Mr. Femi Abiodun is the Interim Committee Chairman of the Lagos State Branch of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria. In this interview with Safety Record newspaper’s Zainab Balogun, he spoke on various challenges facing the institute, including the leadership crisis that has divided the branch since a controversial October 2016 election. Excerpt…
Why is an interim committee necessary for the Lagos ISPON branch at this time?
In November 2016 when there was supposed to be an election, the election did not hold because the majority of the house did not support the decision to impose TC Iwuagwu, who wanted to be imposed on us. After that incident that day, everybody left and we were invited by the governing board to come and state our grievances, which we did and they assured us that they would look into the matter and get back to us. Unfortunately nothing happened for almost a year. During this process as well, the tenure of the governing board expired and there were issues at the national level. The issues at the national level also affected Lagos branch because as at that time we did not have any exco on ground. By the time there was a new governing board that was put in place, we decided to have an interim committee in the meantime in Lagos and this was done on September 15th, 2017, here in this NERDC venue. So that was how we were selected to be the interim committee to, at least, continue to run and manage the affairs of the chapter until all issues were resolved. Basically, the issue of interim committee came up because Lagos State was without executive for a long time.
You said the branch did not have an exco for a long time but Engr. TC Iwuagwu is still claiming to be the chairman and he is conducting trainings. Don’t you think that portrays the branch in bad light?
Yes, it does and that was one of the reasons also why we had to get the interim committee because that shouldn’t have happened in the first place if the elders had actually followed up on their word to make sure that this issue did not linger for too long. After the election did not hold, we told them to reschedule another election so that we can have a proper executive. But since it was not done, the person that was past chairman still had access to all facilities of the chapter. During that period that everything was dormant he was there. We wanted to take the matter to court so that it would be resolved if the governing board could not help, but they told us that it wasn’t necessary at that point, that they would look into the matter and we would resolve it amicably in-house. We listened to them but he continued to present and project himself as the chairman. He knows that there was no election conducted; he’s very much aware that there was no election. There are video evidences to show that there was no election and there are also video evidences to show that the governing board called us over our grievances and also told us that they would look into the matter.
During the last meeting that held in November 2017, the branch set up a three-man reconciliatory committee comprising Hon. Hakeem Dickson, Engr. Peter Onyeri and Alhaja Nofisat Arogundade. How far has the committee gone?
The last information I got on that was that there was still discussion going on. There was supposed to be a reconciliation meeting for December 20 which did not go well. The truth however is that we are still where we are.
How did you become the interim chairman of the branch?
We came here to listen to the Governing Board on how far they had gone on the issue. There was supposed to be an AGM which the other faction was planning but they came to tell us that it did not hold and that they were trying to put things in place. They also said that in the interim they wanted people who could at least manage the affairs in Lagos because Lagos had not been having meetings. So we were supposed to be arranging meetings and coordinating the affairs of the branch. If not for the trainings that some people were just conducting, we wanted to have proper branch meeting and then coordination of the affairs. On that day the governing board came, they didn’t tell us they were going to select any interim committee; we had no idea. When they got here, the president, the registrar and Dr. Nicholas Okere told us that they wanted to select an interim committee. We told them that our reason for coming here in the first place was to challenge them that the election that brought them into power did not follow due process but they told us that at that point in time that was the best decision to take. They wanted to set up an interim committee at the national level, like a reconciliatory committee to bring together all parties to resolve the issue. However, they found out one way or the other that since it was not in line with the policy guideline or the act, some people were using that as a reason not to allow that to work. So in the process they had to go for the election. It was there that even Mr. Malgwi told us that he was not at the meeting where the election took place and it was later that he heard that he had been made president. But when he came back and they explained to him the circumstances surrounding that event, he said, ‘Okay, if it’s just to make sure that we resolve all these crises, I am willing to go ahead with it’. He also said something that really impressed me. He said if today he is asked to step down, he is willing to; if the members say they don’t want him, he would not stay one additional second and he has been saying that repeatedly since then. When they decided to select an interim committee, all the names mentioned including mine were all rejected because we told them that wasn’t our agenda for the meeting. We were told that they were mandated by the new governing board to at least have people on ground that can be liaised with in Lagos. So, after much discussions and pleadings, we agreed to get it started and members that were around on that day decided that I would be the chairman of the committee, Mr. Idris Oluokun would be the secretary, Mr. Hassan Hassan would be a member, Mrs. Helen Nwachukwu would be a member and Mr. Tony Kwemezi would also be a member. The five of us make up the interim committee and some were suggesting that it should be a three-man committee. However, Mr. Malgwi said if it’s a three-man committee, only one person would work but in a five-man committee at least three people would work if the remaining two don’t. That was how I became the chairman of the committee and it wasn’t as if there was any election to that effect or a pre-planned arrangement. We just accepted the challenge and are ensuring that we resolve the issues on ground. Even at that meeting we had no terms of reference; it was after a few weeks they told us those things that we should be doing in the meantime. We are not a full-fledged executive, that’s why we cannot carry out all the activities expected of the executive. We have a term of reference that we are working with.
