“Integrity gives you real freedom because you have nothing to fear since you have nothing to hide.”
The purported precipitate exit of the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, from service is as shocking as it is startling. The embattled HoS, who was conspicuously absent at the presidential retreat for ministers-designate at the State House in Abuja on Monday, hurriedly took a bow out of service early this week following the allegation of N3 billion bribery, duty tour allowance falsification and fraud levelled against her.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), acting on a petition before it, was said to have allegedly quizzed her on Wednesday, August 14, over alleged contract scam, abuse of duty tour allowance, money laundering and stealing of government funds. According to media reports, about N600 million was allegedly traced to the account of one of her key aides who could not give any satisfactory answer as to the source of the funds. And while the grilling exercise by the anti-graft agency lasted, Oyo-Ita reportedly took ill and was subsequently admitted in a hospital after being granted administrative bail.
Pre-emptive of the outcome of the preliminary investigation, she curiously turned in her resignation letter, owing to what some pundits referred to as pressure from family members. But the president in his wisdom turned down the request and she has since resumed to her duty post. She made appearance on Wednesday at the swearing in of ministers at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, following her meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, in his office.
This is a bad signal coming from the vineyard. Since investigation is still ongoing, it would be prejudicial to pronounce her quilt of any wrong doing. But as a career civil servant, who stands as repository of values, norms and ethnics of the so-called reformed civil service, she should have understood better the inner workings of the system as to avoid the kind of controversy she has thrown herself into. Until her present trial, Oyo-Ita had ostensibly comported herself as one of the vanguards of the anti-corruption crusade of the present administration, leading what they claim to be top quality civil servants. Currently, she is at the centre of the new minimum wage saga, holding the ace and dictating the tune.
That her name is linked to an account of an aide raises public curiosity. This is more so with corrupt reputation the Nigerian civil service has earned itself over the years. It is already an open secret how top government functionaries make fictitious financial claims, engage in contract rackets, and all sort of other sharp practices that constitute a drain pipe on the coffers of the Federal Government.
Although she has clarified that the N600 million allegedly found in the account in question was for the Death Benefits of deceased staff, thorough investigation needs to be carried out and the culprits brought to book to serve as deterrent to others who are inclined to corruption.
Oyo-Ita’s resignation adds to the list of high profile investigation, which President Muhammadu Buhari has had to deal with in the recent past. The most celebrated being the sudden resignation of the former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, from his cabinet to save the image of the administration and its anti-corruption mantra. Adeosun was accused of parading fake NYSC certificate, an allegation she defended with a flimsy reason.
To many, the HoS, Oyo-Ita has a higher moral burden on her neck. In and out of office, the onus of proof of innocence lies on her head. By design, the role of the Head of Service is to provide leadership for the career civil servants in the ministries. Among other things, the office is responsible for training and manpower development, as well as maintenance of high moral standard within the workforce. By virtue of her position, her main function is to ensure orderly and quick implementation of decisions of government. Put differently, the office of the Head of Service can be described as the engine-room of the public service, modeling an effective, efficient, focused and modern public service.
Other than the image of the Buhari administration, which is at stake here, this is the standard by which she would forever be judged among the pantheon of technocrats that had passed through the system.
Winifred Oyo-Ita, a native of Adiabo community of Odukpani Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State, was born in April 1964. She had her secondary education at Queens College Yaba. After her secondary education, she got admission into the University of Lagos, where she studied and obtained a B.Sc in Accounting in the year 1984. She also holds a Master’s degree, which she obtained from the Nasarawa State University.
After several years in the service of the government of the federation, Oyo-Ita Ekanem became the Director, Finance and Accounts at the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. On October 21, 2015, President Buhari appointed her as the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. She also served as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Prior to her appointment as the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology in April 2014, Oyo-Ita had served as the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).
Some of her fans have dismissed her travails as a setup, describing it as a way of fishing for dirt. Whatever it is, this is definitely a good example of how not to end a life-long career.