By Ovie Okpare & Onome Oghenetega
Following the backlash that greeted the unlawful removal of the former Director-General of the Delta State Traffic Management Authority (DESTMA), Olorogun Stephen Dieseruvwe by the State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, the government has allegedly reversed Dieseruvwe’s removal by paying him all his salaries and entitlements till end of tenure.
Several civil society groups including the Conference for the Actualisation of Human Rights led by Mr. Omes Ogedegbe had dragged Governor Okowa to court over the illegal removal of the then DESTMA boss.
NIGER DELTA TODAY Online can exclusively gathered that Okowa reportedly rescinded the decision and ordered that Dieseruvwe’s salaries and other entitlements be paid to June 2020 when his tenure was expected to end.
Our correspondents reliably gathered that the ex-DESTMA DG, a United Kingdom (UK’s) trained traffic management expert, had subsequently been paid on the order of the State Governor.
It was gathered that Okowa had discovered that Dieseruvwe’s removal was unlawful after receiving legal advices from the State Head of Service and Ministry of Justice on the consequences of his action.
Sources abreast of the development explained that both the Head of Service (HOS) and the Ministry of Justice had suggested to the State Governor to reinstate the former DESTMA DG as he had not committed any offence cited in the act establishing the agency for his removal.
One of the sources, however, explained that the advice from the HoS and the Ministry of Justice was said to have reached the Governor late since Okowa had already appointed the current Director-General, Mr. Samuel Azubuike Idah as his replacement.
Another source confided on our correspondents that “the Governor was already bent on removing Dieseruvwe by all means as he was no longer comfortable with him for whatever reason. It was learnt that the former DESTMA DG played a role in the drafting of the Agency’s Bill under former Governor Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan before it was passed into law.
“One of the things that counted against the former DESTMA boss was that Okowa doesn’t personally know him, and his appointment was influenced by his predecessor, Dr Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan. And that Governor Okowa wanted someone he trusted hence Dieseruvwe’s unlawful removal.”
How Okowa Launched Dieseruvwe’s Removal
Governor Okowa appointed Dieseruvwe on June 14, 2016 as the Director-General of DESTMA in a letter of appointment (Our Ref: No.SGD 399/T90/106) signed by the then Secretary to the State, Hon. Festus Ovie Agas. Dieseruvwe’s appointment was to run for a tenure of four years.
However, on 27th and 28th May, 2019, the State Government through the then SSG, Agas had issued two Government Special Announcements dissolving government MDAs, Parastatals and Agencies with DESTMA not mentioned in the two circulars dissolving the boards.
Upon the appointment of the current Secretary to the State Government, Mr Chiedu Ebie, Governor Okowa was briefed that Dieseruvwe was still functioning as Director-General of DESTMA. Okowa was alleged to have been angered by the development, and subsequently directed SSG to handle the issue.
NIGER DELTA TODAY Online gathered that on Thursday 6th June 2019, Ebie in line with the Governor’s directive, reportedly called the former DESTMA DG on phone to know why he was still going to work when he had been removed from his position.
Ebie subsequently summoned Dieseruvwe to a meeting at his office on June 9, 2019 where the former traffic boss in the state explicitly informed the SSG, a former Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, that he was not affected by the dissolution.
The SSG informed Dieseruvwe that Governor Okowa said he (the then DESTMA boss) had been relieved of his duty as the head of the traffic agency in the state. This was done without any formal letter of communication stating that he had been removed from his position. No reason was given for his removal.
What DESTMA Act Says About DG’s Removal
Former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan signed the bill establishing the Delta State Traffic Management Authority into law on Tuesday December 3rd, 2013 after passing through all the legal process at the State House of Assembly for its operation.
None of the reasons advanced in the Act for the removal of the Director-General was followed in the removal of Dieseruvwe by Governor Okowa. No reason was cited by the government for the unlawful removal of Dieseruvwe who was just barely three years into his four years tenure as DESTMA boss.
