“No chairman has been so open about the account here like we have in Lagos” – Engr. Timothy Iwuagwu

The Chairman of the Lagos state branch of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria, Engineer Timothy Iwuagwu, is a man on a mission to take the branch to greater heights. Few months to the expiration of his first term in office, some issues arose within the state executives concerning his re-election bid. In this interview with Safety Record Newspaper’s Managing Editor, Femi Da-Silva and Associate Editor, Paul Mbagwu, he tried to respond to some of the issues. Excerpt.

It appears there are grievances against your leadership style as Chairman of Lagos Branch of ISPON. It doesn’t seem like you like carrying your executives along. Why is that?

That is not true, except if the term ‘carry along’ has other definitions. I don’t carry my excos along and just this morning I was signing all their cheques they collected. All the movements we make, we go together. But I want you to follow up one important thing which you must include in your reportage. From the day I became chairman, I found myself working with an exco that has maybe two or three that are willing to work. And before then, one of the exco said he was going to make the system unworkable. This was less than two weeks from the inception of this administration, and that same person was sighted as saying the same thing. You know the same person has been a member of the exco in two administrations before me and was doing the same thing. To be fore warned is to be fore harmed. I have an administration on my shoulder and I am hearing somebody with such antecedent coming to replay it in my own time? So what I should do is to fold my hands and wait for the person? These are persons who don’t appear when you call for meetings. If they come at all they come to challenge you, instead of asking what they should do. It is only the chairman that has a real defined function, every other person is part of his cabinet to enable him achieve the objectives of the administration. None other can say this is his function that makes him independent of the chairman’s control.
The chairman happens to be somebody who does not like to see people dragging their feet. The first problem of this administration started when in 2014 – because we came in here virtually October, September ending 2014. To let you know the type of sabotage we have suffered that is why I want this thing published. This administration came in and was deprived of having money to function deliberately by the connivance of members of this same exco. I was sworn in as chairman on the 20th day of September, 2013 and unfortunately this administration had lot of people who had been recycling themselves in the executive. They don’t go for chairmanship; they recycle themselves and to make sure they are in the executive. They can leave vice chairman position and come for ex-officio. They move from secretary, they move to ex-officio or move to PRO and so on. What they want is to be within the exco, not that they have a mission. You must have a mission; you must have something that you are passionate about that you want to contribute. And for you to really contribute, nobody can actually contribute without working with the chairman. The buck ends on his table. That is the naked truth. So, we came here and members of this same executive of mine connived to make sure that we never had access to fund. They were signatories to account of previous administration of my predecessor and the same person who was signatory to the previous administration still wiggled his way to become a member of my own exco and was now signing cheque with my predecessor. Now, the person was doing this comfortably. So, from September to October to November they would sign the cheques without thinking of the new administration and from there I got to know that there is conspiracy.
Now, is it possible that as I took over in September I was not carrying them along from the moment I was sworn in? Where was I to carry them to? We had not started, we had not taken off, but there was sabotage; there was deliberate act of hindering the administration from functioning. Things we wanted to do we couldn’t do until about the AGM of 2013, when a very senior member of this institute was supposed to get his honorarium. He asked me and I said, “No, I have not signed any cheque since I came in”. He said, “”Who has been signing and I said the previous chairman and a member of executive of my own.” Can’t you see the terrible mix there? But the president then did not condemn it. So, it was normal, it was acceptable. I was even not supposed to talk about it (and) just let it flow, but these are facts that nobody has ever bothered to talk about. I didn’t want to talk about it because to me if you are a good player and your target is to score goals, you don’t turn your face to look at who is trying to bring you down, you look towards the ball and your target which is the goal post. So, I kept moving without making this an issue, but as we continued the administration other things started coming out so I found out that there was a grand conspiracy. The source, the origin, and the motive I don’t know, because I believe that all the people in ISPoN are into the growth of this office.
So along the line, we moved away from that when they were now compelled, so to say, to hand over the account. When the first origin of this account came, the auditor was surprised to see that most or some of the times under my tenure at least almost a quarter was not controlled by me financially. So, we just went on like that – a lot of mix up. Then from December 2013, because the account was handed over to me in November, I started actual work. That was my first outing, media coverage, and that media outing I went with Mr. Julius Akpong to Ogun State Television. Maybe he is not a member of exco; maybe that is not the meaning of ‘carrying along’. I don’t know the meaning of carrying along! We went to Ogun State Television, maybe more than once. By early 2014, I went to this other television station at Fadeyi Superscreen, with my predecessor, Mr. Adams Otite. I want you to know how open we have been working. After Mr. Otite, the next person I went with (was) Mr. Ewenla to the television to go and talk about fire safety to the Nigerian public. Mr. Ewenla was the man who contested against me – we contested for the seat of chairmanship. I’m just trying to break this down so that you can see how inclusive or exclusive I have operated. We went together; we had outings. I now took members of the general house, also, who were not excos or anything because I believe that the exco does not make you anything special. Lagos State Safety Commission and this same ISPoN had been at loggerheads before I came on board. I reconciled the two organizations together and the day we reconciled the organizations, I called the chairman before my predecessor – that is Dr. Anyanwu, to be in the group to receive the Lagos State Safety Commission and everybody was surprised that Lagos State Safety Commission visited ISPoN right at ISPoN office. The director general of that commission came with all her directors. To my exco, that was not an achievement. I was with a member of my exco, Mr. Echendu. I was also with the person before my predecessor and I was also with a member of the general house, a lady. I have always tried to make sure that we don’t bottle ourselves into this title exco, exco, exco, because those people in the general house are growing up to be leaders of this institute also. I have always included them in everything I do. The problem we have here is (that) people just want to look for a name to justify their terrible actions.
I don’t function the way things used to be when the chairman’s door can be locked for three days. This door has never been locked. I found out that some of my colleagues don’t have that time to be coming like that, so I will always send message across to anybody whosoever wants to join me should come, I throw it open and sometimes you see members of the general house come.

