Director-General of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Dr Chima Igwe, has come under probe after failing to present his PhD certificate more than 17 years after claiming to have bagged the degree.
Igwe, who claimed to have bagged the degree from the Universite Nationale du Benin (now Universite d’Abomey- Calavi) in Benin Republic, received several promotions based on the purported degree.
He was said to have been promoted at least three times based on the degree.
However, the only evidence of the purported PhD is an attestation letter.
Despite Igwe’s inability to provide the certificate, it was learnt that he scaled through several verifications at FIIRO, an institute under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Some officials of the institute later petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission on the matter.
The issue became contentious when the tenure of the immediate past Director-General of FIIRO, Prof. Gloria Elemo, ended and there was the need for a new head for the institute.
The PUNCH gathered that the governing board of the institute, while shopping for Elemo’s replacement, called for the files of senior officers of the agency.
Igwe, being the most senior, was the apparent successor to the office until the controversy resurfaced: a PhD certificate could not be found in his file to support his claim.
The Chairman of the Governing Board, Alhaji Ibrahim Gwarzo, in a letter to the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, said Igwe was not fit to occupy the position.
He explained that the officer had refused to submit his PhD certificate “17 years after submitting a letter of attestation.”
The board, he said in the letter, had given him ultimatums, which he failed to meet.
Gwarzo noted that the case was already before the ICPC, adding that the next most senior official in the institute should be appointed in an acting capacity pending when a substantive DG would be selected.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The PUNCH, was acknowledged by the office of the minister at 10.08am on April 23, 2019.
The chairman also attached to the letter findings of the establishment committee of the board on the matter.
However, the recommendation of the board was rejected by the ministry.
A directive from a top official of the ministry asked the outgoing DG to hand over to the most senior director (Igwe) in line with circulars of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
No PhD, no promotion
Information on the LinkedIn account of Igwe showed that he joined FIIRO in June 1991 and has worked in the institute for 28 years.
From information on the official website of FIIRO, the 57-year-old joined as a Research Officer 1 and rose through the ranks to become the Director, Chemical Fibre and Environmental Technology Department in June 2010.
He was appointed the acting DG on May 13, 2019.
Workers at the institute, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said very few people knew that Igwe did not have a certificate to back his PhD claim until some months to the retirement of the former DG.
One of them said members of the board who looked into Igwe’s file were surprised there was no PhD certificate there.
The governing board of FIIRO consists of learned people.
Among them is a professor, who is a former vice-chancellor in a university. There is also a seasoned administrator, our source stated.
“They saw that there was no certificate in his file and what he had for the past 17 years is an attestation letter. So, they insisted that he get the certificate. If you graduated 17 years ago, your certificate should have been signed by the vice-chancellor at that time. It is not the new vice-chancellor that will sign your certificate. And the school should have it in their records if it has not been issued to you. But at the expiration of the time the board gave him, he could not produce the certificate,” the source added.
Another senior official told our correspondent that the furore trailing the revelation that Igwe did not have a certificate was caused by the premium placed on a doctorate in the institute.
According to the official, a PhD is a prerequisite for promotion for senior officers in the institute.
He added, “Anybody without a PhD cannot become a chief research officer or even assistant research officer. There are some people in this institute who have been principal officers for over 10 years but because they don’t have a PhD, they are not promoted to chief officers, which is not fair. It is pushing people to the brink.
“We were surprised when he came out with the PhD attestation letter within a short while of claiming he was running the programme. Because of that, he was promoted above officers who were ahead of him.”
A source alleged that the Ministry of Science and Technology ignored the recommendation of the board not to appoint Igwe as acting DG because of the intervention of a top ranking traditional ruler from the South-East.
The PUNCH learnt that the ICPC had been inviting some of the institute directors for interrogation over the controversial PhD.
An official criticised the commission for questioning workers who had nothing to do with the case, saying it was a waste of public resources.
The attestation letter
The Chairman of the Establishment Committee, Mr Harami Balami, whose report was used as a basis in the letter to the ministry, said only the board chairman, Gwarzo, could comment on the matter.
Gwarzo, in a text message to our correspondent, confirmed the situation, adding that the board would issue a press release “as and when due in order not to pre-empt the ICPC”.
A source in the board, who did not want to be quoted, said the matter was taking on a life of its own.
