A recent report from the office of the Head of Service (HoS) of the Federation has ratified the demotion and removal of a former Acting Director-General of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIRO), Chima Igwe, who was indicted for certificate fraud in 2019.
The report, which is the outcome of a presidency-sanctioned investigation, also endorsed the move by the governing board of FIIRO to commence the process of appointing a substantive director-general of the agency.
It came after the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) also indicted Mr Igwe and recommended that he should refund the remunerations he earned with the controversial certificate.
Mr Igwe has been under ICPC investigation for claiming to have secured a PhD at the Universite d’Abomey Calavi, Republic of Benin, but has no certificate to show for it.
He is said to have risen through the ranks in FIIRO based on a letter of attestation from the university for about 18 years, prompting some officials of the institute to petition the ICPC.
The ICPC said in a statement in February 2020 that investigation showed that Mr Igwe actually completed the three-year programme between 1999 and 2002, and wrote his thesis.
However, the commission said he did not defend the thesis, and so cannot be said to have been awarded a PhD.
It added that the university said that much in a letter to the Nigerian Mission in Benin dated January 22, 2020.
Based on the outcome of ICPC investigation, the FIIRO board suspended him and demoted him to the level he was 18 years ago.
Although many within and outside FIIRO called for the dismissal and prosecution of Mr Igwe for certificate fraud, the board only demoted him to the level he was 18 years ago.
The board also commenced the process for the appointment of substantive DG.
But the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonna Onu, who has been accused of showing undue interest in keeping Mr Igwe as the director-general of FIIRO, has opposed the fresh appointment process embarked upon by the board.
Presidency weighs in
In December 2020, the presidency, through the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Gambari, weighed in with a directive to the HoS of the Federation, Folashade Yemi-Esan, to investigate the allegations against Mr Igwe, as a follow-up to the ICPC investigation.
He wrote in the memo sent to the HoS that the President had “Directed that a detailed investigation be carried out by the Head of Service on the certification of Dr Chima Cartney Igwe as Director-General, Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) with necessary disciplinary actions, if required.”
The memo also directed that “in the interim, Dr. (Mrs.) EA. Asagbara should take over as Overseeing Director-General of FIIRO, pending the appointment of a substantive Director-General.”
Documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES showed that the panel set up by the HoS to investigate the matter concluded and submitted its report to the presidency through the Chief of Staff, in February.
The three-man investigative committee, headed by Babura Inuwa, in its report dated February 8, noted that the demotion of Mr Igwe should be upheld and that he should refund the illegal salaries obtained using the fake certificate.
“Arising from the report of the committee, the following are recommended:
“i. The placement of Dr Chima Cartney Igwe by the Governing Board of FIIRO as Chief Research Officer, CONRAISS 13, with effect from 18 July 2020 is in order and therefore it should be upheld;
“ii. The directives of the Governing Board, as well as ICPC recommendations, that Dr Chima Cartney Igwe should refund all salaries he had illegally earned from 18th July 2004 is in order and therefore it should be upheld;
“iii. Dr Igwe should submit a copy of his PhD thesis to the Institute in line with the extant regulations and practice; Dr Igwe should present his original PhD certificate No. 081 2020/UAC/EDSEA/D/SA dated 14th February 2020 to the Institute for sighting and submit a copy for record purposes in line with extant regulations and practice,” the executive summary of the report read in part.
The committee emphatically stated that based on his current rank as Chief Research Officer, Mr Igwe “is not qualified and should not be considered for the position of the substantive Director-General of FIIRO.”
The committee also recommended that the Governing Board should commence disciplinary procedures against Mr Igwe for absence from duty without leave or permission.
The report also cited the refusal of the indicted FIIRO boss to carry out lawful instructions from superior authority by reverting to the Chief Research Officer with effect from 18 July 2020.
The investigative committee also suggested in the report that the officials who approved the evaluation of Mr Igwe’s controversial PhD certificate be sanctioned.
“The Director (Education Support Services Department) who approved the evaluation, and the Assistant Director (Evaluation and Accreditation), who evaluated the Ph.D certificate in the Federal Ministry of Education, should be sanctioned for lack of diligence in the manner they handled the issue of Dr Igwe.”
