In today’s Nigeria we are always quick to heap condemnation on public servants and officials when they falter, we should therefore not hesitate to commend when they act responsibly-and this what ignited this piece.
I am a professional journalist and news junkie, and have been for decades and would not be shy to say except I have very important meetings, or gym sessions, I try to have a feel of early morning television and radio shows before dipping myself into the business of the day.
From AIT’s Kakaaki, I usually swing to Channel TV’s Sunrise Daily, and now I have added, Arise TV’s Morning Show before rounding off on TVC’s This Morning anchored by the veteran, Yori Folarin.
Unlike the other shows, This Morning is a programme that allows immediate audience participation via a phone-in segment-and it was during this segment last week that Hakeem Muri-Okunola, the Lagos State Head of Service, made quite an impression. The discussion was on the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria strike and there was a healthy debate in the studio when suddenly the Anchor announced that he had Muri-Okunola on the line.
As a celebrity reporter of over 30 years, I know famous people and faces, and definitely knew Muri-Okunola. I was first shocked, then the Nigerian in me kicked in: “How can a whole Head of Service call? Then I thought maybe it was just a same name coincidence, then the caller began to speak. The voice was unmistakable, it was the Head of Service, the cool, bespectacled gentleman everyone calls HMO.
Muri-Okunola began by explaining that he had no problem with the agitation of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, especially because they are agitating to enforce a constitutional position and provision. But wondered why the Lagos State Chapter of JUSUN was on strike when the state government was not in breach of the said provision that the others are fighting for.
He went on to explain that Judicial autonomy was not strange to Lagos State as it has been in force for years. He said Lagos State is in 100 per cent compliance in respect of recurrent expenditure and 80 per cent compliant in terms of capital expenditure. He said the capital expenditure issue is as a result of dwindling revenue of the state which has affected spending projections of all the other tiers of government. In the view of Muri-Okunola he does not see why members of JUSUN, Lagos State Chapter should embark on a strike. What are they fighting for, he asked rhetorically.
Since the call came towards the end of the programme, there was little time for Anchor and guest to digest this information and allow others weigh in. Though what Muri-Okunola has stated is in the public domain as it had already been disclosed by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, during a meeting with the Nigeria Bar Association, Lagos State Chapter, but the fact that he picked up his phone to call and explain is the “koko”.
Some cynics will say, what is the big deal? Is it not a mere phone call? Well, I dare say in today’s Nigeria where even the file-carrying Level 4 clerk thinks he is doing you a favour to perform a duty he is paid for, that call is a big deal.
What he did should be the norm, but is anything normal again in Nigeria today? The abnormal is our new normal especially when people who are elected into office see themselves as rulers instead of the servants they ought to be.
Unlike some haughty Public officers, the Lagos State Head of Service did not speak about JUSUN with derision. He simply explained what he termed as the facts and allowed the viewers to make their own deductions.
I am a good judge of character and I can say that his composure and comportment during the call showed him as a good manager of men. He came across as friendly, urbane, sincere and someone who has the right balance of standing up for principles when need be and using diplomacy when necessary.
When Governor Akinwunmi Ambode swore him in on December 28, 2020, Muri-Okunola made history as the youngest person ever to attain the position of Head of Service in Lagos State. The then Governor described the appointment as a new chapter in the state’s civil service. He expressed strong optimism in the ability of Muri-Okunola to effectively take charge on account of his capacity, knowledge, exposure, experience and youthful energy. He urged him to lead by example and encourage accountability and professionalism in the service.
Those were weighty words that conferred a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the 46 year-old, it is enough to overwhelm anyone who is to begin the assignment of being the numero uno civil servant in the Centre of Excellence. But it seemed Muri-Okunola was not fazed.
People can speculate about his network, his heredity and say that he rose rapidly because of this or that, but Muri-Okunola has got juice period! Though I have not bothered to investigate how he has so far performed as Head of Service, but he has shown capacity and competence on the job by that seemingly innocuous action. If he has faltered, we would have heard about it.
When people in government speak to the citizenry, it is not a favour. Today, many top government officials hide from the people and churn out statements through their spokespersons, but nothing beats the human touch.
Another good example is the video message being circulated by Sanwo-Olu on his second anniversary plans. That hit the mark big time too.
Speaking directly to the people or about a problem serves many purposes: it can deescalate tension, it can reduce friction and has the tendency to build goodwill and better friendships as we say in Rotary International. The bond between the government and the governed would rather than widen be shortened.
According to the late Super Civil Servant, Allison Ayida, a nation’s civil service should harbour its best brains because if the nation was a car, the civil service will be its engine.
In his view, Nigeria’s gradual degeneration from the zenith to the nadir of the development index is as result of the dwindling standard of personnel in the civil service. “In those days, our best and the brightest joined the civil service, today, it is no longer the case. The engine is faulty and it has been so for many years.”
The point being made by this late astute Public Administrator is that we need more men with impeachable sense of duty in our civil service like HMO to drive Nigeria out of its current state of inertia.
If our Civil Service is made up of first class brains, we can only expect first class performance. It is therefore time for an overhaul of the recruitment process into Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government at the State and Federal levels. If not for anything, let meritocracy be the new order.
Muri-Okuola has shown that even the minutest of things matter, let others follow, and gradually, we will get to our Promised Land.
Effiong is the Editor of Ovation International.