According to the law, “The Governor may remove the Chairman or Director-General from office on the ground of insanity, inability to perform the functions of his office or for gross misconduct (C113).”
However, in a bid to justify Dieseruvwe’s removal, the state government hurriedly sent a circular to the Permanent Secretary of Directorate of Transport, instructing him to take charge of the day to day activities of DESTMA while announcing the removal of then DESTMA DG via the circular, but the DG was not copied.
Dieseruvwe was not communicated of his removal till date.
Irked by his wrongful removal from office, the then DESTMA DG wrote a protest letter to the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the State, Mr. Peter Mrakpor, protesting his unlawful termination of his appointment.
A copy of the letter obtained by NIGER DELTA TODAY Online was dated 22 October, 2019.
Our correspondents further learnt that Dieseruvwe who was alleged to have opted for legal actions against the administration of Governor OKowa was said to have been prevailed upon to drop such action as it was clear that he had not committed any crime for him to be embarrassingly removed in the manner he was treated.
Okowa Allegedly Reverses Dieseruvwe’s Removal
This medium which has been monitoring the removal and alleged subsequent reversal of the sack of the former DESTMA boss learnt that, the Governor, to avoid unnecessary legal battles, ordered that Dieseruvwe be immediately paid all his salaries and severance gratuity to the end of tenure.
Sources within the government informed our correspondent that Okowa made the order on 02/03/2020 in a file No: HOS.36/199/93 following the protest letter written by the ex-DESTMA boss to the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General.
An official in the office of the SSG confirmed the payment of the outstanding 13 months salaries and severance gratuity to this reporter. This was collaborated by the former DESTMA boss.
It was further gathered that Okowa had warned against leaking the reversal of Dieseruvwe’s removal to journalists so as not to make mockery of his administration which has come under criticism in recent times.
Our correspondents learnt that a similar arbitrary sacking also took place at Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) when Dr. Emibra Efiriandi Agbeotu was unlawfully removed from office as member of DSIEC in 2017.
Unlike Dieseruvwe, Agbeotu dragged the State Governor (1st respondent), Delta State House Assembly (2nd respondent), DSIEC (3rd respondent) and the Attorney General of the State (4th respondent) to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, in suit No: NICN/YEN/7M/2019.
The court presided over by Hon. Justice Bashar A. Alkali decided the case in favour of the claimant, declaring that his removal was illegal and ordered that he should be paid all his entitlements to the end of his tenure.
“The purported termination of the claimant’s (Agbeotu) appointment or disengagement as a member of the 3rd defendant by the 1st and 2nd vide letter dated 14th September, 2017 is unlawful, ultra vires, null, void and of no effect whatsoever and same is hereby set aside.
“The claimant is entitled to all his remuneration including his salaries and allowances for the remainder of the period of his tenure as member of the 3rd defendant which is to terminate on 23/7/2018”, the court ruled.
It was gathered that the ruling was not appealed and Agbeotu’s entitlements were subsequently paid by the state government.
Our correspondents gathered that to avoid similar scenario, the state government reversed Dieseruvwe’s removal and subsequently paid all his salaries until the end of his tenure and his severance gratuity as the head of the State’s Traffic Agency.
Okowa Didn’t Reversed Dieseruvwe’s Removal As DESTMA DG – Delta SSG
However, when contacted for reaction, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Chiedu Ebie, debunked the claims that the governor reversed the removal of the former DESTMA boss.
Ebie, a lawyer, explained that Olorogun Dieseruvwe was only paid his entitlements following Governor Okowa’s approval to that effect.
According to him, “You said his removal was reversed? How was it reversed? Was he reversed as DG of DESTMA or where is the reversal? Somebody is paid his entitlement, is that a reversal? It’s not a reversal. You serve at the will and the pleasure of the governor when you are appointed.
