Nigerian government sacks civil servant for criticising Okonjo-Iweala

Yushau Shuaib
Yushau Shuaib

The Federal Government has fired a civil servant in the Ministry of Information for writing an article considered critical of the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

In the letter communicating Yushau Shuaib’s removal from service, the government also referred to him as Assistant Chief Information Officer even though he was promoted Chief Information Officer with effect from January 1, 2012, suggesting that he might have been demoted as well.

The former spokesperson of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, was sacked for writing an article, published by PREMIUM TIMES, alleging that some appointments by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala were lopsided.

The article, titled, “Still on Okonjo-Iweala over Controversial Appointments” published on March 6, also called on the minister “to ensure that appointments into important positions should be done in credible and transparent manners that can withstand public scrutiny.”

Angered by the article, PREMIUM TIMES gathered that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala asked the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, to discipline Mr Shuaib.

According to Mr. Shuaib, the finance minister telephoned him and fumed that he accused her wrongly in the article but that he remained undaunted.

He was afterwards recalled from his post in NEMA, with his salary subsequently suspended.

But in a letter circulated to his friends and associates on Wednesday morning, Mr. Shuaib announced that he had been eased out of service in the guise of retirement.

He said, “Finally on Thursday October 3, 2013, I received a letter of retirement from the Federal Civil Service, which was backdated to June 20, 2013. Though the letter erroneously referred to me as Assistant Chief Information Officer (ACIO) (because as a fact, I had been promoted a Chief Information Officer (CIO) with effect from January 1, 2012), it contained the charge that I was retired for criticising a public officer.

After consultation with my family members, all of who believe that my life is more precious than political and administrative scheming, I accepted my disengagement from the civil service effective today (October 9, 2013) leaving my traducers in the ultimate court of the creator.

“I had made up my mind about the civil service that I had served diligently and professionally without allowing myself to be influenced or intimidated by anyone.

“I had been summoned, issued letters of queries and confronted with verbal threats in the vain hope that I would retract the write-up and tender an apology. Of course, I stood my grounds in the same way that I had politely declined the minister’s request during the telephone conversation.”

Mr. Shuaib was hired by the federal civil service in 1993 immediately after completing his national youth service assignment, for his dedication and service.

As a corps member, he won the best writer and researcher award in Delta State for his brilliance and dedication to service. He also won the NYSC National Honours Award.

He served in Federal Ministries of Information, Finance, Health, National Assembly, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), National Press Centre and finally National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) as either Press Secretary or Head of Public Relations.

Despite working for government, Mr. Shuaib remained one of the most published commentators on public affairs in Nigeria, explaining government polices and subtly criticising public officials from time to time.

Information Minister Labaran Maku had told PREMIUM TIMES in April, when Mr. Shaibu was recalled from NEMA following the article, that it was not Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala that requested him to punish Mr. Shuaib.

In a text message response to enquiries by this newspaper, Mr. Maku, through his spokesperson, Joseph Mutah, said then that Mr. Shuaib’s redeployment was in order.

“The Honourable Minister of Finance didn’t authorise the redeployment and doesn’t have to do so. Such matters are within the purview of the Public Communication and Human Resources Departments,” he said.

Read the controversial article below or find it here.

——————————————————————-

Still on Okonjo-Iweala over Controversial Appointments, By Yushau Shuaib

March 6, 2013

I still wonder how the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and the Honourable Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is in the eye of the storm. Her grandiose title is not a mere tautology as some people will assume. Being the first holder of that title in Nigeria’s history, her position could be seen as equivalent to that of a Prime Minister, which gave her the mandate to oversee and superintend over every other ministry, department and agency of government including their budgetary allocations and revenue expenditures. She is invariably the next most powerful cabinet member after President Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo.

In the last ten years, this writer is one of her ardent admirers who is impressed by her academic accomplishments and enviable working experiences on the international scene including her contributions to Nigeria’s economic development after her appointment as the first female Finance Minister and later first female Foreign Affairs Minister by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 and 2006. Though she left the administration unceremoniously over personal issues, her tenure then was a success story.

One of the major reasons some of us believe strongly in the ability of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was the way and manner she carried major players both from the North and the South along while she was Minister of Finance between 2003 and 2006. She was never accused of discrimination or bias against any of the diverse groups of the ethnically charged and religiously polarized nation. The same will be said of her then principal, Olusegun Obasanjo who, despite some of his shortcomings will never be accused of tribalism. He is a detribalized leader and a nationalist to the core who believes strongly in the Nigerian project.

The choice of her nominees into top public appointments and even the composition of her associates cut across every segment of Nigeria including those in her Economic Team like Nasir Elrufai, Nuhu Ribadu, Bode Agusto, Dr. Mansur Mukhtar and Chukwuma Soludo among others.

Her achievements too were glaring. We recall that in 2005 she led Nigeria to striking a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt amounting US $12 billion in return for an $18 billion debt write-off.

