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Going Back to Basics: The Past as Prologue – By M. Adamu Fika, CFR Wazirin Fika

The caption above includes the word ”governor” so that readers, who may not be aware that regional governors were named premiers in the First Republic understand the position we are talkng about. It is quite possible that a few young  readers might not know titles in the Parliamentary system of government that was in place in the First Republic. How could a PREMIER abandon his air plane for the comfort of a civil servant when he had been billed to use the aircraft? Please find out below.

MALLAM ADAMU FIKA, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Head of Civil Service delivered a thought-provoking lecture seven years ago at the OLD BOYS ASSOCIATION 2011 ANNUAL LUNCHEON LECTURE AT GENERAL HASSAN USMAN KATSINA HOUSE, KAWO, KADUNA. Governor Nassir el Rufai graciously posted this piece of his FACEBOOK page and requested that it be circulated widely. The issues raised in the lecture are still as potent as they were when the hugely experience retired public servant delivered the speech. The theme of the speech was based on an observation made by Chief Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo, the Okanlomo of Egbaland, astute administrator, Lawyer and diplomat. Easily, Adebo could be classified as one of the greatest Nigerians that ever lived, on the value of learning from our past and respecting our past leaders. He observed that:

 IGNORANCE:  “From my experience of public affairs and my recent dealings with government officials, there is a high level of ignorance of seemingly educated men about past events in this country. On any major issue many public officers behave as if there had never been a past and that we must copy newly fangled ideas and procedures which are then labelled as progressive reforms. This applies to virtually every aspect or facet of our national life and activity. Needless to say that anything that is new becomes old in the course of time, and if we get into this tendentious habit of disowning not only our past but also our past leadership, we would end nowhere. Let us learn from them, without forgetting what they did for this country”.

 Adebo continued: ‘’A large part of the problem confronting Nigeria in general and the public service in particular today is the result of an unpardonable ignorance of the past and an unjustified and unwarranted aversion to all the lessons and benefits the past has to offer. We often live and work under the illusion that only what is new is good, forgetting that it is in the nature of whatever is new to itself ultimately run out of fashion one day. What is new today becomes old in the course of time; and as Oscar Wilde once said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to change it every six months

 ‘’It is indeed distressing to see supposedly educated and experienced public officers behave and conduct themselves as if matters have no precedent; and they go on to regard and treat the past with so much condescending levity. They conduct public business as if there has never been a past; and they borrow, and copy, and graft and latch onto every latest fad and new craze with absolute capriciousness, in the end effectively making the public service rootless. But if we are to progress as a nation, we must learn to pay due respect to the past and learn from it and treasure the legacy bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers and their immediate worthy successors—the pioneer public officers in both mufti and khaki—who toiled to make Nigeria what it is today.’’

 HOW A PREMIER/GOVERNOR ABANDONED HIS AIRPLANE FOR USE BY A DISTRESSED CIVIL SERVANT: According to Mallam Adamu Fika, First Republic politicians led by example. They were also exemplars of democratic virtues. The following incidences in the life of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello KBE (1910-1966) shed light on how they played their politics and how they scrupulously separated politics from governance:

(a) Concern for the Welfare of others, particularly Civil Servants: Dr. RAB Dikko the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health, defunct Northern region,  requested for the use of the Northern Communication Flight to fly a sick health officer from Iddah. Unfortunately, the only plane operating at the time had been booked for the Premier, for 10am the following day. As secretary to the Executive Council, Chief Sunday Awoniyi controlled and authorized the use of Communication Flight. Finding himself in a difficult situation with little choice, he approached the Premier and informed him that a higher priority of use of the plane had arisen for conveyance of a sick officer. The Premier agreed and ordered his car to be got ready for his own journey while, the plane was put at the disposal of the Ministry of Health for their sick officer. The officer was brought from Idda to Kano, to be flown abroad but died in Kano before he could be flown out. The Premier, on later reflection on the turn of events, profoundly thanked Awoniyi for asking him to give up the plane for the use of the deceased officer.

American Example—In an attempt to muzzle the public service, it has often been argued here that because of the presidential system in operation in the country, the role and character of the service will have to change to conform. But nothing could be furtherer from the truth. Both America and Britain practice the same system of merit based public service. It was only after trying the spoils system with tragic consequences that the United States of America from where our presidential system was borrowed, imported and implanted the principle of the merit system from the United Kingdom in 1884.

Irrespective of the system in operation, there is no difference in the core values of public service – integrity, impartiality, objectivity, merit, permanence, accountability and independence. As the machinery for the achievement of the political and economic development goals of the nation, the role of the public service is the same and its characteristics remain the same irrespective of the system of government in operation. Indeed, it was to this independence and the service quality of permanence that former US President Gerald Ford referred to as he assumed duty while lauding the role of the US Federal Public Service in the aftermath of the difficulties occasioned by the Watergate scandal. Ford made this observation:

“Whatever else, recent experiences have proved one thing about the Federal Government, it can continue to function and move ahead even under the most difficult circumstances. This is due chiefly to the more than two million career civil servants who, day in, day out, give of themselves in a thoroughly dedicated and efficient manner to assure this continuity”.

