The Truth about Untruths: NIIA’s DG Succession Crisis or NIIA as a COVID-19 Isolation Centre?

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

I read with much interest media reports on what has been described as a ‘succession crisis,’ following the end of tenure of Mr. Bukar Bukarambe, Professor of International Relations, with particular bias for Afro-Arab studies at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). His tenure came to an end on April 19, 2020. Before then, he directed the Acting Director of Administration and Finance, Ms. Bridget Otobo, on Thursday, March 9, 2020 to furnish him with information required for writing his hand-over note, but the Acting Director never did. This is the first truism and one rationale for the delay in handing over before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

On Monday, May 4, 2020 Ms. Bridget Otobo wrote to Professor Bukarambe that she had been directed to inform all members of staff about the appointment of an Acting Director General for the NIIA. On Wednesday, May 6, 2020 Professor Bukarambe replied that he never directed her or anyone to inform the staff, arguing that the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Supervisory Authority of the Institute, was addressed to him as outgoing Director General and not to anyone else.

Consequently, in his eyes, Ms. Bridget Otobo went beyond her jurisdictional powers, especially that Professor Bukarambe was yet to officially hand over the baton of authority. Without doubt, there was nothing he could have done during a total lockdown. In the same vein, Ms. Bridget Otobo, also without due process, unilaterally as an acting Director, issued a letter to Mrs. Stella Abimbola Dada, substantive Director of Library and Documentation Services, to proceed on her terminal leave, apparently to avoid handing over to her. In research institutes in Nigeria, retirement is not determined by the regulation in the Public Service (thirty-five years of service or sixty years of age) but attainment of sixty-five years of age. Mrs. Dada has not complied with such directive in the strong belief that Ms. Bridget Otobo does not have any locus standi for behaving as another Director General.

Additionally, Ms. Bridget Otobo issued a circular, convening a meeting of all members of staff, during which she presented Dr. Fred Aja Agwu, Professor of International Relations, as the Acting Director General and Chief Executive. Professor Agwu took advantage of the forum to plead for cooperation and compliance with the rules and regulations, but quickly forgetting what Thomas Jefferson said in French Treaties Opinion, that ‘an injured friend is the bitterest of foes.’ In other words, Professor Agwu had injured most of his research colleagues in different ways. Consequently, many members, not to say the majority of them, held the belief that it is better to have the NIIA closed down and turned into a COVID-19 Isolation Centre, rather than have him as an Acting Director General of the NIIA.

Thus, there are many problems. First, the problem of who has the right to hand over is raised. Is it Ms Otobo, a Deputy Director, but acting as Director of Administration and Finance, or Professor Bukarambe who was yet to hand over? Professor Bukarambe believed that he was the only legitimate person who could rightly hand over authority as directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also believed that Ms. Bridget Otobo should not have had the effrontery of refusing to provide him with the relevant information he requested for, and still be much delighted in acting in his place as another Director General of the Institute. This is the second truism. It is an important background to the reported ‘succession crisis’ at the NIIA.

What is perhaps noteworthy about the reporting of the ‘succession crisis’ is that it has been more of half-truths or total untruths, deliberately given to confuse the general public and create confusion in the Institute, rather than considered as a resultant of ignorance of the reporters. If the stories as reported are not meant to confuse and create politico-academic lull, then questions must be raised on the professional competences of the reporters. My contention here is that the reporters know what they are doing.

Media Report and the Truths
There are two reports I have stumbled at before writing this column: that of Nicheng.com, an online publication, and that of Daily Sun, whose reporters clearly demonstrated the beauty in academic journalism, the gospel of which I have been preaching for more than a decade now. Academic journalism is about going beyond reporting events as they occur, but also making comments that are driven by analysis. Comments can be free but analyses are not. Analyses must always be predicated on hard facts. Let us espy the truth about the untruths, on the basis of textual methodology, in both reports, with the ultimate objective of drawing attention to why it has been majorly difficult for the NIIA and Nigeria to make progress as a research institution and as a nation-state.

The online report by the Nicheng.com is titled, “Exclusive: Confusion in NIIA as outgoing DG hands over to level 13 officer, ignores Onyeama’s directive.” The article was written by Ishaya Ibrahim, the News Editor of TheNiche, and published on Friday, May 29, 2020. The report is the most unfortunate for various reasons. It creates more complex problems than simply informing and educating the public.

