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Of equity, fairness and the IMT probe

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By Felix Oguejiofor Abugu   

                     

When on the 21st of last month (August 21) the Governor of Enugu State, Mr. Peter Mbah  set up an eight-man panel to probe the Institute of Management and Technology  (IMT), Enugu, the first question that arose for me, as a keen watcher of Enugu State politics, was whether the composition of the panel was balanced. As it turned out, it was not. 

Inaugurating the panel, aka ‘Committee of Inquiry into the Accounts, Management Practices and Staff Conduct’ of the IMT, at the Government House, Enugu, on Monday, August 21, 2023, Governor Mbah said it was constituted to “ensure a certain level of credibility in the institution.”

Expressing his confidence in the ability of the leadership and members of the Committee to deliver on their mandate, Mbah, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Chidiebere Onyia, said: “The work you are going to do will set a new course for that institution and for the rest of the action the government will take in the higher education space in Enugu State.”

The Governor then spelt out the Committee’s terms of reference, including: a) Evaluation of the legal and policy framework underpinning the constitution of the Institute’s ‘Business Committee’ b) Thorough analysis of the various categories of fees charged to students c) Investigation of the methods of payment, designated accounts for transactions and the overall management of fee-related processes.

Others are d) Assessment of the degree of adherence to pertinent laws, regulations, and institutional policies in the selection and appointment of staff members, particularly those occupying key positions such as Heads of Department, Deputy Rector, among others e) Identifying and scrutinizing all streams of revenue generation for the institution f) Delving into the mechanisms for revenue collection  and g) Proper accounting practices for remittances and the overall management of these financial resources.

Ordinarily, the foregoing are legitimate concerns that should elicit remedial actions from any sitting government. But if such actions must come in the form of a probe panel, it makes it imperative to serve the cause of equity and fairness by ensuring that every part of the state has a stake in such a panel. To the extent that the panel’s composition is largely unbalanced, it is unlikely to serve the cause of equity and fairness for the mandatory one month it will sit.  

To cut a long story short, here is how members of the panel stand, according to their places of origin in Enugu and beyond. We take them seriatim:

Prof. Ed Nwobodo (Chairman of the Panel) – Enugu West

Chinenye Angela (Secretary of the Panel) – Enugu East

Dr. Moses Otiji (member) – Enugu West

Barr. Lilian Ikwueze (member) – Enugu West.

Dr. (Mrs.) Ada Nwonye (member)- Enugu West

Vincent Onyeabor (member) – Enugu East

Mr. Osita Onuma (member) – Nkanu Enugu East and

Ambassador Judy Nweke (member) –Anambra State 

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From the above configuration, one can safely conclude that in constituting the IMT probe panel, the authorities in Enugu did not see equity and fairness as important, even necessary, for the work of the panel, hence the non-inclusion of an Enugu North person as a member. How can Independence Layout explain that not even one person from any of the six local government areas that constitute cultural Nsukka was credible enough to be admitted to the probe panel? And it just so happens that the Rector of the school whose tenure is being probed is from Enugu North. Isn’t this like an all-White jury sitting in trial of a Blackman in America?  

Beyond that, it strikes me as one of those ironies of Enugu politics that the government would set up a panel to establish transparency or lack thereof in the management of resources in the IMT on the strength of a petition by a man whom the courts had earlier on asked to return millions of unaccounted-for money to the coffers of the Institute. Perhaps if Governor Mbah had been properly briefed by his aides, he would not have consented to a probe panel that may well be nothing more than an attempt by a cabal within IMT to divert attention from already established financial misdemeanours in the school.

Take, for instance, one of the petitioner’s complaints against IMT’s management. According to the claim, the appointment of the Deputy Rector of the IMT did not follow the due process. However, reading Section 21 (1) Cap 97, Laws of Enugu State, and the IMT Conditions of Service as well, it is clear that the Governing Council, on the recommendation of the Academic Board, is empowered to appoint any fit and proper person to occupy such a vacant position. And, as one found out, the Council properly exercised that power in the appointment of the current Deputy Rector out of the several other members of the Academic Board who applied for the post. 

As many have asked, couldn’t the petitioner have exercised his right of objection to his non-appointment as Deputy Rector by approaching the courts, as he had constantly done in the past in his fights against the IMT for ‘justice’? Did he have to resort to salacious publications in the media about ‘misdeeds’ in IMT to make his case? Now that the government has latched onto that publication to set up a probe panel which, for lack of balance in its composition, lacks credibility, would that still serve the petitioner’s quest for ‘justice’? 

It is natural for a person who ran for a post in an academic environment like the IMT or anywhere else, to be upset, even aggrieved when he or she fails to clinch the post. Understandably. But that shouldn’t be the reason for any bull-in-the-china-shop behaviour by anyone.  For, this writer is aware of how in 2018 the IMT appointed an Acting Head of Department who became aggrieved and went to court after the substantive head who was on sick-leave returned to her seat and the acting head was removed. 

