In a matter of months, the incumbent Clerk of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Olusegun Ganiyu Abiru, would be retiring from the service civil after spending over three decades as a civil servant.
But the accomplished and amiable public officer would not forget in a hurry an incident that nearly cost him his job around 2003, and revealed that the then governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the one God used to pardon him.
We recently had an interview with the cerebral public officer about his sojourn in the civil service of the state and his next plan of action.
We will like to know how you joined the civil service
I joined the service 27 years ago in October 1983. The first place I was posted to was the Governor’s office under the first civilian governor of the state, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande. The first day I resumed to work, I closed around 10pm or 11pm, which gave me a baptism of what to expect in the service. I worked there for about a month or two months before I moved to the Ministry of Finance and I was there till about 1992, I spent almost nine years there. I worked under the tutelage of the likes of Mr. A.O Anjorin, Mr. Fidellis Adeyemi, who later became the Secretary to the Military Government and Head of Service. I was equally privileged to work in the ministry under the late Mr O.O Shodipo and R.B Tinubu, who later became the Head of Service under Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. From there, at my early age, I assumed a position of responsibility and eminence. I was posted to Agric Authority and I was the Secretary of the Authority, which was new to for someone as low as level 9 to be in such position. I made my mark, while working there and the records are there for people to see. I have equally worked at the Agric Development Project, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Works, the Civil Service Commission and others. One thing is that of all the places I have worked, including the Lagos State House of Assembly, the place I enjoyed most is the Civil Service Commission. I say it anywhere I go because I was a Director there and we had a lot of work to do there, I was lucky to work with a team of commissioners, who knew their onions and who had the interest of the staffers at heart. I was able to impact positively on the lives of the generality of the people, who had one thing or the other to do with the commission. My popularity in the service today is a consequence of my service in the Civil Service Commission. That is a place, where you render service without any pecuniary benefit. It is a place, where you work and see people desirous of your service, you see some people, whose career has stunted and would want to regularise it and make them happy because a happy workforce would surely give good productivity. Some of the things I enjoy, even when I go out today, is because I have worked with the Civil Service Commission. I go to some ceremonies and I see people standing for me to come and sit down and I wonder where I knew them and they would tell me I did one thing or the other for them at the Civil Service Commission. That is enough to gladen my heart, everything is not money and happiness is not in wealth. There are people, who have money, but that are not happy. I can tell you that if you conscientiously work in the Civil Service Commission you would be happy. I am not regretting working in the Lagos State House of Assembly, but my fulfilment as a person, a Muslim and a spiritual person was really attained when I worked at the Civil Service Commission. There are challenges there, but with the co-operation of the commissioners, you would be happy as you are part of policy fashioners, policy makers that would regulate the condition of service of people. You see yourself defending the policy that has to do with the condition of service of people. However, if nobody recognises you, God Almighty knows that you have done a lot. There was a time there was a backlog of confirmation of service of officers and confirmation is the basis of being a civil servant. We had a retinue of staff, whose appointments couldn’t be confirmed due to insufficiency of staff in the commission. But with the co-operation of the commissioners there, we were able to fashion a system that expedite the confirmation of the workers without ignoring the processes of the job. The commission at that time worked for the progress of the civil service.
Can you tell us some of your memorable moments in the service?
Yes, there were moments of incredible heights and depressing low. I had incredible height at the Civil Service Commission and when I was appointed as the Clerk of the Lagos State House of Assembly in 2011. It was a memorable period for me. The career of a civil servant terminates at Grade Level 17 as a Director and for you to have been privileged to go beyond that, you really have to thank God. When I was appointed as the Clerk of the House, I gave glory to God because it is a privilege to be a Clerk of the most prestigious House of Assembly, not only in Nigeria, but in Africa, I thank God for that. One has done one or two things for the House and it is not for me to start singing my own praises, the achievements are there for people to see.
My depressing low was, when I was in Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, which was in year 2003 and I was the Secretary then. At that time, we were preparing for Umrah also known as lesser hajj. It was not funny, something just went wrong then, it was even in the newspapers then, we were unable to get visa for the intending pilgrims then. That became a very serious issue in Lagos, the Commissioner for Home Affairs was Hon. Balogun and we were in that problem together. It was indeed a trying period for the two of us, particularly for me because it was a failure on my part. It was the first time that such was happening in the administration that we could not go for lesser hajj (Umrah). It was a period I can never forget in my life, if you saw me then, you would think I had HIV/AIDS because I emaciated because serious problems emanated from there. I was unable to achieve what I ought to have achieved and that made me unhappy. But I must thank the then Governor of the state, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who, in his understanding of human nature and who also believes in the fact that nobody is above mistakes saved my job. If not for his kindness, generosity and understanding, I would have left the service in 2003. Asiwaju Tinubu looked at the issue and forgave me, he told me not to sin anymore and I was left to remain in the service. It was a serious issue because I was looking at dismissal in front of me and I thought that was the end of my career. I faced a lot of disciplinary committees then; Civil Service Commission, PSO, my ministry and the rest. It was a traumatic period for me and my immediate family then and I will not forget my mother, she is late now, we used to call her Mama Muri. She did so much for me by meeting many people to ensure that I survive the period. I would not blame anybody for what really happened then, the buck stopped at my table. I would not blame any officer and I took the responsibility. But that opened the eyes of those, who went there after me not to fall into the same pit I fell into. Those were the two areas that I could remember.
As the Clerk of the House, you work in-between politicians and civil servants, how do you manage the two ends?
