National Business and Technical Examinations Board
National Headquarters, Benin City, Nigeria
Motto: Certifying Skills for Wealth Creation and Economic Self-Reliance
Office of Chairman, Governing Board
Professor Leonard Karshima Shilgba
PhD (Yokohama), M.Sc., B.Sc., NCE (ABU)
TEL: +234 (0) 8097061460
June 25, 2018.
The attention of the Governing Board of National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB) has been drawn to a report in the newspapers of a Press Statement released by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Arc. Sonny S. T. Echono, fnia, to the effect that “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the dissolution of the Governing Board of National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB) with immediate effect.”
Let me quickly go through the chronology of events that have led to this unfortunate press statement from the Federal Ministry of Education in the name of President Buhari, whose cardinal agenda is fight against corruption:
A. On March 23, 2018, a day after the inauguration of the Governing Board of NABTEB by the Honourable Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, the Governing Board, in a letter referenced NABTEB/GB/CH/D0002, requested certain documents and pieces of information from the Registrar of NABTEB, Professor Ifeoma M. Isuigo-Abanihe. It was on Friday, April 13, 2018, that she submitted some of them to the Chairman, while until now stonewalling on some vital pieces of information, which are required to guide the Board in decision-making. The Chairman, not only has been forwarding letters on the matter to the honourable Minister of Education, but also sent him a text, expressing concerns about the stonewalling. The Minister replied, and gave him his best wishes, and intimated that the Chairman did not need an appointment to meet with him in his office in Abuja anytime he was in the office.
B. Professor Isuigo-Abanihe, having failed to respond to Matters Arising from the submitted documents, which request was made by the Chairman in a letter referenced NABTEB/GB/CH/QS 001, and dated April 18, 2018 (which also was forwarded to both Minister Adamu Adamu and Permanent Secretary Achono), she was again sent a reminder via a letter referenced NABTEB/GB/CH/QS 002.
C. On Monday, May 7, 2018, she sent a letter referenced BTEB/BRD/2/VOL. II/106, after her attempt to bribe the Chairman with a contract failed, even as the Chairman rejected the offer. She could not address the issues raised in the letter referenced NABTEB/GB/CH/QS 001.
D. On Tuesday, May 8, 2018, the Chairman gave Professor Isuigo-Abanihe an official query referenced NABTEB/GB/CH/QS 003, which she was requested to respond to in writing within 48 hours. Unfortunately, she refused, failed, and neglected to respond as instructed.
E. On Wednesday May 9, 2018, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Arc. Achono, wrote the Chairman a three-paragraph letter referenced DTSE/D/745/C.194/1/10, and dated May 8, 2018, without copying the honourable Minister of Education, in which he said, “The attention of the Ministry has been drawn to some actions and activities credited to the Governing Board, which are at variance with the statutory role of the Board as prescribed by law and extant circulars.” He never cited those actions, but it was suspicious that the letter coincided with the time of the official query issued the Registrar, which the Governing Board has statutory powers to issue in accordance with section 6 (2) of NABTEB Act, which strangely, was cited in the press statement purportedly dissolving the Board of NABTEB (I shall come to this later). He also invited the Chairman to a private meeting in his office on Monday, May 14, 2018 at 11: 00 am, which is in violation of the principles of the ADMINISTRATIVE GUIDELINES REGULATING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PARASTATALS/GOVERNMENT-OWNED COMPANIES AND THE GOVERNMENT. And the Chairman, in his five-page response via a letter referenced NABTEB/GB/CH/PSE/001, and copied to the honourable Minister of Education, not only drew his attention to this, but also to the functions of the Governing Board (contained both in the NABTEB Establishment Act and ADMINISTRATIVE GUIDELINES REGULATING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PARASTATALS/GOVERNMENT-OWNED COMPANIES AND THE GOVERNMENT. The Chairman, also cited to the Permanent Secretary the charge of the honourable Minister of Education to the Governing Boards under the Federal Ministry of Education at inauguration, contained in those words:
“The Board of a parastatal is responsible for setting out the parastatal’s economic, financial, operational and administrative programmes and targets in line with the overall objectives of setting it up, and taking due cognisance of Government’s policy directives as provided by the Minister. The Board also has responsibility for measuring performance against targets, for introducing broad policy measures, for containing any adverse deviations, and for supervising management to ensure that the targets are achieved.”
“It is the Board that will review, approve and monitor the agency’s budget and evaluate its performance as well as assess the overall impact of its implementation. The Board is also expected to make deliberate efforts to diversify the sources of income and support for the agency.”
“…As you accepted to serve, it is essential not to lose sight of the fact that we are running a government of change: Change from impunity, arbitrariness and recklessness to respect for the rule of law and due process; change from mediocrity and incompetence to meritocracy and target-driven purposeful governance; change from the mindless corruption and naked abuse of trust to patriotic nationalism and people-oriented governance; and change from the old selfish way to the new patriotic way.
