Export council fires 4 aggrieved staff despite House of Reps resolutions

  • …sack not effective – board chairman

The Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) has sacked four of its staff who petitioned the House of Representatives following a promotion scandal that rocked the agency in 2015, Daily Trust reports.

The four aggrieved staff were sacked in separate letters dated October 15 and signed by the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr Olusegun Awolowo.

But the chairman of the council’s governing board, Sen Ibrahim Musa, told Daily Trust on telephone that the sack was not effective as the board did not adopt the minutes of the meeting where the decision was taken.

The sacked staff were part of the initial 27 staff of the council that wrote a petition to the House in 2016, alleging irregularities, nepotism, sectionalism and favouritism in the promotion exercise.

Their sack came despite two separate resolutions of the House, which barred the agency from taking any action against the aggrieved staff, whom the lawmakers said only exercised their constitutional right.

The resolutions were communicated to the agency by the Clerk to the National Assembly Mohammed Sani-Omolori.

The four sacked staff comprised of a deputy director on Grade Level 16, Abdullahi Kudu Mamman, and the three others who are all assistant directors on Grade Level 15, namely Tijjani K. Zakari, Mrs Tokubo F. Adeyemi and Mansur M. Yusuf.

Awolowo said in the sack letters titled ‘Termination of Appointment for Services no Longer Required,’‎ that the decision was reached at the NEPC’s governing board’s meeting of October 10.

While Mamman served at the NEPC Kano Regional Office, Zakari was at Gusau state office; Adeyemi, Benin state office and Yusuf was at the NEPC headquarters in Abuja.

Although the board’s chairman confirmed that the decision was reached during one of their meetings, he said members of the board were yet to adopt the minutes of the meeting even as he has yet to sign the document.

Thus, he said, the termination letters issued by Awolowo to the four staff could not be effective.

He also said the board may reverse the sack as some members have since shown concern about the decision.

“Honestly speaking, I was not in agreement with sacking those people. Unfortunately when we sat in the board meeting, about seven of us, I was the only person for them. You know majority carry the day. Even if we were going to vote, I was the only person for them.

“I told them that these are family men who have responsibilities for their families, relatives and other people. But I was a lone fighter. There was a woman that I was able to convince them to commute her sack to retirement.

“After the board took that decision, before anything could be done, we were supposed to draft the minutes of the meeting, then we’ll come back to adopt. But that wasn’t done. I have not even signed the minutes of the meeting.

“After the meeting, three of my board members came back and reasoned with me. Unfortunately, the management has given them letters. But we were not in agreement with that,” he said.

Asked if the board would revisit the matter, he said: “We’re thinking towards that very seriously. I think the ED and other staff there were already determined to terminate the career of those people.

“I’ve not signed the minutes up to now as I’m talking to you. So, I don’t think what they did has any effect. It’s not effective because we didn’t adopt the minutes.

“A lot of people have been calling me on this. There are concerns from the Senate, House of Reps, the ministry and everywhere. Whatever I can do to reverse that decision, I will do it. We can decide to call an emergency meeting, not necessarily a usual meeting, for this purpose to see what we can do.‎”

Daily Trust reports that it is a normal practice for civil servants to petition both chambers of the National Assembly over issues of promotion, demotion, termination of appointment,‎ etcetera.

It was gathered that the four staff were singled out for sack as they were the principal officers among the petitioners and they refused to “beg Awolowo to forgive” them for embarrassing him by sending a petition to the House in the first place.

The ‎remaining 23 staff that initially signed the petition were said to have apologised for their action, which was why they were not sacked alongside the four others.

After receiving their sack letters, the four staff wrote a letter dated October 19 to the House through Rep Aliyu Hamman-Pategi (PDP, Kwara), who chaired the adhoc panel constituted by the House last year to probe the matter.

‎They said in the letter that Awolowo disregarded the resolutions of both chambers and went ahead with their “illegal termination of appointments.”

