Dr Nnamdi Ilodiuba is the President of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria, a body that is presently buckling under the weight of in-fighting, including over his own position. In this interview with Safety Record Newspaper’s Managing Editor, Femi Da-silva and Associate Editor, Paul Mbagwu, he gives insights into the causes of the internal wrangling and the way out. Excerpt.
What is the genesis of the crises in ISPON from your point of view?
I took over the institute in November 2013, and in earlier 2014, I discovered from the available record brought to me that we had a contract with Chevron. From that training contract, we had a term that 60 percent of the contract sum would be paid in naira, while 40 percent sum would be paid in dollars. When I checked the records, the auditor’s report up till that time, and I didn’t see anywhere dollars reflected, I then asked questions, “Where is this dollar aspect of this contract, the 40 percent?” And I didn’t get clear answers. I asked the Chairman of Delta State branch, Mr. Uni Ajobo, and he said I should ask Mr. Shaw Fregene (immediate past president); that he is in charge. I asked Mr. Fregene and he didn’t give me any satisfactory response. I wrote him a mail, “where is this money and how was it being disbursed?” Till today, I have not been told much about it. He gave me the contract document, but that did not say where the 40 percent dollar percentage has gone to, which is still there (their custody); they have a domiciliary account that is operated in Delta State. That dollar account is not known to anybody outside that Delta State branch. And I said I am the president, and I need to know and they didn’t tell me. That is when the problem started.
Aside from that aspect, that Delta State branch stopped preparing budgets and they were busy making money. The governing board said, “Prepare your budget for approval of the governing board before you start spending money.” Of course, they were not alone in that – there were other branches that were not preparing budgets. They were forced to prepare the budget, and they did. This was about February 2016 in Port Harcourt during the governing board meeting. Then the registrar was mandated to write all the chairmen and in that letter to the chairmen, they were also told that based on the provisions of the ISPON Act, we would have to close all the existing branch accounts and then open a TSA single account. This is because in our Act it is said that all monies belonging to the institute, whether it is generated from training or anywhere else, would be paid into a fund which is TSA, a single account. We told them that and that this would take effect on 31st of May 2016. They were all written. They have the letters; I have the letter. They (Delta Branch) didn’t do these until June 2016 when the governing board mandated me to close all the accounts. And that was what I did.
Delta State branch went to UBA in Delta state, and forcefully opened their own account, telling the bank officials that the president was not a signatory to that account, and the governing board that asked that the account be closed was not a signatory to the account. The bank now based on the threat through their lawyer opened that account for them. The other branches did not re-open their accounts; the Delta state singlehandedly did that. I now wrote and warned them, but they went to court, praying the court to nullify our order that their bank account should be closed and other requests they put there. The governing board met, called them, “Withdraw the court case. Let us settle in-house; it has not got to the stage of dragging ourselves to the court.” But they refused. When they realized that the Delta State court where they filed the case lacked jurisdiction over ISPON, being a federal institute, they went to Federal High Court. They said that the governing board tenure had expired and that the president should step down and that he’s not a fit president, among other things they requested. They also said that we should not close their account. The governing board still met and told them, “withdraw the court case and let us settle in-house. We have not exhausted the internal dispute resolution mechanism.” But they refused. We even sent to governing board members in Delta state, my predecessors, Mr. Shaw Fregene and Mr. Emmanuel Akpokodje, “go and tell them to withdraw the court case,” and they (Delta State branch) started giving conditions that, number one, they would not withdraw the court case until we write them a letter assuring them that they would not be punished and that we must open their bank account, among other conditions. We said that we could not act on those conditions; that they had to withdraw the court case first before any discussion. They refused.
In July, I’m not sure about the date now, of the same 2016, they closed the branch. We sent a message to them. Benson Adam-Otite, the then Registrar was sent together with their Zonal Vice President, Mr. Felix Nakpodia to go and find out what happened. They said that the people they trained were not given certificates; they said that they (the trainees) were threatening to beat them and therefore closed down the institute. That is why they closed the place. “Who did you tell before you closed the branch?” we asked. They said, “no one.” The governing board met and asked me, and I replied, “Yes, they were conducting training and keeping the whole money meant for their branch and that of NEC account and the only way to track our money is through the certificate. So that was why I stopped signing the certificates. If I sign it, they will not bring out the money.” The governing board prevailed on me in this same room that I should sign the certificate for them and they on their part should pay what belongs to NEC. We agreed, and in the presence of all of them there, I signed the certificate and they also paid the money. After that day, they didn’t pay the money again, so I stopped signing the certificates. That was all about that. On their part, they started collecting cash from people, which was against ISPON rules.
