Mr. Ajose Kudehinbu is a former Head of Service in Ondo State. In this interview with Osagie Otabor, Kudehinbu said a politician from minority Ijaws in Ondo State will one day win election to govern the state. He also spoke on challenges between civil servants and politicians as well as way out for the civil service post COVID-19 era. Excerpts
Is it true that it is civil servants that train politicians on how to make illicit money?
What you have is a situation where the political class is corrupt in many ways. Before they come into government, they see the civil service as a gold mine.
They have this idea of making lots of money; that is why when somebody is appointed to a political office; no matter how irrelevant or small, people will congratulate him.
When he gets in, he found out that his salary is less than N300, 000. 00. The pressure will then come on him because people will think he is in money.
It is not the civil servant in all cases that train the politicians on how to make illicit money. The politician often comes with his own idea about opportunities in the system and they begin to explore those opportunities.
I didn’t want to be defensive of the civil servants. Politicians believe the civil service is a gold mine. They might use their position in government to intimidate the civil servant.
The civil servants get sufficiently intimidated and let things go. If they stand their ground they may lose their jobs.
How will you react to the face-off between Ondo State governor and the deputy governor?
Ondo State politics presently is not too different from what it has always been. When election is about to take place, you see all manner of things; leakage of information and all manner of secret documents in the public.
There has always been face-off between governors and deputies in Ondo State. It happened in the days of Papa Ajasin and Omoboriwo.
It was towards the next election. When Adefarati was there, there was leakage of classified information. Mimiko had management of ego between him and his deputy, Alhaji Ali Olanusi.
Today, you have a similar situation between the governor and his deputy. As far as Ondo State is concerned, there is hardly a time you talk about a smooth relationship from the beginning to the end. It is not a surprise.
Will Akeredolu survive at the party primaries?
I expect Akeredolu to scale through the primaries. In three years, contrary to the propaganda out there, no governor has done what Akeredolu is doing.
This is the time when political waters are muddled. What you have is misin formation. He has done a lot more than his predecessor.
I see him winning the primaries because he has done a lot. He has done very well. I believe in zoning as a political weapon; whether it should be now or later.
That is a different matter. Ondo North should be allowed to spend eight years. After that Ondo South should spend eight years.
That is a recipe for political stability. It is not fair for one area to spend eight years and another spend four years.
Do you think an Ijaw can be governor of Ondo State?
It is possible for any Ijaw person to win election to become governor in Ondo. Obama that became President of the United States is from Africa.
If he could become President there, it could happen here. Why should we find it difficult to allow a Nigerian become governor in any part of the country?
There is no other place to call home. It is not impossible. One day somebody will break the jinx of ethnic bias. Somebody who is not necessarily from a state will become the governor of that state.
The people you spoke about have no other place they call home. Many of them have assimilated here. They are part and parcel of this state. They are indigenes of this state.
What is the way out for workers post COVID-19 era?
We should begin to think of maximizing the advantages of e-governance. In some parts of the world, people are allowed to work from home in this era of COVID-19.
In other words, if you cannot go to work and your organisation is disposed to allow you to work from home, you can do so.
Nigeria civil service must prepare for it. COVID-19 is just the beginning. In the future, a similar situation will arise. You stay at home, do your job and send it.
If there is e-conference, you can discuss what you need to discuss in the office and proffer solution to them. My greatest worry is that the civil service in Nigeria as we know it today may not stand the test of time in the sense that it may not need the same number of people we have today if people will have to work from home.
They have to use the tools of ICT. The Nigeria civil service must be prepared.
Between reducing the workforce or reduction in salaries, which is the way out?
We no longer talk about retrenching workers today. Don’t forget labour will resist. What should be talked about is having the right size of work force.
It could mean an increase; it could also mean decrease in the number of workers. I won’t support reduction of salaries of workers because that may not be the problem.
But in areas where you have low concentration of workers, people could be moved to those areas. Some of them could be encouraged to go into agriculture, which is very good.
The government will give them land and inputs. Voluntarily many will leave the civil service to go into farming. If government provides all the incentives, some might decide to leave without being forced to do so.
How was your feeling when you got paid your first salary?
It was small but very encouraging. As a young officer in the civil service, we were paid twice a month. It was good and easy to operate. It was split into two halves.
On the 15th, I have received the first half, before I became broke again; I have received the other half. I wanted to do a similar thing when I was Head of Service so that workers do not become broke before pay day. I could not do it because I realised workers are heavily indebted.
They have taken loans. They engaged in credit and thrift society. They would have taken car, housing loan. At the end of the day, there is nothing to break into two.
The take home pay will become so small. The way it was when we came is certainly better than the way it is now.
Which reforms did you carry out?
I did a lot of reforms. I became Head of Service at a time there was a lot of confusion in the civil service. Everybody wanted to come into the service.
The local government workers who are part of the public service wanted to come in. Teachers who are local government workers wanted to also come in so that they could become Permanent Secretary.
Everybody wanted to be a Permanent Secretary even at the top and that created a lot of confusion in the system. You had politicians on campaign train promising local government staff and teachers promising them Permanent Secretary’s position.
Imagine every school principal wanted to leave the school and come into the civil service to become Permanent Secretary. Every se nior local government staff also wanted to leave, meanwhile there were civil servants aspiring to become Permanent Secretaries.
In that case, you could have chaos and confusion. One of the things I did was to look at the entire system, do proper demarcation.
The civil service for civil servants; teaching service for teachers and the local government service for local government staff. I tried to create a balance.
We create the position of Tutor-General for the teaching service on the same status of a Permanent Secretary; instead of calling him a Permanent Secretary. He was placed on consolidated salary, an official car ditto for local government staff.
That remains today. We now have three groups of Permanent Secretaries. There is stability in the system. There is no more agitation and pressure on the civil service.
From 1976 when the state was created to 2009 when I became Head of Service, only three persons succeeded in moving from the local government service to the civil service and became Permanent Secretary.
From 2009 till date, several of them have risen to Permanent Secretary. Other reforms were that Permanent Secretaries were allowed to go home with their official cars after retirement.
We introduced promotion examination for workers. The biggest of all was the building of a Public Service Training Institute.
We had over five times salary increase. Ondo workers cannot say they were shortchanged in the payment of salary.
How can the civil service galvanise politicians to succeed?
I was on the transition team for Akeredolu government. What I saw among the group where I function was the silent hostility towards civil servants.
The political class does not see workers as partners in progress. They see them as opponents. If you want to get the best out of civil servants pay salaries regularly.
The easiest way to destroy the civil service is to fail to pay workers. Once you don’t pay the salaries regularly; occasionally they won’t come to work.
They have to fend for themselves. Give them the necessary tools to function effectively. Every civil servant should be free from all kinds of intimidation, especially from the political class.
If mistake is being made, the worker may just allow things to go and he will be watching.
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