If appointments are continuously hinged on no other factor than political consideration, then the change mantra is superficial, writes Olawale Olaleye
The news of the sack of 26 heads of agencies and parastatals some days ago was really nothing to cheer. In one fell swoop, a political decision was taken that immediately cut short the careers and genuine service to father land by some persons. A few hours after the news hit the airwaves, the story started flying that the sack might have been implemented because some of them were part of the architect of the controversial budget padding. That could not have been true though. Even if it was, the blame of the budget crisis can only be laid at one door – the presidency.
But clearly, it was a political decision. The news had been going on for some time that President Muhammadu Buhari had been under intense pressure to sack some heads of agencies and parastatals in order to create the room for members of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a majority of them had become jobless after the elections.
Although the president was said to have initially resisted the pressure on account of the fact that some of the appointments were not only tenured but backed by the different acts setting them up. But the pressure would not abate until Buhari gave in.
From this palpable indiscretion, it might be safe to argue that the files of the record of some of these people were not even examined to determine, who was doing well or not or who deserved to be left in office on account of their performance. They were relieved of their duties as if they were not Nigerians and because they were appointed by a different government.
In developed climes, once election is over, such affiliate leanings are buried completely in national interest and for the nation to move on to other productive matters. Therefore, the claim that Buhari belongs to nobody but belongs to everybody is not true. He certainly belongs to some people and that can be read distinctly from his body language.
There were a few people amongst those sacked recently, who were not only doing well in their beats but committed to the project Nigeria and had shown more than sufficient commitment in the discharge of their responsibility.
The case of the former Director-General of the Industrial Training Funds (ITF), Mrs. Juliet Chukkas-Onaeko, comes to mind here. Since appointed in May 2014, the woman has not had a day without fighting the survival battle. If the establishmentarians do not want her out, the unions are permanently on her case with multiple petitions or those interested in her case were busy poaching their contacts in the corridors of power to see if they could conjure lies that would unseat her.
That she survived this long is even by sheer grace. Naively, she did not realise on time that her seat was under serious threat until the day she met with the late Abubakar Audu and upon handing him her card, the next question was: “But someone always comes here with a card as the DG of ITF”.
In other words, someone had been going about impersonating as the DG of ITF while there was still a substantive DG. Their network was so tight that they are said to have in their contacts, personal aides of President Buhari, ministers and governors, through whom they had mounted the pressure to have her out.
They won’t stop there. They had alleged different charges from corruption to incapacity just to see her back from office and thank their goodness – they eventually did by the stroke of one political indiscretion. Her problem is in three folds. One, she is a woman. Two, she is a Christian and three she is from the Eastern part of the country.
Those after her job see the office as not just a northern inheritance, but specifically of Plateau extraction. These, she has had to combat throughout her stay in office. It was only through grace that she was able to initiate critical reforms, the type that ITF never knew since it was set up many years ago.
Just a few days before she was relieved of her post, ITF emerged the overall best in the International Federation of Training and Development Organization, (IFTDO) competition for the IFTDO Global HRD Awards 2016. With that singular development, Nigeria has been placed on the global index of human resource development, working at high international standard in the human resource and manpower development fields.
For emphasis, the ITFDO was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1972 to help develop and maintain a worldwide network committed to the identification, development and transfer of knowledge, skills and technology to enhance personal growth, human performance, productivity and sustainable development.
In a correspondence from IFTDO to the ITF dated February 5, there was a total of 33 submissions from 9 countries around the world for the 3 categories of the awards which are: Best HRD (Human Resource Development) Practice, Improving Quality of working life and Research Excellence CSTD Award. The Secretary General of IFTDO, Mr. Uddesh Kohli, in the statement, said ITF emerged tops in the Improving Quality of Working Life Award category, as well as the overall winner of the IFTDO Global HRD Awards 2016.
He further explained that of the 33 submissions from 9 countries reviewed, thirteen were shortlisted by the judging panel for the IFTDO Global HRD Award. He emphasised that the standard of the shortlisted submissions was very high and any organisation in this category is viewed as working to high International standard in the HRD field. What more, Nigeria is the second African country that has won the IFTDO Global HRD Award since inception.
