It is obviously the most prestigious job in the apex Safety regulatory body in Nigeria and the process of appointing the next president was supposed to usher in transparency, tearing away the much-criticised secrecy and hidden deal-making that has allegedly characterised the emergence of the electoral committee overseeing the electoral exercise all over the branches in the nation.
However, the race to become the next President of Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN) has, instead, become enmeshed in accusations of dirty tricks and backstabbing, political enmity, regional rivalry and eventual postponement of the election and cancellation of a much-anticipated Annual General Meeting for the year.
On Friday (day before the election), November 25, the Chairman of the institute’s Electoral Committee, HRH, Eze Innocent Okunamiri, at the conclusion of a plenary session openly announced to bewildered members that there was not going to be any AGM and that the election was no longer going to hold.
According to him, the institute’s lawyer came in that afternoon at 3.00pm with a letter advising the institute to put a stop to the AGM and election as a result of a court case instituted against it by the Delta state branch.
Perhaps, this was the latest action that indeed prompted the electoral body to postpone the election indefinitely.
Safety Record Newspaper observed that the electoral committee chairman was not willing to attend to any question from the participants as they indicated to enquire into the reason for the cancellation of the AGM and election.
Mr. Evarestus Uzamere, a member of ISPoN governing board, immediately took over the stage to close the conference and say the final prayer, amidst protests from members who kept requesting that the electoral committee chairman respond to their numerous questions.
After the prayer, every member of the national executive committee and governing board walked out of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Auditorium venue of the conference and were chauffeured back to their hotel in a bus, leaving the members behind.
ISPoN President, Dr Nnamdi Ilodiuba, who was surrounded by a band of armed mobile policemen and NSCDC agents, was also briskly whisked away into his vehicle and driven off the venue.
With the latest postponement, the electoral committee has delayed the transition to a new leadership, thereby generating rancour in the safety professional circle.
The camp of a presidential hopeful, Malgwi Yusuf was dissatisfied at the intrigue that played out to have the Ilodiuba leadership and the Governing Board members remain in office indefinitely.
Members of the institute, particularly supporters of Malgwi, also expressed concern that a court injunction that could not stop elections in state branches suddenly became so potent to prompt a shift in the national election exercise till further notice.
Attempts by Safety Record Newspaper to reach and get the chairman or members of the electoral committee to clarify the cancellation at the venue proved abortive.
However, in a November 28 telephone chat with our reporter, Okunamiri, who is also a professor, blamed the cancellation on the court case instituted by the Delta state branch, saying the committee reached the decision to cancel on the advice of its lawyer.
He also accused some people he described as “ambitious” as deliberately reading different meanings into the cancellation to suit their purposes.
He said, “We are all law-abiding citizens. Initially, Delta state branch brought summons to me as the chairman, electoral committee barring me from continuing with the elections in the various areas.
“But when we asked our lawyer, our lawyer said it was ordinary summons, not court injunction yet.
“We carried on with our assignment and then the case was heard in the court about last week.
“And the same lawyer advised us that since this matter’s in the court, if we should continue with the election and AGM, it would be contempt.
“And that as law-abiding citizens let us step down until this matter is finally settled.
“It was simple as that. That is what actually happened, nothing else.
“They know it’s not a hidden fact that this matter is in the court (Federal High Court, Warri) but some ambitious people are giving different interpretation as if we deliberately (refused to hold the election).
“If our lawyer had not advised against continuing with that, we would have held the election.”
Nevertheless, beyond the committee’s shocking postponement of that election, there are other factors which must have led to the decision taken by the electoral body.
Also, the affected candidate, Malgwi, has been allegedly lamenting the decision as he was believed to have expended huge resources on campaign exercises in preparation for the election.
Malgwi and his supporters have equally been insisting that Ilodiuba was not ready for the election.
This, some believe, was made manifest when at the venue of the conference meal tickets handed to them was not billed for the three days of the conference, as is the tradition.
They also believe that the event programme had no agenda for the third day of the conference, which was supposed to be the AGM and election exercise, apparently confirming the widely-held assumption that the shifting of the election was premeditated.
When our correspondent approached Malgwi at the conference after the cancellation of the election, he expressed disappointment over the way the electoral committee handled the matter and presented the issue to members.
He said, “You have to meet the electoral committee chairman who was the one trying to explain to the members why the AGM and election was cancelled.
“I don’t have the details. I indicated to ask a question; they shunned me. But what he said, I am quoting him now, is that he received a letter from a lawyer which stated that a case was instituted by the Delta State branch and that any AGM held tomorrow is going to be contempt of court; so for that reason, there would be no election.”
