The Head of Service (HoS) in Katsina State, Alhaji Lawal Aliyu, speaks on how Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema is strengthening the civil service to enable it meet the mandate of executing government policies.
WHAT were the main challenges you met when you were appointed in April 2012?
The initial challenge at that time was the backlog of outstanding promotions and training and retraining of civil servants.
The issue of training is very fundamental in the civil service and all the outstanding promotions were presented to the governor and he approved all, even with arrears.
We can beat our chest to say the governor has given consideration for training and retraining of civil servants, whether short or long-term or regular training processes, which are ongoing.
The short-term trainings are those you go to recognised institutions, like Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), Centre for Management Development (CMD) and other cognate professional agencies, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).
The long-term trainings are those civil servants go on course for further sturdies, so that they can reach the pinnacle of their career.
We have policy and strategic courses at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), which are the main senior executive courses for the award of MNI.
We also have business apprentice and training centres, as well as the youth craft village, which complements the trainings we are talking about.
To meet up with the current trend in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the governor is setting up ICT and Business School in Katsina. The law establishing it is presently with the state House of Assembly, just as contract has been awarded for its construction and it would likely admit the first batch of trainees before the end of the year.
This government places a lot of premium on training and retraining to ensure effectiveness and efficiency of governance.
How is the state keying into the rule that directors and permanent secretaries should not spend over eight years in office?
It is not a directive. With the 1999 Constitution and some semblance of federalism, what we have presently in service, to the best of my knowledge, is that the federal government does not have a direct bearing on the state, unlike the military command structure.
Any circular from the federal government is always addressed to the heads of agencies, but if the states are willing to adopt it, they get the circular to adopt and adapt to suit their own environment.
So, it is not a directive, per se, but we naturally take a cue from any good policy at the top and adapt to our local environment, because the policy is aimed at weeding out aged staff and to give room for young and dynamic ones to improve effectiveness of the civil service.
So, the state government has keyed into this policy. The governor has set up a committee to study the tenure policy and incidentally, I am the head of the committee.
After vigorous work, the report was submitted to the state executive council, which approved its implementation.
The implementation took off late September and in view of the time frame given to the civil servants affected by the policy, the governor gave them three months salaries in lieu of notice for those being retired. I doubt if any state or even the federal government did anything like that.
The labour in the state joined the strike regarding the minimum wage at that time, not because Katsina State was not paying, but essentially because it was a national strike.
When the issue of the minimum wage came up, the governor said he was going to implement it after a biometric capture of the civil servants. I was part of the committee that did that biometric then, as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance.
As soon as that was done, he gave approval to pay the minimum wage in January 2011. As a matter of fact, we were the first in the country to implement the minimum wage. We not only paid bonus, but also arrears after the minimum wage issue.
Also, on the every 24th of every month, whether there is allocation from the federal government or not, every staffer gets credited by their banks.
That is besides paying pensioners every month before paying the regular staff.
The state, led by the governor, is operating a tight fiscal management, even with education from primary to tertiary level being free and all students’ WAEC and NECO examinations fees paid by the state government.
Sorry, we don’t have non -indigenes in the state; all are Nigerians. That is what the governor does not want to hear; he hates it when you call someone a non-indigene.
So, the state government pays everybody’s school fees. No matter where you come from, once you reside here in Katsina State, you are qualified automatically for free education.
We have also the free medical care for babies from zero to five years old and the aged in society.
Ante natal care for pregnant mothers and delivery are also free, as is the treatment for malaria.
Paying of gratuity is a problem to a lot of states, but in Katsina, the governor has approved the payment of gratuities of over N700m to 455 retirees, which is being paid quarterly. As we speak, the state does not owe salaries or pensions arrears, as all those who have left the service three months back have collected their gratuities, except those ones who have just left, which, of course, will be sorted out this quarter, as it is being assessed by the auditor general.
The government is also doing a lot in terms job opportunities. Recently, the governor approved the employment of about 2,000 teachers after the National Institute of Education came and assessed the teaching quality in the state and found out that there was a gap of qualified teachers to employ.
The executive council has constituted a committee on improvement of standard of education in the state and members have been assigned to go and assess public primary and secondary schools within their localities, identify the problems and make recommendations on how to solve them.
The aim is to bring out the best in each of the students at the end of the day.
The state government has constructed over 2,000 housing units, which have been allocated to civil servants at the state and local government levels at a subsidised rate of 40 per cent, after the deposit 10 per cent, with the balance spread to 15 years, which will be deducted from their salary.
We have what we call medical students scheme. If you are admitted to read medicine in any university, the state government registers and places on salary.
Though technically you are not a civil servant, but you will be placed on Level 06 and would be paid twice a year.
This is just to stabilise the students and relieve the burden from parents. The only condition to this is that you sign a bond that on completion of your studies, you come down to the state to serve for two years, apart from housemanship.
Thereafter, you can take your leave if you want to, but if you want to be retained, you will be retained.