“Beg your pardon, what have you just said”? was my retort to a friend who first broke the news to me over the phone, and wondering, if I have read Rueben Abati’s article on the scandal. The friend knows I think a whole world of Rueben as one of my favorite columnists in Nigeria. The next thing I did was pull out my laptop and to start searching the Internet for the article. I finally found it on Nigeriaworld, while I read snippets of commentaries on the same article on NaijaPoliticsatYahoogroups dot com. It was there, I also read a rejoinder to the same article by Emetulu another favorite of mine whose contributions I never miss. I will be the first to admit that those two gentlemen have done justice to the scandal, and I doubt if I can improve on what they have said, no matter how hard I try. But I still cannot resist the temptation to just take a deep breadth and just put my own spin on the scandal from my own unique perspective.
I am a retired Federal Public servant who had left the Service in 1986. Among my important postings in the Federal Service included some four years with the Udoji Public Service Review Commission. I was a part and parcel of the main office situated next door to Alagbon Close, and next door to the Federal Secretariat Complex at Ikoyi. The office, a subsidiary of the Federal Ministry of Establishments, was headed by a brilliant and courageous public servant, named Mr. M. A. Shoneye from Shagamu who later went on to become the Director of the Administrative Staff College (ASCON) in Badagry. Mr. Soneye who had studied Law, part time, during his civil service days, is now a practicing attorney in Lagos. I was one of the few Nigerian salary review analysts trained in Ottawa, Canada, by some Canadian consultants headed by one Mr. Hill who later came out to Nigeria to provide technical support to the Commission. While what the Obasanjo Government has done with Okonjo-Iweala and Ambassador Adeniji may not mean much to some of you reading about the scandal, it means a whole world to me, that thirty or more years later, this is what the Nigerian Public Service has come to, under President Obasanjo. What the hell has gone wrong with the notion of equal job for equal pay that we were all trained to observe and entrench in the Public Service? Once upon a time, Nigeria used to be described as one step forward, and two steps backward. I really don’t know what to call the current move by a President who had once advised the nation never to believe that Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was the Messiah. Very few people knew at the time who he actually wanted Nigerians to see and accept as the Messiah.
The answer to that riddle became manifest, when the same Obasanjo was brought out of prison to come become President in 1999, for the second time in twenty years, and to walk us through the quagmire, that our nation had become under the iron rule of our own Professor Emeritus and Dictator, Sani Abacha. I was totally hoodwinked and mesmerized like so many of our compatriots, that Obasanjo could, indeed, be the answer to our problems in Nigeria. I recall writing one or two articles strongly espousing that view on Obasanjo. I now feel like I owe some apologies to my readers now, for the views expressed because Obasanjo had turned 180 degrees from my previous impressions of him. Please don’t get me wrong. I know that only God the Almighty is perfect, and all of us human beings are subject to making mistakes here and there, as we undertake the journey of life. But throwing away the baby with the bath water ought not to be part of those mistakes.
I, for one, used to ascribe to Obasanjo, the dynamism we all saw in him as the second-in-command to the great Murtala Mohammed’s regime in Nigeria. In 200 hundred days of a good and purposeful Government, Murtala was able to change Nigeria and the way we view ourselves. If you had asked me then, I would have told you the key to that dynamic Government was, in large part, Obasanjo. the think tank who had initiated most of those wonderful ideas like the nationalization of Shell, the immediate cancellation of the Jigsaw puzzle of a Census that our Nation had conducted, the adoption of Africa as the cornerstone of our Foreign Policy, the banning of secret cults and societies in the Civil Service, the creation of additional states in Nigeria and so many fundamentally helpful programs that the regime had introduced, before Murtala was, mercilessly, gunned down in a hail of bullets by Dimkar, right in front of my office at Ikoyi. I almost became an eye witness to the assassination as I drove past the spot less than five minutes to the assassination.
I was one of the many Nigerians who openly wept for Murtala, and for a short time for Obasanjo himself, whom we all thought had been killed, when the coup plotters had mistaken Colonel Dumuje’s car for his own. We were so glad when it later dawned on the nation that Obasanjo had escaped the assassination, and that the coup plotters had failed woefully to achieve their ultimate goal, because most Nigerians have trusted Obasanjo to continue and complete the job his boss had started. The performance of OBJ today, if the truth must be told, is more fume than gas. The Iweala-Adeniji saga stinks to the high heavens in its stupidity. Why? Because the Civil Service is the engine that drives the Public Sector. If the Public Service is incompetent and derelict, nothing else counts, especially, in a country like ours, where the private sector is still too little and powerless to make a difference unlike what obtains in America or any of the civilized world. I cannot help, but borrow a leaf from the great Mohammed Ali when he said, “If you kill the head, the body will fall.” All you need to kill Nigeria is take on the Civil Service, and deal a death blow to it.
