17th August, 2011
Â The Permanent Secretary/Clerk of the Lagos State House Assembly, Taiwo Olatunji, will retire this month, having attained 60 years mandatory age. His tenure saw the rebranding of the Assembly and boosting of staff efficiency resulting in the fear that his shoes may be too big for his successor. He spoke with Assembly correspondents on his experience as a civil servant for several years
How would you describe life as a career civil servant, has it been very pleasant? Â
If I have to look back, it is not an easy thing for anybody to be in the civil service, particularly if you are married. Of course, the standard of living then cannot be compared to now. But even then, I started off with about N200 per month and with that, I had a wife. I joined the service in 1979 and had my first baby in 1980 although I got married in 1978. Initially, I lived with my brother but later on, I got my own flat, three bedroom,Â at Surulere and had to start paying rent of N60 per month from the N200 salary and, of course, it was okay because what I had left was still able to take care of my family and other needs. Of course, my maternal grandfather was assisting on a monthly basis. Other than that everything was fine, I was living comfortably and never suffered in my life. My family started to grow; we were managing here and there. I had an understanding wife who was working initially until I asked her to stop. So, from then onwards, I faced my job and I can tell you that right from the beginning of my career in the civil service, I was recognised. I joined the civil service in December 1979 and by 1980, I had evidence to show. The then governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, recognised me and gave me letter of commendation for services rendered when he selected me as a member of a committee on the settlement of Alayabiagba Market in Ajegunle. We did the job very well and he commended us. Few months later, he also selected me as a secretary and member of a special committee on sale of Surulere LSDPC houses which we did to the best of our knowledge and we also got a letter of commendation from him. I was still on level 08 then and I can tell you, from that time, a lot of permanent secretaries and senior officers wanted me to work with them. When I got to level 10, I was picked from among over 58 other senior officers as private secretary to Governor Mike Akhigbe. That very incident gave me an impression that you donâ€™t need to know anybody or have a godfather, it is your work that will judge you and take you to where you want. That particular incident only propelled me to work even harder, realising that if you work hard, there is always a reward. I have served in various ministries and agencies, about 13 or 14. When I was on level 14, I was made general manager of a parastatal and I did my best and within one year of my stay in Central Licensing Authority, it became the third revenue earner for the state from nowhere. From there, I was appointed the Sole Administrator/Chairman, Lagos Island Local Government, still on Level 14. And that local government is the most sophisticated in Nigeria and that was a position level 16 officers were fighting tooth and nail to occupy. It has been like that on and on until I was made permanent secretary in 2001 and was eventually posted here as Clerk/Permanent Secretary of Lagos Assembly. I have never regretted working in the civil service and I always recommend to people to come to the civil service to contribute their quota to the development of Lagos State and Nigeria.
As Clerk of the House, what challenges did you face working with politicians and how did you overcome them?
Of course, as a civil servant working on the other side, coming over here is a different ball game but I thank God also that my coming here in the last four years wasnâ€™t my first time of coming and I could also hazard a guess why I was picked to be the Clerk of the House. At the material time, I was given the appointment on 2 June, 2007 two days after the House was inaugurated, so I felt probably because I had been there before and there was urgent need to deploy somebody here and in order for the ceremony to go on smoothly they would want somebody who had some ideas. I took over and did my best and I remember that the governor and my colleagues congratulated me and said they were proud of me because of the way I handled it considering the fact that I was drafted there two days before. The experience I had gathered while working here before, not as clerk, was enough for me to know how to tread and it assisted me a lot. I have worked with politicians before coming here, only there are more of them here, 40 to be precise and coming from different background, I didnâ€™t expect to have all the 40 of them as my friend but I can tell you that more than 75 per cent of them really appreciates what I did and I appreciate their relationship too. While they have their own ideas about how things should be, I have mine also, but what I observe is that all you need to do is to be patient with them and be ready to make explanations. I have seen that they are ready to listen and follow things the way they ought to be if you give them superior argument. That is not to say you will not see one or two occasionally, that will say no. With such situations, you appeal to reason in accordance with regulations. But where they insist, you now say no problem, the speaker is there, go to Mr. Speaker. I am happy that the Speaker really understands very well. As the Clerk of the House, you have so many things to do even as far as making sure that members have no problems in their homes. Some of them see me as a father who will never mislead his children and I can tell you that our relationship, to the best of my knowledge, is very cordial. One or two times I have been annoyed and I expressed my feelings, while the matter was also reported. It was the case of a particular member who wanted to be too difficult to another member who called him to order. So, it has been a peaceful relationship and also a symbiotic one. They come to my office from time to time to play and I attend to them.
What have you found most intriguing about them?Â
They are political and of different persuasions, not necessarily of different ideology. The fact that most of them are ACN members does not mean they are of the same persuasion. A lot of things will affect their conduct, culture, background, school they went to, etc., all of these things. So that is one of the things you have to manage and that is why I want to recommend that a seasoned person should be brought as Clerk. You cannot just bring a small boy here, you must bring somebody who is well versed in administration, who knows about legislation, legislature and so on and so forth. Sincerely, in fact, the mere fact that they are even politicians is also intriguing because, in our own clime, politics is full of intrigues. So I find them intriguing and also accommodating to a large extent.
