIRO, as an academic and research institute, could not play with the issue of certificate dishonesty.
When Onu persisted in his demand, the board wrote letters to the Presidency through the Chief of Staff; the Head of Service, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, seeking intervention.
Our correspondent was told that as the face-off continued, the minister allegedly wrote two letters to the Presidency, seeking the dissolution of the board.
“In the first letter, he said the board was disloyal, insubordinate and disrespectful. He particularly accused the board chairman of being in total control of the FIIRO management and directors. In the second letter, he sent three names, with Igwe’s name on top. He said Igwe should be appointed as DG.
“The Presidency wrote back to the ministry and said they should allow the board to do its work and they should stop interfering. I believe the letters the board earlier wrote for intervention eventually paid off for them,” a source said.
PUNCH Metro gathered that after the Federal Government relaxed the ban on interstate movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the governing board converged for a meeting in Lagos, where several issues were addressed.
It was learnt that at the meeting, Igwe’s demotion was reaffirmed.
A source, who sighted a letter served on the embattled official, confirmed earlier reports by our correspondent that he was asked to revert to the position of Principal Research Officer.
“He was reminded that he had collected salaries on false pretences and he was liable. It was an indirect way of telling him that he had to refund the money if he did not want to face prosecution,” the source said.
A senior official of the agency said some top people had been asked to beg for Igwe.
Because the board chairman is resident in Kano, the emir was reported to have been contacted for help, as Gwarzo was called for a meeting.
“The desperation has got to that level. Despite all the pressure and threats, the board has stood its ground,” the source said.
PUNCH Metro gathered that the minister had stopped communicating with the agency.
A member of the FIIRO board told our correspondent that letters written to the ministry, including on the process of the appointment of a substantive DG, had been ignored.
Onu did not take his calls and had yet to respond to a text from our correspondent as of press time.
A spokesperson for the ministry, Mr Aminu Abdulganiyu, also did not respond to phone calls or a text message from our reporter.