Creating a special cadre of public servants like Obasanjo has done is not the way to go at all. The case can now be made that Obasanjo’s declared intent to reform the Civil Service, and end corruption in our country is a dead issue. Obasanjo has murdered morale in the Public Service, and only God can tell where all these are going to lead our country. The decision to make salaries of some urgently needed staff personal to them in our country, is not a new phenomenon in the Civil Service. It is a common practice in our system give enhanced entry point or a higher scale of salary to newly hired staff who have had some verifiable and cognate experience before taking a new job. Like Rueben has correctly pointed out, if Obasanjo has decided to hire Iweala and Adeniji as consultants, perhaps, he would have given himself some cover.
But the way he has handled this, is totally unconscionable in our kind of system. He has handled this just the same way a military dictator, who had never shed his uniform, would have done. Such a capital intensive decision ought to have gone through both Houses of Parliament in Nigeria. The dog should be the one wagging its tail. But in Nigeria, it is the tail that is wagging the dog, hence this kind of decision could be taken without the Legislature getting involved in it, in any shape or form. Something is just not right in the way and manner we do things in Nigeria. This kind of mistake is avoidable, if Obasanjo is more open to consultation and advice. Any Secretary to Government worth his salt ought not to be defending this kind of outrage. He should never have let it happen under his watch. Even if it means resignation, he should have taken that option, as a matter of principle.
Like I said before, giving special salaries to badly needed staff is nothing new. The Nigerian Civil Service under Alhaji Sule Katagun and Sir Manuwa used to do that in their days, and there used to some provisions in the General Orders and Financial Instructions that give the Civil Service Commission that power. But what Obasanjo has done, and the way he has done it, and his rationalization for doing it, is wrong and totally indefensible, given the present financial and the economic situation of our country. I don’t care what an economic wizard Ms. Okonjo-Iweala had become in the World Bank or what efficient and diplomatic expertise Ambassador Adeniji may have acquired at the United Nations, it makes little sense to appoint them and pay them the same salaries or a little less than what they were making in the two international organizations. Even if Ambassador Adeniji was more qualified and proficient than Henry Kissinger who is fondly referred to as “Mr. Fix it” around the world, he does not merit that special treatment. Not even Abba Ebban the one time Permanent Representative of the State of Israel, at the United Nations, was ever given that kind of treatment.
It was a stupid decision to say the least, and it is an outrage that Ufot Ekaette the Secretary to the Federal Government was defending the indefensible. Abdul Azeez Atta, Ejueyiche, Allison Ayida, Grey Eromosele Longe, or Oluyemi Falae, all of whom I served under, could never have done such a thing or ever encourage their bosses to try such a thing. The first question Allison Ayida, Grey Longe or Olu Falae would have asked, was how such a decision was going to impact the morale of the entire public service and not just a cross section of it. A good debate of that question would have revealed the stupidity and naiveté of such a suggestion, and the whole proposal would have been shot down, in a heartbeat. Believe me. I am surprised that between Ekaette whom I know very well, in my days in the Service, and Alhaji Yayale the Head of Service, that the proposal got past their two offices without somebody raising a finger. This tells me what I have always suspected that the Civil Service is no longer what it used to be. Haba!
I recall here that when Olu Falae was brought back from the Nigerian Merchant Bank to become the Secretary to the Federal Government under IBB, a similar concession was made to him to have him retain his salary and allowances in the Bank, because IBB had wanted him so bad to make a political statement that Ondo State was not deliberately oversighted in his distribution of Ministerial positions to all States in Nigeria. What had really happened, was that IBB and his handlers, in distributing the high visibility jobs in his new Government, had mistakenly forgotten Ondo State, until somebody had drawn his attention, that such an oversight would never be taken lightly by a state regarded as the intellectual center of Nigeria and because Ondo State, as an Awolowo country, has never, at any time, been in the good books of any Federal Government starting from Yakubu Gowon to Shehu Shagari.
In the panic to appease Ondo State, IBB had asked the Sokoto Prince Charming and Heir apparent, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, now the Sardauna of Sokoto, but at that point, the most powerful Permanent Secretary in the whole Federation to go fish out somebody who could be made the Secretary to the Government, the only vacancy that was yet to be filled at that point in time. Alhaji Abubakar immediately got on the phone with Professor Sam Aluko, the renowned Economist who had taught Alhaji at the London School of Economics. Professor Aluko had also contacted the late Asabia of Upele near Owo. Between them, they had come up with three candidates namely Oluyemi Falae from Akure who was already making waves at the Nigerian Merchant Bank increasing the turnover from just 3 or 4 million to upwards of 15 to 20 million in less than two years. There was also Mr. Augustus Adebayo from Igbara Oke a former Secretary to Government in the old West and the late Theophilus Iwajomo another firebrand Permanent Secretary from Ikale. At the end of the day, it was Oluyemi Falae that got the job on a platter of gold, with his salary at the Bank made personal to him in Naira, of course. IBB could do that with impunity, because he was a Dictator, and could get away with anything.
