Some members of the Governing Board of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) are warning that the activities of the Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senator George Akume, are beginning to impede the smooth day-to-day operations of the NLRC.
The Governing Board members are particularly miffed that the minister’s actions, while breeding indiscipline and insubordination at the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, are at variance with the directives of the Head of Service, Dr. (Mrs.) FolashadeYemi-Esan and an extant public service circular issued by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha.
It could be recalled that the management of the National Lottery Commission recently confirmed that following the preliminary indictment of two Directors at the Commission, Mr. Robert Blessing Bolokor and Mr. Okechukwu Josiah Odunna, by both the Code of Conduct Bureau and the ICPC, for sundry infractions, including alleged corruption and breach of civil service rules, the governing board of the commission brought the notice of their indictment to the attention of the Head of Service, as stipulated in civil service rules.
On her part, the Head of Service of the Federation in a letter, with reference number: HCSF/CMO/EMO/CPA/140/46, dated 2nd February, 2021, directed the governing board of the commission to constitute a committee which should include representatives of the Employee Mobility Department and Organisational Design and Development department – both being relevant arms in the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to thoroughly look into the allegations against the two directors and make recommendations.
Consequently, the Chairman of the Board of the Governing Council of NLRC constituted a four-man committee, headed by Chief (Mrs.) Yemisi Oni-Hassan, to carry out the investigation and forward their findings and recommendations.
The committee was inaugurated on Tuesday 13th April 2021 and tasked to work with the following clear objective/mandate: “To review all allegations of infractions surrounding the employment, improper placement of the affected officers and submit the report of findings and recommendations to the Board Chairman for implementation”
After weeks of sitting and taking depositions from all parties concerned, especially from the duo of Mr. Robert Blessing Bolokor and Mr. Okechukwu Josiah Odunna, the committee made the following recommendations: “that in view of the fact that Mr. Robert Blessing Bolokor did not fulfill one of the statutory conditions of eligibility for permanent and pensionable appointment by possessing the NYSC discharge or exemption/exclusion certificate, where applicable, as provided for in part II, Paragraph 1(ix) of the guidelines for appointments, promotions and discipline (Revised August, 2004), issued by the Federal Civil Service Commission, his appointment should be revoked and the Board should summarily dismiss him forthwith, in line with due process”
On Mr. Okechukwu Josiah Odunna, the committee recommended that “the governing board should immediately commence administrative disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Okechukwu Josiah Odunna, in line with the provisions of PSR 030302 TO 030306, for suppression of records (by wittingly) refusing to disclose to the Board and Management of NLRC his indictment and subsequent disbarment by the Florida Bar, in with PSR030402(b).”
The committee further recommended that pending the conclusion by the ICPC, Mr. Okechukwu Josiah Odunna should forthwith be prohibited from carrying out his duties at the commission. The Director General should therefore be directed to suspend him, in line with the provisions of PSR030406.”
Following the committee’s recommendations and the directive of the governing board of the NLRC, the Director General of the commission, Mr. Lanre Gbajbiamila proceeded to issue both Mr. Robert Blessing Bolokor and Mr. Okechukwu Josiah Odunna letters of suspension.
However, in a shocking move, the Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, whose ministry has supervisory role over the commission, is said to have directed the two indicted directors to return to their respective duty posts at the commission and disregard the suspension letters they were issued by the management of the NLRC on the orders of the governing board.
“As we speak, there is uncertainty in the commission as the minister has unilaterally overruled the governing board, the Head of Service and in fact an existing circular from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, cautioning ministers against meddling in the day-to-day running of Departments, Agencies and Commissions under their Ministries,” a member of the governing board of the NLRC confided in a chat with journalists in Abuja.
In a May 19, 2020 circular, the SGF reiterated to ministers that pursuant to Public Service Rules, disciplinary powers in agencies, department and commissions resided with the governing boards of affected agencies and not the ministers, “in line with enabling law and chapters three and 16 of the public service rules on discipline in government parastatals”
“The rule is that all civil servants in the Federal Civil Service of Nigeria, technically speaking, are all staff of the office of the Head of Service of the Federation. The affected Directors in the National Lottery Regulatory Commission are staff of the Office of the Head of Service. So, the Head of Service has so far been doing what is within the purview of her office and in line with enabling laws and public service rules. So the minister of Special Duties, Senator Akume, cannot arbitrarily overrule the decision of the governing council of the commission without due recourse to the Head of Service. There is no record anywhere that he is acting in consonance with the Head of Service. It is not done and we will not allow it,” the board member said.
It has also been found out that in order to force their way back to the commission, the two suspended directors have been instigating some of the staff of the commission against the management and the governing board. Acting under the aegis of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, some of the workers have been conducting protests and have even picketed the commission at some point, purportedly clamouring for the recall of the two indicted directors.
However, the Director General of the Commission, Lanre Gbajabiamila, frowned at the recent picketing and the distraction of the workforce at the commission, alleging that the picketing was “corruption fighting back.”
According to him, the management of the commission, which he heads, issued the suspension letters to the two indicted directors in compliance with the recommendation of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the Code of Conduct Bureau as well as the recommendations of the Governing Board of the Commission, based on the findings and recommendations of the Committee set up to probe the allegations against the two Directors.
“The main reason for the picketing was a result of the management implementing the directives of the commission’s governing board as obtained in public service. The board, after due consideration of recommendations of a committee set up by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to investigate the allegations against two directors of the commission, directed management to implement the prescribed sanctions in accordance with the Public Service Rules.
“I wish to state that the management of the commission was never involved in the process of investigation of the said directors. We only acted in compliance with the directives of the governing board. The picketing can therefore only be described as illegality fighting back by using a few highly ignorant and misled staff of the commission hiding under the guise of the staff union membership and paying touts who by the way are not staff of the commission to carry placards,” Mr. Gbajabiamila said.
While calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to call the Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs to order, a member of the governing board of the NLRC who spoke to the media, contended that it would be most unethical for any of the two indicted directors to be given access to their offices or sensitive government documents at the commission.
“It would interest you all to note that one of the indicted directors, being fully aware of a pending court case between the commission and 24 other defendants and Western Lotto Nigeria Limited (the Plaintiff), issued a signed and unauthorized opinion to the plaintiff, which was contrary to the position of the commission. The unauthorized opinion of this said director has been further submitted by the plaintiff as a supporting document in court and before the House of Representatives committee investigating the matter. So why does the minister want this kind of persons back at the commission,” the board member disclosed.
The Seven-Member Governing Board of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission is: Alh. Fatai Ibikunle, Chairman; Hon. Bode Ogunleye, Member; Abubakar Y. Rajab, Member; Boniface Waziri, Member; Abdulbasit Abdallah, Member; Chief (Mrs.) Yemi Oni, Member and Obo Awusa, Member.