“…As Boards of agencies and parastatals, and in keeping with the change promise of this administration, you are expected to carry out your assignment with professionalism, dedication, sincerity and patriotism.”
“…With your appointment as Boards, I expect you to play your roles with skill and efficiency. You should be courageous, innovative and responsive. You are expected to provide the governance and the type of leadership that will engender transparency, accountability, as well as support the pursuit of the mandate of the agencies.
“…You should not be unmindful of the need to ensure strict adherence to the provisions of the laws establishing these agencies as well as their operational guidelines and financial regulation.”
If the honourable Minister Adamu Adamu has a hand in the purported dissolution of the Governing Board of NABTEB, then, probably, those noble words were mere hot air; but if not, then a noble redeeming response is expected of him.
And if it is true that President Buhari dissolved the 9th Governing Board of NABTEB with “immediate effect” within a twinkle of an eye, in spite of its faithful application of law and stand against impunity, financial recklessness and crude stealing of public funds, then our faith in the avowed fight against corruption by his government would be greatly shaken.
F. Following the refusal of Professor Ifeoma M. Isuigo-Abanihe to answer an official query, which is in violation of Rules 030301 and 030302 of the Public Service Rules (PSR), an Emergency meeting of the Governing Board held in Abuja on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, with the Representative of the Federal Ministry of Education in attendance, where a Special Investigation Committee was composed to investigate charges against the Registrar. After the meeting, the Chairman and other members of the Governing Board went to meet with Minister Adamu Adamu in his office. After waiting for hours in the outer office without being invited into his office, and needing to catch a flight out of Abuja, the Chairman sent him an SMS (to which the minister has not responded until now), and left together with the Board members. Moreover, he refused to respond to further requests for an appointment with the Chairman of the Governing Board of NABTEB since then.
G. At the first regular meeting of the 9th Governing Board at Benin City on Tuesday, June 19, 2018, the Special Committee presented its report, which indicted the Registrar, Professor Ifeoma M. Isiugo-Abanihe, who was also recommended to refund more than N 49 million naira to NABTEB coffers. Among other damning findings, her claim that she spent more than N 40 million for “stationeries and computer consumables” for May/June 2017 Examinations, with a candidate enrolment figure of 58, 719, and more than N 144 million (which exceeded 2017 Appropriation ceiling) for “stationeries and computer consumables” for Nov/Dec 2017 Examinations, with a candidate enrolment figure of 45,100, was found reckless. Moreover, her claim that she spent more than an average of about N 404 as printing cost for “Essay question paper” (This was one slip revelation from her submitted document on debts to contractors, even as until now she has refused to submit contract unit costs to the Governing Board) was found untenable. When confronted with these findings one-by-one, Professor Isuigo-Abanihe’s dominant plea was, “I apologize.” At a point, she broke down in tears before the Governing Board, which unanimously APPROVED her suspension, which was communicated to the honourable Minister for further necessary action via a letter referenced NABTEB/GB/CH/HME/001, titled “Some Urgent Decisions of the Governing Board of NABTEB”. The Chairman further requested a physical meeting with the Minister via email, dated June 20, 2018, and also by text as follows:
“Dear honourable Minister, greetings, sir. I have sent to your mail address certain urgent decisions, which were unanimously taken by the Governing Board of NABTEB at its first regular meeting on June 19, 2018. I seek an appointment with you on Thursday or Friday this week to give you hard copies of the documents cited in my mail to you.” I flew to Abuja on Thursday, June 21, 2018, and stayed until Saturday, June 23, 2018, without the Minister granting me an appointment or responding to my mails or text messages. I even contacted some close associates on this. Then, on Monday, June 25, 2018, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education released a press statement that “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the dissolution of the Governing Board of National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB) with immediate effect.”
I put forward those verifiable facts:
1. According to Rule 160201 of the Public Service Rules (PSR), “The Minister exercises control of Parastatals at policy level through the Board of the Parastatal only.” What should a Governing Board do, when the Minister avoids it, and there are matters requiring his urgent attention?
2. If the Minister avoids meeting with a Governing Board, would that not be in violation of Paragraph 13 of the ADMINISTRATIVE GUIDELINES REGULATING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PARASTATALS/GOVERNMENT-OWNED COMPANIES AND THE GOVERNMENT?
3. Rule 160501 of PSR states: “The power to exercise disciplinary control over officers in Parastatals is vested in the supervisory Boards/Councils in accordance with their respective conditions of service.”
4. Rule 160502 of PSR states: “The provisions of Sections 2 to 6 in chapter 3 of the Public Service Rules shall guide all Parastatals in addressing disciplinary matters provided that where reference to the Federal Civil Service Commission, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation or the Permanent Secretary, the Board/Councils shall perform such functions.”