During the election period, this was around August when the account crisis was on and the branch had already been closed. The governing board decided and instructed that the branch be closed formally and the branch was closed formally. This was on 18th August, if I am right about the date. They went to court again. Among the things they requested was that we should open the branch, the president should step down and that no election should hold, both at the branch and national levels. This dragged to September towards the election time. As a matter of fact, on the 6th of September 2016, they served us a court summons that we must not hold any election. Rivers State election was billed for 7th of September. I called our lawyer and showed him what we had on ground. The lawyer said that even though they had approached the court but the court had not made any pronouncement on the matter and the court had not even heard the matter, so we should go on with the election. So we went on with the election – branch elections. By November, when we were to go for the AGM and Conference in Awka, Anambra state, I called our lawyer and asked him what we should do because at that time, the court had sat either two or three times on the matter. The lawyer advised us that so long as the court has sat on the matter, that is, that the court had heard the matter, that we should not continue with the elections, because we may be cited for contempt of court. I then said if that was his legal advice, he should put it in writing. The lawyer put it in writing and gave it to us. During the conference, after the first day and second day, the third day would be the AGM when the election would take place, but because the lawyer had advised us otherwise, we called them (the members at the conference) they governing board met with them and read the letter out. They were told that the AGM and election would not hold this year, because our lawyer advised us otherwise. So, we didn’t hold the election. We all returned to our respective branches.
Afterwards, from what I heard, Mr. Adam-Otite started gathering names of some people that he said told him that they were not happy with what happened. Our Act says if 100 people are not happy with anything happening at the institute, they can write to the Registrar calling for an EGM. But there is a proviso in the Act which says when they approach the Registrar, he is mandated to meet the governing board and the governing board will in return tell him to call for the EGM. The registrar doesn’t have power of his own to call an EGM; he has to go through the governing board. After 28 days, if the governing board fails to call the EGM, he will now approach the Council of Life Members. Adam-Otite didn’t follow all these procedures; rather he called the EGM all by himself. I called him to find out why he did it and he replied that it’s because the people wanted it. “Why did you not follow the procedure?” I questioned. We went to court saying he didn’t have the right to call for EGM because he was not mandated according to our Act. As a result, the court stopped the EGM. That was the EGM that would have held in February 11th.
Because he knew he had made a mistake, he started collecting signatures from the Life Members. Some of them signed, because when there is a crisis, it creates factions. Some of the Life Members said, “No, we would not do that”. But even before then, they had a meeting that was on 20th of January 2017 in this place. When I heard of the meeting, I called him and asked, “I heard there is going to be a meeting in the secretariat.” He said yes and I asked, “Who are the people having the meeting?” and he said he didn’t know. And I told him not to allow anyone to hold a meeting in the secretariat since he didn’t know the people holding the meeting. He said they were not just anybody, that they were members. I said, “But you told me you don’t know them, so how do you now know that they are members. Please do not allow anyone to hold meeting there because it is not authorized.” He told me directly in writing that he couldn’t obey that instruction from me. He was queried as a result of that. This was one, among others things he had done, which he was queried for. On the 21st of same January, the branch chairmen met in Akwa Ibom state and invited me to brief them on the things happening in the institute. After the briefing, resolutions were made and one of them was that Adam-Otite should be given a query and disciplined. As a result of this, the governing board met, gave him a query and later suspended him. Even while suspended, Adam-Otite was still carrying on as if he’s still the registrar. On one of the days, he even arrested the Lagos State Chairman, Engr. Timothy Iwuagwu because while in suspension, he kept coming to the office to use the institute facility and I instructed the Lagos State chairman to lock the office to stop him from using the institute’s facility. The office he is using is my office, which he was claiming to be his. I only allowed him to be using the office because I am not always in Lagos and we cannot leave the office unutilized. So it’s my office and not his. When he got the chairman arrested, he took him to the police, claiming he broke into his office to change the locks. I was called by the police for clarification and I told them the office in question is my office and not his and that I was the one who gave him permission to use the office.
