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Disquiet in trade and investment agencies

By Itunu Ajayi, Abuja
13 May 2015   |   2:13 am
The past few weeks had witnessed series of protests in two major agencies under the supervision of Olusegun Aganga, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment.


The past few weeks had witnessed series of protests in two major agencies under the supervision of Olusegun Aganga, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment.

One thing that is synonymous with these events however is that the two agencies are being superintended over by female bosses. First, it was the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) whose major responsibility is to serve as a window through which the much desired foreign and local investors are able to access information through a One-Stop shop meant to provide them all what they need for ease their operation in the country.

Workers of the Commission, had on Tuesday, April 21, locked out the Executive Secretary, Saratu Umar, thereby grounding the operations of the agency.

Their grouse, among others, were that Umar had adopted an alien management style not known to the civil service in running the commission.

This, they say, prevented most of the directors from having access to her, except a few. She was alleged to have created a protocol unit, through which the directors could see her.

They alleged that Umar spent N35 million to renovate and furnish her office while she sees staff welfare and working condition as not her area of priority.

They also accused her of highhandedness and staff intimidation, even as they alleged that she issued between 50 to 150 queries to them in one day.

The protesters alleged further that Umar had made it compulsory for directors who had been on the post for four years to re apply for the post again despite the civil service rule that allows them to be on the job for eight years.

They said the commission which ought to be a One-stop Investment Centre is practically dead adding that files containing applications from investors, both within and outside the country have been piling up in her office without attending to them.

They also accused Umar of hiring five foreign consultants under her transformation agenda in the Commission, without their adding any value to the investment agency’s overall agenda.

The consulting firms, they listed as those in charge of corporate restructuring; corporate image development; ICT; human capital development; public relations and communications as well as accounting and financial discipline.

They alleged that Umar had recently collected N13million annual leave grant for her husband and four children, when in actual sense of it she’s a single mother with only two children.

Also, the National Association of Investment Promotion Agencies, (NAIPA) said they were shocked at the deteriorating situation in NIPC since the appointment of Umar adding that she appears to have serious challenges with capacity and has been having difficulty in effectively dealing with investors as well as staff of the agency.

The association Secretary, Chief Adesoji Adesugba called on the government to ask the Executive Secretary to proceed on leave so as to ensure that she does not tamper with documents which will be used as evidence against her.

His words: “NAIPA is worried that NIPC, which before now, had been a vibrant Agency, has been brought down to its knees from its previous enviable position as a recipient of National and International accolades.

We are therefore not surprised that the entire staff of the organization is insisting she leaves the organization before more damage is done to its reputation. NAIPA’s mandate includes, among other things, to ensure the effective discharge of responsibilities of all IPAs in Nigeria. It is therefore catastrophic the current situation playing out in NIPC.

“What is also worrisome is the negative effect such a situation is having on intending foreign investors wishing to come to Nigeria. The current Executive Secretary of the NIPC who had previously been sacked from NEXIM Bank on grounds of incompetence, low performance and insubordination definitely does not have the capacity to lead such an important organization as the NIPC’’.

He went further, “Various Stakeholders can attest to the fact that NIPC has performed much below its average since her appointment. Definitely the organization is at its lowest ebb since 1999 when it commenced operations. It is also apparent that Saratu Umar has no capacity to run an organization such as the NIPC.

While reacting to the allegations, Umar said her accusers are only aggrieved because she brought some new innovations to the agency which they cannot cope with.

Umar said a lot of staff members exhibit apathy and are not disposed to their work efficiently. She denied the renovation of her office saying that she turned down the idea because of the need to face important issues she met when she assumed office. Her words: ‘’NIPC has not been effective as it should have.

We are trying to have a strong institution that would promote and coordinate all investment in the Nigeria business climate. We also discovered some financial irregularities and we are trying to manage that. The commission is the first point of contact to the country and we cannot afford to run the place anyhow.

She said some staff were questioned for not coming to work without reasons’’. She accused some senior directors who are not comfortable with her fight against corruption of sponsoring the protest.

‘’Once you are trying to do a change, you will find some people that will try to work against it and they will try to bring up sentiment. People cloak the real reason why they do what they do and that is what is happening now. The real reason behind this is not what you are seeing.

What you are seeing is the reaction to our trying to cub corruption in the institution; there is no way we can continue the way things used to be.

We have to make NIPC work for us as a country. We have to change some attitudes so that we can move forward. I am trying to make sure that we adhere to the rule of law, that things are done with due process, so how do people attack me for that. If NIPC is working, it is for the good of the country, not for me’’.

She said it was few people who were beneficiaries to the way things were run in the past and thought that they would be exposed and would no longer benefit that are behind the scene.

At a meeting held between Umar and the members of the union of the agency, an agreement was reached to issue a communiqué and part of the component would be that Umar will not victimise those who participated in the protest.

Truce could, however, not be reached because according to one of the union members, Umar refused to sign insisting that the aspect of not victimising protesters should be removed from the document. Before the heat of the NIPC saga could cool off, another protest erupted at the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) on Monday, April 27. This time, students studying various technical and vocational courses at the Model Skills Training Centre (MSTC) of the agency took to the National Assembly after they had vented their anger at the premises of the agency. Their anger stemmed from what they described as the unwillingness of the fund to graduate them after more than four years for courses that were supposed to run for just two years. They lamented that a two year program has become a life time program and that they are subjected to all kinds of payments. They also accused the ITF management under the leadership of Juliet Chukkas-Onaeko of non-payment of their allowances and lack of necessary equipment to facilitate their training.

They said no student had graduated from the institution since 2011 from programs which are supposed to be a two year course and designed to award them an internationally recognized certificate at completion. The students said they had exhausted all avenues to make the management of ITF respond to their yearnings to be graduated.

At the National Assembly, they submitted a protest letter to the speaker, House of Representatives with the demand for a full scale investigation into the lack of facilities at the centre.

The letter read in part: “We, the trainee students of the Model Skill Training Centre are under a terrible situation in our training program and we need your intervention to carry out a full scale investigation of the programs in ITF. Students that enrolled for a two year program since 2011, and the subsequent ones, are yet to graduate without any genuine reasons.

As at the time we applied for training, we were not informed that the school is not having enough practical equipment to start with. The incentives provided by the Federal Government are yet to be given to any of the students. “As of the time we applied for training, we were not informed that the school did not have enough practical equipment to start with.

The incentives provided by the Federal Government are yet to be given to any of the students’’. Some of the protesting students said they paid N280,000 despite the claim by the fund that the fees are being subsidized and they were promised a lap top which they were not given since their enrolment at the centre.

They said the needed equipment for practical are not in place and so the Singaporean institutes partnering with ITF had refused to issue certificates to them because they had not acquired the requisite skills.

In her response, Director-General, ITF, Dr Juliet Chukkas-Onaeko, said a committee has been set up by the management of ITF to look into the grievances of the students.

She stated that the issue at hand is an inherited one as she came into office in 2014, adding that there were no budgetary provisions as over N600 million is required to equip the centre and that no procurement can be done without Federal Executive Council approving the budget.