Alleged unlawful dissolution of NITR board by minister sparks protests
There are protests in Kaduna State over the decision by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, to dissolve the Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute for Trypanosomiasis and Onchocerciasis Research (NITR), just as members of the board have petitioned the Presidency, alleging intimidation and harassment.
The NITR Governing Council has asked the minister to withdraw the decision, saying that the tenure of the members, which began in 2018, would lapse in 2023.
Besides, the controversy over the desolation of the governing council started when the minister, in a letter dated August 5, 2021, informed the chairman of the board, Haruna Lambu, that the tenure of the board had elapsed.
According to Onu, in line with the laws guiding the tenure of Agencies and Research Institutes under the ministry, it has become necessary to inform members of the governing board that the tenure of the board, which was inaugurated on Tuesday, March 8, 2018, elapsed March 7 2021.
He pointed out: “Consequently, the Director-General/Secretary of Board has been directed to prepare end of tenure report and submit to the ministry.”
However, the minister’s action has raised dust in the Presidency and among the lawyers of the board.
The Presidency had earlier done a memo to the ministry, dated September 1, 2021, warning against undue administrative interference, harassment and intimidation. The letter addressed to the minister by the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Administration and Operation), Ibrahim Adamu, acknowledged the receipt by the President of a memo by NITR Governing Board over “undue interference, bordering on wrongful and unlawful intimidation, oppression and harassment of the governing council and the role of the minister in perpetuating Dr Augustine Igweh as Director-General of the institute after due retirement.”
According to Adamu, the President has directed the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to stop interfering in the administrative procedures within the mandate of the governing council.
“Mr. President has also directed the Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF) to take disciplinary actions against Igweh for using the police to forcefully take over management of the institute,” he added.
Adamu also explained that the Presidency directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to investigate the involvement of the police in the matter and take appropriate action.
Meanwhile, counsel to the aggrieved members, Shuaibu Umar, in a letter dated September 1, 2021, also petitioned the minister over alleged premature dissolution of the board.
Umar argued that from the provisions of law, particularly on Section 2 (1) of the Schedule to the Act, the tenure of office of members of all the councils, created and established by the Act, is five years and not three years as erroneously claimed by the minister.
The minister, in a recent public notice, had also directed the reconstitution of some of the governing boards and councils of agencies and institutes under his purview, which drew protest.