The Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Pauline Tallen, has appointed one of her daughters, Violet Osunde, as a special assistant in her office.
It is not clear if the minister’s action violated any law, but critics including academics and lawyers said it suggests nepotism and could be a breach of her oath of office.
Until her appointment in November, Mrs Osunde was a senior executive assistant with the National Databank Management Department of the National Pension Commission.
Mrs Osunde, a 2010 graduate of Business Management and Information Technology from the University of Plymouth, England, also holds a Master’s certificate in Information System Management from Brunel University, London. She joined the National Pension’s Commission in 2016.
But criticisms have trailed the appointment with many Nigerians including lawyers, the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and the spokesperson of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), describing the development as opportunistic and condemnable.
However, the minister has defended her action, saying she has the right to choose whoever she feels has the capacity to support her efforts towards achieving the mandate of her office.
On November 14, 2019, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Ifeoma Anagbogu, through the Director, Planning, Research and Statistics Department, addressed a letter to Osunde, informing her of her choice by the minister as her special assistant.
The letter with reference FMWASD/PS/128/VOL.II/302 reads in part; “I am directed to inform you that a request has been made to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for your release to the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs to serve the Honourable Minister’s special assistant. Other correspondences on the subject have been forwarded to appropriate offices.
“As you are aware of Honourable Minister’s itinerary for the coming week, you are expected to travel with her and accompany her to various sessions, therefore you are directed to formally request for release from your organisation to serve as special assistant to the Honourable Minister, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs.”
The new appointee has since resumed office as our reporter met her at the ministry on Friday when the minister had offered to explain the rationale behind her choice. But the permanent secretary, Mrs Anagbogu, chose to speak on behalf of the minister.
Osunde Applies For Four-year Leave Of Absence
In response to the letter received from her mother’s ministry, Mrs Osunde applied for a four-year leave of absence through the head of the databank management department to the National Pension Commission’s head of human capital management department.
The application letter, which was dated November 15, is referenced TECH/NDMD/DMU/2019/574.
It reads in part; “I wish to inform management that I have been appointed as the special assistant to the honourable minister of women affairs. Consequently, I wish to humbly request to be granted a leave of absence for a period of four years effective December 1, 2019, to December 1, 2023, to enable me to carry out my duties as required under the ministry of women affairs.
“Accordingly, if approved, to ensure all tasks assigned are completed as expected, I will make certain that all assignments are duly concluded and handed over appropriately before my departure.”
ASUU, PDP, others kick against the appointment
While the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the body of university teachers across the country, described the minister’s action as opportunistic, the leading opposition party in the country, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said the development borders on moral bankruptcy.
Speaking with our reporter on the phone, the National President of ASUU, Abiodun Ogunyemi, said the union has always kicked against the rising culture of opportunism and nepotism by some vice-chancellors, who he noted bring on board members of their families and villages to occupy positions of authorities once they are appointed.
Ogunyemi said; “It is, therefore, regrettable that a serving minister could also do this. So on a moral ground, it is not acceptable that a public office holder will bring in a member of his or her family as an aide. Otherwise, it will bring in nepotism of the highest order, and this is not acceptable in our constitution because we are not running a monarchy.
“Since we are operating a democracy, such appointment should be based strictly on merit, and based on other criteria that are spelt out in our constitution. ASUU condemns it and we invite the government to look into it. So as much as we don’t accept it on our primary constituency, which is the university system, I think such practice should not be tolerated in other segments within the larger society. So, on moral, constitutional and legal grounds, we believe that such should not be tolerated.”
Also speaking, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said such practice has defined President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
He said; “Well, we have not confirmed that story but if it were so, it borders on moral bankruptcy, which is a system that has been established by this administration. President Buhari’s administration is about absurdities; they have no respect for morality and they are very divisive.
They also don’t care about the feelings of Nigerians and that can only account for why a serving minister will use her daughter as a special assistant.”
The secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Bwari Branch, Abuja, Olalekan Oladapo, said such action by the minister is a breach of oath of office. “Leadership is imbued with moral rectitude. We would not be wrong to posit that the new appointment was deliberate and for a personal reason. But be that as it may, such action is a breach of the Oath of office of the Hon Minister.
“A compound reading of 5th Schedule of 1999 Constitution, Code of Conduct for Public Officer, Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act, and Federal Character Commission Act posits that there is an abuse of office, conflict of interest and a violent breach of the law”
Ministry defends action
Speaking in defence of the minister, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mrs Anagbogu, said there is nothing wrong in what her boss has done. She said what should be important is getting the work done and not who is brought on board to get it done.
She said; “As long as I do not pay from my salary, my honourable minister and even me, has the right to choose whoever will give us support and enable us to achieve our mandate. Even if it is that man on the street and I found out he is useful to me I can use him as my aide. I am being very factual and honest with you, what is the big deal in appointing one’s son or daughter as an aide?”
The personal assistant to the minister, Bala Muhammed, also shares the permanent secretary’s view, adding that the minister’s choice was based on competence and merit.
Presidency, APC keep mum
When the position of the presidency on the matter was sought through the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Garba Shehu, he said he could not comment on such matters, as he was busy with his son’s marriage.
But the spokesperson of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Lanre Issa-Onilu, said since he did not know the reason behind the minister’s decision, it would be unfair to him to speak on such matter.
Mr Issa-Onilu said; “I don’t think this is a question that should be pushed to the party. I am sure the minister can explain the reasons behind her decision. So if I speak now, I will be speaking in abstract because I don’t know the reasons for doing it. Actually she hasn’t done anything illegal. And if we are coming from the moral angle, such can only make sense when we know the reason. And even if we disagree, the sound reason may completely wipe off the moral sentiment one may be tempted to bring in. So if I don’t have those facts, how am I going to comment on such matter?