MY dear Yushau Shuaib, first accept my sincere sympathy for your recent travails. I am happy to glean from your narration syndicated in several newspapers that you were not, after all, fired, but redeployed from the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, to the Ministry of Information.
I first read about your travails from some columnists. I must confess that their treatment of the subject put me off. They followed the currently popular logic; if it is the Federal Government, it must be the wrong party; if it is a public official, he or she must be guilty even without proof; and if it is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or Stella Odua, cover her, not with the blood of Jesus, but with the murkiest grime! I am just telling you why I was put off by a few of those who commented on your case. They were simply on their high horses egging you with this “freedom of speech” and “democratic society” lines that seem to be cover for all manner of incivility.
This letter is not about whatever you wrote about the Honourable Minister of Finance. After reading your syndicated explanation I asked myself whether it was an answer to a query, an apology to your establishment, NEMA, an apology to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala or just a deliberate enlistment of the community of Public Affair analysts. After going through it over and over, I concluded that you were simply a victim of a society that has lost its institutional memory. This loss of institutional memory has contributed to the rot we are in today. We have forgotten the proper way of doing things. We have destroyed every known ethos. Those who are supposed to be custodians of the fine ethics that served us in the past are either ignorant themselves or too preoccupied with other interests to care.
I say this because nobody, including those egging you on with “freedom of speech” has given the slightest regard to the fact that YOU ARE A CIVIL SERVANT! And in the civil service there are dos and don’ts; there are channels for addressing vertical and horizontal relationships; there are ways of exercising your “free speech” different from the way a non-civil servant would! I am not sure that what galled Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was so much of what you accused her of as the channel you chose to address her! The choice of channel is what was objectionable to her and I can tell you my brother, it is unacceptable for a civil servant. You were at that time, an image maker for a Federal establishment. Federal Government is one. You were not expected to be inside and pee inside; your job as image maker means you pee outside. You wrote: “When I moved to the Federal Civil Service I never stopped writing”. That is not the issue. The subjects of your obviously copious writings are not the issue either. What mattered was, who you were addressing at any particular time and HOW did you choose to address the person. I just suspect that nobody has ever advised you that when it comes to criticising any arm of the government you serve, being a civil servant imposes a limitation on you. I am sure the civil service habours thousands of other fine writers who could hold their own. Many of them have become much sought-after columnists after their civil service career. But they did not engage in histrionic social criticism as civil servants.
Let me narrate to you a personal experience. I was a young officer of Customs of Excise in 1976 when Alhaji Shehu Musa, Makaman Nupe, who had done a tour before as Administrative Secretary, came back as Director General of Customs and Excise. He came to Apapa Port, where I was the branch President of the Customs Union, to address staff. He said that he would welcome suggestions that could help his reorganisation of the Customs. He said his office was open 24 hours for such suggestions. So I wrote what I thought should be the new outlook of the PR Department, took the ferry to Marina, walked to Mosaic House and dropped it in Shehu Musa’s office.
Several weeks later, the Chief Collector in charge of Apapa sent for me. You wrote that you were “elated” and “jubilant” when the Minister of Finance telephoned you! And in a typical kiss-and-tell journalism that obtains, you even went to town with it. That is indecorous. When I was asked to go and see the Chief Collector, my stomach churned. Ten thousand rattle snakes played rugby in my spine. You don’t get summoned by the Principal Collector or Chief Collector unless it is a serious matter. When I literally crawled into his office, the first reassuring sign that I was not in serious trouble was that he was not scowling. So I began to breathe again.
He reached under a file, pulled out a letter—the butterflies again—and said, “young man, congratulations! I don’t know what you wrote, but this is a letter of commendation for you from the DG!” Now my effort did not earn me only a letter of commendation, it also earned me a stern rebuke for not routing my memo through my bosses at Apapa, which is the appropriate channel to the DG. The Chief Collector warned me of the serious infraction of the General Orders that was. I just apologised and left. Months after, as a result of the reorganisation, the DG instructed that I be redeployed to Headquarters in the PR department where Chief Alex Akinyele (Baba rere) was the Czar! On the morning that I reported, Chief Akinyele completely excoriated me for not routing a copy of my memo to his office since he is the one in charge of PR Department. My lame excuse that he was not by boss then did not wash. There were ways things were done in the civil service then. There were ways civil servants comported themselves and addressed superiors, no matter the vexation. And the General Order, GO, was rigidly guarded and followed. That was why the civil service was able to hold this country together from 29 July to 1 September 1966 when this country had no government! Then the military came and ruined everything. The GO must go. I don’t know what they have in the Civil Service Rules that replaced it and how many civil servants have seen it or even care about what it says. That was what I meant by loss of institutional memory.
My brother, let nobody egg you on to ruin what I can see is a promising career both as a civil servant and as a writer. As a spokesman for a Federal Parastatal, I am sure you could have availed yourself of access to several Government Offices. I believe that if, at the worst, you had gone to the Ministry of Finance with a memo, and had audience with your colleague there and said, there are unsavoury things being said about the Hon. Minister and that you felt so concerned that you would appreciate it if they addressed the matter, your plight would not be what it is today. I want to believe you when you say that your article was not intended to embarrass the Hon. Minister. But the way it has worked out, you even inadvertently succeeded in embarrassing your own boss at NEMA and could have put his job on the line.
Don’t ever listen to anybody who lionises you that you can be a civil servant and also be a fiery activist at the same time. Ask anybody who tells you that what he thinks would be your fate if you worked in, say, Nigeria Airforce, and wrote that about a General in the Army or Navy. And let me tell you this. Our society has lost it manners and now it is about to lose its mind. Your responsibility as a fine writer is to help this society retrieve those values that made us great in the past which this generation about to take over does not care about any more! If you must be part of that recovery, then, you must not lose your head.
By the way, I cut my journalism teeth in Lagos Weekend while I was an officer of Customs; young, flighty, Lucky Strike-smoking and a Fela devotee. Although I wrote hilarious commentaries on our societal foibles I dared not even do it with my real name. Indicating whether it was in my private capacity or not could not have made sense, because if anybody wanted to, he could accuse me of conflict of interest and all he needed to prove it was to show that Daily Times paid me for my articles. So I started experimenting with the brand called PINI JASON. And I did not go to Daily Times to collect the stipends until I was about to resign from Customs. My dear, learn your lesson from this and built a solid civil service career for yourself or come join us in this divide. You can’t walk on both sides of the road at the same time!