The first reason is the complete ignorance of the News Editor regarding the financial structure in academic institutions. In the words of Ishaya Ibrahim, ‘TheNiche learnt that Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, has asked Bukarambe to hand over to the most senior officer of the institution, but he refused, and anointed a level 13 civil servant, Efem Ubi, as the acting director-general.’ The truth here is that Dr. Efem Ubi is not on grade level 13 but on CONRAISS 13, which is the equivalent of Grade Level 15 in the Public Service. Another misinformation by Ishaya Ibrahim is the presentation of Dr. Ubi as a Civil Servant. He is not. He is a Public Servant. This is not about semantics. There is a fundamental difference between and among a Ministry, a Department and an Agency of government.

A second reason is that, in the words of Ishaya Ibrahim, ‘Professor Bola Akinterinwa was the former DG who handed over to Bukarambe.’ This statement is not true. It is a white lie. I handed over to Mrs. Stella Abimbola Dada on November 30, 2015. She resumed duty on December 1, 2015. Professor Bukarambe took over from her on January 26, 2016. This type of misinformation cannot be relied on for academic or meaningful research. Ishaya Ibrahim’s report unfortunately taints the record of TheNiche as a credible newspaper.

A third reason is about half-truths and Ishaya Ibrahim cannot be faulted except that he was unable to ask further questions about what he was told. According to Ishaya Ibrahim, Professor Akinterinwa, ‘five years after he left office, he has refused to let go of his official quarters. He locked it up, while his successor could not do anything about it because he owes his appointment as DG to him.’ Ibrahim Ishaya should have asked from Professor Agwu, his first informant, why it has been so.

Since he has not done so, the truth is that Professor Akinterinwa did not lock up his flat. The very Professor Agwu, along with Professor Charles Dokubo, Ms Agatha Ude, then Director of Administration and Finance et al put an additional padlock to my own existing lock, thus preventing me from entering into my flat. This eventually led to an assault and the referral of the matter to the police and the court. The aftermath of the court prosecution led to other court cases in which Professor Agwu was involved and in other cases that are still pending for court adjudication.

The reporters should ask Professor Agwu questions and Bridget Otobo, whether, in the Department of Administration, dates of birth are not always changed for staff, whether promotion examinations results are not always changed, whether, as DG, I did not draw attention of the then Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council to these acts of serious misconduct. More interestingly, Ishaya Ibrahim should ask what the response of the Governing Council to the foregoing. The Council only ‘noted’ them. These are the issues around which the appointment of Professor Agwu are also tied.

And most interestingly, Professor Fred Agwu, like any other professor at the institute, and on the same CONRAISS grade level elsewhere, earns a gross pay of N5,784,756 per annum. He is paying per annum the sum of N491,704.26 for his 4-bedroom flat, one self-contained Boys Quarters (B/Q) and two parking slots, located on Idejo street, in Victoria Island, Lagos. The amount is computed on the basis of 8.5% of annual basic salary, translating to about N40,975.355 monthly. Professor Fred Agwu, who complained about insolvency and inability to pay his rent, a complaint that prompted the Governing Council to jettison the application of the Federal Government’s policy of Monetisation and to introduce the policy of 8.5% of basic salary, rented his B/Q out for more than N300,000 contrary to regulations. He was not alone in doing this, but as I noted earlier, he is still engaging in the act of gross misconduct without impunity.

True and thanks to Major General Ike Nwachukwu-led Council, which refused to sanction acts of gross misconduct, but preferred to condone them by directing that a notice of six months be given to the illegal occupants to quit, Professor Fred Agwu has not complied with the directive of the Governing Council since 2015, even though the ultimatum of six months expired in October 2015.

Apart from Professor Bukar Bukarambe who did not rent out his B/Q, all other occupants did illegally rent out their B/Q. When I was to take sanctionary measures against them at the end of the expiration of six months, Professor Agwu and others les protests against me, insisting that I must be removed. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote to say that I should hand over to the most senior officer because there were protests against me. I responded that I would hand over, not because of any unfounded and non-investigated allegations and protests against me, but because my tenure had not been officially and documentarily renewed. My four-year tenure ended in November 2014, but I still remained in office until November 30, 2015.

