In fragrant disregard for laid down public service rule, head of a medical institution in Plateau state is still sitting right in office despite overwhelming reasons he should vacate office. MUHAMMAD TANKO SHITTU reports.
Public service rule stipulates punitive measures on erring officers. While this same rule provides interdiction of erring officers, the Ministry of Health has continued to retain embattled Dr Sunday Etukudor as provost of the Federal School of Medical Laboratory Technology, Jos in fragrant disregard for civil service rules.It is also in disobedience to the directives of secretary to the government of the federation’s (SGF) circular of 2017 and that of the Head of Service of Federation.
Dr Etukudor the provost and Ernest Demtoe technical officer of the school are both standing trial on a five-count charges in suit No FHC/J/39C/2018 on an alleged financial fraud of N1.2 billion instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which called for their interdiction as provided in section 4 of the Public Service Rules, 2009.Likewise, in suit No PLDJ/36C/2015 before the Plateau State High Court, Dr Etukudoh and four others are standing trial on 20-count charge bothering on alleged financial crimes worth N345 also filed by the EFCC.Blueprint investigation reveals that as the trial continued, Dr Ekutudor approached the court seeking for an order restraining the Federal Ministry of Health from interdicting him. Although his application was challenged by the EFCC, yet the ministry said it was served with an order.According to the ministry’s director of legal services, Mohammed Saidu Diri, in a telephone conversation, he said that there were letters written by the EFCC and Head of Service seeking for Dr Etukudor’s suspension, but said he couldn’t specify the actual date. However, an internal document of the ministry signed by Mr Diri indicated that on September 3 2020, a court order was served the ministry restraining it from any disciplinary actions.”Even before all of them wrote, he (Etukudoh) served us with an order of the court and the court also served us that his appointment is still valid and subsisting and that status quo should be maintained.”Since there was court order, there is nothing that someone could do than to comply with it. I am a lawyer and I cannot break an order of the court,” he said.Mr Diri asserted that the 2009 civil service rules did not stipulates that officer facing prosecution should be suspended.
Another critical issue in contention is tenure of the provost whose first appointment was made in 2008 and re-appointed for the last duration in 2012 and it subsequently elapsed in 2016.Investigation via the official Gazette, No 89, vol 99, noticed No 220 of October, 2012 revealed the re-appointment of one Nkereuwem Sunday Etukudoh as provost.”This appointment is with effect from 27th May, 2008,” as stated in the official gazette.Further investigation revealed that the issue of Dr Etukudoh’s records of service and his tenure of office as provost has recently attracted the attention of the Code of Conduct Bureau.Diri however said he would not comment on the tenure as according to him, he doesn’t have the powers to appoint or remove anyone.A latest correspondence from the Head of Service signed by Permanent Secretary (CMO), M Mamman, referenced: ‘HCSF/POS/001/T2/22’, received on 31 March, 2021 in the office of the permanent secretary in the ministry redirected that Etukudor and Ernest be interdicted.It reads partly, “Without prejudice to the court order, you should commence Administrative Disciplinary Action against the two officers in accordance with extant rules provisions.”But in a reply referenced No: 2349, dated 7th April, 2021, the ministry through Diri said from the facts stated on the court order, the Ministry of Health is not a party to the case against the two officers.It partly reads also, “On this note therefore, the agency prosecuting the two officers may be requested by your office to apply to the court to set aside the order so that the two officers can be dealt with in accordance with the extent rules since there is a criminal charge against them.”A follow up letter from the Head of Service dated 13th April 2021 signed by permanent secretary M Mamman also requested for an update on the subject matter.Blueprint can recall that rather than giving the required update to the Head of Service, Diri on April 15, 2021 wrote to the permanent secretary, Ministry of Justice seeking for advice/directives.
EFCC debunks court order
But on the contrary, the EFCC has debunked knowledge of any court order restraining the ministry from interdicting/suspending Dr Etukudor and Domtoe as asserted by the ministry.A source in the EFCC legal team who preferred anonymity in a telephone conversation said, “There was no any court order. All I can say is that it was recommended to the ministry and Head of Service to suspend the provost based on the trial he is facing as provided in the civil service rules.”According to the source, Dr Etukudor had raised a motion before the Federal High Court Jos division seeking for an order restraining his suspension but it was countered and objected to.”They abandoned the motion and there was no any ruling that granted them any order,” the source said.The source said it is within the provision of Public Service Rules that any officer facing trial shall be interdicted.
Public service rule
Investigation into the Service Rule 2009 section 4 rules 030406 said; “It shall apply where a prima facie case, the nature of which is serious, has been established against an officer and it is considered necessary in the public interest that he/she should forthwith be prohibited from carrying out his/her duties.”Pending investigation into the misconduct, the Federal Civil Service Commission or the permanent secretary/head of extra-ministerial office shall forthwith suspend him/her from the exercise of the powers and functions of his/her office and from the enjoyment of his/her emolument.”However, several phone calls, including text messages were since March, 2021 made to the ministry’s permanent secretary, Mr Abdul’Azez Mashi and Dr Etukudor, but were unanswered.
It is the contention of some concerned citizens that Etukudoh’s continued stay as provost is unlawful as far as the school establishment act is concerned. The Plateau Youth Council (PYC) in its letter signed by chairman, Chief George Michael Maqual and dated 5th June, 2016, addressed to the secretary to government of the federation said, “The provost of the Federal College of Medical Laboratory Jos, Mr N S Etukudoh has contemptuously and in flagrant abuse of due process, service rules continued to occupy office.”Similarly, a petition dated 12th May, 2016 addressed to the Minister of Health, co-signed by Sarah Aramide, Fraps Pandur, Tokdung Ladi and Ekam Ethel, respectively, said Mr Etukudoh is no longer supposed to be in office, while also standing trial as provided by Public Service Rules 030402 on corruption, embezzlement and misappropriation. Investigation shows that the continuous occupation of office by Dr Etukudoh has further accorded him an undue advantage of using public funds to execute his defense in the court suits/trials which is another fraud in itself.