That’s a feat by a woman the system has refused to recognise, let alone commend, in spite of the challenges that strewn her path and she may never get to be honoured for that award. But all she gets everyday is harassment by the unions, which daily wrote petitions, obviously at the instance of vested interests or threats to her office from unmarked quarters.
Of course, the award was just an icing for her. She had changed the face of the agency in the less than two years that she assumed office. When she newly took over on May 19, 2014, she was said to have inherited an otherwise run down agency, with estimated over N20 billion debt, a huge backlog of unpaid SIWES, unpaid reimbursements, poor corporate image, low staff morale, terribly run down training centres and area offices functioning at below average capacity, obsolete work tools, over 580 pending court cases and a backlog of staff loan applications to the tune of N282,900, amongst other issues.
But she would not let the situation discourage her and thus, set out to address the issues as a matter of urgency by articulating a 4-point agenda, which are the full automation of the business process of the ITF; to achieve 100 per cent efficiency in SIWES administration; training of two million youth annually and achieving 100 per cent efficiency in revenue generation.
ITF is said to have since undergone positive and far-reaching reforms under her leadership. These include facilitating and scaling up job creation through the training and retraining of 2 to 4 million youths annually; matching skills development to market/industry needs; repositioning skills development as an enabler for industrialisation and economic diversification and improving the country’s industrial competitiveness, regionally and globally through skills development.
Also, to ensure sustainability of the reforms, her leadership had also put in place some strategic pillars aimed at achieving internal efficiency, such as the training and capacity building for all staff; training standardisation and certification; operational Excellence; strategic partnership collaboration and corporate visibility.
Dealing with the issues on the ground like indebtedness, within one month in office, she reportedly approved the payment of over N1 billion as part of the outstanding Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) allowance and has till date, paid over N4 billion on SIWES for both students and supervisory allowances.
In her first six weeks in office, she paid over N1 billion of contractors debt and later set up a liability committee to review and establish the level of indebtedness of the fund, when the bills kept increasing after each payment. It was the committee that gave birth to the renegotiation of some of the debts at the convenience of the agency.
She also took staff welfare seriously and in the bid to improve the low morale of staff, beginning from her first month in office, she organised a four-day management retreat, where she was able to share her vision and 4-point agenda for ITF and also secured the buy-in of staff. To follow this was the promotion of staff in the same month. In this period, she had approved and forwarded to the governing council for ratification, the promotion of all officers within levels 3-14, who had passed their promotion exams and interviews.
From the payment of claims, pensions, loans approval, staff development capacity and salary increase, the DG moved on to the upgrade of ITF staff school, a move that signified its first time in over 22 years that ITF was established. She moved the school from a total state of decrepit to a living structure. Not a few believed it was possible, especially when the renovation has always been provided for but no one did anything and year in, year out about N100 million goes down the drain inexplicably.
Inspired by the feat above, she also paid off a four-year old debt to some Singaporeans, to enable the first ever graduation of MSTC trainees, who had been due to graduate for over one year but were not able to do so because ITF had not paid their outstanding bill. She moved a step forward to set up a committee to look into the operations of the centre, and the finding allegedly revealed such rot that could not be comprehended. It was for this reason she ordered the suspension of any new enrolment of trainees pending when all leakages had been plugged, the centre upgraded and graduate new trainees.
ITF under her had engaged the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) as well as National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) for collaboration. The study is expected to serve as the basis to inform government investments in skills development in Nigeria and to help the government and ITF in particular to efficiently align training services to market/industry needs.
Chukkas-Onaeko has also conceived several other initiatives like the first ever National Skills Summit; the ITF e-learning platform; ITF online job portal; summer boot camp for kids and teens; the creation of youth lounges for ease of interaction and job hunting; the creation of production hubs at different training centres as well as brain bargain – a diaspora volunteering skills development initiative to complement the many efforts at ITF.
She exhibited capacity on the job, even as her ability to conceive and enforce creative and progressive ideas, without alluding to excuses was the true manifestation of the change she sought to represent at ITF. She treaded a very rough path, no doubt; worked in an inherently hostile environment and sadly, was inherited by a government that appears to lack elementary political discretion.
But the good news is that her intellectual credentials remain with her and her commitment to human development is always available to the outside world, where politics will never triumph over merit in matters of national interest.