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Engr. Timothy Iwuagwu is a factional President of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON), which has faced a leadership crisis since 2016. In this interview with HSENations’ John Ogunsemore held at the ISPON National Secretariat in Ikotun, Lagos, on Tuesday, May 14, he spoke at length about the recent reconciliation process midwifed by the House of Representatives Committee on Safety Standards and Regulations.


Q: Since 2016, the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON) has been enmeshed in crisis, and efforts were made in the past to resolve it, or so we were told. But recently the House of Representatives Committee on Safety Standards and Regulations waded into the matter. We learnt that you initiated this process. How did it come about?

A: I came in as President of ISPON on October 31, 2023, and I started getting acquainted with some of the protocols. I tried to revive relations with a lot of bodies. We got to a point where we were told of stakeholders meeting at the National Assembly. I wanted to know about that meeting and what it was all about. I said if the House of Reps Committee on Safety Standards and Regulations is meeting stakeholders, ISPON must be a key stakeholder and I passed the message across that the institute must be seated. A letter addressed to the President of ISPON was sent, although that letter did not come to me straight.

I was told that a letter had been dispatched and I was asked if I got the letter and I said no. I was in Abuja on March 11. I thought the letter was an invitation of stakeholders but the letter was specifically for the President of ISPON to attend an interactive session with the House. So, I called the House that I had not got it.

They told me to come, that they were still available. That was on Wednesday, March 13…I asked the Registrar of the institute and Nasarawa State Coordinator to come along with me and we were with two members of our media group. The first question from the Committee to me was, “What faction do you represent?”

I replied that I was sure that the entire ISPON Act did not contain the word ‘faction’. I added that if there’s any faction, then the entire institute is my faction because I’m the National President of ISPON. So, some questions were asked and it was a very robust interactive session. The Chairman of the House Committee was such an intelligent person, very articulate in his questions and a very calm personality. They asked me about the institute and that led me to give a chronological account of the journey from the year before the Act in 2014 until 2024 and I was able to give a whole lot of information.

Along the interactive session, I said that ISPON had been in turmoil and the Chairman of the House Committee said the Committee was aware of that. He said that they did not want to be seen as supporting anybody and want to come in as neutral. I told him that I would be very happy if the House Committee could intervene because when I was sworn in as President, the first thing I did was an Inaugural Message asking all members of the institute to come back irrespective of what they had been accused of or what they knew they did. I reached out to my good friends Dr. Haruna Yusuf Malgwi, Mr Benson Adam-Otite, and quite a number of persons. I told them to come back. This is what I narrated to the Chairman of the House Committee. I also told him that we have been friends and they only transgressed against the law, some protocols were followed and in that process it ended up that they were expelled. I told the Chairman that I would be very happy if the House Committee intervened because my agenda is to bring the institute together as one. And I was prepared if that was going to be a single-point agenda.

I told the House Committee members that there would have been peace for long but the last few years – three years before my election – was wasted through insincerity and mutual deception. The institute’s president (Mr Evaristus Uzamere) told the institute’s members that he wanted to bring them together. But he did not want to bring them together. He formed a group, a standing committee that I am a member of, which is still yet to be dissolved. He told the committee that we should reinforce to collaborate with relevant government agencies to enforce court judgements against the expelled members.

We were also shocked that at the same time, he was having a meeting with the same people. Before going for a meeting with them, he’d tell us that we should make sure they’re arrested. I have a military background…And from my military background, we know what betrayal and treachery mean.

I believe that some people were confident in the former President of ISPON and had hope that he was going to reconcile them, because they told me that they were weary and tired of the fight and they wanted to come back. And they believed he was sincere. But the double standard became very appalling because I was in the centre of it. Then he wrote letters that I had been removed from the institute too, creating a lot of problems and when I asked why, he said it’s because those people said they wanted me out of the institute.

All these things I’m telling you now, I narrated to the House Committee on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. This is the infancy and genesis of the reconciliation and what culminated into the communique which is currently in the public domain. I can’t tell you how fulfilled I am today for that singular issue. I see the House Committee of the 10th House of Representatives as very genuine partners in progress with ISPON.

