Former Kwara State Head of Service, Alhaji Dabarako Mohammed served two former governors and was the first HoS to spend 8 years in his office. In this interview with ACTING EDITOR, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM, the Patigi born former federal commissioner speaks about his time in government, policies and decision implemented by previous administration and how they impacted the state among other issues. Excerpts:
How can you describe your time in service?
I thank almighty God. Not everybody has the opportunities I had during my tenures. Nobody complained of recession while I served former Governor Bukola Saraki and his successor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed. We enjoyed the time with Saraki and were also enjoying that of Ahmed before the recession. But Ahmed went ahead to improve on the tax generation which made his administration not to suffer as would have been the case. He was able to meet commitment on first line charges.
How did your tenures impacted the service and government of the state?
Although it is the people that are supposed to assess me but I have been told of things that I did that was unequalled by any other administration at least before my time. All the civil servants that were owned promotion and salary arrears, we tried as much as possible to clear them and increased the minimum wage N7,500 to N9,500, N12,000 and up to N18,000. We were able to pay all the salary tables prepared and agreed with labour. When I left, there were complaints that the N18,000 was mutilated but I don’t know whether they have been able to improve on that till today. I lived in the inherited Phase I secretariat when we started and I practically saw that the building had gone really bad up to the extent that water was dropping from toilet upstairs to my toilet as a Permanent Sectary downstairs and you know what that means as a Muslims who will have to pray. I made proposal to the governor immediately I became the Head of Service and former Governor Saraki approved the complete face-lift for the first time since the building was commissioned in 1975 complete with furniture and the civil servants were very happy. What we did mostly was to domesticate federal policies. When the federal government implement the policy of retiring those that have spent 8 years in a position without additional qualification, we domesticated it which affected over six hundred senior officers. Saraki then gave approval for massive recruitment of over two thousand people but I saw danger that the development is punitive. After our National Council of Establishment meeting in Abuja and exchange of ideas, we therefore domesticated the Level 17 policy as peak of Civil Service. That opened up the civil service and eradicated been in one level for 8 years policy. Also I am the only person that distributed up to one thousand computers to civil servants free after training to make them efficient. I don’t know if it’s still happening, but I introduced peer review meeting of Permanent Secretaries twice weekly after the weekly executive council meetings to enable seamless movement of permanent secretaries to any ministry.
What was the highest point for you during service?
Anytime people are happy about my policies, those who cannot become permanent secretaries were close in monetary terms, free commuter after training which cost around hundred thousand naira among many other things.
Any regrets while you were in office?
No, but this does not mean I was not offended. I don’t want to mention names and there were lots of experiences.
What where the challenges you have to deal with while in office?
I resume office as early as 7:30am and try as much as possible to clear files because once it 10:00am, I am partly in the office doing “outside work”. The governor can call and give assignments and all my meetings concerning the office will start by then and it can last till God knows when. And when you return to office, files have piled up again. These were challenges tasking my time and ability because sometimes some of the issue to be treated may be “odd” and needs times and thoroughness and will warrant my taking the files home to decide on it around midnight instead of me to be sleeping. Mind you I closed around 8pm. At times some of the decision taken would be very painful, disturbing, tough and regrettable but once it’s good, we have to take it. This was what also led to certificate verification during my time and we got over two hundred people that were fake in the service.
Have any of your proposals been rejected by any of the governors your served?
This was one of my prides in the service. Instead of rejection what I mostly got is “see me” and I will go and explain upon which I will be advised to incorporate my explanation into the document so that it can be referred to when I am no longer there. I never had any rejection by any governor throughout my eight years in service. The “see me” directive even has nothing to do with my personality but a reflection of the politicians. Before I draft anything, I first brainstorm and discuss with my permanent secretaries and directors, it was a team work. I presented memos to the executives throughout my tenures for implementation of policies at least twice monthly and none were rejected.
During your time, there were policies that caused some uproar in the polity. In retrospect, is it true some were prompted by ulterior motives?