As rumored, permit me to ask, could you be taking such bold steps since assumption into office, and careless about your executives, because you have the President of the Institute as a kinsman?

I am also very surprised to hear this, because I don’t know how close I am to the president. I am still imagining how close I am to the president that I was not close to the president before him. I was close to the president before the last president. I was not a chairman then. I fought single-handedly to support the president before the immediate-past when we were struggling to get the house at Ikotun purchased, but was he my kinsman? I am coming from a background where you don’t have to seat on the fence. You must respect leadership. Anybody who is on the seat of leadership, you are compelled to give him support. When I say support, it doesn’t need to be solicited. You should know that it is obligatory upon you because I am coming from a military background where sabotage is a very terrible offence. I have just proved a point here now. The issue of the president is my kinsman is the most mischievous conception by any person and such people who have this notion have nothing doing with this professional setting. (This is) because the president they are calling my kinsman was a deputy president in this institute and was never taken to anywhere by the president. He was very loyal to the president; never exchanged words with his president one day. Because of his own orientation, he remained absolutely loyal; the president never took him to anywhere including all the journeys to the national assembly and all the pursuit of the act between 2011 and 2013. He never took him to anywhere while he was deputy president. He remained loyal. What should I give to such a person if I find myself in the line of the administration? I should be disloyal to him? From family background I was not trained to be rude to leaders, to seniors. So, I find myself working under such a person and they are saying because he is my kinsman. Is this institute the institute of kinsmen of Nigeria?

How accountable would you say you have been, as the chairman, considering the quest for an account statement by the safety professionals in Lagos?

This is the most interesting question I have ever had. There is no chairman that has been so open about the account here like we have in Lagos. I tell you something, this is the branch where the staff can go and get a statement of account from the bank. Take note of what I am saying. And then this is the branch where the secretary could walk to the bank and pick the statement.
I don’t know of any law in this institute that says we should print account and give to members of exco. We have the problem here. The problem here is we have a lot of people who are clamoring to be found in the leadership line of this institute without bothering to read and understand the guidelines and policies guiding this institute. Now, is it possible that people are saying I did not bring an account to them? Which means they have always been absent at the AGM. The Lagos state branch has been leading all the branches since we came in. The Lagos state branch declares the biggest returns to the national. The money generated in Lagos is audited every year. Lagos state branch even went to the extent of getting a chartered auditor to audit.We have the internal auditor of institute who audited and the chartered auditor also audited before the institute’s own auditor. I am very sure from all this questions that the main focus is how to come and loot the treasury. I was not chairman of this institute; I was an ordinary member of the floor when I generated close to six million naira to this institute. I want you to take note of these things. I was not chairman of this institute when the president of this institute in 2009/2010 nominated me to represent the national at the hallowed chamber of Lagos State House of Assembly during the public hearing that led to the establishment of what you see today as Lagos State Safety Commission. I was not chairman when I suggested that people should be given some internship opportunity. I was not chairman, but I suggested that we should have interns so that those people who join this institute, younger people who have no experience, we can blend with corporate groups to adopt them as interns so that it can count as experience for them because in the Nigerian labour market we see vacancy advertisement that you must be maybe 23 years old, 26 years old and you must have seven years of experience which means you would have been schooling in the…

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