Q: Do you think that the process started by the House Committee can bring lasting peace to ISPON?

A: If I may quote William Shakespeare, “There’s no art to read the mind’s construction on the face.” We were not interested in looking at the faces that day. On Tuesday, May 7, 2024, something happened. I want to narrate this before I answer that question. We got to a point where we were all seated. We meant to sit down in one of the chambers of the House and we got there and found that some people were seated, having been summoned for some non-compliance issues as it concerns safety. So, the House Committee was exercising its oversight and regulatory functions. We were there and listened.

They were there talking about why they did not comply. Some of them had deficit of years of non-compliance. The House Committee Chairman often told those people that we were from ISPON. And some of them were saying also that they were not complying because they did not know where to go. We felt guilty in the sense that our crisis has also led to, not loss of revenue, but loss of safety practices and education that would have been accomplished through a conducive co-relationship between professionals of the same body. We had left the objectives, powers, functions conferred on ISPON by the Act at the mercy of quacks that were roaming about occupying the space in both the public and private sectors of the economy of Nigeria.

This is to the extent that even very senior civil servants were deceived and they were all going the wrong way even when there’s a memo from one of the offices of the Presidency directing that every Ministry, Department and Agency must have a Safety Desk, and some people were supposed to be functioning in that capacity. And that was the new structure in the Federal Civil Service. But here we have a house in disarray. So, who would be implementing or driving it, since we’re the drivers and prime movers of safety-critical issues and compliance?

We left the space open for noncompliance and the recalcitrant and lawless ones were quoting our crisis – saying we didn’t know where to go, giving excuses. So those are the issues. People will always give excuses. It takes a large heart to admit blame or guilt. But something touched us that day as we listened to all these people being questioned by the House Committee. We heard the answers they gave to some questions and they were very laughable and embarrassing. When asked if they’ve been having incidents, accidents or near misses in their company, somebody responded and said no. When asked if any single one was recorded, he still said no.  When asked for how many years this had been, he said for over 10 years! Angels must be working there and the safety officer must be the Holy Spirit.

So, somebody asked: ‘Are you sure you understand the question?’ And someone asked him what near miss is and why he said not a single one had been recorded in 10 years and he responded that it’s because nobody has died. That was the dangerous part. We started feeling bad, because all these things shouldn’t happen. We had a lot of duties undone, a lot of responsibilities abdicated and it’s not fair to Nigeria and the industrial sector.

So, we’re told to agree on what to do, and the word ‘faction’ came back to play. By the English definition, ‘faction’ doesn’t mean criminal. We have three heads – three different people leading different groups…But only one of the three leaders was available and that’s me. They asked for Mr Evaristus Uzamere and he was not there at the National Assembly, and somebody got up and said he was there to represent him.

They asked the representatives if he had a letter and the person said no letter. In fact, the (factional) ISPON Registrar was so moved that he had to inform the House Committee that the person said to be representing one of the leaders is not a safety professional. By law, you’re only a safety professional in Nigeria if you’re in the register of ISPON. The Chairman in his wisdom said he must not allow anything to drag us back as we’d gone a long way already. They also asked who’s representing the other person, Elder Ebiwari Kaizer, who was also not around. So, somebody got up and said he’s representing him. The Chairman said the two representatives of the two leaders that were not around would be sworn to an oath before they could speak on what’s going on in ISPON. And the oath was administered by the Clerk.

Thereafter, the House Committee said the three leaders should go out and meet outside the meeting because it was for them to endorse and agree to the reunification effort. I initiated this whole move. A lot of people have been calling and reminding me that I had just come in as President and I should have my time and I said, ‘What time? We need to put ISPON together to start achieving our objectives, start using our powers and start functioning according to the dictates of the Act.’ I was ready to sacrifice anything. I was the only one standing by to sacrifice, and I had only spent six months – 180 days – in office. I was prepared to trade it for lasting peace and harmonious co-existence that will force that desired professionalism to regulate safety management in Nigeria. To me, leadership as far as this institute is concerned is beyond pomp and pageantry, paraphernalia, titles and accolades attached to office. If the office is not able to produce anything tangible, then it is as good as not existing.