“Till now, he has not given us the certificate. He brought an affidavit from a court in Abuja to say he has the certificate. He said the VC of the university travelled when he went there and that was why he could not get the certificate. He also showed us a letter he said he wrote to the university to request the certificate. But 17 years is such a long time,” the source said.
Our correspondent was told that while the board struggled to reach out to Universite d’Abomey- Calavi, the institute’s former DG, Elemo, allegedly met the Benin Republic Ambassador to Nigeria on a plane and she brought up the PhD conundrum with the diplomat.
The ambassador was reported to have promised to assist and contacted the school, which sent a letter to the governing board and the ministry.
Our correspondent, who obtained a copy of the document from a credible source, observed that it stated that Igwe enrolled for a thesis in the school.
It was silent on whether he graduated or not.
The attestation letter was purportedly issued by the Deputy Director of the Doctoral School of Pure and Applied Sciences, Abomey-Calavi University, Prof. Valentin Wotto.
It stated that Igwe “of Nigerian nationality and holder of a master of science from the University of Lagos, has enrolled in the Chemistry Department of the Sciences and Techniques Faculty (FAST), for a thesis under identification number 3007500.
“First year of thesis: 1998-1999; second year of thesis: 1999-2000; third year of thesis: 2000-2001. In witness whereof, this attestation is issued to him, to serve any useful purpose.”
A top official at FIIRO, however, noted that attending an institution was not the same as graduating or completing a programme.
“Attending is not graduating. You can attend and leave midway; you can even conclude the course and not the research. You can complete the research, but it is not approved or finalised by the senate of the varsity. Where is the certificate to show you finished?” the source said.
The official said it had been about two years since Igwe had been dribbling the institute.
The PUNCH learnt that the governing board would have a meeting early this month and the matter would be discussed.
Ministry, FIIRO, ICPC react
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Science and Technology, Abdulganiyu Aminu, told The PUNCH that the controversy was political.
He explained that the ministry only appointed Igwe in acting capacity pending when a substantive DG would be appointed.
When The PUNCH asked how Igwe had been in the system without a proper PhD certificate for over 17 years, he said the matter was already being investigated by the ICPC.
“I believe it is a rivalry among the intending forces that is raising such dust. Why is it now that they are talking about it? Let the ICPC come out with a report of their investigations,” he said.
The Public Relations Officer of FIIRO, Mr Chris Olumuyiwa, said Igwe’s PhD had never been a subject of controversy.
“And if anything of such exists, we have a very vibrant and dynamic human resources management and administration department that is fully backed by the board of governors of FIIRO. They will definitely know what to do and how to address the issue. This issue (Igwe’s PhD) has never for once been an issue for contention,” Olumuyiwa said.
He confirmed that PhD was a prerequisite for promotion from principal officer to chief officer, adding that all members of staff were aware of the rule before joining the institute.
The Public Relations Officer of the ICPC, Mrs Rasheedat Okoduwa, said Igwe was being investigated for the PhD certificate.
“We are working on the case,” Okoduwa said.
The ICPC spokesperson noted that the commission could invite anyone for questioning depending on developments or new insights into a case.
Elemo and Igwe did not take their calls which rang out many times for several days, as they refused to respond to text messages seeking their reactions to the controversy.
When our correspondent also visited FIIRO, he was told that Igwe had travelled and was not available to meet our correspondent.
Why Benin Republic?
A top source said Igwe went for his doctorate in the West African country because he did not finish with a good grade in his masters which would have earned him a doctorate slot in a Nigerian university.
“His score was too low. If not, he would have gone to a Nigerian school, which would be easier for him. But to travel to Benin Republic, a French-speaking country coupled with the distance, shows desperation to meet up with the PhD requirement of the institute,” the source said.
Our correspondent noted from the profile on FIIRO’s website that Igwe indeed had his masters at the University of Lagos, Akoka.
A highly credible source in UNILAG, who confirmed this, said he finished with a pass in 1991.
Our correspondent also observed on the institute’s website that Igwe had started running another doctorate in public health.
A source said it was an online programme and might be over the controversy surrounding the Benin Republic degree.
“He must produce the Benin Republic doctorate with which he got promoted to this point,” he added.
