Nigeria: Crisis Rocks Agency Over Who Succeeds Official Suspended By Buhari

22 November 2020

The governing board of the agency has overruled the action of the suspended official

The director general of the Project Development Institute (PRODA), Enugu State, Charles Agulanna, who was recently suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari over corruption allegation, has refused to hand over to the most senior director in the agency.

The development is contrary to the directive of the president as contained in the suspension letter addressed to the DG asking him to hand over the management of the agency to the next most senior official.

A copy of the letter, which was obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, was signed by the ministry's permanent secretary, Sunday Akpan, and dated November 17, 2020.

It was a response to the president's directive as contained in a letter addressed to the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonaya Onu, by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the next most senior official in the agency after the suspended DG is the director of the department of Engineering Research Development and Production (ERDP), Edwin Oriaku.

But rather than hand over the administration of the institute to Mr Oriaku pending the conclusion of the investigations into the allegations levelled against him, Mr Agulanna handed over to a deputy director and acting head of the department of Industrial Promotion and Information Documentation (IPID), Nathan Abia-Bassey.

But the governing board of the agency has kicked against Mr Agulanna's action, saying it runs foul of the president's directive.

Similarly, the concerned director, Mr Oriaku, has faulted the suspended DG's action, saying the development is an abuse of power and a clear case of an affront against the president.

According to Mr Oriaku, the president's directive is clear enough as stated in the suspension letter which was addressed to both the chairman of the institute's board, Daniel Onjeh, and the DG by the ministry.

Agulanna defends action

In his handover memo to the staff of the agency, Mr Agulanna said his decision to choose a deputy director over other directors was based on disciplinary matters against the senior officials.

Apart from Mr Oriaku, other directors Mr Agulanna said are facing disciplinary matters include the director of Electrical Power and Electronic Department (EPED), Fabian Okonkwo; director of Ceramics Research and Production Department (CRPD), Arit Ekukudoh, and the head of the Materials and Energy Technology Department (MET), Nwanyinmaya Nwogu.

Also accused of negligence of duty, sabotage, unruly behavior and insubordination is G. Ihesie, a deputy director, Engineering Research Development and Production (ERDP).

The suspended DG said his action was based on a circular issued by the SGF on December 4, 2017, which he noted spells out succession guidelines for transfer of power at the end of the tenure of heads of extra-ministerial departments, directors-general, chief executive officers of parastatals, agencies, commissions and government-owned companies.

According to Mr Agulanna, the circular with reference 'SGF.50/S.II/C.2/268' states in part; "Furthermore, pending the appointment of a substantive head of extra-ministerial department/director general/chief executive officer of parastatals, agencies, commission and government-owned companies, the outgoing CEO must hand over to the next most senior officer of the establishment, as long as the officer does not have any pending disciplinary matter. Outgoing heads of extra-ministerial departments, parastatals, agencies, commissions and government-owned companies are not allowed the discretion of choosing the officer to whom they would hand over."

The suspended DG said Mr Oriaku has been accused of falsifying his age, and that he willfully absented from management meeting and non-attendance of meeting with TETFund officials that visited the agency few days ago.

According to him, only Mr Abia-Bassey is free from encumbrances and deserved to be handed the authority to manage the institute.

Board voids Agulanna's decision

Meanwhile, at an emergency meeting of members of the governing board of the institute on November 20 in Abuja, a fresh directive was issued to Mr Oriaku to oversee the affairs of the institute.

The board, which rebuked the suspended DG for reportedly flouting the president's directive, said any previous handover performed by Mr Agulanna to any other staff of the agency "hereby stands voided."

A letter addressed by the board to Mr Oriaku reads in part; "As part of resolution at its emergency meeting held on November 20, 2020, at Savannah Hotel, Gwarimpa, Abuja, the governing board of PRODA wishes to formally communicate its recognition of Engineer Dr. Edwin Oriaku as the overseeing DG/CEO of PRODA.

"The decision is in line with the directive of President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, conveyed through the permanent secretary, ministry of science and technology, in a memo dated 17th, November, 2020, with reference, FMST/PARA/II0/S.I/III/T, ordering the suspended DG/CEO, Engr. Dr. Charles Agulanna, to immediately hand over to the next most senior director to oversee the affairs of the institute with effect from November 17, 2020; a decision earlier communicated to you on the same date by the chairman of the governing board, comrade Daniel Onjeh."

Meanwhile, following the directive by the SGF that Mr Onjeh should step aside as the institute's board chairperson, another member of the board, Diran Ayanbeku, has been unanimously selected by the board as its acting chairperson

The new letter addressed to Mr Oriaku was, therefore, signed by the remaining quartet members of the board- Mr Ayanbeku, Ampe Fut, Gabriel Akpan, and M. Muazu, a professor.

Only ministry can speak - Abia-Bassey

Speaking with our reporter on the phone, the controversial acting DG of the institute, Mr Abia-Bassey, said he could not make categorical statement on the controversy.

He said the appropriate quarters to react will be the ministry of science and technology.

"Please, I am not fighting anybody. I don't fight. But I cannot talk much on this matter. You can reach out to the ministry for official position," Abia-Bassey told PREMIUM TIMES on the phone.

However, efforts to get the reactions from officials of the ministry were unsuccessful. The director of press in the ministry, AbdulGaniyu Aminu, said he was yet to hear from the minister on the matter.

"As I'm talking to you we are in Gombe for the inauguration of a project. Everywhere is rowdy and this isn't an appropriate place to raise this matter with the minister," he said on the phone.

Phone calls to the permanent secretary were not picked and a short message sent to his telephone line was also not responded to as of the time of this report.

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