Under your watch, the House was branded â€˜House of Excellence.â€™ What, in your opinion, merited the appellation?
I am not surprised that we have been tagged a house of excellence. Of course, you know that the motto of Lagos State is State of Excellence and we must project that and that is why we are always conscious of the fact that whatever we do at the Lagos State House of Assembly, we have to, as much as possible, score the highest mark. I will give you specific examples: Sometimes ago, the World Bank invited this Assembly for a session on our procurement bill, Lagos State Public Procurement Bill, which the Executive drafted and forwarded here for consideration. Now, in the course of our deliberation on the bill, we had a lot of seminars and workshops. The idea was to get a bill that would not only meet with the expectation of the government, but also with the practitioners in the field of procurement. At a point, how it got the World Bank attention I wouldnâ€™t know, but I was aware that the state government had some relationship with the World Bank and I think the bank also wanted the House to be brought into the picture by way of ensuring that certain legislations were put in place. Having perused our draft bill, they decided to invite us for further deliberation and at their headquarters in Washington, I was surprised to note that they had about 18 pieces of draft legislation from 18 states of the federation and they considered that ours was the best at that time for us to come over and use our own as the benchmark for others. They said we will now be their representatives, so that they will now ask other states to come and emulate us. And when we met the two Nigerian women there, their comments were encouraging. They said Lagos State is the best in so many areas. I can also tell you, without mincing words and without fear of contradiction, that there are so many states whose presiding officers or deputies come here to ask for copies of our own legislation and in some few cases, they copy this thing verbatim and only change the name of the state. Even when we go for meetings or conferences of presiding officers, we were always there and they rely mostly on Lagos State. Lately, we went to Conference of Society of Clerks in Africa and during the course of deliberation and discussion, they brought us out and made Lagos State a member of the executive committee of the society. So many other examples abound. I am not surprised because the quality of the members we have here and the quality of staff cannot produce anything but excellence with the kind of trainings we undergo. You know, capacity development and building programmes are things that we take seriously. We have taken our people, both members and staff, across the globe to learn how to do things better. When they say international best practices, we in Lagos State, are always very serious because we take our job seriously and therefore, you cannot but expect that at the end of the day, we are going to turn out sound legislation that would meet with the expectation of the people. It is because of all these and many more that they call us House of Excellence, they are not flattering us, they are just saying the obvious and sincerely, I am happy to be associated with the House of Assembly.
Two very important developments took place last year in the House; the self accounting law became operational and the Lagos State House of Assembly Commission was signed into law. How has this affected operations of the Assembly?
I will take it one by one. The self accounting law was signed during Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s regime, but it didnâ€™t really become operational until last year. It ought to have come into operation years before. It came into effect in April and, of course, it has to have significant effect on the operations of the House, considering the fact that before then, most of the time, we had to go to the governor to seek and obtain approval for anything outside of the running cost. And now that you have full control of your resources, you donâ€™t have to go to the governor. Of course, naturally, there is the likelihood that everything would be coming faster than usual. Significantly, it has also assisted in improving the performance of the House.
For the House Commission, it was also signed into law by the governor last year and we have not really started feeling the effect because it is not yet in place but I expect that when it comes up, it is going to have a significant effect on the work of the House in the sense that the Civil Service Commission will stop recruitment, promotion, discipline and transfer of our staff and will now be localised with the Assembly Commission, that will, however, not stop anybody from seeking transfer to and from any service. So, naturally, when you have such developments, they are bound to affect the operations of our organisation.
Now sir, after retirement, what next?
Politics is completely out of it and I am not revealing what I intend to do, but definitely, a person like me will not tire. Immediately I retire 29 August, 2011, I will first go and rest for some time and then put into operation all my plans. I hope and pray that God will give me long life and good health and strength to be able to do whatever I want to do. But, of course, I am also available to serve the government in any capacity provided it will not affect my health.
What incident left an indelible mark on you while growing up?
Yes, it was a long time ago. But the only thing I can remember very well is the effort put into our development by our paternal grandmother, who incidentally, was an illiterate. She was a very wealthy trader. We use to observe her, at a time, when there was no calculator or computer, she could add up very difficult figures within seconds, something that an average educated person will need calculator to do. So, to me, she was a genius in trading and calculation. And that was something that endeared me and my twin brother to Mathematics because we were always going with her to the market and she really trained us, while she did not allow us to get spoilt. I thank her so much wherever she is because she is dead now.
How did you come into the civil service, was it accidental or deliberate?
I am not going to give you a straight answer to that, but I will say that when I was a student at the university, I had a scholarshipÂ as an indigene of Lagos State and we were bonded. In my final year, a representative of the State Civil Service Commission came over to the university to recruit us and I, together with the immediate past head of service, Yakub Balogun, were given appointment. By the time I finished my youth service, I also secured an appointment in the private sector. So, I opted to go to the private sector, which was Nigeria Motors Industry, a subsidiary of CFAO. It was while I was there that the state government wrote a letter to me to come and serve my two years bond and immediately, I resigned from my work but the idea was just to come for two years to serve my bond and then go out. In the course of the two years, I cultivated some friends including the current Head of Service and I saw that the service wasnâ€™t bad, so I decided to stay. So whether you call that accident or by design, I donâ€™t know, but that was the true story behind my coming to the service and I have never regretted it.