Allison Akene Ayida: In the Nightfall of Service To the Nation, By Eric Teniola
“There are many Permanent Secretaries and Brigadiers-General and other senior public officers who, in the Nigeria of today, are losing the battle for survival. Some are living in abject poverty. The pension and retirement benefits cannot sustain the family. The public are frequently misled by the successes or affluence of the few.”
Chief Allison Akene Ayida was born on June 16, 1930. He attended King’s College, Lagos in 1952; Queen’s College, University of Oxford, England in 1956; and the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, England, 1957. He was assistant secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance from 1971 to 1975; chairman, UN Commission for Africa; and secretary to the government of the federation and head of Civil Service, 1975-1977. He died on October 12, 2018.
He narrated the story of his life in a book titled Rise and Fall of Nigeria published by Malthouse Press Limited, from which the following is excerpted:
“I was brought up as an only son by my late parents. One of the virtues you imbibe early without a Big Brother, is the habit of a self-sufficient and independent lone ranger. At 33, I was appointed to act as Permanent Secretary to the Federal Ministry of Economic Development, in 1963. I was the youngest permanent secretary in the Federation. It was part of an experiment to try out the then new breed in the civil service as Permanent Secretaries. I had to look up to senior colleagues such as the late Chief Michael Ani for guidance and leadership.
“A month after my retirement, the Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo arranged an official send-off luncheon party for my wife and I at Dodan Barracks. On returning home at about 5 p.m., we discovered that NEPA (now Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria) had cut off our light. I know the Cabinet Office had paid all outstanding electricity charges and handed me copies of the receipts and the letter informing NEPA that I will be responsible for payment of my bills henceforth. I was naturally upset. I drove to the house of Mr. Askira, NEPA’s Acting General Manager and, to my surprise, he was equally upset. He jumped into my car and we drove to the local station where there was a long queue of expatriate and Nigerian consumers waiting to show their receipts kept by their employers in the office or begging for their bills not sent before the mass connection. The station manager was sitting in his air-conditioned room totally unconcerned. Mr. Askira waded through the crowd to get to the manager’s office and demanded to see the special list of VIPs on Victoria Island whose lights should not be disconnected as part of the mass disconnection exercise. The first name on the list was A. A. Ayida. Profuse apologies all round. I had learnt my lesson.
Such daily occurrences are part of normal life in Nigeria and I have lived happily thereafter with the reality of Nigerian bureaucratic harassment.
Most retired officers are now compelled to remain idle and unemployed if under 45, and unemployable if over 50 years of age…Permanent retirement sometimes means premature death and misery for those who cannot adjust to the emotional aspects and the psychological impact of retirement from public service or positions of influence or power.
“Some of us are often asked what life is like in retirement? When, during the Murtala Mohammad/Obasanjo administration, Permanent Secretaries and other senior officers were invited to declare assets, some of the returns were revealing. There was a Permanent Secretary who had been building his only house in his village for over seven years and the half-completed bungalow had been financed from his personal savings. The authorities thought the Permanent Secretary was a joker but there were many others in similar predicament. There are many Permanent Secretaries and Brigadiers-General and other senior public officers who, in the Nigeria of today, are losing the battle for survival. Some are living in abject poverty. The pension and retirement benefits cannot sustain the family. The public are frequently misled by the successes or affluence of the few.
“In the past, the expectations were different. The senior public officer would, before retirement, probably have been allocated a plot of land in Victoria Island or Ikoyi or the GRA in his home state. The spectrum of beneficiaries in the days of Brigadier Johnson as Military Governor of Lagos state, included Permanent Secretaries and top military officers and civil servants and leading university professors and professionals. On retirement, such officers were appointed to the boards of parastatals by successive governments. Some took Holy Orders, not the church as one of the few booming businesses in Nigeria today, but as a missionary in the service of humanity. Some became farmers—a risky and costly venture. Others went into general business. But the picture has changed dramatically under the prevailing depressed economic conditions. Most retired officers are now compelled to remain idle and unemployed if under 45, and unemployable if over 50 years of age. It is a sad tale of the inhumanity of power and its corrupting influence and abuse. Permanent retirement sometimes means premature death and misery for those who cannot adjust to the emotional aspects and the psychological impact of retirement from public service or positions of influence or power. Suddenly, you wake up one morning, your free official quarters is gone, your chauffeur-driven car gone, your “friends” and “admirers” disappear and you are left with your family and a few trusted friends who had no access to you when the “palace-seekers” were around. The next Christmas, the cards do not arrive. When eventually you get a telephone in your new residence, it does not ring. No callers. When you get to the airport, you no longer enter the VIP lounge and you do not know how to queue for your ticket or rush for your seat in the plane. No more invitations to state banquets. You are likely to be late for your meetings, if any – driving yourself and finding a parking space.
“These are the trappings and paraphernalia of power which many a retired officer cannot forgo. Hence, some functionaries cling to public office at all cost. Those of us who found the ceremonial aspect of public office oppressive, will find relief in life in retirement. You suddenly find you have time for your sporting activities, for developing your hobbies, and for social activities, although the invitations no longer come in the same large number. You feel nearer your God and find time for religious activities. There is temptation for the retired officer to live a life of solitude and self-pity and regret. It is a lonely life at the top, whether in office or in retirement. That is the price of leadership. My advice to those who are about to retire from public office is that they are being given a chance to start life a second time. This time you have a choice. The quality of your new life should be more important than the material considerations. You may not be a Naira-millionaire but you have a million experiences to sustain your new life which you can live in your own way.
“If it is in consolation, life in retirement is not as terrible or miserable and desolate as it sounds, if you have the will to survive and the capacity to adapt to a new life style. There is absolutely no need to provide for the rainy day, while in the service, through the corrupting influence of power and abuse of office. It is morally indefensible.”
“It is not my intention to sound too pedestrian and trivial, but it is important since the order of the day is that no job is permanent and most people now live in fear of retirement, instead of looking forward to a full life of bliss in retirement.
Let me reiterate my conviction that given the necessary checks and balances, power without corruption is not a distant dream in the administration of Nigeria polity. It is attainable if we eschew double standards in the system of accountability and dispensation of justice and punishment.
“Bureaucratic power…should not be a source of political and economic power and self-enrichment but an opportunity to serve the public and the nation. My hope is that the nation will continue to recognise and accord due respect to those who served in the past and deserve the honour to live and die in decent retirement.
“If it is in consolation, life in retirement is not as terrible or miserable and desolate as it sounds, if you have the will to survive and the capacity to adapt to a new life style. There is absolutely no need to provide for the rainy day, while in the service, through the corrupting influence of power and abuse of office. It is morally indefensible.
“The incidence of corruption in Nigeria has increased and is still increasing; this must be drastically curtailed. This dream can only become a reality if there is a change of heart in all of us under a new leadership by glaring examples at all levels”.
Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.