When Will Buhari Call Sharon Ikeazor to Order?

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More than 10 days after being sworn in as minister of state for environment, Sharon Ikeazor, the erstwhile executive secretary of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) has refused to hand over to the organisation’s most senior director and continues to run the organisation, with files being taken to her for treatment and critical business decisions taken by the newly appointed minister. She has also stopped the newly appointed Executive Secretary, Dr. Chioma Ejikeme, from resuming, almost two weeks after the latter was appointed by the President Muhammadu Buhari. This is raising tension within the normally staid agency, with staff demanding the ministry of finance and more importantly, Buhari, into wade into this sordid development. Nosa James-Igbinadolor reports

It was mid-day on Friday, August 15, 2019. A gathering of senior management staff of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), made up of directors, deputy directors and a spattering of other directorate staff had assembled to pay tribute to and send off their Executive Secretary, Ms. Sharon Ikeazor. Ikeazor, a hitherto relatively unknown politician had, three years before, been plucked from relative obscurity to head one of the country’s most strategic pension management agency. She was leaving the agency after three years in the saddle, after been nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari to become a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Armed with a bland corporate management history with virtually no middle or senior management experience in either the public or private sector, but well connected to the top APC political apparatchik, Ikeazor faced her new assignment with gusto. Informed sources within the directorate told THISDAY that she threw public service rules and regulations out of the window and managed the agency as she deemed fit. Many agreed that the once vibrant agency, which had been set up in 2013 under Nelly Mayshack, to carry out the functions of the relevant pension boards or offices in the public service of the federation by ensuring the payment of pension and outstanding retirement benefits to federal government pensioners under the defined benefit scheme, became a shell of its once vibrant self. A number of staff, who had left the banking and other private sectors to join the organisation between 2014 and 2015, resigned their appointments after finding the work environment under the new executive Secretary toxic and debilitating. THISDAY was informed that the fairly efficient and rigorous processes and systems put in the place by Nelly Mayshack, the organisation’s founding director-general were simply dispensed with rendering the directorate incapable to fully meeting its obligations to both its internal and external publics.

On that day, she looked fairly confident and upbeat, believing that a top-notch ministry awaited her. Whispers of the minister of women affairs or even a minister of state for finance pervaded the well-worn corridors of PTAD with hearty felicitations being copiously offered to the executive secretary. Outside the circle of PTAD’s top mandarins, who had gathered for a celebratory demonstration of goodwill to their outgoing boss, there was palpable exhilaration amongst staff of the agency across the country at the imminent departure of their much reviled leader. Ikeazor was well-loathed by staff of the organisation, who decried her dictatorial leadership style, disloyalty to staff, and disdain for due process.

As the valedictory session got underway, the six directors, all of whom she had appointed after firing the senior management team she had met when she took assumed office in 2016, were in an expectant, if not anxious mood, hoping for the much awaited announcement by the outgoing executive secretary as to which of them she was going to hand over to as acting executive secretary. Most of the staff expected that she would in line with public service rules and regulations hand over her responsibilities to the most senior director in the organisation.

It was there at the valedictory meeting that she dropped the bombshell. Looking the senior management staff straight in the eyes, she brusquely announced that she wasn’t going to hand over to any of the directors, but would rather continue to run the organisation until a new executive secretary was appointed.

According to sources who attended the session, there was palpable shock and disbelief at the decision especially with its obvious breach of public service rules and regulations. A senior management staff who attended the meeting and who spoke to THISDAY on condition of anonymity posited that, “her decision was not just outstandingly bad, it flies in the face of how a public service institution is supposed to be properly run.I expected her senior technical assistant who is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary to advise her accordingly. How can you be a minister running your ministry and still be running a parastatal, a parastatal that is outside your ministry?”

Various sources, who attended the valedictory session told THISDAY that Ikeazor further threatened that she would continue to keep a keen eye on happenings in PTAD, warning that “there is nothing about PTAD that I will not know about as minister”. Many saw it as a sinister threat. She had added that she knew who would replace her and that her replacement would continue “what I have been doing”.