On the court judgment to decide if he had the right to call for an EGM, his grudge was that our lawyer did not address him as “Registrar”. Though he was the registrar when the EGM was called, however, I cannot really tell what transpired at the court, but I know that the case was struck out by the judge. But he came to claim that he had won the case. Even before that, the governing board had met and sacked him because of other misconducts. One, because he broke into the gate at the secretariat after he wrote me that he wasn’t going to obey my others not to allow any unauthorized meeting here. I didn’t tell you that. He used hammer to break the gate and they entered the secretariat and had the meeting. Because of that and other things he did, the governing board sacked him. He is an employee. As an employee, the person that hired you can fire you. The governing board hired him, and they sacked him. He is still arrogating that position to himself that he is still the registrar and that he was not properly sacked. I don’t know what he meant by that. Again, even when he was sacked, he went ahead and called for another EGM, this time around, in Port Harcourt, and we said he doesn’t have the right to call for an EGM. They on their own (Adam-Otite and his group) went to the Department of State Security (DSS) to seek for their protection during the EGM and also to the Commissioner of Police in Rivers state to seek for protection. I was invited by the DSS and I told them my own side of the story. I wrote my points to them. Later on, the DSS called the two parties (him and me), the Delta state chairman, and Rivers state chairman. They came with their lawyers, I didn’t go with any lawyer, but instead, I went with Elder Dominic Aigbogun, and we stated our case. The DSS director that meditated over the case told them that the EGM could not hold because of the security situation in Rivers state, and because from what we both said they could see that there would be problem and they would not allow the problem to happen. He asked for the way forward and there we finally agreed that both parties should present seven persons each to hold a reconciliation meeting and that a neutral person should be present in the meeting. We then decided to have one from the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN). We were all happy with the decision reached and we all left in accord. Less than an hour after the meeting, Adam-Otite sent out a public notice to every member, informing over 1,000 members that the DSS held a meeting with us and that we have rescheduled the EGM scheduled for Rivers state to the National Secretariat in Lagos in accordance with ISPON Act. He did this, inviting everybody instead of seven each. Uni Ajobo, the Delta State chairman, did the same thing. The records are there. They sent the mail. I sent the mail to the DSS director to inform him of the development and told him that the implication was that they were telling the people that the EGM would still hold but not in the former venue. If you read the letter sent, he was talking about rescheduling the venue of the EGM, which means he is telling them that the EGM is still holding. When I sent the mail to the DSS, they told me they would call him to talk to him. What I cannot verify is if they called him to talk to him. I had sent two emails and SMSs to the DSS on this. Even as at yesterday night (Friday, June 16), I still sent another one to notify the DSS of the implications of going ahead with the meeting. So many members have called me from different branches informing me of the message they got from Adam-Otite. Members from Kaduna state, Abuja, Jos, Rivers called me that they are coming. When I called the DSS to inform them of this, they acknowledged that even Adam-Otite had called them to inform them that I have mobilized the Army to the venue to get them arrested and I told him that there was nothing of such taking place, which is the reason I called to notify him, because there is a tendency that there would be problem. After notifying me, he said he was going to get back to me and hasn’t. What he discussed with Adam-Otite, I do not know. At about 10pm last night (June 16), Adam-Otite sent another mail inviting us for the meeting, notifying of the time and other agenda. I said okay, and I replied him bringing his attention to the letter he sent that he had sent a notice of the meeting, but has failed to include a list of the seven people expected from his side, asking him how we are going to know those we expect to meet with. I was already in Lagos with the people I was to attend the meeting with who were with me then. I called their attention to it and asked what we should do. There we agreed to be available so as not to allow the DSS fault us for not being at the meeting as planned. When we came here this morning, we already had people at the gate. We then decided to go back, because we (the seven of us) did not want to be overwhelmed by the people we saw at the gate. What we had at the gate were almost 20 to 30 members at that time, so we went to the police to report and told them the agreement we had with DSS as against what we have on ground. We told them that we were not sure of our safety, which’s why we’re not entering the secretariat so that they will not lynch us. The police agreed to step in to allow us have a peaceful meeting and called Adam-Otite on the phone to come to their office. The Area M Police Commander (Idimu, Lagos) was ready and had offered to allow us the use of an office at the command to have the seven- seven man meeting, if we’re ready to do it there to avoid the fracas that would ensue. Adam-Otite did not show up at the area command as at the time the area commander left here – at least you saw the area commander leave here. He even came to maintain peace here since they didn’t show up at the command. When he came, they had already gone. That is how everything evolved and we are where we are.