It then advised the Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Onu, to allow the Governing Board of FIIRO to operate freely within the ambit of the provisions of extant regulations.
Minister resists recommendations
Despite the recommendations by the HoS corroborating an earlier indictment issued against Mr Igwe by the ICPC, the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, has continued to frustrate moves by the FIIRO board to appoint a substantive head for the agency.
In a recent letter dated May 21, 2021 seen by PREMIUM TIMES, he instructed the board to suspend the appointment of a substantive head for FIIRO.
The letter signed on behalf of the minister by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Science and Technology, Edet Akpan, curiously cited the presidential directive for an investigation into Mr Igwe’s certificate scandal, as the basis for the FIIRO board to suspend the appointment of a new DG for the agency. The investigation referred to by the minister had been concluded and its report submitted to the presidency as far back as February.
“I am directed by the honourable minister to acknowledge receipt of your letter on the above subject ref. no. FGB/6.01/43 dated April 28, 2021, and inform you that the Presidency has directed that a detailed investigation be carried out by the head of the civil service of the federation on the certification of Dr Chima Cartney Igwe as Director-General (FIIRO), with necessary disciplinary action if required.
“In view of the above, you are further requested to suspend all actions and processes on the appointment of a substantive director-general/CEO for FIIRO; pending the outcome of the investigation and subsequent directives of Mr President on the matter,” the letter read.
Without a doctoral degree as required by law for major FIIRO positions, Mr Igwe served in different capacities using an attestation letter from his supervisor in Universite d’Abomey Calavi, Benin Republic, dated 2002, to gain several promotions.
He had claimed that he bagged a PhD from the university in 2001.
Mr Igwe, a former director-general of the institute believed to be an ally of the minister, was appointed as acting DG to succeed Gloria Elemo, the immediate past substantive DG of the institute, on May 13, 2019.
The authenticity of Mr Igwe’s PhD certificate degenerated into a ruckus in 2018 after some workers petitioned the anti-graft agency for proper investigation.
The ICPC later revealed that the degree was non-existent, which subsequently led to Mr Igwe’s removal from the director-general’s position and demotion by the board last year.
Instead of presenting an original certificate during the ICPC investigation, he chose to depose to an affidavit of attestation issued by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, swearing to have obtained the doctorate certificate.
After the outcome of the ICPC investigation, the FIIRO’s governing board said, through the attestation, Mr Igwe earned undeserved salaries for years.
While many workers and civil society groups called for the dismissal and prosecution of Mr Igwe for the fraudulent action and perjury, the disciplinary committee only recommended his demotion to the level he was 18 years ago. He was also suspended by the board.
After his suspension by the board, Mr Igwe returned to the Benin Republic University in February 2020 to defend his thesis and was issued another attestation to indicate he completed the PhD.
The new attestation showed the effective date of the award of the PhD as February 2020.
But a year after Mr Igwe’s indictment, the institute has yet to get a substantive director-general. Moves made by the board to appoint a new director-general has been blocked by the minister, who is said to have sympathy for Mr Igwe, critics say.
When PREMIUM TIMES reached for comments, the Special Adviser to the Minister, Ibiam Oguejiofo, declined to speak on the matter.
In line with the December 2020 presidential directive, Yemisi Asagbara, has been the acting director-general.
All efforts to get a substantive Director-General for the institute, have been thwarted by the minister.
Mr Ogbonnaya had repeatedly averted every effort of the Ibrahim Gwarzo-led Governing board of the institute to commence the process.
The Executive Director of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), Olanrewaju Suraj, a strong voice in the civil societies demanding accountability in respect of the matter, says Mr Ogbonaya is hell-bent on imposing Mr Igwe as the substantive Director-General of the institute.
“The minister (Ogbonaya) was all bent on making him (Mr Igwe) the DG. And nobody is saying he should not put his state men in that position but it should not be someone that has a questionable record as Mr Igwe.”
Mr Suraj told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday, that the board should be allowed to go ahead with the appointment process for a new head.
“The probing of Mr Igwe has nothing to do again with the appointment of a DG because he is not qualified to be part of the process,” he said.
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