Saturday, 17 May 2014

PART 2: Why OBJ Boys did well in their time

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Barrister Safiya Demola Seriki.....'Obj is well read

 In the second part of the exciting interview session with the First Nigerian woman who created the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) website under the leadership of Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai Barrister (Mrs.) Safiya Sholape Demola Seriki, you will find some of the best reasons why her era in government was unique than the present era that has a characteristic of ineptitude and complacency as hallmark.
Although the very beautiful wife of former minister of state for Defense, Omoba Demola Seriki has no cause to abuse government of the day but her nostalgic feeling is as good as revealing the obvious. Enjoy the second part of the interview with asabeafrika.

El- Rufai & Leadership
We opened the chat with the fact that Shafiya was one of Malam Nasir El-Rufai’s erudite expatriates at BPE, we asked if she taught Nasir El-Rufai would have made a good President if he had been presented and voted in as the country’s number one and she had her response “Nasiru is a very good leader because a leader is someone that builds other leaders. And when I went to BPE under Nasiru, I was able to challenge myself and really understand myself because apart from being a school of leadership, Nasiru produced ministers from BPE. He produced other DGs; he produced head of parastatals from BPE. So, he is good at identifying people and not just identifying, he gives you a job and he throws it on your lap. He is not going to say ‘don’t mess up’ but because he repose so much confidence in you, you are so ashamed to fail. Naturally, there were times I slept in my car at BPE because I was working till about 3 to 4 am, and the security officers will say ‘Madam, it is a bit too dark, we don’t think you should risk it’ and I will say ‘ok, let me just get a sleep here’, because that was the kind of leader he was. He will sleep in the office; he made a rule that we all had to work on Saturday. So, you have to clock in time on Saturday or go. So, everybody in BPE---if you are management, senior staff, we all have to be there. Yes, you enjoy your Saturdays in the early hours but by 11am, you must file into the office and work. You do it because he was doing it. That was the kind of leader Nasiru was. He leads by action not by sermon”.
On weather if he could have made a good president or leader of Nigeria, I think it is too early to say “If”. Once there is life everything is possible. Yeah; so it is too early to say if. ‘If’ sounds like, it’s over, it is not over. He is a good leader”.
Safiya Demola Seriki with her former boss Mallam Nasir El-Rufai at BPE
El-Rufai as an “Accidental Public Servant”
We equally asked Safiya if she thinks her former boss was according to his post service book an “Accidental Public Servant”?  “Yes, I think so because I think he is very private sector oriented. Because he is private sector oriented when he goes into government to work, he runs it like his own business and that is what you need for things to be achieved in a country like Nigeria. He runs public sector briefs like his own business, trying to drive maximum success through conscientious work ethics. He doesn’t say ‘there is a time for me to resume and close’. It is work, work, and work. And that is the work-culture we have taken on to other places. After I left BPE and I went to work with the ministry of information as an IT Adviser and managed the reforms in the ministry of information where I created the Nigeria Portal.
I worked under Emeka Chikelu and by 4:30pm, everybody in the ministry is gone and I will be in the ministry till 8pm. Now, you can imagine a scenario where everywhere is empty and you are the only one there trying to figure out new things. But that was because we are used to it, BPE created an environment that by 8, 9, 10pm, the generator is on. Even up to 12 mid night, the generator will not turn off till the last person leaves the office. So, working with Nasiru just gave us the sense to want to leave a legacy everywhere you went to; you enjoy what you did naturally. And because you are seeing results, you will be motivated. You just kept on doing it. And he (Nasir) lets you take the shine”.
“there was that revival of knowledge, an excitement for breakthrough because Obasanjo is a leader that is into knowledge. Everybody knows that Obasanjo is well read. He reads, he studies; he studies history and his perception is international. He comes across traditional but he is international in his thinking. He is international in the way he thinks. So, you could see that kind of revival of knowledge during his era and I think the former president enjoyed it too because all his ministers were always challenging each other with knowledge”.
Safiya Demola Seriki with her former boss Mallam Nasir
El-Rufai and colleagues at BPE
El-Rufai & the 48 laws
When Safiya said her former boss allows his subordinates to take the shine for their initiatives, we asked if the Number 1 law that says “Don’t outshine your master” does not apply in Nasir’s situation and she responded thus “Nasiru is not like that; he allows you take the shine. And I have been lucky to work with bosses like that; that do. I have been very lucky; all my DGs after Nasiru and my directors always give me a chance to take the shine. If I am involved in a project, they will be like ‘you go and do the presentation and tell the world about it’. Even when I complain to them that I am a bit shy, they always encourage me; so, I have been blessed---Alihamudulilai, I thank God. It is still the grace of God. Even with Emeka (Chikelu), Emeka encouraged me a lot. I was able to prove my point there because when you are trying to bring change in a system, you realize that you are the only one on the line because change is the most difficult thing in life.

