In apparent breach of service rule, the tenure of the managing director of Hydraulic Equipment Development Institute, HEDI, Abdulmalik Onuwe, has been renewed by the federal government despite facing charges of corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
HEDI, headquartered in Kano, is a federal government agency under the supervision of Ministry of Science and Technology through National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, NASENI.
DAILY NIGERIAN gathered that Mr Onuwe is currently standing trial for allegedly inflating the promotion arrears of the staff of the institute and diverting the excess funds to a company linked to him.
According to documents seen by this newspaper, in 2016 Mr Onuwe was discovered to have defrauded HEDI by inflating the promotion arrears of its staff to the tune of N8,563,530.49.
The Managing Director also diverted the Institute’s funds to a company, Seamface Global Solutions Limited, believed to be owned by him.
On April 24, 2016, a petition was filed against Mr Onuwe at the EFCC, detailing how he inflated promotion arrears of the staff and diverted same into his company account.
In the course of the investigation, DAILY NIGERIAN gathered that the EFCC also discovered that one Hassan Aminu, the accountant of the institute, was accomplice of Mr Onuwe in committing the alleged fraud.
Security sources told this newspaper that during the probe, the anti-graft agency also invited some members of staff of HEDI for questioning, after which more links related to where funds were diverted were established.
DAILY NIGERIAN further learnt that the EFCC discovered that the accused persons, with clear intention to defraud the institute, inflated the promotion arrears of the members of staff by processing 25 months arrears instead of 13 months.
Our investigation further revealed that the staff concerned were requested by Mr Onuwe to return the excess money paid to them through the account of the aforementioned company, which were later traced and found in possession of the accused persons.
Among the documents seen by DAILY NIGERIAN, some of the staff of HEDI were not entitled for promotion in a certain year, but were paid certain amount of money, but asked to remit substantial part of it into Mr Onuwe’s company account and hand over the remaining to Mr Aminu.
One of the witnesses, who is a staff of the institute, told the court that he was entitled to 13 months promotion arrears but was paid the sum of N1,158,459.15 which was above what he was entitled to be paid.
He added that he was subsequently instructed to return N547,023.65, which he complied to.
Some of the staff who were due for promotion were however paid arrears higher than their entitlement, and later asked to return the money through same account.
The staff were also invited to testify against the accused persons in court and had volunteered information regarding the charges against the defendants.
Satisfied that that a prima facie case was established against the two suspects, the EFCC charged them to a Kano High Court 4 on May 2 last year.
However, despite being charged to court over the alleged corruption, DAILY NIGERIAN learnt that the two suspects are still in service for about 3 years, in contravention to Rule 030406 of Public Service Rules (2008).
The rule states that, “It shall apply where a prima facie case, the nature of which is serious, has been established against an officer and it is considered necessary in the public interest that he/she should forthwith be prohibited from carrying on his duties. Pending investigation into the misconduct, the Federal Civil Service Commission or the Permanent Secretary/Head of Extra Ministerial Office (if within his/her delegated powers) shall forthwith suspend him/her from the exercise of the powers and functions of his/her office and from the enjoyment of his/her emolument.”
But despite of the aforementioned provision of the Civil Service Rule, the two suspects are still enjoying their emoluments.
A lawyer, Abba Hikima, explained that the implication of this provision is that once it is determined that there is a prima facie case against a civil servant, they can be suspended even before they are arraigned before a court of law.
According to him, the situation is “staggering”, adding that this could only happen when the person in question is a darling of the top officers in the ministry in charge.
“Otherwise, this is simply impossible. It is a dangerous signal to other civil servants especially in this agency that they can get away with financial misappropriation,” the legal practitioner said.
Inside sources told DAILY NIGERIAN that all petitions and complaints filed to the office of President Muhammadu Buhari, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and other concerned authorities against Mr Onuwe fell into deaf ears.
“Even on October 22, 2018, we wrote a letter to the minister of Science and Technology, copied the letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, Head of Civil Service, Secretary to Government of the Federation, and other authorities but until now, nothing has been done.
“This is uncalled for. In the era of anti-corruption war, President Buhari should have ordered for the suspension of this MD and his accomplice because they violated Civil Service Rules.
“As I am talking to you now, the MD is still in office and receives all his emoluments. He is even using the office resources to defend his case. This is not proper and this corruption fight will never be successful provided it would remain to be selective and lopsided,” an aggrieved staff said.
The staff urged the president and minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu to do the needful in order to serve as deference to others.
Several efforts to contact Mr Onuwe were unsuccessful and calls were not getting through his number. He did not also reply to DAILY NIGERIAN text messages seeking his response on the issue.