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Testing the grit of public service (II)

For many of us that have had the privilege of reading Liman Ciroma’s autobiography, Testing the grit of the Public Service, have found in it a rich account of the Nigeria’s public service. As the book jacket blurb rightly says, ‘it captures all the momentous events and landmarks of the period that spanned his time within the service, and especially those years which he headed it’. Many readers that have reached out to me to discuss the book found that the interesting aspect of the book is not limited to the reflections of the late statesman, as profound as they were.

Actually the book can be broken into three parts: the autobiography which forms the bulk, some speeches he delivered and the testimonies of his colleagues and associates who eulogized him to no ends after his death. Readers will find the speeches well-researched and revealing of Mallam Liman’s grounding particularly in ancient history. The testimonies tell a lot about the person of Mallam Liman. As the former Vice-Chancellor University of Ibadan Professor Emeritus Ayo Banjo said, Mallam Liman’s ‘character stands out conspicuously as a humble, just but firm leader – – completely devoid of biases, whether religious or ethnic’.

I will share with the readers one of the testimonies penned by Oluwale Kuye, a legendary former Federal Director of Budget and Permanent Secretary. He was Otun Olubadan till his death in 2015. Mallam Liman was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade when Kuye, then a Director, needed his help to get out a situation. The Ibadan High Chief wrote this as tribute to Mallam Liman:

“I want to recall an incident where he defended me personally. Mr Wanike Briggs was the Minister of Trade and we were in a six storey building near the old Prison Yard on Broad street, Lagos. The building had only one elevator for the public and officers. The Minister had the habit of riding in the lift alone. No other passenger joins the lift. Before he was ready to leave office, his tea girls would stop the lift for some 20 minutes or more waiting for him to arrive from his office. Also whenever he arrived at the office in the morning every passenger would be ordered out of the lift. He would ride alone. I do not ride in the lift when am going up or down in the office.

“One evening when I was about to close, I saw the tea girls clearing everybody on the queue as the Minister was going to come out of his office soon. I stopped by and asked all the people on the queue to enter. I ordered out the lift attendant. As I was about to operate the lift, the Minister came. I asked him to enter the lift. He entered. I then asked him, ‘why do your tea-girls always come to stop the lift for you alone to ride? You think the lift was built for you alone? It is built for the general public!’ I continued, ‘by the way do you have a lift in your village where you come from?’ I told him that I was disappointed in him having been told that he was a product of the London School of Economics and Political Science where equality of human beings was the fundamental creed. The Minister did not offer any answer.

“My Permanent Secretary, Liman Ciroma, must have been so amused. He called me the next day on the phone. I went. As he sighted me, he busted into laughter. I was looking at him. He offered me a chair. As I took my seat he called General Gowon – the Head of State and told him, ‘sir, I want to bring my officer, Mr Kuye reported by Mr Wanike Briggs to you.’ He said, ‘bring him’. When we arrived the General asked me, ‘Officer, why did you do that to my Minister?’ Before I answered, my Permanent Secretary started to laugh! I said, ‘Sir, I only told your Minister that the lift is for everybody, particularly for all Nigerians that come to the ministries and not to be commandeered by your Minister riding alone! He would discredit you, sir!’ Ciroma, at this point looked at me and told General Gowon that he Ciroma would apologise to his Minister. We left. That was how Ciroma defended me.”

Ahmadu Kurfi, now Maradin Katsina and District Head Kurfi was a contemporary of Mallam Liman in Barewa College and in the Northern Nigerian Government. They also served as Federal Permanent Secretaries and retired to live in Kaduna. He wrote:

“Liman Ciroma was a very cautious, far-sighted officer, with sound good judgement on decisions regarding formulation of public policies. This is to be expected of an official who worked with very powerful heads of state and governments at regional, state and federal levels. Though Liman and my humble self, hailed from different provinces/states and served in different capacities and at various levels in the public services, we seem to have respect and confidence in each other. Whenever anything of importance in Nigeria was referred to him he would not hesitate to discuss it with me and other associates and even subordinates. His residence at Kabala close, Kaduna, was Mecca to all manner of persons, especially serving and retired officers – civilian, military, police and others. In fact, if the alleged Kaduna Mafia, ever existed, Liman’s residence should qualify as its de facto headquarters!”

Buhari Hassan a contributor to this page wrote from Kaduna: “Yes, Gambo while your fascination with the late elder statesman’s public service career was from a distance, to us long term residents of Kaduna, our various encounters with him as serving or retired individuals in the public or private sector were immensely rewarding. A personal discourse with him is quite revealing in light of a major event in the oil industry days after the launch of his biography. I was in charge of a crucial operations, storage and distribution arm of NNPC based in Kaduna in the late 1990s and a very difficult period in the supply side of our jobs. We were mandated to clear all impediments for a proposed visit of the Head of State to Kaduna. With close collaboration of the State Government and other industry stake holders we achieved a seamless two week’s operation. After listening to me intently as I narrated to him how we carried out the assignment he then told me and my associate how Nigeria lost a golden opportunity in the Liquefied natural gas sector of the oil industry.

“Shortly after the civil war a major engineering and construction oil corporation with the active support of the American government submitted a proposal to build operate and transfer an LNG plant in the Niger Delta complete with a trans Sahara pipeline to the Mediterranean coast. The western economies were trying frantically to wean themselves from relying on Soviet Union and Eastern European gas supplies. Using his words, the project was so gigantic and with no in-house knowledge for proper appraisal. The Nigerian National Oil Corporation, NNOC, precursor to NNPC was just taking off. The proposed project was beyond the comprehension of the executive council under General Gowon. Sadly, the memorandum was stood down only later for the country to build a much reduced capacity LNG with our hard money and without the trans-Sahara pipeline years down the line. Days after the launch of late Mallam Liman’s book the oil industry is celebrating a breakthrough in front end engineering, feasibility studies etc., of the major pipeline network across the Sahara. Lost opportunities? That is an understatement!”

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