Nigeria

Minister accused of interfering with lottery commission’s administration

Sen. George Akume, Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs made the call at the formal inaugural ceremony of eight members of the Governing Board of the NNMA on Friday in Abuja.

Some members of the Governing Board of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) have alleged interference with the administration of the commission by the Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senator George Akume, warning that the act could impede its smooth day-to-day operations.

The members, who pleaded anonymity, said the minister’s interference could breed indiscipline and insubordination in the commission, pointing out that it is at variance with the directives of the Head of Service (HoS), Dr. Folashade Yemi-Esan, and an extant public service circular issued by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, which forbids ministers from interfering in operations of parastatals under their watch.

Specifically, they complained that Akume had interfered in the disciplinary process against two directors, Mr. Robert Bolokor and Mr. Okechukwu Odunna, who had been placed on suspension following a preliminary indictment by both the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Miscellaneous Offences Commission (ICPC), for sundry infractions.

They claimed the minister had directed the directors to disregard their suspension.

Efforts to reach the minister for his reaction Thursday, however, were unsuccessful.

As a result of their indictment, they said the board notified the HoS who in a letter with reference number: HCSF/CMO/EMO/CPA/140/46, dated 2nd February 2021, directed the board to constitute a committee to look into the allegations against the two directors and make appropriate recommendations.

Consequently, they said the chairman of the board constituted a four-man committee headed by Chief Yemisi Oni-Hassan, to carry out the investigation and forward its findings and recommendations.

The committee, they explained, interviewed Bolokor and Odunna and recommended disciplinary actions against them.

“In view of the fact that Mr. Robert Blessing Bolokor did not fulfil one of the statutory conditions of eligibility for permanent and pensionable appointment by possessing the NYSC discharge or exemption/exclusion certificate, where applicable, as provided for in part II, Paragraph 1(ix) of the Guidelines for Appointments, promotions and Discipline (Revised August, 2004), issued by the Federal Civil Service Commission, his appointment should be revoked and the Board should summarily dismiss him forthwith, in line with due process,” they quoted the committee’s recommendation.

On Odunna, the committee was said to have recommended: “The governing board should immediately commence administrative disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Okechukwu Josiah Odunna, in line with the provisions of PSR 030302 TO 030306, for suppression of records (by wittingly) refusing to disclose to the Board and Management of NLRC his indictment and subsequent disbarment by the Florida Bar, in line with PSR030402(b).”

They said it was further recommended that pending the conclusion by the ICPC, and in the consideration of his being declared a fugitive from justice, Odunna should forthwith be prohibited from carrying out his duties at the commission.

On the basis of these recommendations and the directive of the board, the Director-General, Mr. Lanre Gbajbiamila, they said, suspended Bolokor and Odunna.

However, they stated that the minister was alleged to have directed the suspended directors to return to their respective duty posts at the commission.

“As we speak, there is uncertainty in the commission as the minister has unilaterally overruled the governing board, the head of service and in fact an existing circular from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, cautioning ministers against meddling in the day-to-day running of Departments, Agencies and Commissions under their Ministries,” a board member told THISDAY in Abuja.

In a May 19, 2020 circular, the SGF had reiterated to ministers that pursuant to Public Service Rules, disciplinary powers in Agencies, Department and Commissions resided with the governing boards of affected agencies and not the ministers in line with enabling law and chapters three and 16 of the public service rules on discipline in government parastatals.

“The rule is that all Civil Servants in the Federal Civil Service of Nigeria, technically speaking, are all staff of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. The affected directors in the National Lottery Regulatory Commission are staff of the Office of the Head of Service. So, the Head of Service has so far been doing what is within the purview of her office and in line with enabling laws and public service rules.

“So, the Minister of Special Duties, Senator Akume, cannot arbitrarily overrule the decision of the governing council of the commission without due recourse to the Head of Service.

“There is no record anywhere that he is acting in consonance with Head of Service. It is not done and we will not allow it,” the board member said.

Meanwhile, acting under the aegis of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, some of the workers have been conducting protests and have even picketed the commission at some point, purportedly clamouring for the recall of the two suspended directors.

However, Gbajabiamila has frowned on the picketing, saying it was corruption fighting back.

According to him, the management of the commission suspended the directors based on the recommendations of the ICPC, the HoS committee and the board.

While calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to call Akume to order, the board members said it would be most unethical for any of the suspended directors to be given access to their offices or sensitive government documents at the commission.

The seven-member governing board are: Mr. Fatai Ibikunle, Chairman; Hon. Bode Ogunleye, Mr. Abubakar Rajab, Mr. Boniface Waziri, Mr. Abdulbasit Abdallah, Chief Yemi Oni and Mr. Obo Awusa.

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