By Ibidapo Balogun in Abuja
What should constitute the very first substantive appointment of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, might have been mired in controversy and bad blood even before its formal pronouncement.
Subdued murmurs and simmering discontent are trailing the process of the appointment of the successor to the immediate-past Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF) Mr. Jonah Otunla, who left office about a fortnight ago.
Following the exit of Otunla from office, erstwhile Director of Funds in the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) Mr. Mohammed Dikwa, was deployed to the position in acting capacity, pending the appointment of a substantive AGF.
WESTERN POST learnt that Dikwa is said to be the second most senior Director in the OAGF, behind one Mr. Omoniyi Fagbemi, the Director of Revenue.
Beyond the office of the OAGF, Dikwa ranks at No 18 in the order of seniority of Directors of Finance and Accounts in the employment of the Civil Service of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
WP sources in the Federal Civil Service Commission said in defiance of extant service rules and regulations, and in dereliction of the directives of President Buhari that the most senior director after Otunla be appointed to act in the position, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Danladi Kifasi, deployed Dikwa to the position.
This development, viewed in civil service circles as inimical to seniority, experience and discipline, naturally triggered mass dissatisfaction in the civil service.
The handling of the screening procedures for the eventual appointment of a substantive AGF has equally heightened suspicions, which may question the integrity and veracity of the process.
Further to a tradition enthroned by former Head of Service Steve Oronsaye to ensure transparency, applicants aspiring to various leadership positions in the civil service including those of Permanent Secretary, Accountant General and Auditor General, among others, are required to write qualifying examinations and undergo further screening.
According to sources, 34 directors of finance and accounts across the civil service sat for the most recent qualifying examination.
Based on performance in the three-stage test, the number should have been whittled down to a more manageable size to enable oral interface, before recommendation for presidential approval.
The template, which was put in place and followed religiously under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was for the best three candidates, following tests and screening for top-level service positions, to be proposed for eventual ratification at the discretion of the President.
This applied to Vice-Chancellorships, Chief Medical Directorships, Rectors and Provosts of federal government-owned tertiary institutions and health facilities, and by extension other service appointments.
Without regards for this rule, however, four of the 34 candidates who sat for the AGF qualifying examination were randomly selected for post-screening, in circumstances which sources said were anything but transparent.
These include one Alhaji Idris Mamman, Director, Finance and Accounts in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Dikwa.
While Mamman came ninth in the examination, Dikwa placed a distant 29th.
“If merit, transparency and due process were followed, both officers will not make the post examination interface,” said a top civil service source.
It does seem, however, that there is a subtle attempt to narrow the options for eventual presentation for presidential assent, to the North-East geo-political zone, where Kifasi comes from.
Whereas Kifasi is from Taraba State, Mamman and Dikwa are both from Borno in the same North East zone.
The apprehension in the service, therefore, is that the process of the emergence of the incoming AGF has been deliberately skewed in favour of Kifasi’s zone.
According to the source: ‘The argument for skipping Fagbemi for Dikwa in the appointment of an acting AGF is that he comes from the South -West, like the erstwhile AGF Otunla.
“When did it become a crime for people serving in the same establishment to come from the same zone? If the Office of the Head of Service, OHOSF, is not working towards a premeditated result, why didn’t the office make its shortlist based strictly on the results of the examination conducted specifically for the appointment of a new AGF?” one watcher of the development who pleaded not to be mentioned asked.
“The OHOSF has impugned the integrity and fairness of the whole process with the dispassionate manner it has handled it thus far,” he added.
According to the source, it will be a major disservice to the fledgling Buhari administration if it allows itself to be railroaded into acts and practices, which will question its avowed anti-corruption stance and its commitment to due process.
The source said: “Rumours are rife that the process has been unwittingly compromised and corrupted. Just like it happened in the run-up to the recent controversial elections into leadership positions in the National Assembly, staggering sums of money in hundreds of millions of naira are said to have changed hands on this matter.
“If this were not the case, why would an officer indicted in the controversy of 2007 which culminated in the removal from office of a former Minister of State for Health at the time, an officer who sought refuge in the civil service after being dismissed from his former duty post as Finance Controller in a Kaduna-based sugar company, suddenly emerged in the front line of contestants for a serious position of trust like that of the AGF?”
The source expressed the hope that as an experienced and tested administrator, President Buhari will take more than a passing interest in the process leading to the first substantive appointment which will bear his imprimatur.
“The most popular nickname for President Buhari is Baba Mai Gaskiya, which translates as man of honesty and integrity. Nigerians want to see this at play in this particular instance,” the source concluded.