A fresh crisis is brewing at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, Lagos, following the return of the demoted officer of the agency, Chima Igwe, to the position of a director.
Igwe, who was the institute’s acting Director-General, was demoted to the position of Chief Research Officer for making false claims to a doctorate from a Benin university.
Based on that phantom PhD, he had enjoyed undeserved promotions for 18 years.
He is being tried at an Ikeja High Court by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission over the matter following orders from the Presidency.
But an internal memo obtained by The PUNCH on Tuesday showed that the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, had ordered his return to the position of director in the institute.
The memo, signed by the acting Director, Human Resources Management and Administration, C.A. Ibe, and dated March 21, 2022, was titled, ‘Reverting to Status Quo on the Position of Dr Chima Igwe as Director, Chemical, Fibre and Environmental Technology Department.’
It read, “I am directed to inform you that following the recommendation of a report of the ministerial committee on the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, the directive of the Governing Board and the approval of the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, the status quo on the position of Dr Chima C. Igwe is hereby maintained. Consequently, all staff under the above-named department are expected to comply accordingly. Kindly note, for the sake of emphasis, that Dr Chima C. Igwe remains the substantive director of the department.”
Our correspondent has been following events at FIIRO since 2019 when Igwe, against the advice of the Governing Board, was made the acting DG by Onu despite the controversies around his PhD.
Following an ICPC report which indicted Igwe that he never had the doctorate in 2001, he was demoted to the position he held 18 years earlier.
That decision by the former governing board of the institute started a war between Onu and the then board Chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Gwarzo.
Onu later wrote to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), demanding that Igwe be confirmed DG of the institute, a request that was rejected after investigations by the Head of Service.
The President, in a memo in September 2021, signed by Ibrahim Adamu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Administration and Operations), directed the minister to allow the board to function freely.
Buhari also asked the ICPC to prosecute Igwe for giving false information to his employers.
He asked the board to commence the process of appointing a substantive DG.
The board was in the process of appointing a substantive DG when the minister in October 2021 dissolved the board and appointed his friends and loyalists.
The PUNCH gathered that after the new board was inaugurated, the headquarters of FIIRO was moved from Lagos to Abuja.
Some of the decisions taken by the former board were also reportedly reversed by the new board, led by a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, All Nigeria People’s Party, Alhaji Gambo Magaji.
A source said the Magaji-led board was preparing to return Igwe as substantive director-general as shown in a recent advert for the position.
The advert, dated March 14, 2022, and signed by one Enwerem Ahamefula, stated that the position was only open to internal officers.
“The vacancy is usually thrown open to members of the public and advertised in a newspaper. But this time, Onu made it an internal advert. They also removed the post-doctorate years of experience in the criteria to accommodate Igwe. The plan is to make Igwe the DG and that was why they returned him to the position of a director so he can apply,” the source said.
Another source said the position to which Igwe was returned despite his criminal trial had already been occupied by another officer.
“A serious crisis is looming in FIIRO. All they want to do is make Igwe the next DG. The position they said he should go back to, somebody has already been promoted to it and issued a letter.
“Since the inauguration of the new board, they have been doing everything possible to thwart court processes by directing that a witness from the admin department must not go to court to witness they said the case is between ICPC and Igwe,” the source added.
The senior official urged the President to intervene in the matter, adding that the Head of Service or the Chief of Staff to the President should handle the appointment process.
The board chairman, Magaji, denied reversing the decisions of the former board, adding that the directive for FIIRO headquarters to be moved to Abuja had been on since 2021 before his appointment.
While denying stopping anyone from witnessing against Igwe in court, he stated that FIIRO as an institute had nothing to do with his ongoing trial, hence the case could not affect the board and ministry’s dealings with him.
Asked if it was true that Igwe had been made a director, he asked our correspondent to go to FIIRO to find out, saying he was in Bauchi State.
He also denied that Buhari directed the trial of Igwe in court.
“The court case does not involve the ministry and FIIRO. If there is a case between you and an individual, will PUNCH ask you to leave? If somebody fabricated a story against you and you are taken to court, is it right and proper for you to be sacked?” he queried.