The first time I stumbled upon this story, I doubted the veracity. But upon investigation, I found it to be unbelievably true. In writing this opinion, all I ask the Minister of Environment, Dr. Muhammed Mahmood, is to own up to his mistake and to correct it.
Many a time, we blame President Muhammadu Buhari for all our problems. We call him out because he is the President. More often, it is his appointed aides that put negative loads on his back. These aides are the ones violating the constitution. They are the ones perpetuating corruption. They are the ones abusing the power of their offices. They are the ones dividing the country with unbridled nepotism. They are the ones fueling the angers of citizens. They are the ones playing checkers with people’s lives. Yet, in our frustrations, we accuse and curse out the President.
The deadly powerplay that has crippled the Environmental Health Officers Registration Council (EHORECON) in the middle of deadly pandemic is a thing of concern. It should infuriate every fair-minded citizen who still cares about this country. Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON) was established by Act of No. 11 of 2002 to regulate the practice of Environmental Health in Nigeria. Environmental Health is strategic in the campaign to contain and control the spread of COVID-19, Ebola virus and other infectious diseases.
EHORECON’s mandate includes, amongst others, the determination of the standard of knowledge and skill to be attained by persons seeking to become members of the profession and improving the standard set from time to time. EHORECON therefore is a specialized professional body under the Ministry of Environment.
Dr. Muhammed Mahmood Abubakar is the current Minister of Environment. The oversight activities of his Ministry spans health, works and housing, oil and gas, trade and commerce, education and transportation ministries, etc. The Ministry of Environment ought to be one of the busiest ministries with the Minister having no time for lawlessness inspired by ethno-religious sentiments.
I am still wondering what pushed Dr. Mahmood into this kind of scandal because the Dr. Mahmood I knew was a fine gentleman who should be concerned about his legacy or place in history. He is a Northern elite, and one of the proud Northerners that should earn distinction in public service. He is highly educated. He is a man of his faith and ought to know that the trust and responsibility the President and the constitution placed on him when he took his oath of office as a cabinet Minister were huge responsibilities.
I recognize the powers of the Minister but these powers are not absolute and cannot be used arbitrarily as there are rules and procedures. There are procedures for the removal of Chief Executives of government agencies. In view of this, I implore Minister Mohammed Mahmood to take a second look at his unceremonious removal from office, of Dr. Dominic Abonyi (South East) as Registrar of EHORECON few months into his second tenure only to replace him with Dr. Bala Yakubu Mohammed (North). Truth be told, this in violation of civil service rules and the Act establishing the Council.
On the 3rd of September 2015, Dr. Dominic Ojiabor Abonyi was appointed Registrar, Environmental Health Officers Registration Council by President Muhammadu Buhari. It was a four-year term. The appointment was made when Boards of Federal MDAs and Ministers were yet to be appointed. As the Registrar of the Council, he served diligently with a lot of sterling achievements credited to his leadership.
Six months shy of expiration of his first tenure of four years, following stipulated rules and laws, he on 19th of March, 2019, wrote the then Minster of Environment, Surveyor Suleiman Hassan Zarma, informing him about the completion of his first term and simultaneously asked for a renewal for continuity. Sequel to his request, on 13th of May, 2019, the then Minister of Environment approved the renewal of his appointment of Dr. Abonyi for a second tenure.
After President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in for second term, Dr. Muhammad Mahmood Abubakar was nominated Minister and deployed to Ministry of Environment as successor to Surveyor Sulaiman Zarma. On arrival and resumption of duty as Minister of Environment, his first official action was to fire a memo dated 27th November 2019, ordering Dr. Abonyi, to step aside with “with immediate effect,” and “to hand over the affairs of the Council to the most senior Director of the Council”, an order he promptly obeyed by handing over to Mr. Victor Kalu Mba (Deputy Director, Head, Human Resources Management Department), the most senior officer.
After months of anxieties and hopeless waiting without any feedback from the Minister who directed him to step aside, on 20th March, 2020, Dr. Abonyi wrote again to the Minister to inquire about his fate, having not heard anything again concerning the purported “complaints/petitions received both from within and outside the Ministry” against him as alleged in the memo suspending him from office.
Rather than provide succour, the Minister allegedly instigated the harassment and intimidation of Dr. Abonyi by various anti-corruption agencies, and they hounded him to no end. But after intensive scrutiny, they found nothing incriminating against him. In a particular incident, hooded men from one of the anti-graft agencies invaded the privacy of his apartment, ransacked his house and further humiliated him in the eyes of his family and neighbours.
A loyal and honest citizen who faithfully served his country by discharging his duties consciously and efficiently should not have been subjected to such degrading treatments. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society. Our diversity should be our strength: We are taught that we are one Nigeria, that we are all citizens, that we are all human beings created by the same God, that everyone of us has a right to equal treatment by our government, that we have a right to equal protection by our government, that it is immoral to segregate treatment based on tribe, tongue and religion. These are rights enshrined in our constitution and guaranteed by our constitution.
Mr. Kalu Mbah who was the most senior officer of the council was further asked to step side by the Minister who then appointed Baba Yakubu as Acting Registrar. To buttress the point that the whole thing was ignited by witchhunt, the first official function of Baba Yakubu Mohammed as Acting Registrar of the Council was to stop Dr. Abonyi’s salary while he is still in service. He was neither dismissed nor retired.
He has not received any query for official misconduct and has no pending disciplinary issue. He cannot move on with his life and cannot take care of his family and immediate responsibilities. The unacceptable offer being made to him is to either resign or accept the lesser position of Deputy Director that he was before being appointed Registrar in 2015. His only offence, it seems, is being Igbo. This indeed is reckless.
I believe the Minister erred considerably. I will suggest he owns up to his mistake, correct it, apologize, and by the grace of Allah the Most Merciful, move on.