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Scandal: Why NABDA went without head for two months

National  Biotechnology Development Agency [NABDA], a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology [FMST] operated for two months with neither a substantive nor even an acting Director General because the minister, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, wanted to appoint as acting head a man who had an outstanding disciplinary case, Daily Trust on Sunday learnt from sources in the agency at the weekend.

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Following the departure from the agency of its substantive director general Prof Lucy Ogbadu under a cloud of scandal in November last year, Dr. Onu directed the permanent secretary Dr. Amina Bello Shamaki to appoint the most senior technical director in the agency, Prof Alex Akpa as acting DG. Sources however said the perm sec advised the minister against appointing Akpa because of a pending disciplinary case. Akpa, who is NABDA’s Research Director, Medical was reportedly intercepted by security officers on February 15, 2017 trying to remove laboratory equipment from its Medical Biotechnology Department “without any authorisation.”  The equipment found on him included two clinical examination couches, examination light source, privacy screen stand, drip stand, hospital trolley and double wash basin. A query was issued to Akpa and he was given forty eight hours to respond but had not done so up until last week.

According to our sources, the perm sec drew Dr. Onu’s attention to a circular signed by Secretary to the Government of the Federation Mr. Boss Mustapha on December 4, last year titled ‘End of tenure processes for heads of extra-ministerial departments, directors general, chief executive officers of parastatals, agencies, commissions and government-owned companies and succession guideline.’ The service-wide circular addressed to all permanent secretaries said a departing director general must hand over to the most senior officer in the agency “as long as the officer does not have any pending disciplinary matter.” At one point the minister threatened to cite the Perm Sec for insubordination if she did not immediately appoint Akpa as acting DG of NABDA. Our sources said when the minister insisted, the perm sec wrote to Head of Civil Service of the Federation Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita for clarification and the HCSF agreed that Akpa was barred by the circular from becoming acting DG of NABDA. It was only last Friday that Pharmacist Abayomi Oguntunde, Supervising Director of NABDA in the Science Ministry was appointed as acting DG after two months without a head. 

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Sources at the troubled agency also said the crises over the appointment of an acting DG was a continuation of the internal politics in the wake of the departure of the substantive DG, Prof Ogbadu. In June last year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] received series of petitions against Mrs Ogbadu and other officials of NABDA’s Bioresources Development Centres [BIODECs] around the country. In December 2017 EFCC charged her, nine other officials and three companies before the Federal High Court, Yenagoa on a 48-count charge of laundering funds belonging to the Federal Government. The charges include award of numerous contracts in violation of the Public Procurement Act and also regular payment of monies by the BIODECS into the account of a company suspected to be owned by the former DG. 

Despite being charged to court Prof Ogbadu tried to secure a second term for herself by presenting to the ministry two letters, ostensibly from EFCC, which said “nothing incriminating has been found against the Director General of the Agency as at now.” A second letter ostensibly from EFCC, signed on the same day and by the same official but addressed “To whom it may concern,” conveyed a slightly different message. Ministry officials however recommended against her reappointment in view of her standing trial in court. Our sources alleged that the effort to appoint Prof Alex Akpa as NABDA’s acting DG was an attempt to hush up the misdeeds of Prof Ogbadu’s tenure, which allegedly involved many other officials. 

A union official told Daily Trust on Sunday that yet another crisis is brewing because four directors of the ministry received queries from the Perm Sec for various acts of indiscipline, including one director who sat on a sensitive file for three months, but the Minister insisted at the weekend that the queries be withdrawn “in order to reduce tension in the ministry.” According to the union official, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu met with union officials late last week and urged them to submit petitions against the Perm Sec. 

When Daily Trust on Sunday sought the ministry’s comments on the lack of an interim head for NABDA for two months, a senior official in the ministry confirmed that there was indeed a succession crisis at NABDA following the expiration of the tenure of the Director General, Prof Lucy Ogbadu. 

The official, a deputy director who pleaded anonymity because he was not cleared to talk to the media on the issue, said the minister had directed a director overseeing the agency, Pharmacist Abayomi Oguntunde, to serve as the Acting Director General to solve the crisis. He said Pharmacist Oguntunde was also made the Acting DG to dispel the rumour that Dr Ogbonnaya Onu had any preferred candidate.  “Though the minister submitted three names to the Presidency to pick one of them as the next DG following expiration of tenure of Prof Lucy Ogbadu, to the best of my knowledge he has not anointed anyone among them. Even the Presidency may decide not to take from the three. This is it,” he said.

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