In 2019, Richard Oghenerhoro Martins, a civil servant in the Human Resource Department of the Ministry of Works and Housing, discovered that the employment letters of about 302 newly employed staff in the ministry were fake.
His curiosity had been stirred by their manner of resumption, which he said was against the civil service rule. According to Martins, newly employed staff members of the federal government often resume duty at the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. This, he said, is because their employment letters came from the Federal Civil Service Commission, after which they are deployed to the ministry that sought their employment.
However, when the new staff resumed at the Ministry of Works and Housing, he probed further and found that their employment letters were fake.
Speaking with Daily Trust Saturday, Martins said he reported his findings to his superiors and it prompted a letter to the Federal Civil Service Commission to authenticate his findings. Following this, the commission reviewed all staff recruitments in the ministry from 2013 to 2020.
Unknown to him, what started as a patriotic gesture on his part, would cause him demotion, torment and even threaten his job.
In a letter dated May 09, 2022, which was sent to the ministry’s permanent secretary in the Federal Civil Service Commission, had concluded that the appointment letters of 23 staff were fake and it identified 14 from the Works section and 9 from the Housing section.
The letter, which was made available to this newspaper, was signed by the commission’s Director, Recruitment and Appointment, Ibrahim Anjugu, which declared that the individuals identified were holding offices illegally and ordered that they be immediately relieved of their duties and return any government’s property in their possession.
Speaking with Daily Trust Saturday on his role in the breakthrough, Martins explained that the fake appointment letters were possible due to a process called vacancy declaration in the civil service.
The process allows ministries to declare vacancies to the Head of Service at the end of every year. “Based on that, the civil service will recruit new staff and send them to the ministry based on the vacancy declaration,” he said.
He explained that the vacancies would become existent when a civil servant dies on duty or willfully resigned or is dismissed or retired. Therefore, in the course of replacement, he explained that racketeers and some staff of the ministry, work together to come up with fake letters to join the mix of authentic ones.
“With this, those with fake employment find their way to be captured on the IPPIS platform. That was how I discovered it and raised the alarm and it later became a challenge for me,” he said.
Martins said that by August 3, the ministry, through an internal circular, relieved the affected officers of their duties and ordered them to return all government properties in their possession. It also set up a committee to investigate Martin’s claim, but the committee fell short of investigating the 302 staff he raised alarm on, and restricted its investigation to only 40 and later concluded that 10 out of the 40 had fake appointment letters.
Although the committee did not find anyone within the ministry culpable for issuing the fake letters, it recommended the dismissal of the affected staff and the redeployment of three staff of the ministry for failure to take due diligence in registering and authenticating the letters.
Threats and witchhunt
Martins’ determination in the case led to threats, and in what appeared like a reprimand, he said he was redeployed by the ministry on February 12, 2020 to the open registry.
On May 24, 2021, he received another posting to fill a vacancy at the Gwagwalada FCT Field Office and subsequently received another letter dated November 1, 2021 from the ministry, accusing him of breaching the Oath of Secrecy.
The letter, which was made available to this newspaper, accused him of “Unauthorised disclosure of official information and abstraction/copying of official documents without approval, and which is prohibited as enshrined in the Public Service Rules.”
The letter described his action as serious misconduct and advised him to submit any representation on why disciplinary action, which might include dismissal from service, should not be taken against him.
But Martins said he petitioned the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions of the 9th Assembly, and the ministry was summoned to a public hearing in March 2022.
In a letter dated March 17, 2022 and signed by its Director, Admin (Human Resource Management), Mbaike Chuks, the ministry accused Martins of involvement in extortion of money from staff, especially those newly appointed.
The letter stated that the ministry had set up an investigative committee to unravel the veracity of the allegations contained in his petition and the findings of its 8-man investigative committee.
It stated that, “The committee also discovered Mr Martins’ Richard’s involvement in the matter through his extortion of money from some of the newly posted staff with fake appointment letters.”
It added that the ministry had since implemented all the recommendations of the investigative committee, except the disciplining of Martins, and informed the committee that aside the official query issued to Martins to explain his own side of the matter, no sanction had been meted against him.
“No one has intimidated or threatened him; rather, he was the one issuing threats to all the senior management officers in the ministry,” it stated.
Responding to the allegations through his lawyer, Martins said a copy of the report by the investigative committee was not made available to him despite repeated demands under the Freedom of Information Act.
“Our client only heard that the committee had submitted its report to the Senate committee and he only got to know about the full contents of the report at the end of September, 2022.”
It stated that the committee’s report was forwarded to the Senate with reference FMPW&H/926/T2//104, dated March 17, 2022, more than two years after the committee sat. It also stated that their client was shocked by the contents of the report and the accompanying letter, which it said contained false and fabricated information calculated to defame and expose him to public contempt.
“The content also grossly violated our client’s right to fair hearing amongst other serious infractions,” it stated.
Martin’s lawyer also described the extortion allegations as false, adding that deployment within any department of the ministry is based on basic academic entry qualification, and stressed that the staff in question and other data processing officers, were posted in line with this principle.
It added that the committee failed to state that Martins informed three directors that several colleagues gave him money for the burial preparation of his father; and within the same period, the N10,000 was paid into his account.
Speaking with Daily Trust Saturday, Martins said the involvement of the Senate stalled his dismissal as the committee constituted by the ministry had recommended his sack.
“I have suffered a lot, there were false accusations labelled against me that I was sexually harassing my colleagues and youth corps members, and that I was collecting money from them. This is all false, just to tarnish my image,” he said.
With the 9th Assembly no longer in existence, he is afraid that the ministry would take over his job. He prays that the 10th House of Representatives would look into his case.
Meanwhile, he said that most of those he found out with the fake employment letters were still in service.
When contacted to react to the claims, the Director of Press in the ministry, Blessing Lere-Adams, said she could not speak on the matter except our reporter produced all the evidence at his disposal to enable her direct him to the appropriate director. When presented with the documents via WhatsApp, she said she was on annual leave, and therefore, could not comment on the matter.