By Ladesope Ladelokun
Following the uproar caused by his emergence as the Acting Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Dr Efem Ubi has said he never imposed himself on the institute, stating that fate thrusted his new position on his lap.
Ubi, in an exclusive chat with Rifnote, says what is of paramount importance to him as the acting head of the institute is how to bring back the reputation of the institute and position it for nation-building in the post COVID-19 era.
An online publication, not Rifnote, had reported that the immediate past Director-General of the institute, Prof. Bukar Bakarambe, disregarded public service rule by failing to hand over to the most senior research fellow Prof Frederick Agwu; causing confusion and eventual crisis within the institute.
The matter became contentious when Prof Bukar Bakarambe got a letter from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directing him to hand over to the most senior research fellow without a disciplinary case when his tenure was about to end. Prof Bakarambe subsequently handed over to Dr Ubi, who, in his wisdom, is the most senior research fellow with no disciplinary case.
Investigation by Rifnote revealed that the Acting Director of Finance and Administration Miss Bridget Otobo released a memo stating that Prof Agwu had been appointed the Acting DG. The outgone DG, Rifnote gathered, released another memo stating that the Acting Director of Finance and Administration’s memo was at variance with the directive from the office of the Permanent Secretary though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminding her that the memo from the Permanent Secretary was addressed to him to take action.
An internal memo seen by Rifnote and signed by Miss Otobo with the title APPOINTMENT OF ACTING DIRECTOR-GENERAL read in part: “With reference to the above subject matter and in compliance with the directive from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ref. No. PPD/M/655/SUB/1 dated April 20,2020, I have been directed to inform all staff that Professor Fred A. Agwu has been appointed the acting Director-General of NIIA upon successful completion of the tenure of Professor Bukar Bukarambe which expired on 19th April,2020.”
In response to Miss Otobo’s memo, Prof. Bakarambe in a memo signed by him and seen by Rifnote wrote: “The letter from the Ministry which you referred to viz: Ref No.PPD/M/655/SUB/1 dated April 20,2020 was addressed to me only. There was no reference to anybody else. Therefore, I am the only one who is required to act on it.
“In your memo, you wrote “I have been directed to inform all staff…”I personally did not direct you in any way or form to write that. There was no need for that. When the letter came on April 20,2020,there was Federal Government imposed lockdown and as such it was not possible for me to act on it.”
However, a source at the institute who pleaded anonymity says Prof Agwu is indeed the most senior research fellow at the institute, but alleged that the disciplinary case he has hanging over his head disqualified him from being installed as the Acting Director-General, adding that the action of the outgone DG was in order. “When things like this happen, people are quick to conclude that the most senior person is to take over. In public service, if you have any disciplinary case, nobody will hand over to you until you are cleared.
“His CV, for example, clearly shows that the Master of International Law and Diplomacy he got from the University of Lagos is a professional degree, Prof Agwu used that degree to pursue an academic degree, what else defines academic fraud? His colleagues passed a vote of no confidence on him because of that and other issues and because of that, he stepped down from the position of Acting Director of Research and Studies. When you are discredited by the research department, which is the hub of the institute, who will you work with?”
Meanwhile, a letter addressed to the governing council of NIIA by the research fellows of the institute but seen by Rifnote with the title: Letter of No Confidence on the Acting Director of Research and Studies: Professor Frederick Ajah Agwu, read in part: “He accuses colleagues of cutting corners in trying to progress academically and engaging in academic fraud, these are accusations which he himself is not immune to. His CV clearly shows that the Master of Law and Diplomacy (MILD) which he obtained from the University of Lagos is a professional degree and a terminal one.
“Ordinarily, it does not qualify students for enrolment for PhD program (which is academic), yet extraordinarily, Professor Agwu did not only use the professional master’s for admission purposes but proceeded to complete a PhD in the same university and in the same program. He accused a colleague of including his supervisor as a referee yet, his own PhD supervisor served as the lead evaluator for his advancement into professorial level.”
Reacting to the content of the letter by research fellows at NIIA, another source described it as a product of malice maintaining that Prof Agwu has no disciplinary case. The source said the aforementioned letter could not pass for a query stating that Agwu was never indicted by any panel if there was any. According to the source, Agwu’s problem with research fellows started when he supported the plan to assess staff with professors outside the institute. The source claimed that the senior research fellows wanted to assess themselves.” He and the DG agreed that they were going to assess the staff with professors from outside. The senior research fellows refused. They said they wanted to assess themselves. The former DG backtracked but he stood his ground. That is why they wrote a vote of no confidence on him. That is the genesis of his problem with them.”
Commenting on the allegation that she wrote a memo that declared Agwu as the authentic DG, the Acting Director of Finance and Administration. Miss Otobo, said,” The public sector is guided by public service rules and extant circulars, especially in this case, the circular on end of tenure process. And that is what was applied using the principle of neutrality and legality and applying code of ethics in the conduct of government business. The matter is being handled by the supervisory ministry.”
Efforts to get Prof Agwu’s side of the story proved abortive as he failed to answer phone calls, return calls or reply text messages sent him.