All is not at ease at the national headquarters of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Abuja, the nation’s capital, where an alleged ploy by its Director General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, to “illegally” extend his tenure of office has stoked a fire of dissent.
The confusion, The Crest learnt from credible sources, began when the Director General shunned an order by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Alhaji Abdullahi Mashi, to step aside.
Mashi, it was further gathered, premised his order on Dr. Ihekweazu’s letter of appointment, dated August 15, 2016, which, a source said, stated that the CEO’s tenure ends with the expiration of President Muhari’s first term on May 28, 2019.
But Dr. Ihekweazu, an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician, reportedly refused to comply.
The source, who has a deep knowledge of the unfolding confusion, said the Director General’s blunt refusal to step aside, so infuriated Mashi that he filed an official complaint against him at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha.
Now, it appears the chicken has come home to roost for Dr. Ihekweazu as the presidency is said to have started shopping for his replacement.
“There is a complete loss of confidence in the DG,” another source said. “NCDC is at a standstill. Activities have almost grounded to a halt because of this stalemate. Most staff members and top officials no longer hold meetings with him. Nobody seems to know what is going on.
“If this stalemate is quickly resolved, it may have adverse effect on the ability of the centre to effectively respond to the challenges of public health emergencies.
To be sure, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu’s letter of appointment, was issued and signed by the sacked SGF, Babachir David Lawal. Though it was dated August 1, 2016, the agency noted on its Facebook page that:
“Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu resumes office today as the CEO of NCDC at the Headquarters in Abuja. At the transition ceremony where officers and partners from across the country gathered, he thanked his predecessor for his leadership role in initiating the NCDC and promised to lead the organisation to become one that will command the trust and respect of Nigerians in its ability to fulfil its mandate of protecting the health of the Nigerian people.”
Here is Ihekweazu’s appointment letter as issued by Babachir Lawal;
Ref. No. SGF.6/XXI/356
APPOINTMENT OF NATIONAL COORDINATOR/CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE NIGERIA CENTRE FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION (NCDC)
“I am pleased to inform you that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has approved your appointment as National Coordinator/Chief Executive Officer of the National Office for the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC).
“The appointment took effect from 25th July, 2016 and your emoluments and other conditions of service are as provided under Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances etc.) (Amendment) Act, 2008.
“I am to add that your tenure terminates at the end of this Administration unless otherwise decided by Mr. President.
“Please accept my congratulations and best wishes on your appointment.”
The permanent secretary’s order to Dr. Ihekweazu has triggered a leadership tussle in the establishment.
The NCDC currently has four Directors. They include: Dr. Joshua Obasanya, the most senior; Dr. Olubunmi Ojo, Dr. Nwando Mba and Dr. Y. Y. Abdullahi.
The Deputy Directors are: Dr. John Oladejo, Dr. Elsie Ilori, Dr. Priscilla Ibekwe, Dr. Chinwe Ochu and Dr. Olufemi Ayoola.
Had Dr. Ihekweazu complied with the permanent secretary’s order, he would have handed over to Dr. Joshua Obasanya. But since he is not in a hurry to leave, the status quo remains. Only President Muhamadu Buhari can determine how long more he would stay on the job.
“I remember the last meeting they had with him was about two days after the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari for another term on May 29,” a concerned staff recalled.
“The DG should have left office on May 28 but he told them that he would leave office Tuesday of the following week. Twenty-four hours to the day, he called them again and announced that he would leave office the following Thursday.
“All of a sudden, the next thing we saw was a letter from the DG, informing all Directors, Heads of Departments and members of staff that he would go on one-week leave from June 13 to 21.”
The letter, dated June 11, 2019, reads: “Dear Colleagues, I will be proceeding on annual leave from the 13th to 21st of June, 2019.
“During this period, Dr. Joshua Obasanya will act in my capacity as Director-General.
“I am very grateful for the hard work and support from you all in the first half of this year. It has been an extremely busy period but with a lot of success and remarkable achievements.
“The prospects of what we can achieve in the next half of the year are very exciting. I look forward to more progress on this journey.
“Once again colleagues, thank you very much for your support.
“Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.”
Rather than douse the spiking tension in NCDC, the last paragraph of that letter has aggravated the situation. It reads: “The prospects of what we can achieve in the next half of the year are very exciting. I look forward to more progress on this journey.”
Many in the organisation have construed that to imply that the DG does not intend to leave office any time soon.
In fact, the source said the DG “is still signing cheques and awarding contracts, backdating them to May 27”.
All efforts to get Dr. Ihekweazu to react to the development were fruitless. Calls to his mobile phone were unanswered and everybody in his office seemed to have sworn to an oath of secrecy.
Their unanimous answer to our enquiries was: “No comment.” Or, “We are civil servants. We are not allowed to speak to the press by the nature of our jobs.”
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, according to information gleaned from its website, was established in 2011 “in response to the challenges of public health emergencies and to enhance Nigeria’s preparedness and response to epidemics through prevention, detection, and control of communicable diseases. Its core mandate is to detect, investigate, prevent and control diseases of national and international public health importance.
“The mission for the NCDC next five years (2017-2021) is ‘To protect the health of Nigerians through evidence-based prevention, integrated disease surveillance and response activities, using a one health approach, guided by research and led by a skilled workforce’
“The core functions of the NCDC include:
- Prevent, detect, and control diseases of public health importance.
- Coordinate surveillance systems to collect, analyse and interpret data on diseases of public health importance.
- Support States in responding to small outbreaks, and lead the response to large disease outbreaks.
- Develop and maintain a network of reference and specialized laboratories.
- Lead Nigeria’s engagement with the international community on diseases of public health relevance
- Conduct, collate, synthesize and disseminate public health research to inform policy.
The Centre has close to one hundred staff, working across its locations at the Headquarters and the National Reference Laboratory in Abuja, as well as the Central Public Health Laboratory in Lagos State which is a campus of the National Reference Laboratory.
Led by a Director General, the members of staff work in six Directorates, four of which are Technical Directorates. These include:
- Public Health Laboratory Services
- Prevention and Programs Coordination
- Emergency Preparedness and Response
- Surveillance and Epidemiology
- Finance and Accounts
- Administration and Human Resources.”