By Bisi Oladele, Southwest Bureau Chief, Ibadan
The Minister of State for National Planning, Mr. Clement Agba, will Monday meet with labour unions at the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER) over their opposition to one-year tenure extension for the Director General (DG), Dr. Folarin Gbadebo-Smith.
The Federal Government extended the DG’s tenure early June, following the expiration of his four-year tenure in May.
The three labour unions – Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions (ASURI), Senior Staff Association of Universities’ Teaching Hospitals Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) – accused the DG of absenteeism, disloyalty to NISER, administrative incompetence and mismanagement of funds, among others.
The unions called for probe of Gbadebo-Smith’s four-year tenure, stressing that his administration retarded NISER’s progress instead of promoting it.
They listed the allegations in a petition to the minister, which was also submitted to anti-corruption agencies.
The petition was signed by Messrs Muyiwa Babatimehin (ASURI), Matthew Olagunju (SSAUTHRIAI) and Theophilus Tubi (NASU).
But the DG denied all the allegations, saying the union leaders, who he claimed are opposed to the transformation he brought to the institute, were only using the name of the unions to fight a personal battle.
Gbadebo-Smith told The Nation that his critics failed to understand that NISER is a think-thank, not an academic institution, that should be headed by a professor or anyone with a PhD. Nonetheless, the DG said he holds three Master’s degrees from universities in the United States (U.S).
He added that the mandate given him by the Federal Government was to revive the fortunes of NISER, having drawn back for many years, and to which he expressed his commitment.
On alleged financial misappropriation, Gbadebo-Smith said the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) grilled and released him after finding that the allegation was spurious.
The DG described the allegation as meaningless and false.
He said the N40 million consultancy fee was paid to the consultant whom he never met before winning the contract.
The contract, the DG explained, was for architectural design, survey and modelling of the institute.
Gbadebo-Smith said he followed due process in selecting the contractor.
On the alleged misappropriated N85 million, the DG said it was used to fund departmental budgets.
“NISER was never meant to be a pseudo-university where everybody is aspiring to be a professor. But because NISER originated from the University of Ibadan, many people take it to be a pseudo-university. But it is a government think-tank. I am the first non-academic to head NISER. That has further strengthened the idea that NISER is not an academic institution. There are no students here. NISER is only meant to conduct serious research.
“The N85 million they talked about is departmental budget. It went into the various research departments of NISER. N-Power was only a categorisation in the fund.
“The good thing is that nobody has claimed that any money was missing at NISER,” he said.
Today’s meeting will enable the union leaders and the minister to fully discuss all the issues at stake with a view to ending the labour crisis that has partially crippled activities in the institute in the last two months.
The labour unions are also asking the government to follow the laid-down procedure in appointing NISER’s DGs.