NKECHI Onwukwe, Director of Rehabilitation at the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, does not epitomise the transparency and accountability expected of a civil servant helping to deliver a crucial promise of President Muhammadu Buhari to the common Nigerians.
Onwukwe has perfected the art of frustrating media enquiries about how she manages the Rehabilitation Department of the ministry. And this lack of accountability in her department continues to frustrate the successful implementation of government policies of inclusion for the 25 million Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWDs) in Nigeria.
The reporter’s call to Onwukwe on Thursday, March 11, was met with usual resistance.
“Good day director”, the reporter began, introducing himself. “My name is GbengaOgundare and I will appreciate if you can give me direction to the National Rehabilitation Institute and Resource Centre in Abuja.”
“What do you want to go and do there”? Onwukwe fired back from the other end.
“Well ma, I am a journalist with a visual disability, and a couple of other blind journalists will like to visit the institute for inspection purpose.”
“Don’t go there, come to the ministry instead,” she offered and hung up before the reporter could ask further questions.
Not satisfied, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) sent a Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) request to the ministry on March 19, requesting for details on the National Rehabilitation Institute and Resource Centre.
The ministry flouted the law by not responding to the request within the seven days stipulated by the FOI act.
Three months later, on June 11, The ICIR sent another request to the ministry, reminding it of the earlier request. An officer of the ministry called some days after to say that the ministry was in receipt of the letter and that they would respond to the request as soon as the Director of Rehabilitation approves of it.
More than a month after that, the ministry is yet to respond to the request.
That was not the first time Mrs. Onwukwe was dismissive. In August 2019, she also gave a terse response to question about why the Nigeria Farmcraft Centre for the Blind (NFCB) was shut down between 2017 and April 2019.
“It didn’t open for two years, but it has eventually opened and almost coming to an end to a session,” she responded via sms, and refused to entertain further questions from the reporter because, according to her, she was “in a critical meeting.”
With that deflection, Onwukwe smartly avoided question that would have required her to explain why the Department of Rehabilitation sneaked N40 million into the 2017 budget as upkeep allowance for trainees at the NFCB, even though the school admitted no students that year.
Onwukwe also dodged a question about why another N150 million was taken from the 2018 budget of the ministry as “upkeep of the trainees and strengthening activities at the following social welfare, rehabilitation and other welfare centres.”