To avoid the future distortion of truths about happenings in the NIIA under me as Director General, and to show the whole world that there is always beauty in honesty and dignity of purpose, I took the main leaders of the protests to court. So far, my dignity has been restored by four different court judgments. I am also happier a Christian that I forgave all those who had wrongly accused me. This is another truism.
In spite of this, the point remains that the act of renting out any part of officially-allocated quarters constitutes a serious misconduct which is sanctioned by dismissal from office, as provided for in the NIIA Regulations. Today, Professor Agwu is the only one still renting out his B/Q contrary to Public Service Rules and this is the ‘Most Senior Officer’ to whom the baton of leadership is to be given. There is the need to build institutions, rather than seek to destroy them.

A fourth reason is the factor of illogicality in what Ishaya Ibrahim said: Akinterinwa locked up his flat ‘while his successor could not do anything about it because he owes his appointment as DG to him.’ I already noted above that I did not hand over to Professor Bukarambe. To say Professor Bukarambe owed his appointment to me is, at best, not illogical, in the sense that, in the tradition of the NIIA, only core academics can be appointed as acting Director General. The most senior director, when I was to hand over, was a non-academic. I drew the attention of Government to it and noted that Professor Bukarambe was the most eligible and suitable to be so appointed. If he was appointed, he owed it to destiny and to the glory of God Almighty and not to me, a small person. So, I handed over to Mrs. Stella Abimbola Dada on the basis of her being the most senior director and doing so does not require any lobbying. Her acting capacity falls under the provisions of Section 6 on Acting Appointment in the Public Service Rules. Such appointment is administrative and for a short period. It is not political like presidential appointments.

The truth of the matter is that it is not known in history where darkness fights a war with light and wins or where untruth defeats truth in a battlefield. A battle can be easily won, thanks to fire power, but winning war is more complex. Professor Bukar Bukarambe cannot do anything about the locked-up flat because the flat was part of the basis of court prosecution,

And true again, he made efforts to settle the problem, but he did not want to settle my legitimate entitlements and those of my staff in the Office of the DG. All relevant documents to enable payment were given to Ms. Agatha Ude and evidences to that effect abound but Professor Bukar Bukarambe refused to investigate the fact that she had removed all relevant documents from the official files in the same manner she had removed queries from her confidential files. The truth here is that Professor Bukarambe has not been able to pay me my legitimate entitlements under the pretext that he cannot find the relevant documents in the records of the Institute. If enabling his appointment were to be a factor as reported,nothing should have prevented my entitlements and those of others.

A fifth reason, and perhaps a very funny one, is the issue of seeking to be a power broker at the NIIA. As Ishaya Ibrahim tried to put it, ‘our source said Akinterinwa is again trying to install Efem Ubi as acting DG so as to continue having his way in the institution. Akinterinwa may also be using the situation to get at those who opposed his leadership style while he was the DG.’

On the probability of ‘using the situation to get at those who opposed his leadership,’ let me simply state for the record that those who opposed my leadership have seriously regretted their action. They tainted my record. They defamed me. I referred the defamation of my character to the court. I have six cases in the court. I have won the first four. The other two cases are still pending.

In fact, Professor Fred Agwu and Professor Charles Dokubo were prosecuted and they have apologised in the court and the Court has given its judgment on it. The 2015 allegation by Mrs. Stella Abimbola Dada which Ishaya Ibrahim is much delighted to quote is malicious. It was part of the cases capitalised on in the petitions against me and which the petitioners have retracted in the court. TheNiche must, therefore, exercise greater caution in making an argument out of the quotation, or else it may become the seventh case for court prosecution, as I do not tolerate any unwarranted taint on my integrity as an Ondo man. Professor Fred Agwu, as a source, should have said that he apologised in the court for his myopic allegations on which TheNiche is now basing its report.

It is useful to also note that Hugo Odiogor, Lead Consultant of the Delphi Consulting Network Limited, took me and the NIIA to court in 2014. He alleged that I diverted the money he helped to generate for a jointly-organised Summit on Migration and Terrorism in 2013. I went to court to defend myself and the NIIA against the allegations of impropriety. Neither the main accuser, Hugo Odiogor, and his prosecuting counsel showed up in the court’s first, second and third sittings after which the case was struck out. It was the same Professor Fred Agwu, who wrongly believes that professorship is for sell and is a bosom friend of Hugo Odiogor, that instigated the court prosecution because I prevented stealing of donated funds. He never knew that whenever light enters into darkness, darkness must disappear. It is a truism.

