Chief Innocent Okunamiri is a former President of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON). Okunamiri, who served as the institute’s first Registrar, was also its second secretary, a position he held for nine years. He is currently a member of the institute’s governing board. In this interview with Safety Record’s Paul Mbagwu, he explained the genesis of the crisis that culminated into the expulsion of 29 members of the institute on August 9, 2019. Excerpt…
Recently, some members were expelled from ISPON, and this was published in Guardian and took everybody by surprise. Don’t you think this will heighten the existing crisis or is there an end to the crisis with this?
Hope you know that ISPON has been fighting a battle with some dissidents and this case went to Owerri High Court, which proscribed (the group) headed by (Yusuf Haruna) Malgwi. Then, Ikoyi High Court also proscribed that group that was headed by Malgwi. Port-Harcourt High Court also proscribed that group.
And naturally, after the war, we should look at how to salvage whatever we have lost or gained or something like that. Not for you to join the institute and tomorrow start fighting. No decent professional body would have tolerated that. This is just to serve as a deterrent to those who started this problem. It doesn’t mean that if any of them should… We are all human beings and we are prone to mistakes but where they are, they feel that court judgement is rubbish. That’s what most of them are saying, all those you saw their names there. There is a court judgement, and that’s why where their names were published, we published the high court judgements also. If the law had not permitted us, we would not have done that.
But sir, at what point did this crisis start? Some are of the opinion that this was the time during the election when you were the chairman of the electoral committee and that you have a fair knowledge of how it started. Can we know what actually happened?
When the ISPON Act 2014 (came), the general house, then the then board of trustees helped us to move forward. They gave instruction and that meeting was held in Port-Harcourt. At Abuja AGM, when the presentation was made, not everybody was satisfied. There was also a meeting in Lagos. Eventually, our structure is such that you have a deputy president; as soon as a president steps aside, the deputy takes over. (Shaw) Fregene was the president and (Nnamdi) Ilodiuba was his deputy.
As soon as Fregene handed over to Ilodiuba, few months thereafter, Ilodiuba was then therefore the one restructuring in line with the ISPON Act and he was then elected. He became president with Malgwi as his deputy. Then the election turned out to be the first election following the Act. So all this time, Ilodiuba was on restructuring. Ilodiuba felt that since that was the first election, he wanted to contest.
Malgwi felt that, according to our structure, Ilodiuba should hand over to him. But he (Ilodiuba) said no, that’s the first election under the ISPON Act. The ISPON Act talked about elected president and elected deputy. Note elected deputy president. ISPON Act didn’t say elect president and deputy should move in. This is the first trial.
A registrar who should have educated people very well couldn’t even interpret the Act very well. The registrar was a member who should provide all the necessary things needed. He was poisoning people’s mind that Malgwi should have stepped in.
But we said no, this is the first election ISPON Act talked about and we were carrying out the first one. So in the course of this, I was to kick off with Rivers State. The pressure was that it should not continue, but we completed all the elections for the branches and then moved on to the national.
Ilodiuba was to contest. Malgwi was to contest and other governing board members all applied within the stipulated time. Malgwi (refused), because his mind had been poisoned that he should walk into the position despite the fact that we have said that this is the first election following the ISPON Act.
We tried to bring him in but he went to Awka where we were to hold (Professional Development Conference/Annual General Meeting) and at Awka, I was reminded that the matter was still in court. When I carried out the branch elections, the courts had not even listened to their case. When we were at Awka, we were told that the court had had the first and second hearings and if we should continue with that election, it would mean we’re violating and that we would go in for it. That was the advice. It was after that now that there were hues and cries all over. We’re trying to obey court orders, nothing more than that. We had cases here and there- Warri, Owerri, Port-Harcourt, Lagos. We tried to show that we didn’t try to oppress anybody.
After the judgement, some of them who are bent on destroying this institute are still not satisfied. Let them appeal, they cannot appeal because they know they have no case. I do hope this is not different from what you’ve been hearing. This is what happened. They said they didn’t want Ilodiuba. Why did they not what Ilodiuba? Because Ilodiuba stood against an individual, in an institute, who opened a secret account. We said tell us more about the secret account but they refused. It is unfortunate. I didn’t want to mention it.
Can the damage or losses the institute has suffered as a result of this crisis be quantified?
We have lost billions of naira.
In what way?
…Because everywhere we have been hearing about trainings in different states in and out?
Illegal training – the only training this institute has authorised is that of Lagos, Oyo, Abuja, Akwa-Ibom, Cross-River.
Now that the institute is beginning to take necessary action to put an end to this crisis, what should Nigerians and the safety professionals expect going forward?
At this stage we are trying to reconcile everybody through the AGM authorised by the Act.
NOTE: READ THE FULL INTERVIEW IN SEPTEMBER EDITION OF SAFETY RECORD NEWSPAPER