Getting Abomey-Calavi and Benin ambassador
Universite d’Abomey- Calavi for one month refused to acknowledge or respond to enquiries from The PUNCH sent to its website and official email addresses in French and English.
The only telephone contact on the school’s website was unreachable.
Messages sent to the Facebook pages of the institution, including two principal officers, Felicien Avlessi (2 Vice Rector, Academic Research) and Prisca Gogan (General Secretary), were also not responded to.
A professor in the school, Achille Assogbadjo, who chatted with our correspondent on WhatsApp, said he was outside Benin Republic and could not speak for the school.
He refused to connect The PUNCH to any official of the school and later blocked our correspondent on the social media platform.
Our correspondent contacted the Consulate of the Republic of Benin in Lagos, Nigeria and the country’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Paulette Yekpe.
Although Yekpe assured our correspondent that his requests would be treated, messages sent to her and the consulate’s mail were neither acknowledged nor responded to.
After two weeks without response, our correspondent called Yekpe for feedback.
“I asked you to write and you wrote. We sent it to our country capital. It is now for them to react. We are also waiting for them to respond. On our side, we also wrote to the Ministry of Education. So, they will forward it to Abomey-Calavi, which will then respond either positively or say no, we don’t know,” she said on the telephone.
She said she could not recall the purported meeting with the former FIIRO DG, Elemo, during which she (Yekpe) allegedly assisted in getting the attestation letter from the school.
After more than a month, Yekpe while insisting that the consulate always followed protocol which could delay a response, said Igwe might not be telling the truth.
She noted that 17 years was too long for the school not to have issued him a certificate.
Yekpe advised The PUNCH to visit the school directly to get a reaction.
Visit to Benin Republic
After failed attempts to reach Universite d’Abomey- Calavi through phone, email and the embassy in Nigeria, our correspondent decided to heed the advice of Yekpe to visit the school.
Universite d’Abomey-Calavi is a premier university in Benin Republic located in the city of Abomey-Calavi, from where it derived its name.
Like the country, it is a predominantly French-speaking varsity. This was the biggest challenge our correspondent faced in communicating with both students and staff, who could barely speak English.
After a short walk, our correspondent ran into the head of the varsity orientation, Gbedjeglo Philippe.
Philippe told The PUNCH he could barely communicate in English while our correspondent tried to explain his mission at the school.
He led our correspondent to the registration database office, where Igwe’s registration number 3007500 was punched into the system.
After a brief communication between him and officers at the unit in French, Philippe said the database only revealed that Igwe registered for three sessions.
The report generated from the system was shown to The PUNCH.
Philippe added that only the school of postgraduate could tell if he finished the programme and had a certificate.
The official pointed out that the school was on break and resumption would be in October.
The PUNCH visited Faculte Des Sciences et Techniques (FAST) where Igwe claimed to have bagged the degree.
Our correspondent later spoke to the deputy director of the doctoral school, Prof. Wotto, who allegedly authored the attestation letter.
He said he could not speak well in English.
A student of the institution, who spoke both English and French, offered to help our correspondent with interpretation.
Wotto told our correspondent that Igwe had yet to finish his programme.
He explained that the FIIRO boss had contacted the school to continue his research.
Excerpt of the chat:
The PUNCH: Is there someone bearing the name Chima Igwe who obtained a doctorate in your faculty in 2001?
Wotto: Igwe didn’t have the degree that time. He must register again in order to complete his thesis. He started, but he didn’t finish.
The PUNCH: He started but he didn’t finish?
Wotto: He didn’t finish. He started with a lecturer at the time, Prof. Mudashiru, who is now retired (as supervisor). He had completed the first year, the second year, but he did not complete the third year when he should have the dissertation and defence. So, we told him that if he wanted his PhD, he must register again. Then he could finish and defend his thesis before having the attestation.
The PUNCH: Did he do that?
Wotto: He didn’t do it. When the school resumes, he can register; that was the condition our faculty’s committee gave him at his request to continue his studies.
The PUNCH: Did Igwe really finish in 2001?
Wotto: He didn’t finish, but he can finish when the school resumes soon. He has one more year to complete his doctorate. He is currently doing all he can to complete next year and graduate. I would like to mention that he has done more than two years in the doctorate cycle, but he didn’t finish in 2001.
Source: Punchng View Original