The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has launched a company-wide crackdown on officials accused of leaking internal documents to the public, Peoples Gazette can report, in a desperate attack against transparency and accountability in public service.
Three officials were suspended in February on allegations of disclosing restricted internal communications of the energy sector regulator, coming barely days after the Gazette exposed how officials of President Muhammadu Buhari were favoured with lucrative positions for which they lacked the requisite educational or vocational background to exert.
A letter obtained by Peoples Gazette, dated February 23, 2021, conveyed the directive of DPR’s chief executive — in league with the agency’s management board — to indefinitely suspend the accused personnel pending the conclusion of an internal probe on the matter.
Obianuju Akwunwa of the DPR’s public affairs unit, and another staff member identified as Moedu B.O., were wrongfully singled out for retribution by the oil and gas regulatory body. The Gazette also obtained the first draft of the controversial suspension letter that went to Ms. Akwunwa, who could not be reached for comments.
A third official, identified as S.H. Hussaini, deputy manager, personnel information, promotion and discipline, was also suspended, days after he signed the suspension letter of Ms. Akwunwa, the Gazette learnt.
Although the Gazette learnt from officials at the DPR that the three officials were suspended, the Gazette was only able to obtain the suspension letter of Ms. Akwunwa, which nonetheless confirmed the rage of DPR’s management officials and their blinded ambition to quietly punish innocent officials for a story they had publicly denied as untrue.
It was also unclear whether or not the two other officials were also suspended indefinitely like Ms. Akwunwa.
The misguided administrative reprisals came one week after the Gazette exposed how President Muhammadu Buhari appointed his junior media aide Bashir Ahmad to supervise the newly-established National Production Monitoring System (NPMS) — a powerful and lucrative division at the DPR on February 15.
Mr. Ahmad, a former Hausa language reporter who was not qualified for the job, denied the allegations, but the Gazette published his employment letter on February 16, following which the DPR was pressured to publicly deny its own document. The Gazette also exposed similar jobs approved for four other aides and associates of the president, as well as another top role for Aisha Buhari’s brother at PTDF, another top-tier agency of the Nigerian government.
Justifying the administrative action taken against some DPR personnel, DPR’s management said Mr. Ahmad and others’ plum jobs, especially the appointment letter, could never have come out but for the alleged role played by the now-suspended staff members, an official said.
The DPR official also told the Gazette that the management had been able to trace the PDF employment letter obtained by our reporters to one of the agency’s computers.
“They said the file was downloaded from one of their computers and it should be one of them who did it,” the official said under anonymity to comment on an ongoing investigation.
For three days, Paul Osu, a spokesman for DPR, declined calls and messages from the Gazette’s reporters and editors about why Ms. Akwunwa and others were suspended. Mr. Osu was the official who signed the false statement disowning the agency’s own document amidst a storm of requests from pro-government trolls on social media for a denial from the agency.
A DPR official told the Gazette the agency backtracked on its dubious employment of the president’s aides because it realised that the controversial appointments could further amplify Mr. Buhari’s provocative culture of skewing federal positions of interest in favour of his tribe and cronies.