Consequently, if Ishaya Ibrahim can write to say that ‘Akinterinwa is again trying to install Efem Ubi as acting DG so as to continue having his way in the institution,’ at best, he does not know his onions. I took Efem Ubi to court and won my case against him. After the court, he apologised to me and my family. Since then, I threw the matter into the garbage of history and I do not have any scintilla of reservation in supporting him as Acting Director General of the NIIA, since in the sagacious mind and experiential knowledge of the situation, Dr. Efem Ubi is considered the most suitable. He enjoys popular support. This brings us to other critical issues involved: ministerial directive to hand over and the suitability of who to hand over to. But let us address the issues in the context of the report of DailySun.

Ministerial Directive and Most Senior Officer
In Nigeria, powerful people and bodies like to write very malicious reports to authorities that be, especially to cover up their shortcomings, influence situations, or to cut favours. On the contrary, weak and helpless victims and people only defend themselves by insisting on the truth and on the whole truth. This is the very case of the directive from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asking that Professor Bukarambe should hand over to the most senior officer in the Institute.

DailySun’s report is captioned, “Succession Crisis Rocks NIIA over Office of Acting DG.” The title also has a rider, “We’ll ensure right thing is done. Pledges FG.” In the report, the authors (Aidoghie and Ani) said: ‘the standard regulation on succession in the non-appointment of a substantive head of any Federal Government agency demands that the most senior officer takes over in acting capacity. It is a position recently confirmed in a memo by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha. But the outgoing Director General of the NIIA, Professor Bukar Bukarambe on retirement had opted to hand over to a Grade Level 13 officer, instead of the most senior officer on Grade Level 15, a development that has thrown the institute into crisis.’

Two quick points are noteworthy in this statement. First is the issue of grade level, to which I have already drawn attention above. The second point is the question of who the baton of interim manager should be handed to. In this regard, who is the most senior officer at the NIIA? Professor Fred Agwu is quite far from being eligible to be considered as the most senior officer. Seniority is defined by tenure, not simply of appointment, but of longevity of period of promotion. Put differently, when was his date of last promotion as professor? It was January 1, 2015. If he was elevated to the professorial cadre in 2015, he cannot be senior to Mrs. Stella Abimbola Dada who had been, at least, for three years before him, a substantive Director at the Institute.

At the level of academic seniority which is a more serious question, Professor Fred Agwu is not, and cannot be the most senior officer. He is simply one of the Major-General Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council-appointed professors. He is certainly not like NIIA-appointed professors who are normally locally and internationally assessed and appointed on the basis of due evaluation processes and without any Governing Council’s reckless influences. Indeed, I fought the recklessness of the Governing Council, but most unfortunately, who wants the truth and dint of hard work in Nigeria? Who wants any jot of sincerity in the public service? Who wants objectivity of purpose? Political governance in Nigeria is one in which encouragement is given to malicious reports without investigation and in which sanctions are taken with reckless abandon. I have said it many times that Nigeria is a terra cognita for anti-honesty, anti-patriotism and anti-development policies and anti-Nigeria activities.

As Director-General, I made it clear that professorship was neither a commodity that can be negotiated for in the market place, nor a chieftaincy title for the highest bidder. It is also not a political title to be campaigned for through electoral votes. Professorial status is always earned and professorial assessors only evaluate on the basis of objectivity of purpose and without anyone having to know their identity. Most unfortunately, the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council completely bastardised the golden rules of professorship at the NIIA. This was in spite of the fact that there were seasoned scholars as members of the Council and presumed elder statesmen. When such people suppress the truths, reasons why Nigeria is permanently in trouble should not be far-fetched

The Council discouraged the sending of papers of professorial candidates abroad. One of its members got with one of the assessors. The Council even compelled me to sign a letter, the content of which was dictated to me and sent to all the assessors, alleging that the conditions for evaluation that I gave them were not correct. I strictly followed the NIIA academic tradition but complied with the whims and caprices of the Council, while insisting on the truth that, one day, it would backfire. The alleged succession crisis at the NIIA is a direct resultant of the destructive foundation laid by the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council to which I drew the attention of the Foreign Ministry, but to no avail. Why are people now pretending not to know? Didn’t the Council not write a malicious report on me to the Ministry because of my position? Was it not because I insisted on forthrightness that the renewal of my appointment was withheld?

