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Safeguards Against Banana Peels In The Public Service: My Personal Experience – Sir Don Ubani

The Oasis Reporters

August 16, 2019

About August 1974, I had boarded a Bus at Aba for Enugu. The Bus belonged to Oriental Lines Transport Company. The Company was a creation of the Government of East Central State, led by Mr Ukpabia Asika as Sole Administrator. I hope some of us would remember there was an Oriental Line in the 70s.

Sitting by my side in the Bus was a Man I could guess was of the Middle-Class, in those days when Middle-Class existed. He had a copy of a newspaper with him. The name of the newspaper was Renaissance. It was owned by the Government of East Central State. I believe some of us still remember there was a Renaissance Newspaper in the East of the Niger.

Because of physical proximity I had with my perceived Middle-Class co-passenger, I was able to enjoy, at least, a cursory glance at his copy of Renaissance Newspaper.

On the front page of the paper was a screening headline, Tarka Resigns As Minister of Communication. When I felt the Man was done with his paper, I humbly requested for the paper and he obliged me.

A thorough perusal of that copy of Renaissance pointed out that Chief Joseph Sarwuan Tarka had just resigned as Minister of Communications, from the Federal Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon.

Ofcourse, to many Nigerians, that sounded strange and abnormal. This was because hardly had it been reported that an occupant of an exalted position in Nigeria, nay Africa, ever dreamt of resigning from his position. The question then was, why?

The answer was not far-fetched. General Yakubu Gowon, as Military Head of State who had ruled since July 1966, had come under attack by many critical stakeholders. There was palpable apprehension that he was not keen in returning the country to democratic governance even after eight years. He was also accused of running a very corrupt administration.

Out of natural propensity to massage his ego, he had challenged Nigerians who had any evidence of corruption against any of his Ministers or Officials to come up with the relevant presentation.

In response to Gowon’s challenge, a hitherto unknown young Godwin Adzuana Daboh, who probably had been waiting in the wings, boldly came up with grave allegations of corruption against his fellow tribesman, Chief Joseph Tarka. Both of them were of Tiv tribe, in then Benue/Plateau State. Daboh went to the extent of swearing to an affidavit in a court to validate his accusations against the Tiv-born Tarka. Tarka, in the fullness of decency, resigned!

That event dominated the Nigerian Media Space for a very long time. Newspaper Editors of that era, for a long while, beamed very captivating Headlines on the event. One of them was, Joseph Tarka, A Victim of Banana Peels. Another was, If You Tarka Me, I Daboh You. There was one that titled its own, The Treacherous Daboh.

Many Public Officials have, since then, been falling prey to Banana Peels. There are many of them who are in Prison today, while many others have become regular visitors to Anti-Graft Agencies.

Banana Peels litter themselves all over the Public Service. They are conspicuous and noticeable. Even the blind in the Public Service easily sees them.

The Peels are governed by rules and regulations. They are like The Maiden of Justice that wears a Blindfold. They neither see nor know any person. They only tilt towards strict observance of their Rules and Regulations. Any Public Servant that observes and respects them, will never be fallen by them.

The question; what behavioural conduct can bring a Public Servant into collusion with Banana Peels or Land Mines, has to be asked?

Payment of Ghost Workers by finance officials, an offence that is common in Nigeria’s Public Service, is synonymous with dancing on Banana Peels. Even if it goes on for a very long time, it would still be discovered. Inflation of Contract Values is a direct affront to Banana Peels. Collecting money for services or projects not executed does not endear one to Banana Peels. Receipt of allowances for official trips not made attracts the wrath of Banana Peels. Extortion of money from applicants seeking for employment amounts to confrontation with Banana Peels in the Public Service. Conniving with law breakers for selfish interest is an invitation to the destructive forces of Banana Peels. Many others exist, including but not limited to, Usurpation of Privileges Due Others and Ineptitude.

A problem known, it is said, is a problem half solved. Once one knows what constitutes conducts that run foul of Banana Peels in Public Service, avoiding them, by being self-disciplined, altruistic and compliant to rules and regulations, would always make one raise one’s head above one’s shoulders.

