Mr. Segun Awolowo Jnr., the Executive Director/CEO, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), sits atop a government agency brimming with corruption, mismanagement, tribalism as well as flagrant indifference to public service regulations and due process. Documents exclusively obtained by SaharaReporters show that Awolowo, a grandson of the revered administrator, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, along with some senior staff of the council, run a profoundly rotten agency.
The situation has provoked some insiders to call the attention of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Mike Enelamah; and the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita, to the reign of impunity in the council. In letters of complaints separately addressed to the Minister and the Head of Service, the disaffected insiders are also demanding investigations into process abuse and the institution of genuine reforms to forestall a recurrence.
Awolowo, who, years back, was a famous figure on the Lagos social circuit, is living large at the expense of the NEPC. His life of immodest opulence as a public servant has further exposed Mr. Awolowo is a corrupt public officer holder. As Executive Director/CEO, Awolowo has a six-car fleet, including a siren-blaring pick-up van. However, officers on assignment at the headquarters are left to depend on car hire services. Also, only five out of 15 zonal offices of the NEPC have operational vehicles.
According to SaharaReporters sources, Awolowo runs a corrupt fund allocation system. He is said to allocate single-handedly funds, a disregard for the federal financial rules, given the responsibility to the Fund Allocation Committee. This has resulted in inappropriate and lopsided allocations to departments. For instance, SaharaReporters learnt that the Trade Information Department, which is the biggest department, received N10 million in May 2015 while N20 million was allocated as a contingency.
Awolowo is also said to be fond of ceaseless overseas trips at the detriment of execution of operational duties. A travel agency ALML Travels & Tours, with the address. 25 Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja, Lagos, has so far been paid over N60 million for flight tickets issued. He has also been found to have collected monies for trips not made. Information made available to this medium show that Awolowo received funds for travel to AGOA Forum in Gabon between August, 24 and 28 2015, Trade Mission to Belgium on May 26th, 2015, Non-oil Export Trade Hub visit to Togo between October, 15 and 16 2014 and Export Warehouse Meetings in Maradi and Konni, Niger Republic between June, 16 and 17 2014 and May, 12 – 14 2015 respectively. For all of the trips, payments were, made but trips were reportedly not undertaken. He has also been discovered to have developed a scheme through which he creams off money via frivolous projects. The 2013 Nigeria Solo-Exhibition in Lome, Togo, gulped over N170 million. Insiders said it should never have cost more than N15 million.
Another misdeed of the Executive Director is the practice of paying Estacode and Duty Tour Allowances, using the rates for officers in the directorate cadre for his personal staff who are not in the employ of NEPC. This is a contravention of the provision in the Public Service Rules rule as contained in Circular No 59729/T.1/154. Awolowo also paid N3.1million as out of pocket expenses to KPMG consultants to cater for their flight tickets, local transport, accommodation and feeding despite full payment of their consultancy fees.
The Executive Director is said to regularly brag about his family background and the fact that he is an in-law to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Two weeks to the release of the now controversial results of the last promotion exercise in the NEPC, Awolowo was said to have issued an internal memo, saying whoever is aggrieved should write a petition. In another memo published on October 28 2015 and titled “Decisions taken on NEPC Examination/Promotion Exercises,” Awolowo approved the abandonment of the aggregate formula as enshrined in the Public Service Rules that a pass in one section is the only qualification to another round/section. This action points to an abusive unilateral changing of Public Service Rules to suit personal interests.
A primary source of the complainants' anger is 2012, 2013 and 2014 promotion exercise conducted by the NEPC management between July 27 and 29 2015 was its assault on Public Service Rules and due process.
Awolowo, who was said to have repeatedly told NEPC staff that he had never heard of the NEPC until his appointment as CEO, is said to be dependent on the council's most senior Director, Mr. M. O. Ibrahim, for direction. Ibrahim, who is said to have a coterie of loyalists in the NEPC, is widely viewed as a champion of ethnic interests, an attribute that has promoted the institution of impunity, and the CEO's sidekick.
Specifically, the complainants identified a variety of abnormalities in the conduct of the promotion exercise. First was the alleged manipulation of the 2015 Establishment Budget by the Senior Staff Committee (SSC).
This, said the complainants, was deliberately done to hurt the promotion opportunities of staff by reducing the approved establishment budget. According to them, the arrangement was hurriedly made on July 27, 2015, a day before the promotion examination and approved by the retiring Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment on July 28, 2015, which post-dated the effective date of promotion of January 1 2015.
Another source of disaffection was the delay in the promotion exercise in the directorate cadre for three years (2012,2013 and 2014). This was said to have been done to smoothen the path for some selected officers, despite the existence of a circular halting notional promotion after 2011.
The Senior Staff Committee (SSC) also deliberately provided for accounting examination to the directorate cadre, which was not mentioned in the establishment budget. This was construed as having been done to accommodate and unduly favour some staff. Somewhat bizarrely, Awolowo included his Special Assistants (personal staff) in the SSC that conducted the 2014 promotion exercise contrary to the Public Service Rules as shown in circular No B.63433/73
Another curious occurrence was the changing of the Annual Performance Evaluation Report (APER) scores and cut-off marks after the conduct of the examination. The NEPC management, in total disregard of the stipulated provision in the Public Service Rules, raised the pass mark to 70% as against the 60%-after the conduct of the examination and without informing candidates who sat for the examination, something akin to changing the rules after the game.
