The absentee Director-General of Nigeria’s premiere policy think-tank, Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, Dr. Folarin Gbadebo-Smith, has allegedly ensured the dissolution of the institute’s governing council in a bid to escape probe by anti-corruption agencies.
Gbadebo-Smith, who was appointed by Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo, has been accused of incompetence, fraud and running the institute with recklessness.
NISER, which has been in existence since 1906, was established as an autonomous institute under the presidency by the NISER Act No. 70 of 1977 (now Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2006 CAP 115) to serve as a think-tank in the field of social and economic development for the country.
However, Gbadebo-Smith, since his appointment has not only allegedly run down the institute due to his incompetence but also stopped all processes of accountability especially the dissolution of the institute's governing council with the help of Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clement Agba, acting through the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, to forestall Council’s investigation into administrative and financial impropriety levelled against the incumbent DG.
He has also, with his character, allegedly cost newly recruits staff members certain opportunities.
In a detailed 50-page petition signed by leaders of the three in-house unions of the institute namely: Academic Staff Union of Research Institutes headed by Babatimeyin Muyiwa; Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions headed by Matthew Olagunju, and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions headed by Tubi O. Theophilus, Gbadebo-Smith was accused of squandering almost N1.5 billion in combined annual budgetary releases without commensurate projects to justify such spending in his four years as head of the institute.
They alleged that infrastructure in the institute has been in a sorry state and that there has been failure to publish and disseminate over 50 research output, a core mandate of NISER.
The three in-house workers unions at NISER, under the umbrella of Joint Action Congress (JAC), accused Gbadebo-Smith, whose tenure elapses on 27th of May, 2021, of not only unqualified ab-initio to hold the position, being a dentist with allegedly no research degree, but also of several other specific atrocities including but not limited to: “flagrant abuse of financial regulations and public service rules; consistent contract splitting to bye-pass governing council approval, living large at exclusive hotels and guest houses in Ibadan for the duration of his 4-year tenure at (NISER) government expense, against stipulated first 28 days."
It further added, “contract inflation and fraud leading to grand, systemic embezzlement; general administrative gross incompetence; extended and consistent absenteeism, abscondment and abandonment of primary duty post at Ibadan headquarters in favour of his private firms in Lagos; running NISER by proxy; obvious lack of academic and policy research process capacity and thorough understanding; to state but a few and all meticulously backed by iron-clad evidence.”
According to members of the JAC, Gbadebo-Smith is a dentist by profession who does not have either an academic master's or a research degree (PhD) but instead holds an executive master's (with several short certificate courses) which is against the Research Institute Establishment Rules.
The JAC alleged that the incumbent DG concurrently runs his private practices Chritie Dental Clinic on Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi, and CPPA located at City Hall, Lagos Island, Lagos, even while still the DG of NISER, in clear violation of not only extant rules but ethical and moral standards.
“This is one of the reasons for his truancy at the Institute headquarters, Ibadan, which he runs by proxy,” JAC stated in a statement.
“He has consistently tagged the institute as “lacking in capacity” at every forum, in a calculated bid to run down, demoralise and dehumanise staff, all for the sake of diverting projects away from NISER to his privately run CPPA. He has also in the criminal habit of Passing-Off most of his private workers at CPPA as NISER staff at official events in Lagos and Abuja, to the detriment of the institute. Only a terrible handyman complains about his tools. If, in your considered opinion, the Institute lacks capacity, what have you done to build it?! In four years, you can't still be complaining about capacity if you were genuinely altruistic about identifying weaknesses and plugging it.
“Gbadebo-Smith, who in his four-year tenure, has hardly, if ever, spent 4 days at a stretch, in any given month at the institute headquarters in Ibadan, was also accused of withholding IT gadgets like iPads & Laptops, which were donated gratis to the institute by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to be shared amongst all staff.
The DG was also accused by the three unions of saddling the institute with a new but non-functional gatehouse with remote-controlled gates. The project was allegedly commissioned by the junior minister in charge of Budget and National Planning, Agba on his first official visit in 2019. The over N30 million facility, not bigger than a one-room self-contained structure, which was supposed to be his first signature project, has never worked for a day before or after commissioning.”
The Unions further alleged that a contract for the renovation of the institute's Administrative Building, comprising works like remodelling of restrooms and extra conference room, well in excess of N350 million, was not approved by Governing Council as stipulated by procurement rules but the contract was split into smaller units and presented to Tenders Board for approval, to give the appearance of having followed due process.
“It is incontestable that financial infractions were committed. Contract splitting is indefensible, for example, a N53 million payment that should have Governing Council approval but was split and paid in first instalment of N40
million (representing 75%) and given Tenders Board approval has not met due process requirement. You merely split the payment to evade Governing Council approval and it is illegal!
“To further compound the atrocious behaviour, most of these payments were made without payment vouchers being prepared and where prepared in some instances, the vouchers were not allowed to pass through all internal checks like Internal Audit and others.
“He has continued to stay in hotels in Ibadan for four years, at federal government (NISER's) expense, since his resumption of office as DG NISER in clear contravention of government rule limiting such to first 28 days. This is despite provision of free quarters at the institute which he not only shunned but has allowed to become terribly dilapidated.
“Gbadebo-Smith was able to get away with all these financial atrocities by whittling down and systemically dismantling long established federal government system checks and balances, including de-staffing the Finance & Accounts Department as well as the Internal Audit. The latter has now been reduced to only two Staff. Other qualified Accountants and Auditors were posted out of headquarters to Zonal offices.”
The Unions had then urged NISER Governing Council and the supervising ministry, National Planning Commission under the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to institute an urgent panel of inquiry to thoroughly investigate the claims and take appropriate actions, like announce the immediate temporary suspension of the DG pending the outcome of the investigation, and start the process for the replacement of a new DG should Gbadebo-Smith be found guilty of all accusations.
However, Gbadebo-Smith, rather than allow governing council thoroughly investigate the matter, influenced Prince Clement Agba, through the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Budget and Planning to dissolve the institute’s Governing Council.
The move, it was gathered, was after an alleged failed attempt to change the Council meeting location from Ibadan to Abuja was resisted by Council and the sitting aborted.
A source disclosed that the move was to ensure the Council’s attempted investigation of the veracity of claims made in the Unions’ petition was not achieved.
According to the source, the Council meeting at the institute's headquarters in Ibadan would have afforded the Council members the opportunity to conduct on-the-spot physical verification of the status of projects.