Obasanjo is operating under a different set of circumstance today, and should not have done what he did for so many reasons. First of all the sum of 247,000 dollars per month that Iweala is being paid, when converted at 140 Naira per dollar is 34,580,000 per month. I leave you to work out how much that comes to per year, because I really need a calculator to that correctly. Abati has said what Iweala is getting is more than the combined salaries of 14 of her fellow Ministers. Just think about that for a moment, and what that logic may have done to their morale. Same thing with Ambassador Adeniji. Not even Simeon Adebo for all his services to the Nation, could ever have contemplated or condoned such an arrangement, even if he was offered. We thank God that Obasanjo himself was not offered the job of the Secretary to the United Nations he had wanted so bad, before his second and third coming as Head of State of Nigeria.
If he had not seen anything wrong with what he has done for Iweala and Adeniji, he would never have settled for anything than the total package of Kofi Annan, and Nigeria would have had to bear the brunt. I think I now have the answer to why Obasanjo was so impervious to all the complaints about his endless overseas trips. He was probably looking for estacodes to top up whatever he was getting in his chicken change salaries that have placed two of his Cabinet Ministers’ salaries above his own. I think that deduction can be made. The inference can also be made that Obasanjo. after his current tenure might have ended, could still one day end up, going back to the UNDP or the UN and being invited back to Nigeria to serve as a consultant to Nigeria on some assignments. If he is allowed to get away with the deal he has made with Iweala and Adeniji, God save Nigeria about what he might be asking for, if that opportunity ever comes. I am sick to my stomach to have to be exploring the full ramifications of what Obasanjo is up to here, in rationalizing that kind of decision. It stinks, to be honest with you.
I think Nigeria is in trouble. I think Gani Fawehinmi had done the right thing taking the Government to court for a redress. But the bad news is that the judge to decide the case equally has had no moral scruple to question what the Government has done and how that may have damaged our country. Only Judges like the late J.I.C. Tailor or the late Akinola Aguda could have made some sense out of the motion put before the court by Gani, the Senior Advocate of the Masses. We thank God for Pro Bono Lawyers like Gani, and others like him around the country From this time on, we now know a new cadre of political office holders has now been created by Obasanjo, and there is never going to be an end to this vicious circle. Agboola Gambari’s application is already waiting in the wings to be processed. He is never going to settle for anything less than what Iweala has been given, when he completes the present assignment, that Kofi Annan was kind enough to offer him, after he was summarily ordered back home from his job as Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations.
If Ambassador Adeniji is now being paid in dollars, what is going to stop all Nigerian ambassadors abroad to now begin to bring pressure to bear on Obasanjo to now start paying them in dollars, using equivalent salaries paid to ambassadors of the same rank with them in America. Before we know it, all Foreign Affairs officers in the Foreign Affairs Ministry whose allowances were paid in dollars before, would now have a leeway to start asking to be paid in dollars. If it can be done for Iweala and Adeniji, a precedent has been laid, and it will be hard for any future Government to deny them. The Foreign Affairs Ministry in Nigeria would then become the primadona of the Civil Service that Nigerians can now kill to get into. I think I now understand why corruption has now hit the roof in our Civil Service, and ten percent kickback have now entered into the Lexicon of our Civil Services at home across the board. Obasanjo is the key to all of that, if you ask me. Obasanjo should simply have allowed Iweala and Adeniji to keep their jobs at the World Bank and the UN, while looking for other Nigerians who are not going to destabilize the entire Public Service by the huge breaks Iweala and Adeniji are getting from his Government.
If the Federal Government is doing this, I wonder what kind of example it is showing to the State Governors and the Government Parastatals at State and Federal levels and even Local Governments across the country? I don’t see what Iweala and Adeniji are going to be doing in Nigeria that entitle them to such special treatment. I just don’t get it. Since Mrs. Iweala has once threatened to go back to her World Bank, I think she should be allowed to go quietly, if her job is still waiting for her. I recognize she may well be an authority in her field. I won’t take that away from her, But the World Bank is a far cry from Nigeria. If she is working as the only angel in the midst of devils in Nigeria, she is never going to have any traction. The fallout and the propaganda from this terrible decision can only damage her further and dent her self esteem. She is damn too good a professional to have to go through this public scrutiny when all is said and done. I said that, before, in one of my articles, and it bears repeating here.
I would say the same thing of Ambassador Adeniji. It makes no sense at all for Obasanjo’s Government to create such huge disconnect within the Federal Public Service that his predecessors in office have sacrificed so much to build, and to pass down to him. Even Abacha, for all his madness and indiscretion did not have to commit this horrendous mistake. When the cost of running a Government is more than the total revenues going to the same Government, how can that Government ever balance its budget or break even? That is a legitimate question to ask Obasanjo and Ekaette.
I rest my case.