Anyone that is appointed as the Clerk of the House should be given additional remuneration because the Permanent Secretaries in the Ministries have one commissioner each, but I have 40 commissioners. All of them have their individual idiosyncrasies, ambitions, values, and their upbringing and social orientations are different. However, you want to manage all these 40 people together without being partial, so it is peculiar. One should thank God that he is able to manage them successfully, yes there are some times that we argue, we do fight and after that we will settle our misunderstandings because the politicians are in a hurry. They want to do things without given room for the processes, but you must ensure the processes are followed. Of course, in doing this, some of them would not want to greet you, some of them would say a lot of things because you are not co-operating with them. But the fact is that you are the accounting officer and if anything goes wrong, you would be held responsible. That is why anybody that works as the Clerk of the Lagos State House of Assembly must be a man that can stand by his words, he must be resolute and at the same time, you must be flexible. You cannot be too harsh. We are managing ourselves, but I must tell you we are getting along. Sometimes, they get annoyed because you are trying to explain some things to them. Sometimes some of them see civil servants as people who don’t know anything. For you to become the clerk of the House, you must have spent over 20 years in the service and that is enough as an experience for you to manage this place. For you to have spent over 20 years in a place, you must be given your own respect and I think in my own assessment, I must confirm and declare that the lawmakers here are giving me my due respect and I also respect them regardless of their ages. I am older than most of them, but they are my bosses, so I have no choice than to do their biddings most of the time so that we could do things that can galvanise the assembly.
Would you say you are fulfilled with all of these?
I am highly fulfilled in the sense that at this stage that I am retiring, I have a loving wife at home that I always desire to go home to meet, I have four children, who are graduates and who are not giving me any problem. I have cause to give thanks to God and I think God has been very kind and merciful to me. Out of the several thousands of people in the service, God chose me to be the Clerk of the House, I must say that I am fulfilled and I would say that again.
You are obviously not tired, do you plan to join politics after your retirement?
I wouldn’t know because I have worked with politicians for quite some time. Even before I took up this appointment, I have had one thing or the other to do with politicians; either by organising or preparing then for one election or the other. I cannot say no or yes, but what matters to me now is to have my deserved rest for some time and wait for God to tell me what next to do. But I must say that I am a very proud public servant, I am proud to be a civil servant and a Lagos State public servant. I have travelled far and wide and I can say that Lagos State Public Service is the best and second to that of the United Nations. The state’s public service would defeat others easily.
Do you have any advice for other civil servants and what is your idea of civil service reforms?
I think salary is the major issue in the civil service, it is nothing to write home about. But, when you are talking of job security and reliability of service, you can be sure of the civil service. Again, most of us in the public service do not cut our coat according to our cloth, we want to behave like those in the oil companies, which is why we end up unhappy and sad. If you cut your coat according to your cloth, civil service is the best place to work. If you talk about knowledge and experience, I don’t think that people in the private service are better than those in the civil service. The only difference is probably because they work in a more cosy environment than those in the civil service. Civil service is a home of discipline, there is hardly any discipline in this world that you cannot find in the civil service. I remember we once had a commissioner, when I was still young in the system, who was in the private sector before he joined the government. He had this impression that public servants were lazy, docile and are imbeciles and that the only thing we do was to come to the office, collect our salaries and go home. But after spending just one month in office, the commissioner changed his mind, he disclosed that he never knew that we civil servants work so had. In the Lagos State Public Service, we sometimes close late, not because we don’t have anything to do at home or because we love staying in the office, there are a lot of work for us to do. So, we close around 10 or 11pm and we sometimes go to work on Saturdays or Sundays, so who says there is no work for us to do. The government that you have would reflect the kind of public service you would have. Their style would reflect in the public service. We have had several reforms in the state civil service and I can say that life itself is dynamic, so reform is a continuum, we will continue to look at reforms that can change the lives of the civil servants in the state. I can say that the reform that we currently run in the service would take it to a greater height. Now, you have to do exams before you are promoted and some people are saying the exams are not necessary, but I don’t share that belief. The exam is not very hard, it is just to test us if we are in tune with the trend in the sector. The only thing I would advise about the exam is that the exam is in two phases; both oral and written. However, if you fail one and pass the other, they would not promote you. I believe that if the total marks is 100 and you score 50 in the two combined, they should let you go because the exam is not meant to punish you. It is meant to test your knowledge, and if you now say they should not write the exam again, nobody would bother to read anything again. Hitherto, the engineers, and the professionals don’t read public service rules. But now, with the exams, they read the scheme of service, circulars, civil service rules and so on. They now read the conditions that are guiding the civil service. I am of the belief that the exam should continue, though the union is trying to call for its stoppage, this is not in the best interest of the service. But if you have an average of the two, people should be allowed to go.
People have alleged that civil servants help politicians to perpetrate corruption, what do you say to this?
That is not true, it is a misconception, civil servants are to give guardian to the politicians because some of the politicians are coming in and they are ignorant of the rules and regulations binding their operations, particularly in the area of finance. As a public servant, you are to advise, your advice could be taken or rejected. It depends on what the head says, you are an accounting officer and you advise your boss on what to do and he fails to do it, it is his problem. You have given your advice and if anything goes wrong, it is his problem because you would have made it clear that you told him. We are to give assistance to the politicians, they have their own objectives, they have their own programmes and you must assist them to achieve their own programmes. But if the process of assisting them to achieve their own programmes is what the people mean by saying we aid corruption, I think that is wrong. We are only assisting them to achieve their objectives. We are not colluding with them, we are only co-operating with them to ensure that the objectives that they had in mind before they got into power is achieved.
is there anything you would have loved to change as the Clerk of the House before now?
Even if you spend 2,000 years on a seat, you would still want to do more. So with what I have done so far, whoever is coming behind me should come and improve on it.