By Sunday Ani
It appears that Nigeria’s foremost think tank on foreign policy formulation, the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), is going through difficult times. A petition to the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) alleging impunity and injustices has exposed the underbelly of the institute, which, not too long ago, got a new helmsman.
In a petition obtained by The Sun, dated August 9, 2021, to the commissioner of the PCC, one of the concerned workers in the NIIA alleged that the director-general, the institute’s governing council, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs had refused to act on several complaints about the flagrant violation of the rules and regulations guiding the institute.
The petitioner said he had written several memos to the foreign affairs minister and the DG of the institute on numerous acts of impunity and injustice but no action was taken, hence, his petition, requesting urgent action from the PCC to restore normalcy in the institute, which, he lamented, has degenerated to a place where rules and regulations are transgressed with impunity.
According to him, the complaints as sent to the various authorities, who refused to correct them, are the interventions and violations of rules and regulations by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the NIIA governing council and the DG of the NIIA.
He chronicled some of the illegalities in the institute to include his deliberate exclusion as the most senior director from being appointed as the DG, and the appointment of a junior staff to head the research department when there are seniors, an action contrary to the civil service rule which guides the institute.
Sometime last year, an uneasy aura enveloped operations at the NIIA, following the appointment of Dr. Efem Ubi as the acting DG of the institute on May 4, 2020. At that time, the issue was that the most senior staff, Prof. Aja Agwu, who was on Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure 15 (CONRAISS 15) ought to have been appointed and not Dr. Ubi, who was on CONRAISS 13. The situation created tension at the institute so much so that those in Agwu’s camp felt that a great injustice had been done to their candidate.
But, for Ubi and his supporters, there was nothing wrong in what had happened, as they argued there was no laid down rule saying that the most senior staff should take over the office of the director general from the retiring DG, coupled with the fact that he never lobbied for the position.
Although Ubi insisted that there was no problem at the institute then as workers were doing their jobs without any issues, it was only a matter of time before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs realised the danger the institute was exposed to if urgent steps were not taken to restore peace.
In a quick move to douse the seeming tension at that time at the institute, the foreign affairs ministry, on June 8, appointed Cyprien Heen as an interim DG and charged him with the sole responsibility of ensuring that peace returned to the institute.
Heen, who was appointed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied knowing of any grumbling by any person or group of persons then, but agreed that his mission was to stabilize the charged atmosphere, restore peace to the institute and hand over to whoever the ministry would appoint the substantive DG.
Today, the institute has appointed a substantive DG in the person of Professor Eghosa E. Osaghae. It is also assumed that Heen would have stabilized the charged atmosphere and restored peace as he was set out to do before the substantive DG was appointed, but it appears that did not happen as there seems to be lots of unresolved issues bothering some staff of the institute, as evidenced by the latest petition to the PCC.
The petitioner pointed out that, in the NIIA, a DG had never been appointed from outside, if there was a full professor not on a leave-of-absence. He also stressed that, at the time of the vacancy in the office of the DG, there was a professor on the ground, who applied as an internal candidate when the post was advertised, but was excluded from the processes.
The petition said the professor was later informed that he could not make the list of the shortlisted candidates as it was the National Universities Commission (NUC) that handled the selection process. The question that arose was: Why did the NUC get involved in the NIIA when it is only functionally and institutionally concerned with universities and not research institutes?
The petition revealed that, on May 21, 2021, a memo was sent to the foreign affairs minister complaining about the “injustice” meted out to the NIIA professor. In the memo, it said, Professor Agwu complained that the substantive DG, Prof. Osaghae, had equally ignored him as a full-fledged professor, and even went ahead to recognise an assistant director on grade level 13, as the acting director of research, against civil service rules and regulations, which prescribe seniority in such appointments.
Findings revealed that, after Prof. Agwu’s complaint of exclusion from the DG’s selection interview and the minister’s response that the process, as far as he was concerned, was transparent and objective, he accepted his fate.
The petition alleged that the NIIA had become a place where junior research fellows assess themselves for promotion, and urged the minister to intervene and stop the abuse of civil service rules.
It said: “A level 13 officer cannot head the research department when there is a full-fledged professor. A level 13 officer cannot attend the Senior Staff Committee meeting. He cannot assess the administrative officers in the research department, just as he and his fellow level 13 officers cannot assess the research fellows.
“I also reminded him that the level 13 officer in question merely declared himself the acting director of research, having not been appointed as such; and that even if he was appointed, it was still against the NIIA and the civil service rules.
“But to my greatest surprise, the DG still went to the Senior Staff Committee meetings with the acting director of research, who became an assistant director in 2019 by virtue of this current council.”
The petition also alleged that some staff were allowed to write promotional examinations without an advertisement, when the rules state otherwise.
“Promotional examinations to directors’ positions are always advertised, but some people were still permitted to write the examination without any advertisement or competitor. Promotions to directorship in MDAs are usually by competitive examinations by the candidates, especially in the administrative departments,” he said.
The document also accused the authorities of creating a directorate not recognised by the act establishing the NIIA.
He said: “The NIIA Act only recognises three directors, administration and finance, research and studies, and then library services and documentation; nothing else. I think the talk about the director of special duties would only be possible if the NIIA Act is amended and the additional director reflected. This has not happened.”
The petition said a memo to the minister by Prof. Agwu had pointed out: “What I have presented above is the situation of things before the substantive DG, Professor Osaghae, was appointed. As I have stated earlier above, I have reconciled myself with my exclusion from the processes that led to the choice of the substantive DG.
“I am calling on the Honourable Minister to intervene and restore things here, as well as call the council to order, so that the civil service rules and my personal right as a citizen of this country in the service of my fatherland/motherland will be restored.”
The petition to the PCC, it was gathered, stemmed from the fact that, in spite of his letters to the minister and the DG, no redress seemed to have been done, no action was taken to correct the issues at hand.
The petition called on the PCC to look into the myriad of “extra-legal things” going on at the institute, investigate and amend things to reflect the NIIA and civil service rules.
It said: “I am still appealing that the succession process in the civil service be upheld. The consequence of all these is that there is now practically no seniority in the NIIA. There is now complete lawlessness in the institute.
“Checking the unruliness and the breach of rules in the NIIA is very important because, if things continue to go this way, unwholesome precedents would be institutionalised. The result, if the ill practices are not checked, would not be good for the institute and the civil service.”