BY SONIA O’ABA
On a typical day a motorcade fit for a royalty or emperor cruises through the heart of Wuse in Nigeria’s capital city, conspicuously. Nestled in a black, tinted Nissan Jeep with an outrider and escort vehicles is the man who has come to symbolize the National Agency for food and Drug Administration and control (NAFDAC) in the past couple of years. But given the number of vehicles that makes up this motorcade, you would be forgiven for assuming that the occupant of the multi-million Nissan Jeep is a state governor or visiting head of a foreign government rather than the director-General of NAFDAC.
Indeed, such has been the significant metamorphosis of the Drug Agency’s boss since Dr. Paul Orhii mounted the saddle following the exit of the hugely popular Dora Akunluyi that he (Orhii) has earned the sobriquet of ‘’Emperor’’. The reason is not hard to divine: “Under Dora Akunluyi, accountability and transparency reigned supreme, but under the present leadership of Paul Orhii, dictatorship underscored by impunity in the handling of the Agency’s funds and staff welfare, has become the order of the day”, according to a senior NAFDAC staffer who asked not to be named for fear of being victimized.
Few at the Wuse headquarters of NAFDAC know this better than the then Director of Finance, Ademola Mogbojuri. Barely had Orhii replaced Akunyili than Mogbojuri, a renowned technocrat and accountancy wizard, started to notice a disturbing trend in the handling of the agency’s funds. “Unlike what obtained in the Akunyili era and even before then, the present D.G., Orhii in his own infinite wisdom opted to be operating with little or no regard to due process,” the source added. “He would, typically, just award a contract and /or conjure some expenditure just like that, all the while expecting the poor man (Ademola Mogbojuri) to approve such payments. But being a reputable technocrat,the finance director would thread softly, only for Orhii to see this as disloyalty and thus vowed to get rid of him“.
DESERT HERALD was informed that the bubble began to burst when NAFDAC workers started to grumble over the arrears of their accumulated allowances which Orhii had allegedly refused to pay despite the fact that the agency generates nearly N10 billion annually. Outraged by what It sees as management’s nonchalant attitude to their welfare, the workers’ labour union (Medical and health workers’ union of Nigeria- MHWUN-NAFDAC chapter) girded its loins for war. In the words of MHWUNS chairman, comrade Ibrahim Attah, and secretary, Comrade Anzaku Joseph, they could no longer fold their hands and let their situation deteriorate. They threatened to embark on a full-scale industrial action within two weeks if management continued to treat them shabbily.
Putting the matter in proper perspective, Mogbojuri, who was eventually kicked out by the “emperor” of NAFDAC, pointed out that the problem was not lack of funds with to run the outfit, but mismanagement. Hear him: “Before he (Orhii) joined the agency in 2009, the annual total revenue of NAFDAC was about N2.5 billion and he met around N600 million in the account. Now, the total internally generated revenue (IGR) is about N9 billion and (yet) the agency owes about N5 billion in debt”.
How did this shocking descent from grace to grass happen under the watch of Orhii in such a relatively short time? According to multiple sources at the agency who talked to this medium in confidence, squandermania and inflated contracts are at the root of NACDAC’s predicament. It was alleged, for instance, that the multi-million naira contract for the agency’s drug testing laboratory in Lagos was not only grossly inflated by the Orhii-led management, but was allegedly awarded to a company fronting for him. In the same vein, Orhii was said to always prioritise his personal enjoyment over workers’ welfare by frequently allocating tens of millions of naira to the director general’s office for expenditures couched in vague terms such as “office and residential maintenance”, “tour of official duty”, and so forth.
The embattled NAFDAC boss, according to inside sources, has been taking undue advantage of the policy that permits the agency to be self-sustaining. Under this policy, NAFDAC not only generates its own funds but spends it as it pleases. “Even then, this latitude has never been brazenly abused by any of the previous DGs of out agency as in the case under the current leadership”, one of the insiders told DESERT HERALD. “This, for example, explains why under Orhii’s predecessor our bank balance was always healthy and staff salaries and allowances were never an issue because they were always paid very promptly. But since the present DG came things had been going from bad to worse due to his reckless and dictatorial style”.
It was gathered that running the agency in a manner akin to an oil sheikh presiding over his personal estate, Orhii frequently instructs the account chaps to pay his crannies and fronts “all sorts of amount running into millions for all kinds of questionable or fictitious service”. The height of his reckless spending, the sources added was prior to and during the last general election when he reportedly approved various payments totally nearly N2 billion as part of his hush-hush contribution to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election campaign.
Apparently, the dictator of NAFDAC not only brooks no opposition but finds it difficult to understand why any of his “subjects” in the account department would have the temerity to delay whatever payment he (Orhii) decrees. This, in fact, was the major “sin” of the former finance Director. Giving an insight into this matter, none other than Orhii himself indirectly confirmed that Mogbojuri was fond of dilly-dallying in respect in honouring payment instructions.
“For me, I would rather collect a loan from the banks and execute my project,” Orhii declared in a recent media chat. “He (Mogbojuri) was supposed to be on top of the issue, dividing the money as it comes into statutory payment. Then if there was staff claims, but put that separate from other payments that needed to be paid”. Apparently for not toeing this particular part as dictated by the tin god of NAFDAC, the finance Director was promptly fired.
Ever since then, and especially since Mogbojuri replacement with another finance director said to be Orhii’s “Veritable lackey”, the NAFDAC is reportedly on a binge, “spending our money with shock impunity and collecting bank loans anyhow he pleases,” according to aforementioned staff. Efforts by our correspondent get Orhii’s reaction was unsuccessful, including an official correspondence requesting for the Agency’s side of the critical issues in question.
Giving the “Animal Farm” “sort of mess prevailing at NAFDAC under Orhii’s watch the pertinent posers on many lips are: for how long will “the Emperor” be allowed to continue running amock at NAFDAC expenses? In the face of President Buhari’s change mantra, will Aso Rock close its eyes to the rot in NAFDAC or will the needful be done sooner than later? Time shall tell.
COMING NEXT IN DH
Who are the “hatchet men” being used by the NAFDAC strongman to execute his “reign of impunity and financial recklessness”? What desperate measures have Orhii been embarking on with a view to prolonging his lamentable tenure at all costs and by all means? What are the details of the fabulous wealth which the hitherto pauper–like NAFDAC chief has amassed in a relatively short time since he mounted the saddle?
For the mind – blowing answers to these and other such posers, watch out for the concluding part of this insightful series in the next edition of your indispensable DESERT HERALD Newspaper. It is revealing, absorbing and explosive!!
BY SONIA O’ABA