Almost a month after President Muhammadu Buhari approved the recommendation for the suspension of the Director-General of the Project Development Institute (PRODA), Enugu State, Charles Agulanna, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, is yet to carry out the directive.
Credible sources have told PREMIUM TIMES that the delay is largely due to intense lobby and political scheming among concerned officials.
Mr Buhari had on October 9 approved the request by the SGF to suspend Mr Agulanna pending the conclusion of investigations into the allegations against him “bordering on contract splitting, absence from duty without leave, nepotism, misappropriation of funds; insubordination and disregard for board resolutions, suppression of vital information, sabotage, and extortion of money from contractors as administrative charges.”
The SGF’s request, which was addressed to the president, is titled; “Re: Recommendation for the Suspension of the DG/CEO of PRODA.” The memo, a copy of which PREMIUM TIMES obtained, is referenced SGF.6/S.19/TA/165.
Apart from raising other vital issues and citing relevant sections of laws and public service rules supporting his action, the SGF sought the president’s approval for the suspension in paragraph 12 of the memo.
The paragraph reads; “However, in view of the peculiarity of the fact that a prima facie case has been made against the PRODA DG in this case, as well as the need to ensure that the investigation process is fair, independent and thorough, Your Excellency is invited to consider and approve the following measures;
“The immediate suspension of the DG/CEO of the Project Development Institute (PRODA), Enugu; the immediate commencement of the independent investigation proposed by my office in compliance with Circular Ref No SGF/OP/I.S.3/T/163 of May 19, 2020; and that the next most senior director should oversee the affairs of the agency as acting DG/CEO, pending the conclusion of investigation.”
In his response, dated October 9, the president minuted on the memo that; “Paragraph 12 approved,” and appended his signature.
The SGF’s memo was in response to the agency’s governing board’s preliminary report on the findings into the allegations made against the DG.
Earlier, a memo addressed to the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonaya Onu, by the board, and dated June 25, noted that having established a prima facie case against Mr Agulanna, he should be suspended for six months pending the conclusion of the task before a disciplinary panel set up on the matter.
The memo, which is titled; “Report of the Preliminary Findings into the Query Served on the DG/CEO of PRODA Dated March 2, 2020,” was signed by all the board members. Apart from the chairman of the board, Daniel Onje, a former president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), other signatories to the memo, which PREMIUM TIMES exclusively obtained, are Mohammed Mu’azu, a professor; Diran Ayanbeku, southwest representative on the board; Gabriel Akpan and Ampe Fut.
But according to insiders, the minister refused to act on the board’s memo, citing relevant provisions of the Conditions of Service for Federal Research Institutes, Colleges of Agriculture and Allied Institutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (COOAFRICAA) enacted in 2004.
Meanwhile, Mr Agulanna’s probe and suspension order have confirmed an earlier investigative report published by PREMIUM TIMES in July 2019, which chronicled some contract scandals and cases of abuse of power involving the director-general.
The report also exposed the minister’s procedural manipulations in the reappointment of Mr Agulanna as the DG.
Mr Agulanna, who was appointed as the agency’s acting DG in 2012, became a substantive DG in 2015 and ended a four-year tenure in 2019. But in what the leadership of the workers’ union at the institute described as a controversial manner, the embattled DG was reappointed in 2019 for another four-year term.
Apart from being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged fraud, Mr Agulanna had also been summoned on more than two occasions by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
The DG’s half-brother, Albert Agulanna, also an employee of the agency, has similarly been a regular face at the offices of anti-graft agencies over various corruption allegations.
Minister’s opposition to DG’s suspension
Mr Onu has reportedly consistently defended the embattled DG, shielding him from being suspended.
In his reaction to the board’s recommendation, the minister wrote to the SGF complaining that due processes were not followed in recommending the DG’s suspension.
Without waiting for the SGF’s response, the minister set up another committee comprising officials of the ministry to conduct fresh investigation into the allegations.
Mr Onu said the provisions of COAFRICAAI is only applicable to the DG, and not the public service rules (PSR) or a recent circular by the SGF on the discipline of heads of federal government agencies.
But in his approved memo to the President, the SGF said the minister’s position was wrong.
He stated: “Following a careful review of the submission of the board, the submission of the ministry, the public service rule and the extant circular on the procedure for the discipline of CEOs, my office found that COSAFRICAAI, 2004, does not apply to disciplinary measures against the DG. The condition of service clearly applies to other employees of the institute with a very explicit exclusion of the DG/CEO from its application. It is important to also note that COSAFRICAAI clearly provides that the principles of the PSR will be applicable with regard to any matter not addressed in the conditions of service.”
A non-governmental organisation, Lygel Youth and Leadership Initiative (LYLI), in a protest letter to the SGF, dated October 22, accused both the minister and some unnamed National Assembly members of mounting pressure on the SGF on behalf of the DG.
The group’s protest letter, which is titled; “Mr President’s Suspension of PRODA DG: Matters Arising,” listed members of the investigation committee set up by the minister to include a man from the same village in Imo State as the DG, Theophilus Ndubuaku.
The group’s letter, which was signed by its head, Lekan Oladapo, reads in part; “However, we are aware of the power of corrupt vested interests in this matter. Thus, we are left to wonder why the letter approving your recommendation for the suspension of PRODA DG, granted by Mr President is yet to be released eleven days after.
“We are equally aware of spirited attempts by the minister of science and technology, Dr. Ogbonaya Onu, and some members of the national assembly who are benefiting from the status quo in PRODA to give the DG a soft landing. Sir, we believe you will not succumb to any pressure or blackmail as this is one of the test cases of this administration’s true resolve to fight corruption.”
SGF, Minister react
While acknowledging the delay in the execution of the president’s directive concerning the DG’s suspension, the office of the SGF told our reporter that necessary administrative action was being taken to address the matter.
In his response to this newspaper’s inquiry, the director of public affairs in the SGF’s office, Willie Bassey, simply wrote to our reporter via WhatsApp that; “The SGF is aware of the matter. Necessary administrative action is being taken please.”
When prodded further on why the delay in carrying out the directive, Mr. Bassey further responded that; “Whatever it is, the SGF is taking administrative action, please.”
But on his part, the director of press at the ministry of science and technology, AbdulGaniyu Aminu, pledged to make inquiries from both the minister and the director of the ministry’s legal unit, and that he would revert to our reporter.
Mr Aminu, however, later spoke to our reporter on the phone, saying both the minister and the head of the legal unit were not on ground to give him the details of the matter. More than 72 hours after, he was yet to get back to this newspaper as promised.
Embattled DG speaks
In a telephone interview with our reporter, the embattled director general, Mr Agulanna, said he believes another committee has been set up by the ministry to investigate him, and that he was waiting for the committee.
He said he would not make further comments on the matter until the new committee concludes its assignment. He accused the board of not wanting its investigation to be further investigated by another committee.
He said; “You see, the truth is that I don’t know how somebody (referring to the board) can have a case and doesn’t want other people to look into that case before coming to conclusion on the matter. So, to the best of my knowledge, I have information that a committee is coming up to check all these things. And until the committee comes up with its report, I don’t think it will be wise to comment on this further.”
Board chairman declines comment
When called on the phone for his reaction to the development, the chairman of the agency’s governing board, Mr Onje, declined to comment on the matter.
He said his board has done what it is appointed to do in terms of ensuring compliance to due processes “in fulfilment of President Buhari’s fight against corruption and the growing culture of impunity.” He, therefore, said only the Presidency or the SGF office can speak on the matter.
He said the issue is not a matter for the media, and “so I wouldn’t like to make any comment.”
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