Conclusion: LEGACIES: Obviously, there can be no replacement for the past; and Nigerians cannot hope to see a return to past glory for their nation until they honour the past. As we can all see, our contempt for the past and disrespect for our past leaders and their ways have landed us in a political and socio-economic quagmire from which there is no hope for escape unless we change our ways. While our past leaders spent their lives establishing and laying down the foundation of merit in our public system; we are spending ours demolishing their legacy. No wonder everything is irretrievably breaking down; and, as a result of this breakdown in the Public Service and, with it, in all our national institutions, the nation itself is slowly grinding to a halt. And the reason for this is clear enough.

RESPECT FOR THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE: We have painfully found out that the absence of merit and independence in the public service is the most effective key to unlocking the floodgates of corruption and accelerating the rate of the breakdown of national institutions. And once the gates are open, there is no stopping the torrent: it will most assuredly sweep everything that gets in its way. And while we must respect the past, we must also respect ourselves and learn to respect the will of the people as drawn up in the constitution made in their name, and be guided by that will as expressed periodically in elections in which the people freely cast their votes. The way to respect the past is by taking the right lessons from it; and the way to respect ourselves is by showing respect to the system and electing as leaders, people who will lead us by example.

LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE: It was a direct result of the absence of leadership by example and the abandoning of merit that the custodians of public wealth found it easy to appropriate all of it for themselves; and they are today living in a world away and different from our own. Their headache is treated in European hospitals, their children educated in American schools; their drinking water is bottled, their power supply from generators provided, maintained and fuelled at public expense; and their traffic jam is cleared for them by the blare of sirens. They are in every way and in every sense totally divorced from the harsh realities of life and the many excruciating problems in present-day Nigeria, problems which they have signally failed to solve.

As we can see, the Nigerian problem is not in the economy; it is not in the politics or in the society—it is in us. And it will not change until we ourselves change. In order for us to begin the process of change, the future of this nation must be entrusted, as it was in the past, into the hands of people—politicians and civil servants—who will, in word and deed, and through self-sacrifice, lead us by example; and who will always exercise the leadership function in the public interest and for the public good.

We must therefore first bring about a most fundamental change in the way we do everything; and the first step in this long journey is to look back into our past and take what we will need; for, we must begin in the past—and go on to the future. I started this lecture with a quotation from Chief S.O. Adebo. I will end it with other quotation this time from the preface written by Professor Wole Soyinka in a biography on Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, where he said:

“Today Francesca silky soprano evokes nostalgia for those days when work and leisure fused into one seamless process of creativity that defines the collective existence of a community that came to define itself around the impulse to simply create to express oneself in explorative ways within the artistic template. Does this sound like the familiar lament of old fogies like us, a lament known and scoffed at as the language of ‘the good old days’? Of course.” “But look around and tell me if the present comes remotely close as a befitting replacement.” I thank you very much for your patience.

COMMENTS: Adebo that was quoted profusely by Mallam Adamu Fika entered the top echelon of the Nigerian bureaucracy in 1942, when it was still the preserve of Europeans from Oxford and Cambridge. Mallam Adamu Fika wrote this piece at this period in history when attitudinal changes are required to guarantee the full support of the masses for governments at the three tiers. How do we attend to people who visit offices on official business? Are we masters or servants of the populace?  What importance do we pay to Policies, Programmes & Plans Implementation Monitoring to ensure that we  are on track? How do we ensure that feedback mechanism to gauge the feelings of the populace works? Elevators are, in some cases specially reserved for the use of top public officers in the three arms of government, not necessarily for security reasons, but as a result of class distinction.  If that top official fails to come for work, the elevator is locked down and nobody uses it. This has given rise to the thought of what will happen if those elevators are shared with the lowly place or peasants? This practice appears very incongruent to service, accountability and leadership by example.  If the colonialists used segregation on account of race and status, must we follow their example?

Again, how many public officers, for instance, ride in those new trains in the spirit of leadership by example and feeling the pulse of the society? Our people visit the advanced countries and ride in tubes and trains. If we do so abroad, why not at home? Any public officer who decides to identify with and mix with the ordinary people by removing barriers would gain the love and confidence of the masses. Then what happens when we complete our terms of office?  We immediately join the masses and nothing has been found to adversely affect a leader of yesterday, removed from office who attempts to reintegrate into the society.  It is important for us to take note of this practice of status symbol from local governments through States, to the government at the Centre.

May the good Lord bless Nigeria.