“In view of the above, we are appealing to the National Assembly to intervene and stop the council from illegal termination of our appointments and to further direct for the immediate compliance with the National Assembly’s resolutions,” they said.

Some members of the House panel were miffed about the development and vowed to take up the matter.

The sacked staff wrote another letter on October 25 to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, intimating him of their illegal sack and appealed for his immediate intervention.

They said: “We request the immediate withdrawal of the unjust letters of termination of appointments to the four aggrieved staff; the four aggrieved staff should be granted their promotion with effect from their due date – 1st January, 2015; no any member of the aggrieved staff should be victimised in any manner for his/her involvement in the petition.”

The letter was copied to the Minister of State Aisha Abubakar, Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita and the permanent secretary in the ministry of industry, trade and investment.

The House Resolutions

On January 24 this year, the House adopted the report of the Hamman-Pategi panel and asked the NEPC to halt its planned sack of the staff.

The House resolved that no aggrieved staff should be castigated, victimized or humiliated in any manner for writing petition against the promotion exercise conducted by the management of the council sometime in 2015.

Members of the Green Chamber had also said that all staff due for promotion in the council should be promoted with effect from the date of their due promotion.

They said Mrs Adeyemi should be fully reinstated in accordance with the earlier ministry’s instruction and properly placed accordingly, noting that the query issued to Zakari should be withdrawn and his due promotion be implemented accordingly.

They equally resolved that all previous resolutions of the House concerning the matter should be fully adhered to by the NEPC management.

The panel’s report noted that an agreement was reached with the NEPC management to the effect that the council would abide by resolutions of the House on the matter as contained in the report, as well as implement the outcome.

In February last year, the House through its committee on compliance said NEPC had failed to comply with a directive of the House to stay action on the staff promotion exercise.

The lawmakers therefore threatened zero budget allocation for the council in the 2017 appropriation, but that matter was later settled as Awolowo, whose tenure was recently renewed, indicated his readiness to respect their earlier resolutions.

However, the matter festered, and on October 19 last year, the House during a debate on another motion on the matter accused Awolowo of forging a letter from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in order to sack the aggrieved staff.

What NEPC Act says

Paragraph 5 (e) of the council’s Act provides that its board shall have power to “exercise disciplinary control (including dismissal) over its employees.”

The Act also states in Paragraph 6 (a) that the council shall make staff regulations which may provide for “the appointment, promotion and disciplinary control of all employees of the council.”

However, in Paragraph 6 (b), it provides that the council’s regulations shall also include “appeal by such employees against dismissal or other disciplinary measures.”

How it all started

The agency got mired in an internal crisis over the promotion of directors, deputy directors and assistant directors carried in 2015.

Some staff of the council accused Awolowo of bias and “promotion of staff from his ethnicity”, especially those in the directorate cadre.

Eighty members of staff of the council were promoted in the 2015 exercise conducted by the Centre for Management Development (COMMAND) but the exercise was described as flawed. The promotion was allegedly dogged by controversies ranging from sectionalism, ethnicity and religious bias. For instance, all the 13 promoted staff in the directorate cadre have the same religious affiliation.

The aggrieved staff, in separate petitions to the minister and House of Representatives, said the results of the exercise showed clear “anomalies, flaws and irregularities.”

They said staff mainly from the South-west favoured by the ED/CEO were awarded marks higher than the maximum marks to be promoted, even when other senior staff scored higher marks.

But while the House had referred the matter to its Public Petitions Committee headed by Rep Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (PDP, Abia), there was no further action from the minister over the issue.

The committee ordered the council to stay action until investigation was concluded, but the petitioners accused Awolowo of violating the lawmakers’ order by issuing them queries.

The committee had recommended that the House should urge NEPC to (i) reflect federal character principle in the exercise,(ii) promote all officers due for promotion,  and (iii) ensure that no officer is punished or victimized for his role in writing the petition.

Daily trust

Hassan Usman Author

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