Plans may have been concluded to reinstate the disgraced acting Director General of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Chima Igwe.
The PUNCH gathered from reliable sources that those allegedly in the plot included an influential minister and some members of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology.
Our correspondent gathered that the group planned to rubbish a report of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission which indicted Igwe.
The 57-year-old was removed after the ICPC reported that he had yet to obtain a doctorate, which he claimed he got in 2001 from the Universite d’Abomey-Calavi, Benin Republic.
The governing board of the institute replaced him with a former Director of Production, Analytical and Laboratory Management, Dr Agnes Asagbra.
The ICPC had relied on a report from the Benin Republic varsity, which stated that Igwe had yet to defend his thesis as of January 2020.
The varsity stated that Igwe had, however, applied to continue the programme.
Our correspondent gathered that the varsity had issued him a document, titled, ‘Attestation de diploma de doctorate.’
The document, dated February 14, 2020, was signed by the Director of the School of Postgraduate, Prof. Joel Tossa, and the Deputy Rector, Charges Des Affaires Academiques, Marcel Zannou.
It was registered no: 081-2020/UAC/EDSEA/D/SA.
The PUNCH gathered that Igwe had written a petition to the Ministry of Science and Technology, saying he had obtained his certificate and he should be reinstated.
A senior official said the embattled official also petitioned the House of Representatives and the Senate to declare his removal illegal.
“He also reported the FIIRO board to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. He included the House Committee and the Senate Committee. He’s been all over Abuja. The House Committee on Science and Technology has already agreed with the board’s decision to remove him, but a meeting has been fixed for the Senate committee on Tuesday,” the source added.
Another source said the influential minister and some senators had allegedly agreed to affirm the latest document brought by Igwe.
“He is fighting tooth and nail in Abuja to be reinstated. A meeting on the issue earlier scheduled for Tuesday, February 25, at the Senate, was rescheduled.
“The agenda is that they will tell the Senate that the governing board of FIIRO has no power to appoint the new acting DG and since Igwe has brought a certificate, he should be reinstated,” he added.
Another source claimed that a powerful member of the Senate allegedly said Igwe could use the latest document to run the institute.
“The document Igwe brought is dated February 14, 2020. He said it is his certificate. He is also claiming that he finished the programme in 2001 and the school only issued him the certificate now.
“They are going to the Senate to return him and confirm his appointment. Arrangement had been on ground to confirm him before the ICPC reopened the investigation that indicted him.
“It is a shame that Igwe, who claimed to have gone to UNILAG and UNN, would be struggling with a PhD in a country that does not even speak our language,” the source added.
A senior official in FIIRO told our correspondent that the disciplinary committee set up by the governing board of the institute met last Thursday.
The PUNCH learnt that Igwe, who appeared before the panel, presented his latest document.
“They collected the attestation from him and promised to study it. But the committee has nothing to do with it. It is the ministry he should face. And if the ministry accepts it, it will forward same to the ICPC for confirmation.
“When they asked him about the date on it, he said it did not matter because the effective date of the doctorate was 2001. The same story he told the committee, is what he planned to tell the Senate,” the source said.
With the controversy being generated by the latest document, our correspondent reached out to the Director of the Universite D’Abomey-Calavi School of Postgraduate, Tossa.
Tossa, who chatted with our correspondent in French, said Igwe defended his thesis in February 2020.
He also stated that the latest document was proof that the 57-year-old had concluded the programme.
Asked the effective date of the PhD, he said, “C’est la date de soutenance (It is the date of the defence).”
Findings by our correspondent revealed that Igwe defended on a Thursday and he was issued the document the following day.
After the retirement of his first supervisor, Prof. Mansour Moudachirou, he continued with his second supervisor, Dr Eleonore Yayi.
Yayi is the serving Minister of Higher Education in Benin Republic.
A copy of the invitation letter to Igwe’s project defence obtained by our correspondent, revealed his topic as ‘Chemical Composition and Antimicrobial Properties of Essential Oils of Some Aromatic Plants from South-West Nigeria.’
His supervisor was stated in the invite as Yayi, and it was slated for Jeudi, 13 Fevrier, 2020 (Thursday, February 13, 2020).
The jury was made up of five persons – three from the Benin Republic varsity (including Yayi), one from Nigeria (Ahmed Aroke Shahid from FIIRO) and one from Togo (Kpegba Kaful).
Shahid was the former chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions, FIIRO branch. He was impeached for supporting Igwe.
Igwe was then awarded the PhD on Friday, February 14, 2020.
A graduate of the institution, who asked not to be identified, said the varsity’s standards were compromised for the Nigerian.
He said, “Things are not done that way. They did not follow the steps. It is a big sin against our education. That he gets it (PhD) is suspicious and gives a bad image to our educational system.”
Meanwhile, the three unions in FIIRO have issued a joint statement of their position on Igwe’s case.
In a statement to the Chairman, Committee on Establishment, FIIRO Board, dated February 27, 2020; the group said Igwe had done “monumental and global damage to the institute.”
The letter was signed by the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions, Elakhame Zuberu; Chairman, Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions, Togunde Mumeen; and Chairman, Non-Academic Staff Union, Florence Ogunleye.
“Having been indicted by a government agency (the ICPC) which reported that Mr Igwe has not obtained a PhD certificate contrary to his claim since 2002, he should be tried for forgery and impersonation referred to as gross misconduct according to Public Service Rule PSR 030407.
“To have deceived the system and benefited handsomely in cash and kind on false claims of having a PhD from Universite D’Abomey-Calavi, Republic of Benin, since 2002, and has been parading himself in official capacity and on behalf of the institute, criminal offence has been established against him by the report of the ICPC and hence he should be sanctioned appropriately.
“That whereas Igwe got promotions and appointment through the fraudulent claims, many officers have been stagnated for several years for inability to acquire PhD degree. This injustice must be addressed and remedied. Many have retired on designation of chief research officers after decades of stagnation for not possessing PhD degree, while many are also wallowing in the same problems for years now,” the letter read.
Igwe did not respond to calls and a text message from our correspondent on the latest document.