We learnt that another issue heightening the crisis is the fact that your tenure and that of the governing board members has expired. What do you have to say about this?
Who told you? Is that what people are saying? You don’t even need to tell me. This matter came up while we were in DSS office. When we were introducing ourselves, I introduced myself as the president, after others had introduced themselves. Uni Ajobo introduced himself as Delta State chairman. Even the DSS man asked him when he was elected. He was elected before me. And he is the person who said my tenure has expired and that I am elongating my tenure. But he was elected before me. So if my tenure has expired, what is he still doing as the chairman of the branch? They went to court to stall the election, and our lawyer advised us not to hold the election. He is the person who went to the court to stop the election. So if they stopped the election from taking place, what is the tenure elongation cry all about? And if I am the one who elongated my tenure, what is he still doing? I expected him to have vacated the office to show me how not to elongate my tenure. I am not elongating my tenure and, like I told the DSS officer, if they produce the money I am asking them to account for today, I am going to present my resignation letter to him in his office that very day. I told them there and then, because it is true. The problem is the money, and I will account for it. The ISPON Act requires me as president to give them audited account every year. If 40 percent of the money the institute is getting in dollars is not being accounted for, who will get the money, and where will the money come from? What if in future I opt for a political position and someone refer back to my time as president of ISPON and that the money was not accounted for, what would I do? And by that time, the Pharaoh that knows Joseph is no more, what do I do? That is why I want to keep a clean slate before I leave. So, I am not trying to elongate my tenure, we are only obeying court instructions. And apart from that, I am not the only one still remaining who has exceeded his tenure. The Delta State branch chairman and his executives are still in office till date. It is the same court that is still keeping them that is keeping me. So it’s my tenure and that of the governing board members that has expired and theirs hasn’t expired? How come? It’s just a mere propaganda, wicked propaganda.
We also learnt that the dollar issue in question is one of your ploys to remain in office. Why is it that you raised up this issue towards the end of your tenure in office?
This dollar issue in question did not just start. It started in October 2014, and I came in November 2013. In October 2014, I wrote a mail to Mr. Shaw Fregene, my predecessor, about the dollar account discrepancy. I can show you evidence to that effect (reaching for his file). In the mail, I told him to explain the whereabouts of the money and that he should get across to me with every detail about the contract. It’s on record; I can produce it. In fact, that is the first time everybody in the governing board, including Alhaji Alebiosu his predecessor, got to know about it. None of them had seen that contract documents before, I forced him to bring it out. When he eventually produced the document, and we saw the discrepancies on the dollar sum of the contract, (the question was) where is the dollar sum payments made, that is the problem on ground.
What about the position of the office of the registrar in ISPON? This is another issue raising a lot of dust. Who is the registrar?
Mr. Adam-Otite was an employee of the institute. The governing board employed him. But as at today, because of his misconduct, the same governing board that employed him has sacked him, and he remains sacked. If he is not happy, he should go to court. As at today he has not challenged it or gone to court and he has not been forgiven. Even if they will forgive him and return him to the office tomorrow, the fact is that he remains sacked and a new registrar has been employed in the person of Mr. Bola Aborode. He is the registrar that we have today. Right now, he is acting and will be confirmed in six months time. Even Adam-Otite, as at the time he was sacked, he was the acting registrar and hadn’t been confirmed. If he was confirmed, let him show you his confirmation letter. Let me reveal something many do not know – Adam-Otite was employed on 2nd October, 2013, without sending in an application. In fact, he was forced on the institute. It was when I came in as president and began to regularize things that I called his attention to this fact and he applied. So, he was employed in 2013, but applied for the position in 2014. I have the documents. So, is he putting the cart before the horse or the horse before the cart? You were employed first before you applied; it should have been you apply, you are interviewed and you get employed. So he remains sacked, please.
