The many battles of Nigeria's investment promoter

Date: 2015-05-06

The change of baton in May 2014 at the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) witnessed some cooling down of acceleration in the drive for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to allow for acclimatization by the new Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer Mrs. Saratu Altine Umar. The settling in of the new CEO met and continues to encounter resistance from some quarters within the NIPC, described by Mrs. Umar as those who have not come to terms with the change of guards.

Although not much has happened in what is rather a short time (11 months) to do an extensive evaluation, our reporter has noticed with keen interest the series of staff and management training to embrace the new vision of Mrs. Umar, in addition to stakeholders consultations to retool its operation and the re-organization of the one-stop-shop (OSIC) to allow for offshore company registration and online interface with the commission. The big one for Nigeria, coming from the commission within the said period, would be the collaborations with the federal Ministry of Finance to re -assess the various incentives on offer for new business in Nigeria and plug loophole where necessary.

No sooner had all these come to the fore than the commission began to reverse its take-off gear, owing to disagreement over the leadership direction of Mrs. Saratu Umar.

On the 3rd of November 2014, Civil Society Organization under the umbrella of the National Democratic Front (NDF) protested the appointment of Mrs. Umar as the Executive Secretary of the NIPC.

The protesters, who besieged the commission's headquarters in Abuja for several hours before being dispersed by men of the Nigeria Police, were seen carrying placards, some of which read; "Saratu Umar is of low moral standing, foreign partners are watching."

Reading an open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan at the protest venue, the leader of the group, Comrade Agbese Philip, said: "our anger has been sourced from the discovery of the gory and unsavory previous service records of Mrs. Umar, who was compulsorily asked to retire from the service of NEXIM Bank on the infamous grounds of low performance, incompetence and lack of regards for constituted authority. Some of the prayers of the protesters read in part: "that the Board (of NIPC) jumped protocol by failling to conduct any interview in the first place thereby violating the public service rules."

Daily Trust however gathered that the protest may not be unconnected with aggrieved members of staff of the commission who are exploiting avenues to make their voices heard by the supervising authorities. However, the commission in a swift reaction distanced itself from the activity of the protesting group.

A statement by the Director of Press, Mr. Joel Attah, read; “The NIPC wishes to distance itself from an illegal protest by some unscrupulous individuals at the gate of its headquarters in Abuja. The groups, who are not members of staff of the commission or represent the staff union, wanted to disrupt the activities of the commission, but were repelled by the Nigeria Police.

A couple of days later, the NIPC chapter of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), revealed that prior to the coming of Mrs. Umar, the NIPC was run arbitrarily with inadequate systems, policies, processes and procedure.

The ASCSN in a statement issued by Mr. Mutawalli Kukawa, Ag Director Head Human Resource Development of NIPC, at a joint press conference with the Coalition for Civil Society Organization, said "Chaos was the order of the day. Employment, promotion and contract processes were done without following laid down due processes."

The statement by Kukawa introduced a new twist to the fight. His statements revealed that there had been an in-house probe which seems to have fingered some senior members of staff who are alleged to be leading the onslaught against Mrs. Umar.

In a fresh twist, the NIPC chapter of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), who had on the 10th of November, 2014 distanced itself from what they described as disgruntled elements against the NIPC boss, turned around 5 months later, mobilized members and shutdown the commission on what seems to be the same accusation as the ones presented by the National Democratic Front (NDF).

The union executive, who spoke to Daily Trust reporter, said the staff are demanding the removal of the Executive Secretary, Mrs. Saratu Umar, over what they described as running a 'one man' administrative system at the NIPC.

The entrance of the commission was adorned with placards which read; "Saratu go back to NEXIM", "Files in ES office since November", “Harassing staff with threat and dismissal", "Lack of compliance with public service rule", amongst others.

The president of the In-house Staff Union, Mr. Ahmad Isah Ghondi, said: "We are doing an in-house protest to tell whoever cares to listen that we don't want to continue further with the current chief executive for a number of reasons.

Mrs. Umar was alleged to have terminated the appointment of two directors; Ms Ladi Katagun and Mr. Kefasi Sakaba, using an un-rectified staff condition of service for parastatals.

He said; "The gazette of Public Service Rule 2009 states that directors should spend a straight 8 year term, but by the end of their fourth year, she told them to stop coming for work."

Amongst the many alleged crimes of Mrs. Umar are; proposing a contract of N35 million to furnish the Executive Secretary’s office while reneging on approving imprest of N100, 000 for the running of the zonal office, compulsory participation of NIPC in jogging exercise, Dress Code and issuing of query to 50 members of staff over lateness or absence at duty post in the period leading to the just concluded general elections. A senior management source, who is also a close ally of the Executive Secretary, told Daily Trust reporter that the issues are not as pristine as they have been presented and that the Executive Secretary has not acted in contravention of the Public Service Rule as alleged.

In confirming the findings of Daily Trust reporter, Mrs. Umar, in a media roundtable to respond to the allegations of the union, said: "We did an audit which revealed a lot of mismanagement that has happened over time and some of our directors are active players in what has gone wrong and that is why they hide under minor excuses to instigate trouble. "The audit revealed that the way the finances of the commission were handled over time was not in the most uncorrupt manner."

In dispelling the allegations of terminating the appointment of two directors, Umar said their re-appointment is a prerogative of the NIPC Council and so cannot usurp the duties of the council as provided by the act setting the NIPC.Ahmed tasks journalists on nation building

Daily Trust source further noted that the issue of the two directors requires the approval of the Council which has not sat since the period under review which has forced consideration to remain pending.

Daily Trust reporter reliably gathered that the Council of NIPC has only sat twice since the coming on board of Mrs. Umar as against the eight times the council is expected to sit in line with the statutory provision, hence piling up of approvals requiring the council's endorsement.

Mrs. Umar confirmed to our reporter that the situation became even more precarious because the chairman of the council, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio, a former Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, and former Minister of Transport and Sports, resigned his appointment to contest the just concluded governorship election in Kwara State.

Following intervention from the national executives of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), led by Comrade Isaac Ojemhenke, the management of the NIPC has rescinded the alleged query to 50 staff, the compulsory dress code and jogging exercise for staff as well as considering a N200, 000 quarterly imprest for zonal office.

Umar however said: "As long as NIPC remains the way it is currently, it is at a disadvantage to Nigeria. If a system has gone in a certain way for ten years, there are bound to be culture issues. We have to change so many attitudes so we can move forward.

Despite these resolutions, stakeholders have expressed worry that the end may not be in sight for the NIPC boss on whom rests the country's mandate to drive foreign direct investment by simplifying, shortening and clarifying administrative and regulatory requirements for entry into the economy.

Stakeholders have expressed the need for the commission to come clean on the issues of financial misappropriation as the only way to ensure investors have confidence in what will be deemed as open and transparent investment promotion organisation.




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