FeaturesSaratu Umar: Fired Twice From Same Job By Two Presidents

Saratu Umar: Fired Twice From Same Job By Two Presidents



In July 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed a career-oriented woman and investment promotion expert Hajiya Saratu Altine Umar as the new Executive Secretary/ Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission. It was to last for five years. It did not.

Mrs. Saratu Umar had a running battle with some members of staff of NIPC right from the start, from senior to mid level cadre thus making many of them go to work with the kind of apprehension you feel when you don’t know what the boss will be up to next. And true to their fears, Mrs. Umar did pull some surprises, especially her managerial style, her dictatorial tendency, sheer disregard for staff welfare and zero accountability in financial matters. In short, she got on everybody’s nerve and made sure the employees recognised she was a boss no one could mess around with.

What were the allegations against her?

The core of the allegations levelled against her were “incompetence, power-play and ineptitude.” In a statement by Ahmad Ghondi, the staff union chairman of NIPC, “Mrs. Umar violated so many provisions of the Procurement Act in awarding contracts to her cronies and had been running the commission as a private entity.”

One infamous allegation, for instance, was that the new head of the commission issued 50 to 100 queries in one day alone. She also alienated the directors of the board from management meetings which were never held. Then, most astonishingly, she allegedly spent N35m on office furniture. Not only that, she also broke civil service rules by forcing directors who had spent four years to reapply for the same rank instead of the mandatory eight.

It was all too much to bear. Unable to stomach her excesses any longer, the workers decided to take action by themselves: they locked their boss out of the premises. Message? We don’t want you, Madam. Period!

Somehow, Mrs. Umar, who is also a risk management expert, held on. So, the NIPC staff made their grievances known to Olusegun Aganga who was Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment at the time. He, in turn, set up an investigative panel chaired by Abdulkadir Musa, a permanent secretary.

Chief among their complaints was that a body which ought to be “a one-stop investment centre was practically dead and that files containing applications from investors, both within and outside the country, had piled up in her office without her attending to them.”

Continuing, the NIPC staff charged further that rather than hiring local consultants, Saratu “hired five foreign consultants with no value addition for services comprising corporate restructuring, imaging, HR, ICT and accounting that were readily available in Nigeria.” She also, at one time, collected N13m annual leave grant for “her husband and four children” even though she was a single mother with two children.

What did ES of NIPC say to all that?

Her accusers, Saratu declared, “were only aggrieved because she brought innovations to the agency they could not cope with,” charging that “the staff lacked work efficiency while denying the office renovation saga.”

The probe panel was not impressed with her response and so recommended disciplinary measures to the minister who also recommended the same to President Jonathan. In retrospect, it was not only NIPC staff who wanted Saratu Umar out. She had stepped on nearly everyone’s toes during her short stint, from ministers to directors and much else. It was alleged, also, that she leaked a letter, memo written by former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. A year and a month after the appointment, Jonathan finally gave her the boot on May 18, 2015 barely two weeks to handing over to president-elect Muhammadu Buhari.

For most of the staff of NIPC, it was a big relief, the kind of respite you experience after battling a supposedly impregnable force and overcoming it. But the respite was short-lived.

On July 5, 2022, seven years after Jonathan relieved the woman of the plum appointment, his successor Buhari reappointed the same Saratu as head of NIPC. To the entire staff of NIPC, it was not funny. For many of them, God answered their prayers seven years ago after the Jonathan Administration sent her packing. Now, here was the same person coming to resume in the same capacity and possibly returning with her unwholesome ways. Announcing the appointment at the time, presidential spokesman crowed about Saratu’s formidable resume. Garba Shehu pointedly noted that “in the short period of her service as executive secretary, she transformed the NIPC into a world-class investment agency and minimised revenue leakages; saving the country N500 billion for which she received a commendation from the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).”

On her part soon after the job offer, Saratu declaimed thusly: “NIPC has not been as effective as it should have. We are trying to have a strong institution that would promote and coordinate all investments in the Nigerian business climate. We also discovered some financial irregularities and we are trying to manage that. The commission is the first point of contact to the country and we cannot afford to run the place anyhow.”

But just last week, Saratu was again out of a job, having being relieved by the presidency of her duties with “immediate effect.” Though Femi Adesina, spokesperson for the presidency, gave no reason(s) for Saratu’s dismissal, he communicated PMB’s order to Otunba Adebayo Adeniyi, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment. Until a suitable replacement, the most senior director in the commission will take charge in the interim, the source from the Presidency stated.

By that, Saratu has the unique distinction of being a federal government appointee hired and fired by two different presidents for the same offence and for staying in office in both stints just a little above a year. By that, also, it shows that some people in positions of authority never change.

In her reincarnation as ES/ CEO of NIPC, for example, Saratu Umar didn’t learn from her previous mistakes or even managerial style. If anything, according to knowledgeable sources, she became emboldened, more brazen with her second appointment by PMB.

To begin with, NIPC staff received news of her appointment with shocked revulsion. Not again, many of them felt. But there were some who felt she would have learnt from her earlier mistakes. They were wrong.

In a report by Ibrahim Adeyemi of Premium Times, the journalist wrote that “hardly had Mrs Umar spent six months as a returning head of the NIPC than staffers of the institution started grumbling over her alleged abusive management of workers and official duties. In December last year, a memo from all directors of the commission raised an alarm to draw her attention to pressing matters concerning the growth of NIPC which had been abandoned.

“Since she returned to office in July 2022, Mrs Umar was said to have failed to treat files submitted to her, a lethargic attitude towards her duties hampering the growth of the commission…This delay, sometimes running into months, is having a likely unintended consequence on the commission.”

The directors, according to Adeyemi, also chaffed that “Mrs. Umar has failed to convene management meetings to discuss salient issues affecting the institution. They said her lack of commitment constitutes a big gap in the general administration of the commission as directors are not aware of happenings and are not given chances to contribute meaningfully to any activity of the commission.”

Continuing, the journalist reported that “Mrs. Umar was said to have refused to consider pioneer status applications in the past year. She had ignored any memo on the subject matter against the directive of the Minister of Trade and Investment. Meanwhile, the pioneer status incentive (PSI) is a tax holiday granting qualifying industries and products relief from payment of corporate income tax for an initial period of three years.

“Considering the importance of the PSI incentive in providing succour to investors operating within the challenges of the Nigerian landscape, it is concerning that only one meeting has been held…Even at that, no application was considered.”

Worse still are the charges of corrupt practices against Saratu in her second coming. It was as if nothing really changed. Adeyemi stated further that Uchenna Okonkwo, chairman of the Anti-corruption and Transparency Unit of NIPC, petitioned Umar “over issues bothering on corrupt financial transactions and violations of both the Public Procurement Act and the Financial Regulations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

One unbelievable instance had Saratu making fraudulent transactions running into millions. The allegation was made last December. In her second time around, the petitioner accused her of “making mischievous appointments in the agency, including re-engaging one Mutawalli Kukawa as a “Technical Support”, after retiring from NIPC as a Deputy Director,” and “another sum of five million naira was paid to the personal account of one Yusuf Mustapha as a resource person in an event insiders said was never held.

“This payment was in contravention and violation of Extant Financial Regulation Federal Treasury Circular on E-payment and Public Procurement Act,” Okonkwo went on, “which caps the amount payable to any public officer for procuring goods and services not to exceed N200, 000.”

PMB’s termination of Saratu’s appointment surely puts an end to her inexcusable administrative style and extravagant ways. But one question remains: Why and how did a president whose mantra has been to fight corruption in the public service in Nigeria appoint a woman already indicted for the same offence years before?

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