When I went into Government in 1999 and guided by what I had read in the Renaissance Newspaper in 1974 on Joseph Tarka, I told myself that, by God’s special grace, I would not be a victim of Banana Peels. I said I would always ask the rhetorical question, Is There No Banana Peel In This Deal? I convinced myself that the best Safe Guards Against Banana Peels were not to be greedy and overambitious.

In 2013, as a Commissioner in Abia State, I was officially supposed to go to Abuja but I opted not to go because Commissioners in the State had been scheduled for a three-day Executive Retreat at Nike Lake Resort, Enugu. I preferred the Retreat which would expose me to a more meaningful interaction with my colleagues and Resource Persons. My participation in the Retreat was so captivating that the Secretary of State Government; Prof Mkpa Agu Mkpa, appointed me Chairman of Communiqué Drafting Committee of the Retreat.

By the time I returned to Umuahia, officials of my Ministry, whom I should have led to Abuja, also came back.

By computation of the allowances due me, if I had travelled to Abuja, I was entitled to the sum of two hundred and ninety-eight thousand naira (N298,000). Out of ‘reverence’ for me, the Director of Finance brought the money and relevant documents to sign and collect. On the spot, I visualized a Joseph Tarka and Godwin Daboh scenerio.

Spontaneously, I reminded the D F that I did not go to Abuja and, so, was not entitled to any allowances therefrom. Rather, I instructed that the money should be paid into government Treasury. I made that development known to the Governor; Chief T A Orji and he applauded my self-discipline and transparency.

By that singular action, I had saved myself from being humiliated by Banana Peels and equally saved my family and even my people of Asa from the psychological trauma of general castigation. That was because the Officials that would pay you the money are the same persons that would blow it open. No appointee, except the person is closely related to the helmsman, can survive the scandal that could emanate from it.

As a Commissioner for Petroleum and Solid Minerals’ Development in Abia State, I had a running-battle with illegal Oil Bunkerers, Pipeline Oil Vandals and Rogues. They were wealthy individuals that were even supported fiercely by many security personnel that were deployed and paid to protect the pipelines and other critical sectors of Oil and Gas. The day I led the Security Adviser to Governor T A Orji; Capt Awa (rtd) and State Commandant of Nigerian Security And Defence Corps; Comm Datie to arrest Pipeline Vandals that were arrested at Ogwe-Asa in Ukwa-West, through synergy with the Traditional Ruler of Ogwe Autonomous Community, HRH Eze Samuel Nwachi, Security Personnel in charge of the Pipeline almost attacked us. It was only by God’s grace and tact that we managed to take the Vandals to Umuahia.

The temptation was natural for an official in my position to have compromised and make money. But I saw such money as dirty, the action a dereliction of duty and betrayal of confidence bestowed in me.

I am out of that office now. Yes, I did not make money but I walk with my dignity intact.

Again as a Commissioner, the Governor; Chief T A Orji, had given about seventy bags of rice to my Ministry for Christmas. I was out of the State and, so, I directed the Permanent Secretary and Top Management Staff to share the rice.

When the Permanent Secretary later called me, he informed me the Committee had proposed giving me ten bags of rice, the Permanent Secretary eight bags, and so on. I told him that by virtue of God’s grace, I was in a position to buy enough rice for my family and friends. I said that the rice should basically target the lower income group of workers. I insisted that no staff, no matter his or her status, should go home with any quantity less than half a bag of rice. I, therefore, asked him to give me only five bags while he took four. Every staff in the Ministry was happy. For them, what I did was a strange development. Any time some of the staff see me today, they accord me a lot of respect. At least, they know I am not greedy.

The point I have tried to make here is that it only takes self-discipline, selflessness, observance of rules and established norms and fear of God to be safe guarded against Banana Peels in Public Service.

Any person that goes into Government with the objective of accumulating unaccountable wealth, would end up as a victim of Banana Peels.

On the contrary, any Official that does his or her work diligently, in accordance with Rules of Engagement, would still make some money legitimately and, more importantly, go home a very Respectable and Respected Person.

Written by Sir Don Ubani; KSC, JP, Okwubunka of Asa.

Sir Don Ubani is former Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Abia State.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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