THISDAY Investigations revealed that the erstwhile executive secretary shockingly went ahead to implement her determination to continue to control the affairs of PTAD. Even after the President appointed her close friend, Dr. Chioma Ejikeme, as the new executive secretary, a day before she was sworn in as the minister of state for environment, Ikeazor, who had bragged to close confidants that she personally ensured the appointment of Dr. Ejikeme, still refused to allow her friend and presidential appointee to resume in her new position.

Instead, after being sworn in as minister of state on August 21, 2019, she led a 19-man team of PTAD staff to undertake a pension verification exercise in the South-east. She also inaugurated a PTAD liaison office in Awka, Anambra state where she promised pensioners that PTAD would soon have a permanent database for pensioners across the country. She further urged them to “contact our offices” for the resolution of complaints and payments of entitlements. Leading the team meant that the minister of state for environment imposed herself on the organisation that she was no longer heading and paid herself to attend a verification exercise which commenced on August 26th, five days after she had been sworn in as a minister by the president, a verification exercise that should have been organised and led by either the newly-appointed executive secretary or the most senior director in the organisation.

Close aides of the Ikeazor posited that she is not happy with the position she was given by Buhari. “She didn’t expect this position at all. If she knew she was going to be made minister of state for environment, she would have remained as ES of PTAD. Here she gets to call the shots and has done pretty well for herself. She isn’t sure of being able to do same at the ministry of environment, where she is a junior minister,” a close aide said

Ikeazor’s disdain for due process is legendary within the organisation. Not long after she assumed the leadership of PTAD in 2016, she embarked on an illegal recruitment of hundreds of new staff without recourse to public service guidelines. None of the positions were publicly advertised and nearly 200 new persons were employed without taking entrance exams or going through the usual interview process. According to a source in the human resource unit of the organisation who spoke to this paper, “in less than two years, our workforce bloated unsustainably from a lean 120 well-trained and well-experienced personnel to over 300 staff, many of whom do nothing impactful.” Sources told THISDAY that part of her strategy to ingratiate herself to persons within the political leadership in the country was the illegal employment of their relatives. Among the children and relatives of the powerful she employed include the son of the accountant-general of the federation, none of whom passed through any fair and transparent recruitment process. “They were simply employed and requested to resume by the executive secretary,” the source added

A few days before being sworn in as minister, and mindful of a new finance minister coming on board, who would likely resist her plans to control the agency, she got the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Mallam Isa Dutse, to approve her three nominees for directors, none of whom had been subjected to any promotion exercise nor faced any assessment panel.

A deputy director in the organisation told THISDAY that “under Madam Sharon, there was and is a glaring absence of transparent process in every area of organisational management. People are recruited and put in different positions depending on who and where they come from…We just come to the office and see new faces sent to our units and we are asked to onboard them…No serious organisation grows like this”. He added that, “of the 23 contract staff that the ES brought in, 12 of them were recently confirmed. We do not know the criteria that was used to confirm them. H.R was simply ordered to put them on the permanent payroll.”

The swelling of the organisation’s workforce many noted should be a concern to the federal government, specifically the ministry of finance, which supervises the organisation especially as PTAD was set up to be an interim organisation with an expected life expectancy of about 30 years. A senior staff told THISDAY that “the truth of the matter is that as more pensioners pass away, our workload is expected to keep getting less. We are supposed to be shedding weight as the year passes by and not employing new staff because we do not take on new pensioners, but a defined cadre of them already in existence prior to 2004.”

Many members of staff are still bitter over the experience they had with Ikeazor when she got the Department of State Security Services (DSS) to arrest and investigate more than 30 of the them, including some of her close aides for allegedly engaging in whistle blowing. Knowledgeable insiders told THISDAY that Ikeazor personally compiled a list of those she suspected of leaking information to the public especially to the popular breakfast show ‘berekete family’ and forwarded same to the State Security Services, who then invited the identified staff for interrogation at their office in Abuja.

This high handedness and contempt for organisational process according to varied sources was what led most staff of the organisation to jubilate when she was appointed minister. “We just wanted her to go”, a senior operations staff currently in one of the states for the pension verification told this paper. “Alas, she is determined to remain for her own selfish reasons, I hope that the President will call her to order,” he added.

Efforts to get the ministry of finance to react to the development were unsuccessful as calls and messages sent to the relevant officials were not responded to.