PART 2: Why OBJ Boys did well in their time

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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