This, naturally, promoted the belief that APER forms were not assessed. The belief is strengthened by the failure of by Mr. Ibrahim, the most senior director, to give forms back, as expected, to most staff assessed for countersigning. The affected officers were awarded flat marks. A look at the Guidelines for Appointments, Promotion and Discipline issued by the Federal Civil Service confirms the illegality of what was done by the NEPC management. Tagged "Promotion Interview", it states: " Interview/examination marks shall be awarded as follows: a)Interview 70%, b) APER 20 %, c) Seniority 10 % and d) Overall pass mark is 60% respectively." While the guidelines stipulate the presence of a representative of the Head of Service at promotion interviews to ensure fairness, the NEPC promotion exercise was marked by the absence of observers from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Office of the Head of Service.
Similarly curious is the fact that the examination questions were set days before the exams, an action contrary to Public Service Rules (PSR), and which made the questions susceptible to leakage. The rules provide that examination questions are to be set at the point of writing the examinations, while promotion exams will be conducted by the relevant statutory committees and not by ‘external consultants’ which, in this case, is the Centre for Management Development.
The infidelity of the exercise, said the complainants, is evidenced by instances of candidates scoring higher marks than the maximum achievable and bizarre coincidences in scores. They pointed to an instance where two friends, Messrs Faleke and Oyeyipo on one hand, and Lawal Fatima B. (Nee Ibrahim), M. O. Ibrahim’s sister, and her friend, Akande M. Ajibola, on the other, scored same points in each section on a written examination. This, they argued, puts the fidelity of the exercise in doubt.
Equally dodgy was the deliberate addition of five marks to the scores of candidates aspiring to be directors. This appeared to have been done to boost the chances of the prospective ethnicity of candidates, an action in disregard of the Federal Character principle. The complexion of the results of the exercise provides a confirmation of ethnic/tribal considerations in its conduct. Of the 16 officers promoted in the directorate cadre, eight are from the same ethnic group.
While the promotion exercise may have headlined the decay in the NEPC under Awolowo, beneath it lies a raft of general administrative malpractices. SaharaReporters investigations reveal the NEPC as an ethical free-trade zone characterised by falsification of information as well as mutilation and distortion of staff records.
In one instance, Mr Babatunde Faleke said to have been employed on February 25, 1991, and confirmed on February 25 1999, has no letters indicating those milestones in his file, including that of transfer.
Faleke, who was said to have absconded from service, later pleaded to be allowed to proceed on secondment but denied by the former CEO. He was eventually granted transfer of service to Lagos International Trade Fair Complex. But surprisingly and at variance with Public Service Rules, he was later re-absorbed into the NEPC.
Even the most senior director, Mr. M. O. Ibrahim, is a beneficiary of the widespread malaise. Ibrahim, who should have retired by now, apparently falsified his age. He claimed to have been born in September 1956 and started his primary education in 1960. His current records, as SaharaReporters investigations show, indicate that he started school at the age of three years and four months, something almost unheard of at the time of his childhood when children started school at much older ages. He was also promoted to the directorate cadre in 2009 when no vacancy existed there. This gesture was also extended to two other directors, Mr. H. O. Otowo and Mr. Sidi Aliyu.
Down the ladder, it is the same. One Mr. R. S. Durodoye was promoted from the confidential secretary cadre to the officer cadre without proper conversion as stipulated by the rules. Also, an officer, Mr. A. G. Ganiyu, who had earlier been issued a letter that there was no vacancy for his promotion, was arbitrarily promoted in 2015. The promotion was back dated to 2011 when there was no corresponding vacancy and in bold disregard to the provisions of the Public Service Rules. One Mrs. Opeyemi Abebe was seconded illegally from the NEPC to work in Canadian Embassy in Nigeria when her functions had no relationship whatsoever with activities of the council and the country.
Similarly symptomatic of the freak show at NEPC is the case of Mr.Tijjani K. Zakari. In 2011, Zakari was denied the chance of the writing promotion examination despite meeting all the requirements and after being invited for promotion interview. Another officer, Mr. Hassan Bala, suffered a similar fate, as he was excluded from being considered in the 2014 promotion exercise despite being eligible. He was also for the invited interview and participated fully.
Within the council, Awolowo's integrity continues to be questioned. For example, a huge cloud of doubt hangs over the authenticity of the letter of approval to implement an institutional and functional review of the NEPCl from the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. The letter is a litany of errors. One of these is the designation of the CEO, NEPC, which out to be known by the supervising ministry. The letter, however, addressed him as Director-General instead of the Executive Director/CEO. Also, the letter was effective September 3 2015 and should therefore not be applicable to exercises effective January 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively.
The doubts swirling around his integrity has provoked loud and strident calls for full investigation of his tenure, outright cancellation of the last promotion exercise, a probe of the role of the Centre for Management Development in the exercise a far-reaching reform of the NEPC.