During the interactive session, the House Committee asked me whether there had been any election by Malgwi during his time when he declared himself president. I said, ‘No, he declared himself president in 2017 and decided to hand over in 2021 to Elder Kaizer. There has been no election by Kaizer since 2021 to 2024 but the law says two years. After two years, you must do another election.’ So the question is, were they operating as ISPON? If they were operating as ISPON at these different levels, so under which Act? Is it the ISPON Act or they created another one? Their own was aside because we didn’t look at them as the mainstream ISPON functioning, so their performance could not be recorded because they never represented the legitimate format.

ISPON Factions
ISPON Factions

But then what happens to the main president of the institute (Uzamere)? The way they acted as those rebelling was not expected to be the same way that the president of the institute should be acting. But the president of the institute was elected on April 9, 2021, following a court judgement obtained behind all of us. But as law-abiding people, we obeyed it, as I told the House Committee. So, the House Committee asked why Dr. Nnamdi Ilodiuba handed over when his tenure was still on. And I told them that it’s part of the sacrifices we’ve made at different points to stabilise the institute, and even after that, the rebellion continued. And that’s how I was in the House to see how that trend could be put to an end. Even when I am the one to carry the main sacrifice, I will do it, because the institute is greater than any of us. I wanted to set that as an example so that the records will have it that at a time in history, somebody sacrificed his tenure to make sure peace is established. Now, if it’s okay for the institute’s members to re-elect me, so be it. But then I should be able to tell them a report of my stewardship in the last six months. That could make them to decide because we have decided to jettison sentiments and entrench facts for the good of the noble profession of safety management.

On whether I am sure about the peace move and reunification effort standing the test of time, I am sure within the limit of my conviction. I am sure because I don’t think there is any of us that will get out of his way, except those that were not physically there, to… I am not talking of the finances, but at least I was in Abuja up to four different times with my team. The minimum anybody could have as return ticket Lagos-Abuja is N300,000. So, you can imagine. We’ve not talked about hotel, airport taxi, internal movement, feeding.

Only the documents submitted was about 38 kilograms. There’re some documents of 911 pages, some even front and back. One set of those documents of court proceedings containing bank accounts statements cost us close to N400,000 (to reproduce) at a business centre. That is minus other documents outside that set. I’m not talking of the night movements to make sure we got these pieces picked up at different business centres, binding, collating, stapling, or the mental energy sapped just to get one thing: reunification. There are very few of us who can put their personal interest down and face the realities of a bigger picture. So, on that basis, if I wasn’t convinced that this would last, I won’t go into it to the extent I have gone. And that is why you saw the endorsement in the communique. Those who endorsed under me and those who endorsed under other parties endorsed because they were sure.


Q: The elections have been scheduled for October 2024. Do you think that the election can produce a president and governing board that will be accepted by all?

A: That I cannot answer yes or no but I can tell you that it is possible that the election will produce acceptable people, but that will also be dependent on the process. Of course, the House Committee is not going to decide the process for us. We’ve been given free hand to determine the process. Definitely we are going to have a good number of meetings by the parties before that election. That is going to measure our sincerity of purpose. This is not a political party. We are going to determine who will be legible for the contest, so it is not going to be an all-comers affair.

That is the only way to be sure of a qualitative board. Whatever will make the board acceptable or not acceptable will depend on the capacity of the people. We do not need anymore people who want to come and have title. We need people who have the time to perform in a manner that will add value to the objectives, functions and powers of the institute under the Act. It is in our hands; it’s not like someone is going to do it from somewhere for us. We are to do it and I’m very happy that we have a whole lot of mature people. Elder Kaizer is a very mature person. Adam-Otite I’m sure has gone through the crucible and so he doesn’t need an adviser. Yusuf Malgwi should be composed enough by now to support positive direction for the institute.

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