It is not always the case that we find Nigerians who go into public service and serve with distinction. I must confess that it is always a rare achievement. This is the story of Waziri Adio; journalist, publisher, communications strategist, public policy analyst and until recently, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI).
I believe that no matter what, Nigeria will always be blessed in spite of the way we “think and behave.” Thankfully, we can boast of great minds like Adio – and we have many of them – who serve without blemish in public service.
Regardless of where we come from, we all have a duty to make Nigeria a better place; nobody will do it for us. By the time we introduce “State of Residence” in place of “State of Origin”, I’m sure it will reduce ethnic tension and rivalry.
The reality is that we have good people around us but our biggest headaches are also Nigerians who not only refuse to do the right thing, but are also happy to de-market Nigeria at every given opportunity.
In my September 17, 2017 article titled, ‘Making Nigeria a better place’ published in TheCable, I argued that Nigerians – both at home and abroad – are “doing great things to inspire monumental changes and development in Nigeria.” I added that Nigerians must “modify their thinking and orientation” so that Nigeria, like USA, UK, UAE, Singapore, Norway, South Korea and China can also become “a land flowing with milk and honey”.
So when Simon Kolawole, publisher of TheCable, asked “if a new Nigeria is possible” in his column to celebrate the launch of Adio’s memoir, my answer is an emphatic “YES”. With people like Adio, a new Nigeria is definitely possible.
When this occurs, we would be able to achieve the much needed “critical mass of ‘good people’” and be in a position to turn the tide. It is not rocket science. From that moment onwards, Nigeria will never be the same again. In fact, we won’t look back. What do we really want? We need “champions” that are ready to lead Nigeria on the path to greatness and I know it is possible.
Adio wrote about his experience as head of NEITI in his book, ‘The Arc of the Possible’, which was launched in Abuja recently. You may not believe it but Adio struggled financially while he was the boss at NEITI because he did not allow “budget padding” in exchange for gratification. Those who wanted kick back know themselves, so he was forced to raise funds elsewhere. He replaced frustration with innovativeness.
How do you head a government agency in Abuja and refuse to “chop” money? How do you resist pressures from influential people and “acting big men” who throw their weights around, seeking favours without becoming a victim just because you said no to their requests?
In one instance, Adio was even branded “anti-Muslim” when he is a Muslim himself just because he directed that all staff must log in their out-of-office movements during office hours. He did not exempt himself from the directive but you might be wondering what was wrong with a very simple and harmless directive. His sin was that he was doing “sabi sabi” too much.
According to Adio, some fellow Muslims ganged up against him over the directive and accused him of “violating the constitutional rights of Muslims”. Can you beat that? In most ministries, departments and agencies, some staff are “professional” late comers and they do not want to be reprimanded neither are they ready to change their ways, yet at the end of each month, they want to be paid in full.
You cannot rob peter to pay Paul, or eat your cake and have it, can you? But that is the way we roll in Nigeria. Adio noted that some staff would disappear from their desks for hours “under the pretext of going for something not work-related”. Despite stern warnings, the attitude continued. This is common practice. We enjoy giving tonnes of excuses just to stay away from work for private engagements.
Are they saying they don’t know that dodging work affects our economy’s productivity and GDP? This country can only become great when we are ready to do the right thing. Right now, I don’t think we are ready; we are just a bunch of jokers. Two previous national re-orientation campaigns targeted at Nigerians to evoke a sense of national pride did not move the needle one bit.
First, it was “Good People, Great Nation” campaign when the late Prof Dora Akunyuli was Information Minister. This was followed by “Change begins with me” campaign under the present administration championed by Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture.
These concepts — on paper — are beautiful; we cannot deny that fact. But were they impactful? Did they achieve their objectives? It is not enough to approve a colourful PowerPoint presentation deck; it must be followed by painstaking execution that should be sustained with measurable outcomes.
Multi-media campaigns of this nature ought to be organic to foster a buy-in culture which was why the campaigns did not succeed in the first place. Nigerians just have this habit of not trusting any government, no matter what they say. Until we bridge the “trust gap”, no emotional marketing campaign will make sense neither will it help anyone.
For example, how do we explain that national revenues are dropping but government spending is going up? Nigerians know what is going on and they cannot be fooled. What we see year in, year out is wasteful and reckless spending because government money has been described as “free money”. Meanwhile, we are borrowing more money with a huge chunk of our revenues used to service the debts.
In spite of the banana peels thrown at him at NEITI, Adio decided to lead by personal example. He believes that “change must begin with us” and therefore led from the front. Although in the minority, he represents a “new generation” of Nigerians who are ready and willing to make the difference in whatever station they find themselves.
Adio is a silver lining in the dark and ominous cloud hovering above and around Nigeria and that is why he is my Man of the Year, 2021. Here’s a man who returned his official car and laptop after his five-year tenure ended. I’m certain he would have been called all sorts of names because it is strange for a public officer to behave that way.
What we normally do is to buy off every government asset in our possession for next to nothing, or net book value at best. Some people will abuse him for trying to be a “yeye reformer” and pray for him to be sacked or for his tenure to end abruptly or quickly. Anyway, his records are there for all to see and he’s happy for the opportunity to do things differently while it lasted.
Change agents such as Adio are seen as spoilers for not “co-operating to steal” government money. When they leave office, they are described as “good riddance to bad rubbish”. Adio is not “bad rubbish”; he is a good man, a remarkable public servant and distinguished professional. He is one of the brain boxes we need to fast-track our development agenda.
Adio displayed extraordinary talent, courage and innovation at NEITI and refused to cut corners even when some highly placed Nigerians kept asking him to “bend the rules”. After reading Simon Kolawole’s piece, I also asked myself this question: why is it always a problem to do what is right in Nigeria?
As an efficient manager of resources, Adio was able to reduce the cost of producing audits by half and he released beneficial ownership register for the extractive sector amongst other significant achievements.
It is evident that Adio’s future is bright and assured. Nigeria will still benefit from his talent and experience. Honestly, I don’t know how he did it but staying put in public office at the helm for five years as Adio did and still holding his head high can only be possible for a man on a mission. For example, he insisted that procurements and recruitments must be carried out “fairly, competitively and transparently”.
I congratulate him for his outstanding performance and first class stewardship at NEITI. We need more men – and women – like him who have to capacity for innovation and the courage to avoid abusing public office. It will be difficult for one man to purge the public service of virulent corruption but Adio can become a role model and symbol of excellence – both in Nigeria and beyond.
Perhaps, building the culture of transparency and accountability should be the benchmark for evaluating public officers’ performances based on Adio’s experience. Another important validation criterion would be how well they are able to manage conflict of interests to achieve a higher sense of purpose.
Most of Adio’s work at NEITI included raising public debates and promoting policy solutions on matters such as data on signature bonuses, reconciling payments including unremitted funds by NNPC, crude oil and refined products thefts, the need for a new petroleum industry law and disclosing beneficial ownership. NEITI is part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global standard for improving transparency and accountability in the extractive sector in countries that follow the EITI standard in oil, gas and mining operations.
After a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of Lagos, Adio earned an MS degree in journalism from the University of Columbia and capped it with an MPA in public administration from Harvard University.
He was editor and columnist at ThisDay newspaper. At different times, Adio was a Fellow of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and an Edward S. Mason Fellow in public policy and management at Harvard University.
Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)