Even in BPE that was so organized, I had to bribe them with sweet and candy in meetings---bring chocolates, sweet, candy to the meeting just to motivate them. But it was a different ball game in the ministry of Information; it was more of respecting the Perm Sec, explaining to him and say ‘listen, sir, this is where we are. This is where we are trying to go, what objectives do you have? How can we make it better as a team?’. And once you do that, everybody is always ready to work with you; and when I did that at the ministry of information I discovered the Perm Sec to be a very civilized man, very flexible. The directors were nice as long as they feel they were carried along even when you have oppositions. You let them know that ‘even though World Bank is providing money, it is your money. What do you guys want us to do with it?’ We can suggest, what do you suggest? How do we go meet in-between? So, when you carry them along, they are happy with you, when they say there is no sit or no extra office space, they create office space for you, they actually bring you a table, they bring you a seat. I remember that when I came into the ministry of information, I had to take the coffee room; because at first, they said ‘there is no space’. I said ‘ok, just give me a little space to operate’. They said ‘but there will be no window’. I said ‘I will take it’. They said ‘it is a coffee room, it is one door, we don’t use window’, I said ‘I will take it’, they said ‘but you have no windows in your office’. I said ‘I will take it’. So, when I settled down, they offered me a fridge, I had to bring in my own desk. Before I knew it, they started bringing me other items. Then, I will tell some directors to mentor some people and I said ‘ok, we are getting there. But you just have to manage people and that was what working with Nasiru did to us. It transformed us”
Barrister Safiya Demola Seriki making some points to the GDA
Why I didn’t follow El-Rufai to FCT Ministry
Asabeafrika was surprised that Safiya didn’t follow her boss to his new ministry of FCT after his exit at the BPE, we wanted her to tell us why “Ok, that is interesting. It is because I felt then that what I did was information related. And where next to actually go was ministry of information. Yes, when Nasiru was going to FCT, everybody went with him. His aides went. I now thought ‘well, I need to go somewhere else with a new challenge’ and where I can make a change was at the ministry of information, I thought that they needed a lot to be done. So, we had an event in Abuja, it was the launching of an internet company in Abuja and there I met Emeka Chikelu. It was our first physical encounter actually; before then I used to see him on the television. So, I told him about the need to introduce IT and reform the information dissemination gamut of the ministry. And as I was talking to him, Nasiru (El-Rufai) passed. (He was also a special guest at the event) And Nasiru said ‘Oh, Emeka, Emeka, Emeka, you should talk to Shola, you know she is the one behind our IT story’.
Before Nasiru met us there, Emeka had suggested that we have a meeting that same day. He said ‘let’s try and meet later on today; at 3pm. Let’s have a meeting but I can’t really pay you’. I said ‘well, we would see’. It was while we were concluding that Nasiru passes and said ‘Emeka, you need to talk to Shola, that there is a lot you can do with her’ and he said ‘Yes, I am already speaking to her; we are already going to have a meeting’. And that was it actually. As at then, World Bank had already hired me; they were the ones sponsoring my being in BPE. We now had to work alongside with FCT again because (ministry) of FCT was one of the pilots, it was Nasiru that called World Bank to come and sponsor the ministries and pay for consultants to come in. So, they were trying to get the ministry of information on board; Ministry of finance and national population were already on board. Several other ministries were benefitting. So, he said ‘you go and speak to Victoria Qua-qua’, she was the then head of World Bank in Nigeria. So, it is like if you speak with her, it will be nice because then they needed ministry of information. You guys should be able to convince them; till then, obviously you might not get paid’ I said ‘fine’ and we met the people in Nasiru’s office and they guided us on how to get our ministry into that (World Bank) scheme. A lot of factors helped as well; you know World Bank always hires people that have been economists for like 15-20 years.
Barrister (Mrs.) Safiya Omosholape Demola Seriki,
MD & CEO, Demani Biskets Ltd