“Every political appointee serves at the will and pleasure of the governor. Same way at the federal level, you serve at the will and pleasure of Mr. President. Some entitlements due to him, the governor approved that such entitlement been paid to him. So, where is the reversal?
“Entitlements were paid to him, I didn’t say salaries. What we paid him is entitlements. I have explained to you that in the first place, you serve at the will and pleasure of the governor, so the governor has the right to appoint, reappoint, and terminate and so on. Some entitlements were due to him and he wrote and the governor approved that those entitlement should be paid. And that was what was done.”
When, however, asked by one of our correspondents details of the entitlements, the SSG said, “I am not at liberty to disclose that to you. You can ask him what those entitlements were for. Why don’t you ask him if he was officially communicated of his removal? He’s aware. Ask him.
“I don’t know what the issue is but he had been paid his entitlements. He is happy. Nobody is going to deprive you of your right so why trying to make a mole out of an anthill asking whether it was communicated to him? You are a journalist, aren’t you? Let me even help you out, the NECO Registrar two weeks ago or last week that was removed…official communication can come in any shape and size.
“You can communicate on TV if the appropriate authority makes the announcement. Why do you ask questions you already know the answers? You know how government works. He (removal) was officially communicated to him. Like I have said to you, his entitlements were paid, of which, he already sent a message saying thank you. His tenure was terminated and someone else was appointed and entitlements were due to him and they have been paid. That’s the most important thing.
“He’s appreciative of the fact that he was paid within a very short period of time. What story do you want to run again? Is the man complaining? Call him and ask him if is him complaining? If he is complaining, I’m not aware of it. Alright? Even his last message to me was SSG I would love to meet with the governor to express my appreciation to him (governor). That message was sent on 26 March, 2020 and I said he can send him (governor) a text and he said okay.
“Someone that said he wants to express his appreciation for expeditiously approving and processing of his entitlements (it’s not the governor responsibility to process it, it is the system) what more is there? He has been gratified and everybody moves on. As an SSG today, I can wake tomorrow, that a new SSG has been appointed. Will I say I was not officially communicated? Once the right authority – SSG, CPS to the Governor, and Commissioner for Information or a personal aide to the governor – says it. That is all.
“In government, they don’t give you letter that your appointment has been terminated. Just remember that people serve at the will and pleasure of the Governor at the State level and the President at the Federal level. What that means is that your appointment can be terminated. If it’s tenure appointment which states that you are to serve for specific period, then there will be entitlements that will be due to you. In some cases, people don’t even respect that but we (Delta government) respect the rule of law.”
I Was Paid Salary/Entitlements To End Of Tenure – Dieseruvwe Insists
Meanwhile, the former DESTMA DG, Dieseruvwe when contacted confirmed being paid his salaries and entitlements to the end of tenure by the state government at the instance of Governor Okowa to the end of his tenure after he was removed from office.
He also confirmed NIGER DELTA TODAY Online’s investigation that his removal was verbally communicated to him.
While answering enquiries from our correspondent, Dieseruvwe explained that “My removal from office before the expiration of my four years statutory tenured appointment did not follow the provisions set out in the Act establishing DESTMA.
“It is not total true that all political appointments are at the will and pleasure of the Chief Executive, as tenured appointments have different rules governing them, which can be found in the relevant sections of the establishment Act.
“On the issue of termination of my appointment, the removal was verbal, as there was no formal communication. In the two Government Special Announcements on the dissolution of Government MDAs and Agencies, DESTMA was not captured; therefore my verbal removal negated the tenets of any statutory tenured employment or appointment.
“It was based on this that I wrote demanding the payment of my salary to end of tenure June 2020, be paid, alongside the severance gratuity, which the Governor approved, which I have equally received.
On the issue of wanting to see the Governor, the former DESTMA boss stated, “it was based courtesy of showing appreciation for allowing me serve in his Government, albeit the fact that I was unlawfully removed, I still deemed it wise to still say ‘thank you’ for the period I served.”