Reacting to the cancellation, Malgwi, who is the institute’s Deputy President, said, “How do you think I should feel? I am supposed to be handing over. My tenure has finished. I’m supposed to tell people about my stewardship. Now I can’t do it. I can’t feel happy. It’s not an issue of election, it’s a general thing, and the people need to be communicated to. Even the way it is communicated, is it proper?
“We have another session on the programme. They are supposed to wait. What is the hurry about? They are supposed to wait for those sessions to be concluded. Let them come here, and then we formally address the people about the cancellation. Honestly, I am not happy. That is how I feel.”
In an earlier interview before the cancellation with Oluwaseyi Oluyide, Head of HSE, Dangote Greenview Development Nig. Ltd, she said that the election was not going to take place because she had already begun to see some irregularities in the arrangement and organisation of the conference.
According to her, “I did not see any candidate listed on the conference programme; nothing on the programme to indicate that they are having an election. Are they ghosts? Where are they? Where is the manifesto? I am not aware of any election. I looked at my programme: Day 1, they wrote lectures there; Day 2, programmes were listed; but on Day 3, there was nothing in the programme.”
Affirming that he already knew the election was not going to take place, past Imo State branch chairman of ISPoN, Dr. Dike Martins, speaking with our correspondence after the cancellation of the election, said that it did not take him by surprise.
He said, “I think the reason the election is postponed has something to do with the legal implications. It was done by the governing board and I am not a member.
“I don’t feel bad because I have already foreseen this kind of thing.”
Speaking further, Martins said the parties that went to court should have sought an internal resolution mechanism instead of heading to court and blamed the institute’s past president, Mr Fregene Shaw for fanning divisive embers.
“The first wrong step was made by going to court; it could have been resolved.
“Since the Act has been got, a lot of intricacies came in and people started murmuring and Fregene (Mr. Fregene Shaw, immediate past president) started a sentiment that is not in the best interest of the institution.”
Expressing his shock at the postponement, Lagos state branch chairman of ISPoN, Engr. Timothy Iwuagwu, whose election was also a subject of controversy, in a chat with our correspondent after the cancellation, said what the court case had led to was there for all to see.
He said the implication of the cancellation was that the present governing board which has not been dissolved would continue till the matter is finally resolved.
For many members of the institute, the suspension of the election came as a rude shock, as it was top on their agenda for being at the conference.
Describing members of the governing board as “weak”, Alexandra Bulus, a member of Kaduna branch, said they were the cause of the whole confusion and have shown that they were not capable of manning the institute.
He said, “I think the governing board is weak for them to just allow somebody to push them to announce the cancellation of the election.
“The governing board needs to know their responsibility; it is not supposed to be so.”
Reacting to assertions that the governing board is weak, a member, Alhaji Lateef Alebiosu said this was not so.
“We are not weak. We are only following the rule and the process. If the chairman says something, none of us can say otherwise, except to wait for the result. And when he reported it, he did not report it directly to the board before the cancellation. The cancellation came as a surprise to me too, less than three hours to the closing of the plenary section,” he said.
Safety Record Newspaper recalls that in August 2016 the Delta state branch of the institute, through some executive members, filed a suit against the president and the institute.
Filed at the Warri division of the Federal High Court, the suit with number FHC/WR/CS/89/2016, sought, among other reliefs, an order directing the president of the institute to retract his letter closing the Delta state branch.
Also sought was an order restraining the election of principal officers of the institute at both state and national levels in 2016 pending the hearing of the determination of the substantive suit; an order directing the defendant (the president) to step aside from the presidency of the institute pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit; and any other order(s) which the honourable court would deem fit to make.
Our correspondent observed that the immediate-past president of the institute and respected member of the Delta state branch, Mr Fregene Shaw, and the state branch chairman, Edward Uni Ajobo, were conspicuously absent at the conference.
With members gathered from across the branches in the nation, the question of who became the new President had been an important point of discussions on the sidelines and an opportunity for lobbying.
According to the rules, the successful candidate would emerge after an election that would take place at the institute’s 35th Professional Development Conference/AGM which would be supervised by the Prof. Innocent Okunamiri-led electoral committee constituted by the institute to oversee the electoral exercise.
The drama definitely is about the candidates vying for the position. But in the advent of the chartered status of the institute, instituted court cases against the institute by its member branches, confrontation in some branches against the backdrop of an unpopular candidate emerging, and a possible glamour enjoyed by the emerged president, power blocs want their own man on the seat.
According to feelers from the venue, chances were that the election might favour the northerner, Malgwi, who appeared to enjoy a consensus among majority of the members.
Malgwi established a lead over his rival, Ilodiuba, who is vying for another term, which is evident in the body language of electorates who were openly seen campaigning against Ilodiuba, but aside from becoming unpopular, the northern factor would count against him.
It is, however, in the camp of Ilodiuba, who has presided over the institute for the past four years, as against instituted two-year tenure, that there has been the most intrigue and recriminations.