But the luck I had was that IT was a new profession then. And the criteria were about 3-4 years cognate experience. That is all. 3-4 years experience as a consultant and a degree in IT. That was the only way I could get a World Bank project. So, if I didn’t have a degree then, which I had earlier done in the UK instead of taking to the shot cut, I won’t have been able to get the World Bank job. Because in that industry, you either have a P-HD or something bigger before World Bank can recognize you as a consultant. You can be a consultant with USAID you can be consultant with other agencies but for World Bank, no way. They will not take you because they have their criteria and if you don’t fit in, you can’t be considered. So, when God plans for you, you never can tell; things will just click for you. And that was how I went to the Ministry of Information and we had to automate their pay roll system and then, look at eliminating ghost workers. So, I was the one handling their reforms. One of the major reforms was that we put NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) on line. What we did was to put NTA on the website for Nigerians in Diaspora. That was one of the innovations I came up with at the Ministry of Information. So, NTA News of the night before, you can watch it the next day. We connected with NTA, they will feed us and we off load the information. We also did that for FRCN News then, we met with the DG, Dr. Eddie Iroh who made sure they passed the information to us so that Nigerians in Diaspora could connect with Nigeria and if you are not in Nigeria, you could always monitor what goes on in Nigeria by connecting unto the Nigerian Portal.
Bar. Safiya Omosholape Demola Seriki.....'My mum hates lazy people'
So, those were some of the innovations I carried out at the Ministry of Information. I also worked with the National Archives as well because we have so much information there; so many arts, so many things that Nigerians need to know. So, we did that too---it was part of the Emeka Chikelu reforms in the ministry. Before him, we have Information Centers and most of the centers shut down. And when you don’t have Information Centers, knowledge goes down. So, it was now important to set up pilot information centers in just a few states so that people could go and read, access information, use the internet; read the financial times; get access to information and read books that you don’t need to go out of your pocket. But you need that everyday you go there, you get something for yourself and you can understand what is going on outside Nigeria. So, those were the dream of Emeka then. So, we preserved some of the information at the National Archive, we tried to quickly save some of the things we had there into software and it was a lot of reforms. And I can tell you that I got lots of supports from the Directors; they respected my opinion especially when it comes to vetting vendors. It was a very, very interesting experience under Emeka Chikelu. I can tell you most of those reforms are what has helped that ministry up till date”.
Safiya...'When i got to the ministry of Information I was never
given a chance but I walked my way through'
Between Emeka Chikelu & Nasir El-Rufai, who is the best Leader?
It is when you ask Safiya this kind of question that you get her struggling for cohesiveness of fact, yet she will never put one above the other “I can not… I can not…..” (She stammers off) But is asabeafrika putting her in a tight corner?  “No, I can not say you are putting me in a tight corner. They are two different people; they are two very good persons because under both of them, I thrived. They just have different leadership styles but those styles really encouraged people under them. Do you get it? So, they are both different” Will Safiya say the fact that one is Hausa and the other Igbo changed anything? “Well, I think they are both exposed; so it is not a matter of tribe. They are both enlightened and that is one thing I have realized, when you are dealing with enlightened people---weather they are Ibo, Hausa or Yoruba, there is no barrier.
They think outside the box. And because they wanted to make change, not everybody wants to make change. When you work with people that want change, whatever you are doing, you will strive in it. Because they will support you and when you are sleeping, you want to get back to work to go and continue what you are doing. You just want to keep working because you feel you are a share holder and you feel you matter to that person. And that is what is important with leaders. So, they only come in and say ‘I am going towards this line; are you comfortable with it? Could you suggest certain things and they can tell you things to do with policy and where and where you can’t go? They are both great leaders. If they weren’t, they won’t succeed in the positions they were given. There are lots of people in leadership positions that I can tell you did not have the character those two men have. So, you just can’t say…. Moreover, they are friends. If I was to give one person a point extra, then I will be causing a rift between both of them”. (Laughter)
Safiya....The BPE of Nasir El-Rufai era was
an all round-clock working organization.