Tell us about yourself
I finished from the Urban and Regional Planning Department, University of Lagos. After that, I started doing safety. I registered as a member of ISPON in 2009. I wouldn’t say I was an active member then because of the way ISPON was run but I came back when the act came. The feeling then was that since the act is here now, it would go a long way to determine a lot of things. It’s good that we all join hands together to move ISPON forward. I didn’t come here to be fighting for any post; it’s not my style. I have my own company that I am running and I am a busy person. This interim committee came up to move the branch forward. It’s been difficult running the interim committee because we have been using our personal funds, and we deliberately said that we would not collect money from anybody so that there would be no issue of somebody collecting money and not being able to account for it. We have been spending our money to run these meetings – buying refreshment, paying for venue and renting other things – because we believe that this thing needs to end so that we can move forward. We are willing to resolve these crises because without us coming together to do the needful our reputation is being affected. People don’t respect us the way they should. We can’t even come outside to make statements because people will say who are you representing? Everybody is thinking everybody is a faction and it is not good for the institute. Unfortunately, all the efforts so far to reconcile the two parties have proved abortive. It is only the court that can settle the case now.
There are some insinuations that the crisis has not ended because it is more personal than professional. Do you think that is right?
Yes, it is right. If it were professional, it would have long ended. I was at the court on November 14th and on November 15th; and I was at the police headquarters – Zone 2 Police Headquarters in Onikan. We were there throughout the whole day. About a month before, on October 28 on the day of the AGM, one of our members was arrested by the other faction so we had to go and bail him. After we explained to the C.S.P, who’s a very reasonable man, he saw that these issues were just about money and a personal thing. He then said the best he could do for us was to invite the two parties to come with all their evidences for a talk. On November 15, we were at Zone 2 where we discussed at length. They can’t force us to take what we don’t want to take. They just pleaded with us to go, saying ‘you know where the problem is, go and resolve it’. Like I said it is deeper than what we are seeing; it goes way back. It is just showing itself now but it didn’t start today. The truth is: the people that can solve this problem are still our elders. They know the beginning, the middle and the end. If you remember at our last meeting, just few days after we returned from the police station, I said we needed to appeal to our elders on this issue. They have the knife and they have the yam. They can end this thing tomorrow if they want to, but for some reasons which a young man like me doesn’t know and which I cannot speculate on…
What is the makeup of the interim committee?
Just five of us busy people that volunteered to sacrifice our time, effort, resources and money to see what we can do. But it’s not been easy because we didn’t expect that it would last this long. We thought it would only last for three months, so that they can conduct elections and we can hand over. Our plan was that by December they would have resolved the whole issue, we would have elected and inducted an exco and everybody would go home happy.
What will happen if this drags on for another year?
I don’t know. If it drags on for another year, I know I won’t be here.
What is the major aim of the interim committee? Are you trying to reconcile or what?
(Laughs) Are we trying to reconcile? Reconciliation is not really part of our terms of reference but we actually went ahead to add it because we are not here to fight. We really wanted to work with everybody. That is why when we are sending out our invites, we don’t discriminate. As long as you are a member of Lagos ISPON, you are welcome. We are all adults and we make our own decisions. You can only appeal to people but they may decide to do whatever they wish. You can’t force anyone to do anything. The truth is we’re ready to bring everybody together. We have no issues with anybody. We can only try; we can’t force anybody. We have been organising meetings, having technical sessions, and we have been seeking a way forward. You were there when we appointed three safety heavyweights to wade into the matter. But still it stands.
What is your relationship between your committee and the other group?
For us, we have no issues. We have opened our arms and we have approached them, but you can’t force anybody to like or work with you although they have their own reasons too. But the facts are there that there was no election in Lagos and so no exco in Lagos. It is not something we are making up. It is a fact. When we went to the governing board they told us to go and withdraw the cases in court in favour of an in-house resolution. There are facts to that. So these are undisputable facts that can be verified and as safety men we have documented evidence to show that this is what happened. There was no election and so there is no exco in Lagos. That is why I say there is no faction really. It is just there’s no exco and we needed an interim committee to manage things. Some wanted us to be interim committee to conduct election but we said no, that it was not our business. Once the time comes, we hand over and they do the needful. We are just here like a bridge; there’s a gap between when Lagos ISPON was not functioning and in the nearest future when Lagos will be functioning. We are really open to anybody that wants to move the institute forward.
As an interim committee, does it mean that when a move for reconciliation is finalised then…
(Cuts in) We will handover now. What are we doing or benefitting here? We are even spending our money, time. We are praying that the issue is resolved tomorrow. We want to handover but the issue is who to handover to. So let there be reconciliation and let us move forward. We can’t continue like this. We can’t.
What do you think is the way forward?
Like I said, all efforts to reconcile have yielded no positive result. It is left for the court to determine. So there is nothing else anyone can do. We just have to wait for the court.