By Gideon Njoku
Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, a widow, is the third woman, in the history of Nigeria’s Civil Service to head the Civil Service. The two others before her retired gloriously from the Service. Hers is likely to end ingloriously unless a miracle happens.
She may be sacked from office. If that happens, she will be the third high profile office holder from the South-South to lose a high profile office in recent times.
The first was former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen. The second is the Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Mr Okon Obono-Obla who was, early this week, suspended from office and asked to appear before the ICPC to answer questions bordering on alleged forgery and corruption.
President Muhammadu Buhari suprised not a few when he appointed Oyo-Ita the Head of Service in 2015. She was not the most senior Permanent Secretary. But it turns out she worked with Buhari when he was the Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF.
Now she is in trouble, and under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Oyo-Ita’s problem started last week on her arrival to Abuja from Lagos where she had gone for the funeral ceremony of Mrs Morin Ani, wife of a former Minister for Finance, Etubon Anthony Ani. She was picked by EFCC Operatives and kept in a house where she was interrogated for about four days. For the number of days her interrogation lasted, only two of her aides had access to her – her Police Orderly, and a female Personal Assistant.
The story of her arrest began as a rumour. Not many people took it seriously, seeing that it came on the eve of the Muslim long holiday.
The initial story was that she was arrested over two things – the Civil Servants Insurance Scheme which is yet to take off, and which file is ,allegedly, still on the desk of Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to the President, and secondly, for some malfeasance on the part of some of her subordinates in the office. Many wondered how she could be arrested and kept incommunicado over those two allegations. To compound it, a story has already been built around a senior Permanent Secretary who desperately wants her job and, a spat she publicly had with Kyari at the Federal Executive Council Chambers as the reason for her arrest.
But the EFCC did a good job of not letting the story of her arrest become public, perhaps because of the office she occupies.
She had already been released, without her phone, before her arrest became public.
And when it did, it was something more serious than the initial allegations for which she was arrested.
According to reports, as published in The Nation newspaper of Wednesday, Oyo-Ita was arrested and quizzed by the EFFC over an alleged fraud of about Three Billion Naira.
The allegations against her include abuse of Duty Tour Allowance, DTA, money laundering, and outright stealing of government funds.
Initially, she was not the target of investigations. A former Minister who she worked under, was the target. But while investigating the ex-Minister, EFCC detectives stumbled on slush funds allegedly connected to the Head of Service.
A source close to the investigation, according to The Nation, said: “Preliminary investigation confirm that she used different cronies to obtain contracts from ministries, departments and agencies.
“There were proofs of how she secured contracts through proxy firms from ministries.There was abuse of office because there was evidence of pressure on permanent secretaries, to get her contracts. She moved from one ministry to the other.”
Oyo-Ita allegedly was, also, involved in falsification of DTAs.
It is also alleged that the sum of N600 million has been traced to the account of her close aide, who was unable to explain how the money was made. The account has been frozen by the EFCC.
Even though Oyo-Ita has been granted administrative bail, and is required to be reporting to the EFCC, there are fears that President Buhari may place her on suspension pending the outcome of the EFCC investigations.
If that happens, the likelihood of her returning to office is unlikely.