SARATU UMAR: BEFORE WE HEAR ANOTHER STORY
How are the mighty fallen. The Executive Secretary/Chief Executive of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Mrs. Saratu Altine Umar finally got the boot. Umar's sack has joined the notable response of President Goodluck Jonathan to popular demand even though it came at the twilight of his administration. Ordinarily, one should have asked what took the president this long but better late than never. The axed head of NIPC is one more infection that the outgoing Commander in Chief is not leaving behind for his successor.
If only President Jonathan has taken this step earlier, Nigerians would have possibly scored his stance on anti-corruption higher; it would have been better still if the likes of this woman were not allowed anywhere close to the position of responsibility not to talk of the position of the accounting officer of an important agency like the NIPC. The trail of destruction from her previous engagement only became more prominent when she was entrusted with greater responsibility.
Recently, some of us in the Civil Society Organization under the umbrella of the National Democratic Front (NDF) demonstrated against Mrs. Saratu Altine Umar's appointment to pilot the affairs of the NIPC. We had argued that her appointment was done out of misconceptions and lies peddled by her person in her resume to get the job in the first place.
This position was based on what we know about Umar's sojourn at the Nigeria Export-Import (NEXIM) Bank, where as Head of Risk Management, Mrs. Umar became a torn in the flesh of not just the management of the bank but even the regular staff. Allegations of gross misconduct, unethical behavior, unprofessional habits and indiscipline leveled against her, by staff who had cause to stage several protests, were repeatedly swept under the rug apparently because of her connection.
Other allegations that staff at NEXIM pushed into the public space at that time included that Umar's above the law posture was harming the bank. NEXIM was losing face just like it was bleeding financially partculary in an instance in which Umar refused to pay her rent and flagrantly disobeying a Court judgment and caused the Bank to be garnished in a law suit with wide media publicity.
She was eventually sacked by the Board of NEXIM bank and sent home for various damages done to the bank. The dismissed staff instead of going home to attend to petty businesses like selling of palm oil in the market saw herself in a bigger pair of shoes as Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of our major investment organ. She indeed never failed to impress it on commentators that we are proper viewed by the outside world as the most corrupt black nation.
The protest by NDF earlier this month was to highlight our major grouse, which was the fact that Umar had refused to be appraised by her superiors at NEXIM bank to hide her incompetence, inefficiency and lack of professionalism in discharging her duties. She is one who rose to the position she occupied through the instrumentality of godfathers and her patrons in authority. This lack of competence and propensity for sleaze soon became manifest as she proposed a contract of N35 million to furnish the Executive Secretary's office yet she will not approve impress of N100, 000 for the council's zonal offices. Her appetite for dipping into the till is equally matched by a tendency to be overbearing. Little wonder her stay at NIPC was tempestuous as the dictator could not resist the urge to bare her fangs leaving staff complaining about her high handedness.
This was why our protest, which was carried out the constitutional rights to register the group’s dissatisfaction, came under sever attack from Umar's minions and agents of the state acting on her instructions. They openly molested peaceful protesters under the guise that we protested without police permit and that we were adding to the Boko Haram scare in the city.
I could still recall with nostalgia how staffs of the commission accorded me a hero-like reception at a food restaurant when the Police finally released a citizen who went about his patriotic assignment. When my phone rang yesterday it was this same set of hard-working staffs that called to break the good news to me that God has finally set the captives free.
Our message is to the incoming government of the president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari. Saratu Umar has adequately honed her skills as a chameleon; she is already manipulating the narrative to appear as a victim of refusal to play ball a la President Jonathan/PDP's expectations. She is whipping up ethno-regional sentiments laced with claims of gender discrimination. This is the story that Saratu Umar has started packaging and marketing to the incoming administration, which incidentally is putting together its cabinet.
The warning to the next government is that they should know that problematic islets and islands like Saratu Umar were what fused together to form the continent of problems and failures attributed to the outgoing administration. Many serial offenders from the previous governments will take on the garb of pious beings to find a foothold in the new dispensation. But as the administration sets out to verify the credentials of all those laying claims to relevance on account of falling out with President Jonathan, any discerning mind will take a second look at this character called Saratu Umar before we hear another story again.
Written by Philip Agbese.