By the laws of IMT, an acting appointment needs the Governing Council’s ratification to be substantive. However, following a letter from the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, where the substantive head, a lady, was hospitalized, indicating that she was fit to return to work, the lady then resumed her duty post as Head of the Department. But the former Acting Head, who is also the current petitioner-in-chief, would have none of that. In a fit of self-righteous indignation, he dragged  IMT to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) seeking 23 reliefs one of which was that he ought to have been confirmed as Deputy Rector. He was, however, not granted any of the reliefs. Did Governor Mbah’s aides draw his attention to such previous record of the petitioner as  the source of constant industrial disharmony in IMT?

Consider yet another of the petitioner’s ‘grouses’ with IMT, his employers. The former Acting Head reportedly collected cash advances totaling  N55,175,473.00 way back in 2010 and, till date, has failed to retire the money. When, following a report by the State Auditor-General, the Governing Council of the Institute issued a query on the matter to the employee, he was reported to have simply dragged the school to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) rather than retire or refund the money. Again, unfortunately for him, the NICN dismissed his case and awarded a cost of N100,000 against him.

That is why I find this question quite appropriate: after three months in office, can Governor Peter Mbah and or his SSG, Prof. Onyia actually be said to know enough of the goings-on in IMT as to be able to set up a credible ‘investigative panel’ to probe the activities of the school’s management, especially if that panel was set up on the strength of allegations made in a newspaper publication by a man who may well be pursuing equity with unclean hands?

Did they know, for instance, about the following court cases instituted against IMT by an employee who, however, reportedly lost all the cases? Did they know about: 1) The Employee (name withheld) Vs IMT & 5 Others. Suit No. NICN/EN/02/2018; 2) The Employee Vs IMT & 2 Others. Suit No. NICN/EN/21/2021; 3) The Employee Vs IMT and 2 Others. Suit No. NICN/EN/09/2022; 4) The Employee Vs IMT and 7 Others. Suit No. NICN/EN/09/2023 and 5) The Employee Vs IMT and Registrar. Suit No. NICN/EN/5M/2023?

Did they know about the disruptive petitions written by the same employee against the management of the IMT but all of which were practically thrown out the window by the agencies to which they were written? Did they know about his petitions against the Rector to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2017 and 2018; to the Enugu Zonal Office and Abuja Headquarters of ICPC in 2018, 2021, 2022 and 2023; to Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB)Headquarters in 2018; to the  State Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Enugu, in 2020; to the Department of State Services (DSS), Enugu Office, in 2019 and 2021 and to the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Kaduna, in 2019?

Did they know also about the petitions by the same employee to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Headquarters, Abuja in 2019 and 2020; to the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Enugu State, in 2018 and 2022; to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in 2022 and 2023 and to the Visitor and Executive Governor of Enugu State in 2023? Did they know that none of these 10 petitions written over a period of seven years was of any moment in the estimation of the agencies and personalities so petitioned?

If they did, then there must be something enviably special about the man that despite such information at their disposal, the Governor and his aides still found it worth their while to pay the employee such a weighty official attention as a probe panel to investigate IMT management on the strength of a salacious newspaper publication by him. Indeed, for a man who has had, between 2013 and 2023 (whole 10 years), suspensions slammed on him by his employers for about eight out of those 10 years, no thanks to “a number of misconducts unexpected of an academic staff of a polytechnic,” the employee must hold a special place in Governor Peter Mbah and or his SSG, Professor Chidiebere Onyia’s political or filial calculations for them to practically jettison all attributes of objectivity and fairness in governance processes to, as it were, do his  bidding.

Whatever the reason, I still find it inconceivable that Governor Mbah would stake his personal integrity and sense of equity, justice, fairness and objectivity to act rather unreflectively on a petition by a not-so-credible employee of a school as important as IMT in Enugu’s tertiary education space, by setting up a probe panel seething with obvious ill-will, even animosity, towards a section of the state as large and politically significant as Enugu North. Would the Governor really be comfortable with the fact that Enugu North is without a single member on the IMT ‘Investigative Panel’?

As they say, those who come to equity must come with clean hands. For me, the ‘IMT Investigative Panel’ is rendered nugatory already, thoroughly diminished, by its obvious bias against the people of Enugu North. Worse still, the person on the strength of whose petition against the management of IMT the ‘Investigative Panel’ may have been set up is, to all intents and purposes, seeking equity with unclean hands – as has been clearly shown! And things just don’t work that way.

What, then, to do? Either make the panel more representative or disband it outright.

*Oguejiofor-Abugu is a former Deputy Managing Director of New Telegraph

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