The Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, has demoted a former acting director-general of the agency, Chima Igwe.

PUNCH Metro learnt that Igwe had been asked to revert to principal research officer, the position he held before claiming to have bagged a doctorate from the Universite d’Abomey-Calavi, Benin Republic, over 18 years ago.

Our correspondent learnt that the decision followed the governing board’s ratification of the recommendations of the disciplinary committee, which sat over Igwe’s case.

The Ministry of Science and Technology was said to have also been informed of the development.

However, it was learnt that Igwe had refused to comply with the directive, as the demotion made him a junior official in the institute.

Igwe, a first class graduate of Chemistry from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, had finished with a pass during his master’s at the University of Lagos, Akoka.

He subsequently proceeded to the Universite d’Abomey-Calavi, Benin Republic, where he claimed to have bagged a doctorate in 2001.

However, he could only produce an attestation document for the PhD. The document was signed by his supervisor, Prof. Mansour Moudachirou.

On the basis of that document, he was promoted from principal research officer to chief research officer, deputy director and director.

The attestation document became a subject of controversy in 2019 when the tenure of the former DG, Prof. Gloria Elemo, ended and Igwe was made the acting DG.

An official petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, seeking a probe of Igwe’s PhD.

While the ICPC delayed in releasing its report, our correspondent investigated and reported that Igwe had not completed the doctoral programme.

The ICPC released a report clearing Igwe of wrongdoing, but later backtracked and reopened investigation.

After direct communication with the Benin university, the ICPC spokeswoman, Rasheedat Okoduwa, confirmed The PUNCH’s investigation that the official did not have a PhD yet.

There were protests by workers, who said the image of the institute had been damaged and demanded Igwe’s dismissal and prosecution.

Based on the ICPC’s report, the 58-year-old was suspended by the FIIRO governing board and a disciplinary procedure was instituted against him.

Our correspondent reported that in February 2020, the embattled Igwe returned to Benin Republic to defend his thesis before a panel, which included his ally and a FIIRO officer, Dr Ahmed Aroke.

A senior FIIRO official, who did not want to be identified, said the Benin institution confirmed that Aroke was indeed present during the defence.

“Aroke was queried for travelling to Benin without permission. I was told that the board will sanction him for the action,” he added.

The source also informed PUNCH Metro that Igwe’s fate had been sealed.

The source said, “The committee looked at the issues exhaustively. During the investigation, Igwe brought a new attestation document that the school gave him. The committee contacted the Benin university and confirmed that he attended the public defence.

“We discovered that the Benin Ministry of Education issues certificates and not the universities. So, he does not have a certificate yet. However, the attestation indicated the effective date of the degree. It was signed in February 2020, meaning that he finished in February 2020. The implication is that all the achievements he claimed were on wrong grounds.

“So, he is going back to where he belongs. If he graduated in 2020, then it means those who graduated before him are his seniors. That means the principal research officer, which he was before graduating, is where he should revert to. That is the position of the board.”

Our correspondent learnt that the board’s decision had been communicated to Igwe and the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu.

The ministry was said to have sent an acknowledgement copy last Wednesday.

PUNCH Metro, however, gathered that there was a plot by top ministry officials to force Igwe on the board and the institute.

A source said the permanent secretary in the ministry had asked that the acting director-general, Dr Agnes Asagbra, be addressed as ‘Overseeing DG.’

It was gathered that Igwe, since his suspension, had refused to revert to his old rank.

“But the truth is that the former position of director, which he left, is now being headed by the most senior person in that department. When he returns, he will find people who are more senior than him, because he only graduated this year. Even the board’s decision to return him to principal research officer is magnanimous,” another top source said.

The FIIRO Board Chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Gwarzo, confirmed that the disciplinary committee had concluded investigation and a report had been submitted to the ministry.

He, however, refused to disclose the content of the report.

 “We will ask the public relations department of FIIRO to communicate with you at the right time. Thank you,” he said.

When contacted, the FIIRO Public Relations Officer, Chris Olumuyiwa, said he would call back our correspondent.

He had yet to do so as of press time.

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