Pantami, Dabiri-Erewa Squabble over Office Space

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•NCC denies ejecting commission

By Emma Okonji in Lagos and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Pantami, and the Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, are embroiled in a cold war over office space, THISDAY has learnt.

However, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has denied that NIDCOM was ejected from the Digital Economy Complex of NCC.

But, in a statement yesterday, NIDCOM’s Head of Media, Mr. Abdul-Rahman Balogun, said the eviction of NIDCOM staff from the fifth floor of NCC Annex office in Abuja, was not a mere “allegation” as claimed by the NCC.

He explained that the fifth floor of the complex was allocated to NIDCOM by NCC in June 2019 and handed over by Mrs. Maryam Bayi, its Director of Human Resources.

Balogun said due to lack of basic facilities in the complex, NIDCOM staff could not move in until October 2019.

He stated that while its chairman was on official assignment with President Muhammadu Buhari in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on February 9, Pantami gave the staff one week to pack out.

Balogun said within 48 hours of the quit notice, security operatives attached to the complex evicted them on February 11, citing orders from the minister.

Balogun said: “On the allegation that NIDCOM did not move into the offices when allocated, this is untrue, false accusation and contradictory to the statement of NCC to the effect that NIDCOM property was warehoused and intact in the annex.

“It is our humble opinion that an agency of government ought not to be shabbily treated in a dehumanising manner. The Hon. Minister should have acknowledged the fact that the aim of NIDCOM for using the office spaces was not for personal functions but rather for governmental functions with regards to Diaspora engagements.

“The Hon. Minister should have seen the need to give the chairman of the commission audience so as to allow the commission’s staff to evacuate their belongings by themselves rather than breaking into the offices without their consent.”

But in a swift reaction, NCC Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Henry Nkemadu, said in a statement yesterday that the commission never ejected the NIDCOM from the Digital Economy Complex of the NCC.

He said: “Following the completion of the NCC building at Mbora in Abuja designated as NCC Annex and the acute shortage of accommodation space for the staff of the commission in the NCC Head Office at Maitama in Abuja, the board of the commission directed the decongestion of the head office building.

“Some of NCC departments had started moving to the new office complex of five floors when discussions were held between the NCC and the Diaspora Commission to enable the Diaspora Commission also utilise any free offices within the complex.

“The fifth floor allocated to them had to be used to accommodate other departments from the NCC Headquarters to ease the congestion. NCC’s offer to house the Nigeria Diaspora Commission was predicated on the long-held position of NCC that agencies of government will achieve more through strategic collaboration, partnership, synergy and sharing to the extent allowed by relevant laws.

“During this period, NCC secured approval for the commissioning of the office complex by President Muhammadu Buhari and the launch of four important projects of NCC.

“NCC has not withdrawn the offer but had hiccups arising from the preparations for the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the Communications and Digital Economy Complex and launch other projects relating to the mandate of government.

“The board and management of NCC took a decision to ensure that every activity in the building was in line with the federal government’s digital agenda. Incidentally, after the offer of the office spaces to the Diaspora Commission, the Director-General, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had not visited the complex to take possession of any of the office and also the commission had not started using any of these spaces as offices. As it is usual in ensuring security and accountability before, during and after presidential visits, the building had to be cleared to allow for only known and identifiable persons to have access within the complex.”