Again, in some quarters, the decisions made by the governing board are being faulted because they do not form a quorum while at it. How many governing board members do you have and how many do you need to form a quorum?
There is nowhere in our Act that it is said that we should form a quorum to sack a registrar that is misbehaving. Moreover, which quorum was formed when Adam-Otite was employed as registrar? Let anyone disclose where and when the quorum was formed before Adam-Otite was employed and I will disclose to you where a quorum was formed before he was sacked. One person employed him and told others that he had employed the registrar. Did they form a quorum? But I want to tell you that we do not need a quorum to sack Adam-Otite. The fact here is that the governing board has employed somebody and they have sacked somebody. Let him produce his own quorum first. This is the first thing I told them when they first said there’s no where there’s the position of an acting registrar in the Act. They said Mr. Bola Aborode was an acting registrar, while Adam-Otite was a full registrar. But I asked them to bring Adam-Otite’s confirmation letter as full registrar. This is because for as long as his own letter is concerned he will be confirmed six months after appointment as acting registrar and for the fact that he was not confirmed as registrar for up to three years is enough reason to sack him. However, he has been issued queries more than three times during his tenure as registrar.
Now to answer your question, from the Act, we are expected to have 13 members of the governing board in the institute, though Dr. Okere has resigned, so we are 12 left. But we have only 11 active governing board members presently.
While outside, we overheard someone tell the members that the dollar account case in court was ruled in favour of the Delta State branch and the court ruled that they had the right to the account. What is your reaction to that?
I don’t know what the court said. If they tell me, I will know. But I will be surprised if the court said that he’s not eating the money. Even if the court strikes it out, is the court striking it out that the money does not exist? Is the court striking it out that someone is not embezzling the money? So, on what grounds are they striking it out? I do not know. What I know is that someone is with the institute’s dollars and the evidence that he has the dollar is there and the person has not denied it. So, what is the striking out and what is the ruling?
What’s your final word to the members, because this present crisis has caused upset among a lot of the members and it has created division in the institute? What do you have to say to them on the way forward?
As long as the institute is concerned today, I am the father of all, not minding my age. And there is no father that will be happy that his family is in disarray. So, I am not happy. I know too well that as I’m not happy, no member that wishes well for the institute will be happy that the institute is the way it is presently. This is why since this crisis broke I have called for a peace meeting four times. It is this same Delta branch that has taken the institute to court five times, and the same Delta State branch that has refused to attend the peace meeting four times. They would always have letters to say that they would not want to come, and the letters are with me to show that they will never come, till the very one we had in Rivers state. My advice and last word to members is that we need to have peace in the institute, and the way to go is this. Considering what happened today, if care is not taken, we have lost another opportunity at resolving the crisis. The security personnel intervened and recommended that seven persons for each group should attend the meeting; a total of 14 should go and have peace meeting and come back to us with your resolution. Adam-Otite went to invite the whole members. Does that person want peace? He doesn’t want peace. If he wanted peace, he should have abided by the directives of the security personnel. And you witnessed the number of people today, and if they were 14, you should know. If they are more than 14 you (journalist) should equally know. So, the fact that he has invited the whole members to be here has nullified the whole peace process. That is why we have missed another opportunity today to have peace. I want peace and the entire institute wants peace. Let the procedure for peace be followed and we shall have peace. If we have peace today, like I told them even before the DSS, all of us will agree on how to hold our AGM immediately: it can be within a month, six months or one year, depending on what we agree to do. When we fix a date, we shall complete our remaining election and everybody will move on. We are all feeling bad that the institute is going the way it is going, including me. So, we need peace; I need peace, we all need peace. Again, people should carry out investigation to know what is happening instead of peddling rumours and lies about. This is why a lot have been misled. So I want all of us to come together to a roundtable to discuss our matter as a family and trash out what the matter is and we move ahead. There is no wound that cannot be healed by time and good words.