When I was Permanent Secretary of Establishment, I was part of the team together with a director and labour officer that travelled to Borno, Yobe and Taraba states to discuss with their Office of the Head of Service about salary table. We also had a team that visited Sokoto, Oyo, Lagos, Enugu and Imo states. We ensured a labour executive member was part of the team so that they will be carried along before we make the table. For the eight years I served, labour did not embark on a single strike except in sympathy with their counterpart at federal that has nothing to do with us in the state. It was the Justice Belgore led minimum wage committee at the federal level that recommended N18,000, Kwara at that time recommended N30,000. We went to the market and after a survey discovered that the take home pay of those doing local labour like bricklayers and carpenters is N1,000 daily which amount to N30,000 a month and yet, the same people will come to a level 8 officer collecting N25,000 to beg for assistance. But the federal accepted 18,000 minimum wage. As Governor Bukola Saraki was on his way out, it was not difficult to convince Alhaji Ahmed who was former Commissioner for Finance and Planning and has been part of the team. All he said was that he only have N250m. We have to go begging to source extra N50m to take care of the political class and permanent secretaries. After we implemented the N18,000, levels 13-14 discovered level 15-17 were far ahead of them and now started saying it was mutilated salary. But the reason was because of the domestic servants attached to the levels. The gap will continue to be there no matter the consequential adjustments unless we say those higher cadres should no longer have domestic staff. It was only the local governments that were unable to pay before I left which is another issue. The state is still up to date till today. Coming to sales of houses, before I left the federal civil service in 2004, they started sales of federal government houses and when I came back to the state as Permanent Secretary, it was still on. After I became Head of Service, I discovered that government was paying over four times what the civil servants paid to renovate the houses vis-à-vis the payment of rent. I approach former Governor Saraki who said I should present it to the council for the purpose of domestication. A committee was set up that isolated civil servant, SSG and special houses for governors which were the chalets. Since the creation of Kwara state in 1967, there is no house identified as that of Head of Service or Deputy Governor. We only have Government Lodge as Government Office and a house for SSG, all other are for civil servants. That of the lawmakers which was handled by the SSG’s office was also approved by the council. We took the decision to sell off the houses of the civil servants as a domesticated policy of the federal government.
You have left office and still continue to maintain relevance in Patigi with your recently title by the Etsu Patigi. Was that a compensation of sort for your support?
No! When I was in Abuja representing Nigeria Sugar Company, Federal Ministry of Industry as PRO to the Office Manager, I was visiting almost all the ministries but mainly that of industries and so if I see any opening, I come home to recruit people and find appointment for them at federal level and I spread it to Edu also. As HoS during general recruitment, I also spread it among my people which were greatly appreciated. One thing that differentiated me from the rest politicians is that I come back home to sink boreholes and built 25 boreholes in Patigi for the 8years I spent. It is only Hon Ahman Patigi that beat me to this which is understandable and I appreciate him for that. But people know that I am not a political appointee. On the area of recruitment, I think he also recognises that I also beat him to it. Before, the problem of guinea worm was an issue in Patigi but today, it’s completely reduced because of the provision of clean water through these efforts. The last Emir gave me Sarkin Samari while in Abuja but gave me Mutaoli before I left service which was not pronounced then. But after my retirement, I was promoted to Garkua which means defender of the town and its policies probably because of my contributions to the community and even sponsoring people for religious activities like hajj. But what really happened was that after the death of Galadinma of Patigi, Ahman Patigi thereafter took the title and I was promoted to Garkua.
What next for Kwara North in 2023?
We shall pick the ticket from Kwara North by Allah’s grace and we will continue to pray for this to happen, I am in full support of this. There is nothing bad in supporting others to pick it but we also have very qualified people. We also want to be governor, not just for two years and leave but real time governor and we pray to God to give us the person that other part of Kwara state will acknowledge that we have a governor.
What if Governor Abdulrazaq shows interest for second term?
He has the right but we are praying to almighty Allah, let him also continue to pray and do whatever he wants to do. We were all here when Buhari defeated Jonathan and Saraki defeated Lawal. It is a great insult for people to say who is qualified in Kwara North to govern Kwara State. By voting and figures from the National Population Commission, Kwara North and not South is second. We agreed 40 percent of voting population is in central, 31 in north and 29 in south. We are second in voting population and if care is not taken, we will overtake the central in future very soon. Most youth in central marry just one wife but averagely, our people in north marry up to four wives. I can tell you three of my classmates in Patigi that have about thirty children with four wives. Here, it’s mostly one wife and four children. So once destiny falls on us and we will continue to pray to Almighty Allah it does, we will work with other regions to produce the Governor in 2023.
But why did the PDP 2019 pact failed?
The APC thing was a bandwagon effect aided by President Buhari. We have been crying for road development, not that Dr Bukola Saraki didn’t do anything for us but that the road from Gbugbu to Patigi was terribly bad and incidentally, one year before election, Buhari started it and we saw how it was progressing and they campaigned with it that after only one year, we can see the difference from sixteen years, coupled with campaign of calumny in Ilorin that Saraki was stealing Kwara money. They got our people here to Niger to make broadcast in Nupe language echoing this narrative. Where is the money that Saraki was allegedly stealing, why can’t they use it for development? What has changed on issue of Local Government and teachers salaries and arrears?