The PUNCH gathered on Sunday that the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, refused to back down on his demand for the reinstatement of a former boss of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Lagos, Chima Igwe.
But the FIIRO board insisted that Igwe would not return as the acting director general of the institute.
Our correspondent learnt that there was heated exchange of words between Onu and the FIIRO Board Chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Gwarzo, during a meeting penultimate Friday.
At the end of the meeting, the minister was said to have written a letter restating his demand for the reinstatement of Igwe.
Igwe was appointed the acting DG in May 2019, but was removed after the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission said he did not have a PhD, which he claimed he got in 2001.
The FIIRO disciplinary board thereafter recommended that he should be demoted to the position he held over 18 years ago.
However, Igwe reportedly shunned the directive of the board.
The Minister of Science and Technology, in a letter to the board chairman dated March 2020, faulted the demotion of Igwe and said he should be reinstated.
The board rejected the request and affirmed its resolution.
A source said the minister summoned the board chairman for a meeting in his office in Abuja on May 29.
Our correspondent learnt that the meeting was also attended by the Permanent Secretary and the Minister of State for Science and Technology, Muhammed Abdullahi.
“The minister made excuses for Igwe and told the board chairman that the man did not graduate in 2001 because he did not pay his school fees.
“The board chairman replied that the minister just acknowledged the board’s position that Igwe did not graduate as he claimed, which justified their position to demote him.
“The board chairman noted that since they replaced Igwe with Dr Agnes Asagbra, the minister had refused to acknowledge or invite the woman.
“Onu became angry and told the board chairman he was disrespectful. The chairman replied that there was no turning back on the board’s decision,” a source privy to the meeting said.
It was learnt that the minister also accused the FIIRO chairman of not giving Igwe fair hearing, as Gwarzo countered that the embattled official refused to honour the invitations of the board.
He reportedly said the only time Igwe answered the board was when he brought another attestation letter from his school, Universite d’Abomey Calavi, Benin Republic, dated February 2020.
“But the real certificate has not been issued by the Federal Ministry of Education in Benin Republic, as it is their practice there.
“According to reports and testimonies from the university, he defended his thesis within a few hours, waited to get the attestation letter the following day and rushed to Lagos to present the document to the board.
“The FIIRO board accepted the document as a degree. But for him to be asked to lead the institute is wrong. If the new attestation letter stated that he graduated in February 2020, there are many officers who graduated long before him. He cannot lead them.
“FIIRO is a research cum academic institute and the issue of certificate cannot be toyed with. If that is destroyed, the policy trust of President Buhari on transparency is destroyed,” another top source said.
Our correspondent learnt that despite the oppositions of the FIIRO board chairman, Onu insisted that he took the new letter.
A source told our correspondent that some members of the FIIRO board once visited the minister and met Igwe, who was already at the reception.
While both parties waited, the minister called Igwe in.
“The minister’s secretary asked who came from a traditional ruler, and Igwe stood up. He had a letter from a traditional ruler to the minister,” the source added.
After Onu’s first letter demanding Igwe’s reinstatement, the FIIRO board had written to the Chief of Staff to the President, the Head of Service and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, urging their interventions.
The Director of Communications, Office of the Head of Service, Mrs Olawunmi Ogunmosunle, confirmed that her boss received a letter from the FIIRO board.
She said, “Action is being taken on it. Very soon, you will see the resul.”
The Director of Information, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Willie Bassey, said he was not aware of any letter and could not comment on it.