The Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offenses Commission, ICPC, has waded into the lingering management crisis that has been rocking the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, NEPC, for some years now.
In a March 6, 2019 memo, the anti-graft agency directed Mr. Segun Awolowo, NEPC’s Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), to, among others, reverse the termination of the appointment of four directors whom he sent packing on October 15, 2018.
The sack came in utter disregard to the NEPC Board and two resolutions by the House of Representatives.
Declaring the sack as ultra vires, the ICPC ordered Awolowo to reinstate the sacked four officers “on or before the 1st of April 2019.”
The affected officers include a deputy director on Grade Level 16-Mr. Abdullahi Kudu Mamman; and the three others who are all assistant directors on Grade Level 15, namely: Mr. Tijjani K. Zakari, Mrs. Tokubo F. Adeyemi and Mr. Mansur M. Yusuf.
Prior to the unlawful termination of their appointment, Mamman had served at the NEPC Kano Regional Office, Zakari at Gusau state office; Adeyemi at Benin state office, and Yusuf, at NEPC headquarters in Abuja.
In its March 6, 2019 memo to Awolowo, the ICPC noted that it had fully investigated violations of Public Service Rules, Federal Character provisions and other irregularities by the Segun Awolowo-led management of NEPC in the conduct of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 promotion exercises, as well as issues “bothering on abuse of office and diversion of public funds contrary to the ICPC ACT 2000.”
“Investigation confirmed the lack of due process in the Council’s 2012, 2013 and 2014 promotion exercises,” the ICPC said, “as well as sundry violations of Sections16, 19 and 26 of the above cited Act by key officials of the Council.”
Consequently, the ICPC directed that the unjustly sacked persons be reinstated before or on the 1st of April, 2019, stating that “The Commission views their dismissal as victimization and deliberate attempt to frustrate the investigation which amounts to offence under the ICPC Act 2000.”
That is not all. The ICPC, in the memo signed by Akeem Lawal, Director, Operations, on behalf of the Chairman, also told the Awolowo-led management at NEPC that it was coming to carry out a system audit “to identify/review the practices and processes that led to the infractions established in the course of investigation. Recommendations from the study must be implemented within a timeframe that will be stipulated by the Commission.’’
The ICPC also compelled Awolowo to “immediately” set up a transparency and anti-corruption unit to forestall flagrant violation of government regulations and other related infractions.
The sacked four directors were part of 27 senior staff members who wrote and signed a petition chronicling the sins of Mr. Segun Awolowo. These included abuse of office, lack of due process in the promotion exercises done in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively; as well as diversion of public funds.
Not the one to broach any ‘non-sense’, NEPC insiders said the CEO vowed to deal ruthlessly with the officers. The sources said Mr. Awolowo even boasted openly that even if his actions did not synchronise with extant rules, nobody can touch him.
“He touted his relationship with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to whoever cared to listen,” a source further informed.
The crisis, said another source, was allegedly stoked by high-handedness, discrimination and warped management style of the CEO who reportedly favoured acolytes with promotions and unmerited privileges.
At some point, Mr. Awolowo was said to have done everything possible to muscle the protesting NEPC officers, veiling his reported ineffective management style by dropping the name of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is married to his (Awolowo’s) niece.
The abnormal situation came to a head in 2015 with an irregular promotion exercise carried out by the NEPC boss and which made 27 staff members send a petition to the House of Representatives in 2016.
It is not abnormal for civil servants to petition both chambers of the National Assembly over issues of promotion, demotion, termination of appointment, etcetera.
Last October 15, Awolowo bared his fangs and wielded the big stick. He sacked the four directors to the chagrin of the House of Representatives which passed two resolutions on the matter, asking him to maintain the status quo. According to the lawmakers, the directors were only exercising their constitutional right.
The resolutions were communicated to the agency by the Clerk to the National Assembly Mohammed Sani-Omolori.
Chairman of the Board, Senator Ibrahim Musa, was also unhappy with Awolowo’s unilateral action, declaring that the action was a nullity as the board never adopted any resolution of the minutes of the meeting where the decision was reportedly taken.
In the sack leters, titled ‘Termination of Appointment for Services no Longer Required,’ Awolowo said that the decision was reached at the NEPC’s governing board’s meeting of October 10, 2018.
Although the board’s chairman confirmed that the decision was reached during one of their meetings, he said members of the board were yet to adopt the minutes of the meeting and he was yet to sign the document. He, therefore, concluded that the termination letters issued by Awolowo were ineffective; and the decision may be reversed.
“Honestly speaking, I was not in agreement with sacking those people,” Daily Trust quoted Senator Ibrahim Musa as saying. “Unfortunately, when we sat in the board meeting, about seven of us, I was the only person (who stood) for them. You know majority carry the day. Even if we were going to vote, I was the only person for them.
“I told them that these are family men who have responsibilities for their families, relatives and other people. But I was a lone fighter. There was a woman that I was able to convince them to commute her sack to retirement.
“After the board took that decision, before anything could be done, we were supposed to draft the minutes of the meeting, then we’ll come back to adopt. But that wasn’t done. I have not even signed the minutes of the meeting.
“After the meeting, three of my board members came back and reasoned with me. Unfortunately, the management has given them letters. But we were not in agreement with that.”
When the newspaper asked him if the board would revisit the matter, the chairman: “We’re thinking towards that very seriously. I think the ED and other staff there were already determined to terminate the career of those people.
“I’ve not signed the minutes up to now as I’m talking to you. So, I don’t think what they did has any effect. It’s not effective because we didn’t adopt the minutes.
“A lot of people have been calling me on this. There are concerns from the Senate, House of Reps, the ministry and everywhere. Whatever I can do to reverse that decision, I will do it. We can decide to call an emergency meeting, not necessarily a usual meeting, for this purpose to see what we can do.”
It was gathered that the four staff were singled out for sack as they were the principal officers among the petitioners and they refused to “beg Awolowo to forgive” them for embarrassing him by sending a petition to the House in the first place.
The remaining 23 staff that initially signed the petition were said to have apologised for their action, which was why they were not sacked alongside the four others.
Daily Trust reported that after receiving their sack letters, the embattled four wrote a letter, dated October 19, to the House, through Rep Aliyu Hamman-Pategi (PDP, Kwara), who chaired the adhoc panel constituted by the House last year to probe the matter.
They said in the letter that Awolowo disregarded the resolutions of both chambers and went ahead with their “illegal termination of appointments.”
“In view of the above, we are appealing to the National Assembly to intervene and stop the council from illegal termination of our appointments and to further direct for the immediate compliance with the National Assembly’s resolutions,” they said.
Some members of the House panel were miffed about the development and vowed to take up the matter.