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Ministry of Foreign Affairs gets change agent as Permanent Secretary

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Ministry of Foreign Affairs gets a change agent as Permanent Secretary
Mrs. Anthonia Akpabio Ekpa(Ph.D.)

By Ignatius Ushie

It was the famous 16th President of the United States of America (USA), Abraham Lincoln that said, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.” Of a truth, Nigeria under President Buhari is moving forward steadily.

As Nigerians, we may assume we know what President Muhammadu Buhari will do next, but with keen observation, I have feelings that Mr. President is always shocking the nation with vital policy reforms that will stand the test of time, especially if there is continuation in these policies.

Recall that top on Mr. President’s agenda since 2015 when he assumed power, has been to fight against corruption and institutionalise policy reforms both in the Civil service and Nigeria as a whole.

Not only is his government attaining monumental heights in the development of the country by fulfilling key promises it made to deliver to Nigerians the dividends of democracy, it is also strategically resetting a major aspect of its development agenda— appointing people with adequate qualifications, experience as well as relevant competencies and skills into strategic offices.

This year 2020 in particular, has witnessed a great change in the appointments made by President Buhari into Public offices. Among such appointments is that of the Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, which has been acclaimed as outstanding and has earned the President so much accolades.

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Another very pleasantly received appointment made by the President is that of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan sworn in on March 4, by the President Muhammadu Buhari.

Since her appointment, Dr. Yemi-Esan has shown commitment to uphold government’s desire to ensure that the Civil Service including her own office is transformed.

One is therefore not surprised that in line with the aspiration for a reformed service, she recommended for appointment as Executive Secretary, one of her trusted Directors, the energetic, committed and hardworking former Acting Permanent Secretary, Career Management Office, Mr. Ibrahim Abdu Mairiga, as the Executive Secretary, Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board (FGSHLB) with effect from 24th July, 2020 for an initial term of four years.

In addition to implementing a reform agenda, the Head of Civil Service of the Federation supervised the recent selection exercise for Permanent Secretaries which included written examination, computer-based assessment and oral interview.

The exercise has been widely described as credible, transparent and thorough, devoid of interference or manipulation from any quarter and for that reason, the best of Directors from the first group of 12 out of 16 States required to fill existing vacancies were appointed. They comprised medical doctors, holders of Ph.D. degrees in various disciplines, computer expert, and an accountant among others.

The Permanent Secretaries and their states are: Chukwuemeka Meribole (Abia), Peter Tarfa  (Adamawa), Ifeoma Anyanwutaku (Anambra),  Anthonia Ekpa (Cross River), Kumo Ardo (Gombe), Babangida Hussaini (Jigawa), Nura Alkali (Kano), Oluwatoyin Akinlade (Kogi), Lamido Belgore (Kwara), Omokunmi Udoh (Oyo ), Ganda Mohammed (Sokoto) and Mamman Mahmuda (Yobe).

The appointment of the second group of four permanent secretaries left out of 16 that were required, was announced recently.

Checks reveal that the civil service has been virtually handcuffed due to erroneous appointments of Permanent Secretaries. The 2015 and 2017 appointments were deemed the most controversial, because they allegedly produced ‘anointed’ Permanent Secretaries who were not the best in the stock.  In 2015, the proverbial ‘Nigerian factor’ made it possible for mediocrity to hold sway as those ones were spared the rigours of the selection examinations. In 2017, those that emerged were said to have passed somehow.

From hindsight, and in order to key into the ‘next level’ agenda, and ensure the best team of Accounting Officers in the Civil Service emerges, President Buhari, to his credit, instructed that only the very best must be selected.

This of course is in sync with the belief articulated by the erudite American President Lincoln that ‘the best way to predict your future is to create it’. The Nigerian Civil service has created its future, broken the jinx and accepted the saying of the Icon Nelson Mandela that ‘it always seems impossible until it’s done’.

We are celebrating the Nigerian Civil Service because the ‘New normal’ which we pray will be sustained, is being implemented. Of significance is that, the ‘‘A Class’’ of 12 New Permanent Secretaries are now in place, because they are among the top few left in the Nigerian Civil service, with outstanding academic record, exposure, experience and competences and skills displayed in their various careers within and outside the Civil Service.

Reports show that before the recent deployment to ministries were made, a committee of very credible persons including the Head of Service herself, had diligently scrutinized the curriculum vitae of the 12 newly appointed ones and ensured that the respective Permanent secretaries were posted to where their experiences, competencies, personal attributes, exposure and qualifications among other attributes would be best harnessed and utilized.

Interestingly, both existing and newly appointed Perm Secs got new schedules, as only few remained in their former ministries.

As for the 12, each was posted to an entirely new Ministry different from where they had served as Directors. We also learnt that being an ardent reformer, the HOS ignored pressures to post all Perm Secs to some places! For her, what counts is capacity, experience, intelligence, and ability to be the best in administration, where ever the Perm Secs were sent to.

Of note are two of the Permanent Secretaries who checks show were highly sought after by the ministries they served. They are Dr. Peter Tarfa, formerly Director in the Federal Ministry of Environment   and Dr. Anthonia A. Ekpa, Director in the Federal Ministry of Transportation.

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Interestingly, these two Permanent Secretaries have had cause to work closely in mitigating the effects of Climate change in the environment. While Tarfa co-ordinated the implementation of the government policies on climate change, Ekpa pursued with vigour the drive to curtail CO2 emission and other harmful gases in motor vehicles that ply Nigeria’s roads.

In their partnership, these two Permanent Secretaries interacted variously with International Organizations, Top Diplomats of various countries and groups of stakeholders on behalf of their Ministries and Nigeria of course.

Not only have these two PhD holders achieved much within a short period of work on policy formulation in the area of reduction in fuel emission, their interest and expertise in galvanizing stakeholders to support the country’s Clean mobility, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Green Bond initiatives for road transport improvement is widely recognized both in Nigeria and overseas including by the United Nations Agencies especially the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Bank and India’s major research institution–Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

It is therefore not surprising that Dr. Ekpa and Tarfa are regular faces at International fora when issues on environmental pollution, urban transport and clean mobility are discussed. One such occasion was the 25th UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) held in Madrid, Spain, in December 2019. These two Permanent Secretaries were very visible in all crucial meetings attended by Nigerian Ministers.

From hindsight, it is now apparent that these two, like others in the group of 12 recently appointed Permanent Secretaries had a date with mother destiny who appears to have orchestrated their emergence in the most dramatic and perhaps miraculous ways, making the nickname given to them – ‘the Apostles’ not just apt, but prophetic.

Our searchlight is particularly beamed at Mrs. Anthonia Akpabio Ekpa, Ph.D., whose intimidating profile eloquently read as her citation by Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, before President Muhammadu Buhari in August, drew the admiration of those in the Council Chambers and the attention of the Villa Media Correspondents in particular, who wondered where the elegant, versatile, ever-smiling and unassuming bureaucrat would be deployed to as Permanent Secretary.

Ekpa’s schedule is of particular interest to us.

Her academic background and qualifications in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, career progression, international exposure, experience, membership of both International and Nigerian-Based Boards and Professional Associations, scholarship awards and several Awards of excellence for meritorious service in the Public and Civil Services respectively,  bestowed on her among others, seem destined to have directed this astute and thoroughly committed civil servant towards performing  the role of the Permanent Secretary of Nigeria’s Prime Public Institution dominated by Diplomats  –The Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ushie wrote in from Abuja.

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