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Winifred Oyo-Ita: heroine or wailer?

Winifred Oyo-Ita: heroine or wailer?

By Josephine Agbonkhese & Chris Onuoha

Barely one week after the publication of an extensive feature article entitled  Affirmative Action: Politics or Development  on this column, news of the reinstatement of Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, into the Federal Civil Service, broke, stirring turmoil between the Federal Civil Service and the Presidency.

Winifred Oyo-Ita

Rot in the civil service

Ideally, the civil service is an integral component of societal development anywhere in the world. In Nigeria though, this institution has become synonymous with unthinkable irregularities, with theft of public funds in connivance with politicians, disregard for rules of appointment and promotion of officers, nepotism, nonchalant attitude to work, to mention but a few, topping the list.


For a civil service already ranked as one of the most corrupt institutions in the entire country by Transparency International (apparently contributing heavily to the country’s appalling rank on the Corruption index), the reinstatement and promotion of Maina who has been on the run and on the wanted list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), should ordinarily not come as a surprise to many Nigerians. What came as a surprise however was the controversial role of the Presidency and chief proponent of the anti-graft crusade, alongside personalities who should be advocates of the “Change” and “Anti-corruption” mantra, considering the weight of allegations hovering over the former Pension Reforms boss.

Recall that Maina was accused in 2012 of misappropriating a whopping N100 billion in pension funds, was dismissed and declared wanted by the Civil Service Commission after reportedly “absconding from duty”, and was also arraigned in absentia by the EFCC which declared him wanted in 2015. On Friday October 20th, news of his secret recall and promotion to the position of director in charge of Human Resources in the Ministry of Interior, broke, with the Presidency saying it knew nothing about it and while reliable sources knowledgeable about the deal that brought the controversial civil servant back, said Maina pulled the strings through the duo of the Justice and Interior ministers, Abubakar Malami and AbdulrahmanDambazau respectively, who are variously  described as his acquaintances.

According to a report by Premium Times, he (Maina) was said to have used many emissaries to the two ministers, while he was ensconced in his hiding place in Dubai.

Oyo-Ita’s outburst

While the fingered duo also denied, like the presidency, any knowledge of the reinstatement said to have been handled “at the highest level” according to sources, the outburst of the Head of Service, Federal Civil Service Commission, and lone female in the drama, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, in which she claimed to have warned the Presidency against reinstating the fugitive, instantly sparked mixed opinions.

While others saw her straightforwardness as her a show of courage and braveness for the nerve to indict an ‘iroko’ such as the President himself, Gen. Mohammadu Buhari (rtd.) and have labelled her a heroine, some would only see her as a wailer crying out of fear of being made to bear the consequences of her indecision as HOS; in whose hands actually lay both yam and knife.

Accidental heroism

To the latter school of thought belongs the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti–Corruption & Open Leadership, Mr Debo Adeniran.

According to him, in a telephone conversation with Woman’s Own, Oyo-Ita’s case can only be classed as ‘accidental heroism’.

“What happened in the case of the Head of Service is not a display of courage but a slip. I say this because she didn’t mean to say what she said. The forum she said it and the channel does not show the level of courage I could compare to what late Dora Akunyili did; speaking against her boss at the Federal Executive Council. What Oyo-Ita did was more or less like revealing what was supposed to be an official secret.

“First and foremost, she claimed she advised the president orally but no document actually shows that. The courage would have been weightier if the presidency or anybody else said Maina should be reinstated and she insisted that it must not happen since it is against the rule of law, being that he was on the wanted list of the EFCC. Maina went on AWOL and that was also against the rule of the civil service. But the man was imposed on her and she succumbed.

“The involvement of the Minister of Interior could also have been highlighted by her. She had every opportunity of doing a memo as well to Dambazau, against absorbing Maina into the ministry. But she did none of these because she did not expect the aftermath of it all. The fact that she said she advised the President verbally, to me, is not enough courage even though that seemed like one bravely indicting her principal boss. There is no evidence that she advised the President and remember, the President did not deny or accept that claim either. To me, that was unnecessary confrontation. It is not like Dora Akunyili confronting the FEC that there should be an acting president in the absence of the president.

“Hers was more of an accidental heroism. What would have made her a heroine would have been if she did not absorb Maina, knowing well of the civil service law. That would have been heroism enough. Not cowardly absorbed him and then coming out to say she advised the President after the whole thing had been blown up.”

Heroine or wailer?

Call her a heroine or a wailer, the singular act of speaking out against the presidency’s feigned ignorance over Maina’s reinstatement, knowing very well she might have to pay with her job, has imprinted Oyo-Ita’s name on the sands of history. The truth is, only very few persons could display such boldness. Considering the fact also that politics is a game of numbers, it was apparently one lone female voice against several other high and mighty men. Obviously, except for the pressure, she would have resisted Maina’s reinstatement.

Hence her rare display of anger in a heated argument with the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, at the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting earlier this month, when the latter told her she must produce photographic evidence of the meeting in which she said she warned the President against reinstating Maina.

It, however, still remains a mystery how someone who is on the wanted list of the EFCC for a crime of such magnitude could be helped by government officials to sneak back into the country and then rewarded with  promotion to higher office. The implication of this on the struggle for transparency and anti-corruption in the country is plain: more Oyo-Itas are urgently needed to sanitize the system. This also further underscores the need for a proportionate gender representation in institutions across the country.

About her

Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita was on October 20, 2015 appointed as acting Head of Civil Service of the Federation following the removal of Mr Danladi Kifasi from office by Buhari.

The then 51-year-old Odukpani indigene of Cross River State holds a B.Sc Accounting degree from the University of Lagos and has a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the Nasarawa State University. She is also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).

Oyo-Ita had her secondary school education at Queens College Yaba, Lagos. A widow, she was the Director of Finance and Accounts at the Head of Civil Service of the Federation before serving twice as in a couple of ministries as Permanent Secretary.

Her first stint as Permanent Secretary was the Ministry for Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs, where she embarked on the establishment of the Ministry’s seven Departments and six Units.

As the Permanent Secretary working in tandem with the then Minister, Oyo-Ita took on the re-establishment of Nigeria’s leadership position in the Commonwealth   Local Government Forum, CLGF, and secured the award of the hosting of the 2014 CLGF Annual Board Meeting by Nigeria.

Oyo-Ita was mandated by the presidency to supervise the preparation of guidelines on the implementation of Constituency Projects Nationwide, which she did and handed over successfully.  In her dogged determination to carry out her assignments, she also successfully carried out Monitoring and Evaluation of the implementation of the 2013 Constituency Projects in 24 States of the Federation and the FCT.

Known for her hatred for wastages and leakages, when the federal government established the Efficiency Unit at the Federal Ministry of Finance, she was found to be a ready promoter and pillar of support for the unit as part of government’s effort in blocking leakages in the public service procurement processes.

Her noble achievements, no doubts, endeared her to Mr. President who was desirous of appointing a reform-minded person that would help build the country’s bureaucracy.Thus notable for her penchant for due process, Oyo-Ita was nicknamed the “Bureaucrat’s Bureaucrat” when her became the President’s HOS candidate of choice.

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