And true enough again, it is not known in the academic history of the world where professorial candidates do know their assessors before and during assessment. In Nigeria, and at the NIIA, Professor Fred Agwu and one other knew their assessors, because the late Professor Ogaba Danjuma Oche, Director of Research and Studies, who gave the list of recommended six assessors to me to choose any 3 names from, also gave the names to Professor Fred Agwu. I knew this because Professor Fred Agwu specifically put it in black and white in his petition against me that I intended to send his papers abroad for assessment. He appealed against sending his papers for assessment abroad to the Governing Council and the Council just ensured that. This is a tip of the iceberg in the continuum of truism. It is an NIIA-appointed professor, not a Governing Council-influenced and sponsored professor, that can qualify to be a most senior officer in a normal NIIA setting.

More important, a most senior officer must not have any tainted record, both in terms of disciplinary measures and criminal considerations. Without jots of exaggeration, Professor Fred Agwu has tainted records. Consequently, to report that ‘the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had written to the management of the Institute advising it to adhere to standard regulations in the appointment of an acting Director General,’ and that ‘Bukarambe had breached this regulation by handing over the baton of the interim manager of the NIIA to Dr. Efem Ubi…’ is completely missing the point.

In my opinion, if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is perceived, as it is currently perceived, to be making efforts tooth and nail to impose Professor Fred Agwu, in spite of the many well-known complaints against him, I submit here that Professor Bukar Bukarambe has only demonstrated an act of transparent patriotism and objectivity of purpose by handing over to the ‘most suitable’ and not to the ‘most senior.’ His decision is wise and has temporarily put an end to the perceived agenda of destruction of the NIIA, the foundation of which was laid by the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council. Under no circumstance should the destruction of the NIIA be allowed. I did my NYSC at the NIIA. I developed my entire academic career at the NIIA. I therefore cannot live to witness the destruction of a great institute like the NIIA. If anyone is complaining that personal interest should not be brought to official situation, like the Permanent Secretary has suggested (vide supra), it is like arguing that the two sides of a coin can be separated and the coin will still remain one.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also indirectly claiming not to know that Professor Fred Agwu was once acting Director of Research and Studies at the NIIA and that the whole department protested against him, passed a vote of no confidence on him and got him removed. If he could not manage the Research Department, how is he expected to be able to administer well the whole institute, when the Research Department is the nerve centre of the institute, and of course, the most relevant in the attainment of the mandate of the Institute?

Aidoghie and Ani also reported that the decision to hand over to Dr. Efem Ubi ‘has not gone down well with staff and concerned stakeholders.’ This report is again most unfortunate, because it does not reflect the situational reality on the ground. The truth is that, more than 90% of members of staff are in support of Efem Ubi. In fact, it has been jokingly suggested by some members of staff that, ‘rather than have Fred Agwu as acting DG, they would prefer the closure of the NIIA and have it turned into a COVID-19 Isolation Centre.’ Please try and investigate. Truth is constant and can neither be defeated nor permanently destroyed. It can only be covered up temporarily.

On the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as explained by its Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Mustapha Suleiman, I do not have qualms about the directive to hand over to the most senior officer for ‘as long as he or she does not have any disciplinary case.’ The condition is the critical issue at stake. Professor Fred Agwu, I still maintain, has disciplinary issues but which the Supervisory Authority does not want to look into.

I also do agree with the Permanent Secretary that the problem is at the level of implementation of the directive. He said: ‘as far as I (Permanent Secretary) know and Minister knows, nobody reported what transpired. If there are issues, we don’t expect people with the agency to take the law into their hands and decide who is to be. They are supposed to refer back to the Ministry and say these are challenges we are having and the Ministry will direct as appropriate.’ If the Ministry does not expect anyone to take the law into his or her hand, what then happens to the Acting Director of Administration and Finance, who had acted ultra vires? Everyone is waiting for the appropriateness of the directive.

Again, as much as I agree with the Permanent Secretary, is he prepared to query the acting Director of Administration and Finance, who acted ultra vires, but claimed to have acted on the basis of his instruction? More important, the Permanent Secretary reportedly also said: ‘it was not a very good situation to have people really getting involved in an official situation and personalise it.’ Admittedly, it may not be very good a situation. However, is there any official situation that does not begin with personal perception of the official situation? Which situation is not addressed by human beings? Jean-Baptiste Molière’s has argued that ‘il faut manger pour vivre et non pas vivre pour manger,’ that is, ‘one should eat to live and not live to eat.’ This clearly suggests that the nexus between living and eating is thin, and the same cannot but be true for official and personal situations. Consequently, as exemplified by the NIIA succession crisis, one should be wise before taking action, and not after action. The NIIA should be prevented from being further destroyed and turned into a possible COVID-19 isolation centre.