Having regard to (3) and (4) above, where did the Governing Board of NABTEB err in its approval of suspension on some of its staff, and recommendation of same to the honourable Minister for the Registrar in the letter referenced NABTEB/GB/CH/HME/001, to which until now the honourable Minister is yet to respond and give directives accordingly? Specifically, in the letter, it is stated:
“Accordingly, the Governing Board unanimously approved the suspension of Professor Ifeoma M. Isuigo-Abanihe as Registrar/Chief Executive of NABTEB, having regard to Rules 030301, 030302, 030304, 030305, 160501, and 160502 of the Public Service Rule (PSR), and recommends accordingly to the Honourable Minister of Education for further necessary action (s). This action is considered necessary in order to facilitate due investigations by the Governing Board and other germane authorities, and allow unfettered access to relevant documents that until now have been withheld in spite of official requests by the Chairman of the Board and the Special Committee appointed by the Governing Board on May 16, 2018, so that financial and other damages to the Federal Government shall be curtailed.”
In the press statement signed by the Permanent Secretary, a reason for the dissolution of the Governing Board was provided as follows: “The purported suspension of the Registrar, Prof. Ifeoma Abanihe and four (4) other Directors of NABTEB has been nullified as it did not conform with due process especially in the case of the Registrar, because the Board went beyond its powers and in contravention of section 5 and Section 6 of NABTEB Act.”
I provide the content of the two sections below for fair determination by the reader:
Removal from office of member of the Board
(1) The Minister may, with the approval of the President, at any time remove any member from office, if he is of the opinion that it is not in the interest of the Board for the member to continue in office and shall notify the member in writing to that effect.
(2) Where the Board is satisfied that the continued presence on the Board of any member is not in the national interest or the interest of the Board, the Board may recommend to the Minister that the member concerned be removed from his office; and if the Minister, after making such inquiries as he considers necessary, approves of the recommendations, he may in writing declare the office of the member vacant.
Commentary: Section 5 above refers to the REMOVAL (not SUSPENSION) of a Board member. Even if the press statement is framed with the understanding of Professor Abanihe being a Board member, the 9th Governing Board fulfilled Section 5 (2) by RECOMMENDING to the Minister, not REMOVAL, but SUSPENSION to enable further investigations. SECTION 6:
Registrar to the Board
(1) The President shall, on the recommendation of the Minister, appoint for the Board a Registrar who shall have appropriate qualifications.
(2) The Registrar shall be the chief executive of the Board and shall be responsible for the execution of the policy of the Board, and the day-to-day administration of the affairs of the Board subject to the general control of the Board.
(3) The Registrar shall hold office in the first instance for a period of four years and shall be eligible for re-appointment for one further term of four years and no more.
(4) Subject to this section, the Registrar shall hold office on such terms as to emoluments and otherwise as may be specified in his letter of appointment, and as may, from time to time, be approved by the President.
Again, as in commentary on Section 5 above, the Governing Board, in its letter to the Minister, recommended the SUSPENSION of the Registrar. And Section 6 (2) states that: “The Registrar shall be the chief executive of the Board and shall be responsible for the execution of the policy of the Board, and the day-to-day administration of the affairs of the Board subject to the general control of the Board.” It is our considered opinion that the cited Sections rather strengthen our legal position than weaken it.
Conclusion: In the past three (3) months since inauguration, the Governing Board of NABTEB has taken steps to “reposition and refocus NABTEB for greater efficiency, and render its performance more responsive to the expectations of the present administration” rather than what we met on ground, where NABTEB was being run on a deficit, votes for Examination monitoring shared by greedy people, contract sums paid for no job done, contracts inflated, senior NABTEB staff owing millions of naira of unremitted Examination registration fees, staff oppressed and suspended indefinitely for years, with no closure, staff payroll raided, salaries arbitrarily deducted, external auditors bribed to cover unsavory finds, integrity of Examinations compromised, and public awareness of the agency was low. Maybe we are momentary victims of truth and uprightness, but ultimate victory is with the upright; maybe we are too uncompromising. Maybe our readiness and disposition to question expenditure of NABTEB funds, and steps being taken to stop sharp practices during Examination registration by introducing online registration and payment platforms have together
threatened some entrenched interests. But, we have documents, which shall be unveiled for public scrutiny, and to interrogate the seriousness of governance in this administration. And maybe, the President’s name is just being dropped without him being aware of what is being insinuated.
On behalf of the Governing Board of NABTEB, I call on President Buhari to not allow his battle against corruption to be compromised by those who are in his government, but who don’t share his ideals. Credible Governing Boards are a great firewall against the virus of corruption in public service. Our Governing Board is proud of its record so far, and we feel compassion for NABTEB staff who may feel cheated by the press statement signed by the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, and by the Government, if conspiracies against transparency, good, and prudence are allowed to stand, avoidably so.
Professor Leonard Karshima Shilgba
Chairman, Governing Board
National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB