By John Onah, Abuja
Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education, Arc Sonny Echono, has raised the alarm over a smear campaign allegedly launched by some powerful forces in the Education sector to discredit him.
The Permanent Secretary in an exclusive interview with DAILY ASSET said a news story published in a section of the online media recently linking him to the award of contracts by the sacked management of the National Examinations Council(NECO) led by Acting Registrar, Abubakar Gana, was part of the move to dent his image.
Echono told DAILY ASSET that he had no hand in the award of any contract by NECO adding the contract scandal at the examination body had been well investigated by a panel and a report was being awaited.
He alleged that some of the persons who suspected that the report might indict them were behind the smear campaign against him.
“I never introduced anybody to NECO for any contract or such favours,” he stated.
He said he had refused pressures from different quarters by people seeking his recommendation or introduction to obtain favours at NECO and was surprised that he would be accused of having a hand in contarcts awarded by the agency.
The Permanent Secretary explained that a letter with reference FME/FTC/PROC/Vol.II/12 – seeking for special consideration to adopt ‘Direct Procurement Method’ and Due Process Certificate of ‘No Objection’ to award some contracts in relation to the May/June 2019 SSCE cited by the online media did not in anyway translate to his personal involvement with contracts awarded by the Gana-led management in NECO.
“This letter, which reference was cited was from the procurement Directorate and those familiar with the civil service know that procurement departments work in close liaison with BPP on matters of contract awards,” he explained adding, “it is pure mischief to insinuate that by virtue of an official communication from the Ministry, I was directly or personally involved in NECO contracts”.
The Permanent Secretary disclosed that he and the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, had actually initiated the investigation of NECO contracts as well as investigations into the revenues of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board(JAMB)before the Presidential Committee on Continuous Audit stepped in, and wondered why anybody would turn around to allege his involvement in the contracts scandal at NECO.
Similarly, the Permanent Secretary described as complete falsehood, the allegation that he recommended one Ibrahim Peter Alih to serve as Personal Assistant to the Abubakar Gana and had also imposed him on the new Registrar of NECO, Prof Godswill Obioma.
I have never met this man called Alih, If I see him I won’t even know the person, so how can I “felicitate” the appointment of somebody I don’t know and even “impose” him on this new Registrar as erroneously published?” he queried.
He said it was the height of mischief for the online report to allege that he had approached the Auditor General of the Federation and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to “suppress investigations” into the NECO contracts.
“ I have never had cause to speak with the Auditor General of the Federation in the last one year, so this is strange to me. I spoke with the Permanent Secretary, (Ministry of Finance of Finance) recently on phone on an official matter but it had nothing to do with the alleged appeal to “suppress investigations,” he stated.
He told DAILY ASSET some people embroiled in the leadership crisis at the University of Lagos were also behind the reports that he had approached a powerful tradition ruler in the North to help restore the suspended Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof Oluwatoyin Temitayo Ogundipe.
“This allegation is baseless. As you aware, the Federal Government has set up a Visitation Panel for University of Lagos. The Panel is yet to submit its report, so why would anybody be lobbying for a matter under presidential investigation,” he stated.
Similarly, he explained that himself, Prof Ogundipe and the Chairman of the UniLag Governing Council, Chief Babalakin among others were invited in 2019 to appear before the the House of Representatives Committee on Procurement over a particular contract at the University, which occasion was a public function and was attended by contractors to the project in question.
“ Contrary to what I read online, the Chairman of the Governing Council was indisposed but was represented at the meeting, I was also in attendance with members of the University Management, the question of “begging” the House Committee on behalf of the Vice Chancellor did not arise and was not an issue for discussion at the meeting,” he also explained.
The Permanent Secretary, however said he would not be deterred to continue with the task of working with the Minister of Education to reform the education sector.
“Our insistence that the rules should be followed in all circumstances does not go down well with some people but that is what the Minister and indeed the President has asked us to do. We can not bend the rules to please certain people, no matter how powerful or influential they might be,” he said in the interview.
He said he would not be deterred by the spurious allegations in a section of the media to continue with the discharge of his duties and responsibilities as Permanent secretary and Accounting Officer of the Federal Ministry of Education.