Why I left Abuja for Private business
Even though it was rumored then that Safiya had some male-female issues with the next man who took over from Emeka Chikelu at the Ministry of Information that is one Frank Nweke Jnr. But when asabeafrika through the question to her she choose to be diplomatic with her response “I think as I said, it is very important when you are working with the right people. If you work with a person who does not respect delivery or who looks out for other mundane issues than delivery, then you are just there. And then, anything happens. And then you know you are not in the right team because you are no more treated for what you can deliver but on petty issues and intrigues, you leave.
When Emeka left, Nasiru encouraged me to stay because they were like what you are doing is continuous, Emeka handed me over to his predecessor (Frank Nweke Jnr.) and I wasn’t so comfortable there. Then I decided it was time for change; and at that time I met the finance minister then (Ngozi Okonjo Iweala) and she wanted me to come and work with her because she realized that I was going through a lot of stress. I met her at a women conference she had in Abuja and she was like, ‘I want you to come and work with me’ and I said ‘well, I have seen what you did, I love it. I will really like to come and work with you’, because she was on the Diaspora program as well, they were part of the economic team and we really learnt from them. I said I really like to but I think it is time now that I step out of the public sector and go and start doing things of my own because as you can see, with government, sometimes, things are not very stable. So, it is better you do something for yourself and you can always go back.
The plan had always been that I will do something in government but with time, I will start my own thing. It was a passion to deliver, do your best and sideline all social encounters because there are times for all those things. So, it was just work-work-work. The only people I interacted with were technocrats that came from Lagos. In my course of work everyday I met CEOs; I met quite a lot of interesting people. I just realized at some certain points that if you don’t build your own thing, you don’t have something to fall back on. And I realized I needed to start something. So, I told her (Ngozi Okonjo Iweala) that at this point now, I don’t want to come and work again in government. Because she realized I wasn’t too happy with the situation and certain things that has gone down (At the Ministry of Information). She was like she would try and solve some of the issues for me but that I should come and work with her but I had already made up my mind”
Barrister Safiya Demola Seriki....'We made BPE website popular because
we offered multi-tasking services'
Why OBJ Boys succeeded
When asabeafrika asked Safiya to tell us why things seems to work under the former President Olusegun Obasanjo an era when she had her own experience under Nasir El-Rufai and Emeka Chikelu, the first word she uttered before answering the question is “I am not a politician” and spoke further “But I think what happened then was that they gave people a lot of hope that you don’t need to know anybody. Because Ngozi Okonjo Iweala that was a minister, her parents were not ministers or influential people under any government. You had a lot of Nigerian and all they did was that they went abroad and studied and whatever they did, they did it well and they came and they got jobs. And you had Oby Ezekwesili who was very passionate with what she was doing; from there, she started with a procurement unit and from there, she became a minister. And she was still down to earth when she was a minister as well.
So, you discovered that a lot of people without airs or affluence and who had no money bag background actually got into power and like Nasiru said in his book---Accidental Public Officers. It was because of his work, his reputation at the BPE that warranted his nomination for the post of a Minister. Then, there was hope that ‘ok, it is not about who you knew but about your professionalism’. There were lots of people that their parents were this and that, they tried and Nasiru said “No”.  And they knew it, they will not get job in BPE.  And there was also competition among all the people; everyone wanted to out do each other. Competition was an excitement and I think Nasiru enjoyed it. It was all about who was more intelligent, who was more smart.  Who has achieved more in terms of innovation; so, he (Nasir) enjoyed it, even among the economic team, there was that revival of knowledge, an excitement for breakthrough because Obasanjo is a leader that is into knowledge. Everybody knows that Obasanjo is well read. He reads, he studies; he studies history and his perception is international. He comes across traditional but he is international in his thinking. He is international in the way he thinks. So, you could see that kind of revival of knowledge during his era and I think the former president enjoyed it too because all his ministers were always challenging each other with knowledge. We cannot say that is not happening now, but it is just that it is not coming out the way we expect”

El- Rufai regretted forcing us to work in Nigeria
On weather the man who convinced her, Nasir El-Rufai to dump the certainty of the United Kingdom for the uncertainty of Nigeria ever regretted his action especially after her silent problem with the next man that took over at the ministry of information, Safiya said “Nasir said that as well because he felt that all of us that worked with him at the BPE, he brought us in with the orientation that we had in the UK which is that everything you have, your 9-to-5, you must give it to the service to fatherland. You don’t do 9-to-5 and you start looking for PP or PR; he didn’t train us to do that. So, we were dedicated to the job. And he felt to some extent that he didn’t give a lot of people the true sense of the reality of Nigeria. So, a lot of people after they have stopped working with Nasiru could not cope. So, some had to go back (Abroad) because the reality on ground is different. Some people have accepted ‘this is the way people play ball and we need to survive’. So, they think in a different way. Nasiru thought us to do our job. He said ‘listen, just do your job. Do it wholeheartedly’. But because people have become disillusioned about the system, they don’t do their job whole heartedly.  They give a certain percent to the job while other percentage is going elsewhere” Safiya promises to document her entire experience in a book very soon.

 (Watch out for concluding Part; “How Mum’s Principle helped my leadership Life to debut on this blog in 24 hours time)

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