After failed attempts by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, to install a demoted official of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, Chima Igwe, as the agency’s Director-General, the minister has announced the reconstitution of the governing board of the agency.
This was a sequel to his dissolution of the board contrary to the four-year term of their membership.
Stakeholders claimed that the board dissolution did not follow due process and had no authority of the President, Muhammadu Buhari, who alone had such powers.
Aside from FIIRO, Onu also dissolved the boards of 11 other parastatals under him, including the National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI), Nigerian Institute of Science Laboratory Technology (NISLT), Nigerian Institute for Trypanosomiasis and Onchocerciasis (NITR), National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), National Centre For Technology Management (NACETEM), National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT), Zaria, Project Development Institute (PRODA), Enugu, among others.
Onu, in an internal memo, said the inauguration of the new governing boards would take place on Thursday, October 14, 2021.
He also claimed in the document that he obtained approval from the President to reconstitute the boards.
Our correspondent had reported that the agencies rejected the letters of dissolution sent to them by the minister dated August 5, 2021, insisting that Onu did not follow due process.
The chairmen, while saying that they had four years to serve, which would elapse in 2022, noted that only Buhari had the powers to dissolve them.
The PRODA chairman, Daniel Onjeh, in a letter to the minister, said, “The PRODA board expects your office to convey the approval of Mr President that the PRODA board is dissolved or its tenure elapsed. Till then, I and other members of the PRODA board will disregard your letter under reference.”
On his part, the FIIRO Chairman, Ibrahim Gwarzo, stated, “The exercise carried out in the course of the inauguration of boards under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, was on behalf of Mr President and the same in the course of dissolution. Based on the foregoing, a minister cannot appoint or dissolve a board.”
One of the affected chairmen, who spoke on Sunday, said the minister was creating confusion in the system.
He noted that his team had spent three years and five months in office.
“If he is saying we have three years in office, instead of four, does that mean the five months is an extra or a bonus?
“The process of disengagement as we know are three: Mr President can appoint a board to replace a former one. Two, Mr President can ask the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to issue disengagement letters. Three, Mr President can announce through the SGF a board’s dissolution.
“The chain of disengagement as per the processes is well spelt out. But none of this has happened,” he said.
A source told our correspondent that most of the agencies under Onu’s supervision did not have substantive director generals.
He noted that aside from FIIRO with a documented record of face-offs with the minister, a few agencies had reported him for interfering with their workings.
The source said, “He exhibits high-handedness over governing boards in the ministry, faults processes and ensures that no substantive DG for any of the agencies, only acting overseeing directors in all the agencies under him. In fact, a Senate committee took this up some time ago.
“Also, the minister bypasses the permanent secretary, who is the chief operating officer in the ministry; he is using an acting director and his own appointed special adviser to perpetrate this kangaroo board inauguration in a ministry where there are a number of full directors and a permanent secretary.”
Our correspondent obtained a memo by the Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, and addressed to Onu on the complaint of the NITR Governing Council.
He was asked to stop interfering with the running of the agency.
The letter, dated September 1, 2021, also directed the NITR Governing Board to commence the process of appointing a substantive director-general in line with extant rules and regulations.
A similar letter was addressed by the Chief of Staff to the President to Onu on FIIRO.
The letter, dated September 7, 2021, declined the minister’s request to confirm his candidate, Igwe, as the director-general of the institute.
It also asked Onu to allow the governing board to operate freely, and directed the board to commence the process of appointing a substantive director-general.
Stakeholders wondered how the President would in September 2021 direct the governing boards to appoint substantive heads if he (Buhari) dissolved them as insinuated by Onu in his letters of dissolutions dated August 2021.
“The minister is bitter because of ‘Igwe-gate’. He is bent on disregarding the presidential directive and selecting new board members. He is arranging a Kangaroo selection and inauguration without the backing of the Federal Government.
“The incumbent boards were appointed by the Federal Government and can only be dissolved by the same Federal Government. Deliberately, he is not using the ministry’s secretariat for the inauguration,” a source said.
The Special Adviser to the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ibiam Oguejiofo, and the acting Director, PRPA, Irene Ijoma, whose contacts were on the letter of inauguration of the new governing boards, did not take their calls which rang out 11 times in total.
As of press time, they had yet to respond to text messages from our correspondent seeking clarification on the new governing boards.