By; JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
Protest has emerged against the decision by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu for dissolving the Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute for Trypanosomiasis and Onchocerciasis Research (NITR) Kaduna.
The Governing Council of NITR has asked the Minister to withdraw the decision dissolving the Board, saying that the tenure of the members which began in 2018 will elapse in 2023.
Besides, the controversy over the dissolution of the Institute Governing Council started when the Minister, Dr. Onu in a letter dated August 5th, 2021 informed the Chairman of Board of NITR, Hon. Haruna Shehu Lambu that the tenure of the Board has elapsed.
Onu said that in line with the laws and regulations guiding the tenure of Agencies and Research Institute’s under the umbrella of the Ministry, “It has become necessary to inform you and members of the Governing Board that the tenure of the Governing Board which was inaugurated on Tuesday 8th March 2018 elapsed 7th of March, 2021”.
The Minister pointed out that ” consequently, the Director General/Secretary of Board has been directed to prepare end of tenure report and submit to the Ministry”.
However, the action of Dr. Onu has already elicited reactions from the Presidency and the Lawyers of NITR Board over the plan to prematurely put an end to the tenure of members of the Board.
The Presidency had earlier written a warning memo against the Ministry, dated September, 1st 2021 over undue administrative Interference, harassment and intimidation.
In the letter addressed to the Minister by the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Administration and Operation), Ibrahim Dikko Adamu “Undue Interference bordering on wrongful and unlawful intimidation, oppression and harassment of the Governing Council of NITR and the ignoble role of the Minister in perpectuating Dr. Augustine Chinyere Igweh as Director General of the Institute after due retirement”.
Consequently, Adamu stated: “the President has directed the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to stop interfering in the administrative procedures which are within the mandate of the NITR Governing Council”, while adding “Mr. President has also directed the Head of Service of the Federation to take disciplinary actions on Dr. Augustine Igweh for using the Police to forcefully take over management of the Institute”.
Adamu also explained that the Presidency has directed the Inspector General of Police “to investigate the involvement of the Police and take appropriate action”.
Meanwhile, on the notice of tenure expiration of the members of NITR Governing Board, the Lawyer to the aggreived members, Shuaibu Umar Esq in a reply letter dated September 1, 2021 to the Minister, Dr. Onu over premature dissolution of the Board.
Umar said: “we are solicitors representing the Governing Board of NITR, herein referred to our client on whose instruction and Authority we write this letter to respond to the Minister letter dated 5th August, 2021 with Reference No, FMST/PRPA/735/1”.
“We have thoroughly and painstakingly perused the letter sent to our client which was personally signed by the Minister…We respond that the provisions of section 11 (1) & (3) of National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) Decree No 5 of 1977 and section 9 (3), (4) & (5) of Research Institutes (Establishment etc) Order of 1977 relied upon by the Minister in taking this erroneous decision, do not represent the current position of the law”.
” That the current and the extant laws that governs and regulates the affairs of NITR, among others Institutes is the Nigerian Research Institutes Act, CAP N132 Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004, Volume 11. (Updated in 2010)”.
Umar further argued that from the provisions of law, particularly on Section 2 (1) of the Schedule Act “that the tenure of office of members of all the Councils created and established by the Act is five years and not three years as erroneously claimed by the Honourable Minister”.
Sir, having admitted in paragraph 7 of your letter that, the Governing Board was inaugurated on the 8th day of March, 2018, it is therefore needless to say that the tenure of the Governing Board of NITR will only expire on the 7th day of March, 2023″.
Also In a letter to the Overseeing Director General of NITR, Kaduna from the Chairman of the Governing Council Shehu Haruna Lambu dated 11th October 2021 lamented that It cannot be true that President Muhammadu Buhari, a completely destribalized Nigerian and a personification of the rule of law will give approval of reconstituted/ inauguration of a new council of the institution when the current tenure is subsisting.
He said the President will not take such decision when the members of NITR are law abiding, hard working and transparent.
It would be recalled that the Minister, in a recent public notice had also directed the reconstitution of some of the Governing Board and Council of Agencies and Institutes under his purview which drew protest.