Workers at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Lagos, have shut down operations and vowed not to resume work until the acting director-general, Chima Igwe, is suspended for parading a phantom PhD.
It was learnt that the union leaders had on Friday seized the official car of the DG, as they demonstrated on the premises.
They carried placards with inscriptions such as, ‘Acting DG must step aside for fair investigation’ and ‘FIIRO staff demand application of public service rule on acting DG’.
Igwe was appointed the acting DG of FIIRO in May 2019, shortly after the expiration of the tenure of Prof. Gloria Elemo.
The governing board of the institute had initially opposed the appointment because there was no PhD certificate in Igwe’s file.
The board had recommended that since the matter was being investigated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, the next most senior officer should be appointed.
But the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, rejected the board’s advice and insisted that Igwe should be made the acting DG.
The PhD issue was still being investigated by the ICPC when our correspondent reported that Igwe did not obtain the degree in 2001 from the Universite d’Abomey-Calavi, Benin Republic, as he claimed.
The Deputy Director of the Doctoral School of Pure and Applied Sciences of the institution, Prof. Valentin Wotto; the Director of the Postgraduate School, Prof. Joel Tossa; and Igwe’s supervisor, Prof. Mansour Mudachirou, all stated that he had yet to defend his thesis.
They also denied that the attestation letter Igwe had been parading was proof of his graduation.
The FIIRO workers started the protest last Thursday, which was suspended after the Chairman of the governing board, Alhaji Ibrahim Gwarzo, promised to take a decision on the matter.
It was learnt that Gwarzo asked to be given till 2pm on Friday.
However, by Friday, the chairman was said to have claimed that he could not unilaterally take a decision as the board members were not available.
The workers subsequently went on the rampage.
The three labour unions in the institute – the Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions; the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions; and the Non-Academic Staff Union – were involved in the protest.
The Secretary of the SSAUTHRIAI, Oladeji Agbetokun, said the integrity of FIIRO was being jeopardised with the way the authorities were handling Igwe’s matter.
He said, “The integrity of this community matters a lot. We sell research products and research outcomes and if people have problems with our integrity, then it means there is nothing we are selling.
“According to public service rules, if a public officer is under investigation, such a person should step aside pending the conclusion of the investigation so that there will be no interference or influence. So, for the past one year, that was supposed to have been done. Because the service rule applies to all of us, it should also apply to him.”
The Chairman of the SSAUTHRAI, Togunde Mumeen, said some people had been playing the ethnic card to distract attention from Igwe’s contentious PhD.
He insisted that all the union leaders wanted was the suspension of Igwe for a fair investigation.
“We had a gentleman’s agreement with the board chairman on Thursday that by Friday afternoon, he would have consulted with all the board members and by 2pm they would tell us their decision. Unfortunately, when we came back on Friday, we could not find him and the entire staff members of the institute were agitated,” he added.
However, a worker, who did not want to be identified, said the board chairman was around but claimed that he could not act alone.
The Chairman of NASU, Florence Ogunleye, said her group had written several letters to the management of the institute to amicably resolve the issue, adding that none of the letters were acknowledged by Igwe.
She noted that the acting DG had also been avoiding meetings with the NASU.
Ogunleye said Igwe had been unjustifiably promoted above his seniors in the institute when he had nothing to prove his PhD.
“They should do the needful in the matter,” she added.
It was learnt that during the Thursday protest, Igwe was forced to react to the scandal.
A union leader was said to have insisted that he speak and quell the controversy.
The union leader said, “He came out and thanked everybody. Then he started listing where he had his first and second degrees. He insisted that he had finished the PhD, but he would not bring out his certificate until others brought out theirs.
“The question is, who are the others? What does he mean by others? Is he saying there are other people in the same class with him?”