She ensured transparency in monthly federation account allocation by the introduction of monthly publication of the disbursements in selected media. She was instrumental to helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from an international ratings agency. Even when she left the government in 2006, her nongovernmental organisation, NOI Global Consulting, partnered with the Gallup Organization to introduce what may be described as the first credible opinion poll, the NOI poll, into the Nigerian polity.

With these at the background, it was not surprising that when she were reappointed by President Jonathan as Finance Minister and when she was shortlisted for the post of President of the World Bank in 2012, she received overwhelming support from all Nigerians. An online publication even claimed that some Northern Mallams were praying for her success in the mosques. Everyone at that period believed that she was a detribalized Nigerian with real-world experience of policy-making.

The reason for writing this write-up is to alert her to some disturbing trends as regards some recent appointments into top public offices in Nigeria in view of their economic and political implications. As the most powerful minister and an Igbo Princess from the Niger Delta by virtue of being a daughter of Obi of Ogwashi-Uku community in Delta State, I believe she should continue to live above board.

Recently the Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF) made some disturbing allegations of ethnic cleansing of Yoruba in federal appointments by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. The wife of the sage, Chief HID Awolowo and the retired Bishop of Akure, Rt. Rev. Bolanle Gbonigi, in Ikenne Ogun State after the meeting of the forum accused the administration of systematically excluding the Yoruba nation from the federation in terms of appointments without justification. They called on the government to redress the “systematic discrimination” against the Yoruba nationality in federal appointive positions without delay, saying that the Yoruba have been getting “crumbs” from the administration.

No sooner than the Yoruba allegation was made that the Northern Senators Forum (NSF) also publicly lamented gaping marginalization against the North over appointments and promotions in the military. According to these distinguished Nigerians, there are lopsidedness in employment and postings in the Nigerian Army in favour of the Igbos, which is clearly in the breach of the principle of Federal Character.

She should be aware that many Nigerians are referring to a book, ‘Chinua Achebe Teacher of Light’ which she co-authored where she expressed bitterness about how her tribe was dealt with before, during and after the civil war and insinuating that now that she is in authority, she is determined to correct all that she perceived as injustice against her people. Some even insist that what she is doing now is promoting regional and ethnic agenda to the detriment of other groupings in Nigeria by manipulating appointments.

To drive the point home, her name has been lately mentioned as collaborating with another Igbo top ranking appointee in government to ensure the reinstallation of Arunma Oteh as Director General of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) despite the glaring allegations against her and consistent calls by the National Assembly for her removal. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala stood her ground, damning all and today, Ms. Oteh remains in the position.

While the debate on Ms. Oteh’s saga was yet to subside, a coalition of youths, led by human rights activist and President of Civil Rights Congress, Shehu Sani, queried the rationale behind the appointment of a new Chairman for the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) when a northerner, Kabir Mashi, was already in the position and improving the revenue base of the agency, especially VAT collection for the Federation Account. Under Mashi FIRS has continued to record steady increases in the collection of taxes that it closed the 2012 financial year with a total collection of N5 trillion where N1.8 trillion (36.07 per cent) came from non-oil taxes.

The group claimed that the committee that Okonjo-Iweala set up was a smokescreen just to give a semblance of due process and fairness whereas it was populated mainly by her Igbo kinsmen. They added that “We don’t believe there is transparency in the process, and we caution the President against the excessive ceding of his own power to the finance minister.”

They publicly criticized her of playing an ethnic game with many of the appointments made in the country since she returned to the saddle. Some of the other positions, they alleged, which were created and filled during this period include those of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Sovereign Wealth Fund, Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) and even the recent appointment of a 40 year old lady as Director General of National Pension Commission (PENCOM).

People are wondering at the coincidence of only Igbos beating every other person at competitive interviews conducted by her nominated international consulting groups. The only semblance of federal character principle in some of those institutions is the appointment of ceremonious but temporary chairmen who are merely figure-heads, with mandates for mere advisory roles.

The use of catchy phrases such as “best brains,” “foreign trained,” and “foreign-based” to deprived qualified, competent and experienced Nigerians to aspire to top positions is quite inimical to the progress of our nation. The erroneous impression that some competitive and sensitive positions can only be filled by unique intelligent tribes must be corrected.

Experiences have shown that in practical situations, some so-called foreign trained and bookish first class graduates could not do better than other Nigerians who have the competence and experience to prove their worth in most difficulty terrains.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala should also note that blatant disregard to the sensitivities and sensibilities of others while arrogantly promoting only people from her tribe may expose them to hatred with potentially explosive consequences such as those experienced in the 1960s when most federal positions were occupied by a particular tribal group.

For those of us who still respect the Hon Minister of Finance and Economic Development, we strongly believe she should dissociate herself from current allegations of ‘biafranization’ of top public offices in Nigeria. We are in a democratic government where policy issues should not be done in dictatorial manner of ‘we-are-now-in-power’.

I therefore urge her to ensure that appointments into important positions should be done in credible and transparent manners that can withstand public scrutiny. I believe strongly that only those that mean well will dare to tell the truth on the general feeling in the country.