The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Pantami, has been accused of evicting the Chief Executive Officer of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, and other staff of the commission from the NCC complex in Abuja.
The minister was said to have given the order to security agents who broke into her office and carted away all her personal belongings and items, including 140 work stations, personal computers, printers, and sensitive documents.
The minister had been at loggerheads with NIDCOM, since it was established, over the office accommodation.
The Director of Public Affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Henry Nkemadu, had described the reported eviction of the staff of NIDCOM from the fifth floor of the NCC Annex Mbora as mere allegation.
But in a statement issued on Sunday, the Head, Media and Public Relations Unit of NIDCOM, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, explained that the fifth floor was allocated to NIDCOM by NCC management since June, 2019, and handed over by Mrs. Maryam Bayi, its Director, Human Resources.
He added that due to lack of basic facilities in the complex, NIDCOM staff could not move in gradually until in October, 2019.
The statement added that while the Chairman/CEO of NIDCOM, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, was on an official assignment with the president in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 9, 2020, the minister asked the staff to pack out within 48 hours without quit notice.
“Unfortunately, on Friday 14th February, after the chairman returned from Ethiopia a day before, she visited the complex to shockingly find that offices were broken into and all items, including the 140 work stations, personal computers, printers, sensitive documents and personal belongings of staff were carted away. The call centre was locked up,” he said.
He stated that upon taking delivery of the building, the commission made provision of some furniture, equipment, and infrastructure in the building and proceeded to install workstations for over 140 staff in November, 2019.
“Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Pantami, asked them to pack out within 48 hours of the said quit notice, and they were forcefully evicted by security operatives attached to the complex on the orders of the minister on February 11.
“On the allegation that NIDCOM did not move into the offices when allocated, this is untrue, false accusation and contradictory to the statement of NCC to the effect that NIDCOM properties were warehoused and intact in the annex,” the statement added.
Balogun said the commission was notified on the need to evacuate the building within one week without any prior notice by the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Umar Garba Danbatta.
He said Dambatta claimed that it was on the order of the minister who also want to occupy the same office space and location.
He said: “By Tuesday, 11th February, 2020, just two days after the initial notice which gave one-week ultimatum, the staff of NIDCOM were denied access into their offices by armed security men from the NSDC who ordered them not to go into the fifth floor office of the commission.”
Meanwhile, NCC has denied a video making the rounds on social media, alleging that the Nigeria Diaspora Commission was ignominiously thrown out of the NCC building.
A statement by NCC and made available to Daily Independent, said: “It is therefore important that the general public is acquiesced with what really transpired with regard to the incident leading to the evacuation of the Diaspora Commission from the NCC building.
According to NCC, “The board of the commission directed the decongestion of the head office building. Some of the departments of the NCC had started moving to the new office complex of five floors when discussions were held between the NCC and the Diaspora Commission to enable the Diaspora Commission also utilize any free offices within the complex. The fifth floor allocated to them had to be used to accommodate other departments from the NCC headquarters to ease the congestion.
“NCC’s offer to house the Nigeria Diaspora Commission was predicated on the long held position of the NCC that agencies of government will achieve more through strategic collaboration, partnership, synergy and sharing to the extent allowed by relevant laws.”
The statement further explained that during the period, the NCC secured approval for the commissioning of the office complex by the president and the launching of four important projects of the NCC and the renamed Ministry of Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMC&DE): launching and unveiling Broadband Plan 2020 – 2025; commissioning of the Communications and Digital Economy Complex; launching of the Emergency Communications Centre and Toll-Free number 112; and flag off of the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training.
“These important projects were a culmination of extensive collaboration between NCC and the other parastatals of the FMC&DE and fittingly the complex was renamed the Communications and Digital Economy Complex in tandem with the new drive of the Federal Government towards a digital economy.”
The NCC said it has not withdrawn the offer but had hiccups arising from the preparation for the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the Communications and Digital Economy Complex and launch other projects relating to the mandate of government.
“Incidentally, after the offer of the office spaces to the Diaspora Commission, the Director General, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had not visited the complex to take possession of any of the offices and also the commission had not started using any of these spaces as offices.
“As is usual in ensuring security and accountability before, during and after presidential visits, the building had to be cleared to allow for only known and identifiable persons to have access within the complex. Therefore the Honourable Minister of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, could not have sent armed men to drive the staff of the Diaspora Commission out of the Communications and Digital Economy Complex.”