Dr Ajani: Reanimating Old ‘Super- Permanent Secretary’ Spirit In Civil Service

By Kingsley ‘Anaroke

Dr Ajani: Reanimating Old ‘Super- Permanent Secretary’ Spirit In Civil Service

Before the Nigeria civil war erupted in 1966, there was a group of Permanent Secretaries who earned the sobriquet, ”Super” to their position and therefore were called Super- Permanent Secretary in the federal civil service. Chief Philip Asiodu, Abdulaziz Attah ,M.A. Ejueyitchie, C.O. Lawson, are names that readily come to mind. 

Asiodu once narrated that they were called “super” because they held forth their various ministries as coordinators and rendered quality pieces of advice that became policies to their ministers. They reported directly to the head of service at a point in life of the nation when ministers were not evidently functional. The high point was when they collectively turned down offers to ‘transmute’ themselves to Ministers in their ministries.

That was the sacrifice and dedication with which the super permanent secretaries worked. In turn, they and their offices were respected, adored and idolised.

Today, the consciousness of tribe, ethnicity and “Get-rich-quick syndrome have altered people’s flow of thought.

It is therefore not surprising to see some permanent secretaries of this age and time not ready to work and live for legacy. It is common to see some leave their ministries or retire tainted in smears of corruption and looting in shameless dimensions.

Conversely, it is difficult to believe that out of this pool, a woman of virtue and honour is found. In spite of the evident high temptations to join the Machiavellian school of thought of the end justifies the means, she refused to be swayed.

Dr. Mrs Magdalene Nwanwuche  Ajani, the outgoing Permanent Secretary in the Ministries of Transportation and Marine and Blue Economy distinguished herself in service of the ministries. She had found herself in conflict with her bosses numerous times over personal principles and service rules. But she managed her office, emotions and bosses while insisting on the best for the country.

Her administrative style earned her the sobriquet, “HeadMistress” in the ministry. That suggests a firm control of her environment and dispensation of discipline where necessary. She served between 31 August,2020 and 29 January,2024.

However, Dr. Ajani handed over to her successor in the Ministry on Monday January 29th, 2024. Mr. Oloruntola Olufemi has mounted the saddle.

 As a glimpse into the achievements of Ajani in the ministries, Olufemi has pledged that the tempo of activities to support the structure of the two ministries which is still undergoing approval at the Service Policy and Strategy Office (SPSD) in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation will not decrease.

According to a literature which emanated from the Ministry of Transportation/Marine and Blue Economy, Ajani is a transformative leader. Visionary and accomplished public servant with over 30 years of distinguished leadership experience, rising to the esteemed position of Permanent Secretary. A transformative leader known for steering organizations toward excellence through effective leadership, meticulous financial stewardship, and a relentless commitment to achieving remarkable outcomes. She demonstrates a keen ability to strategically plan, execute, and optimize resources for maximum impact, resulting in a track record of notable achievements.

“A strategic thinker and results-oriented leader with a proven track record of driving organizational success, implementing key policies, and fostering collaboration at various government levels. Possesses a keen understanding of public administration, financial management, and stakeholder engagement, with a commitment to transparency and accountability. Known for leveraging innovative solutions and technology to enhance operational efficiency. A visionary leader who has consistently delivered impactful results in complex and dynamic environments.

As a Permanent Secretary, she “Made significant contributions to the development of Nigeria’s transport sector since she became the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transportation in August 2020.  Under her leadership,the Ministry has implemented several transformation initiatives that have significantly impacted the transportation sector and improved the efficiency and effectiveness of the Ministry as well as increased the productivity of public servants in the Transportation ecosystem.

Some members of staff of the ministries enumerated some projects implemented under her leadership in the ministries. They include: Digitisation and digitilisation of the Ministry’s workflow making the Ministry to be the first Service wide; prioritising capacity building and ensuring majority of staff undergo different trainings yearly; adopting Performance Management System as mandated by the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation(OHCSF) thereby making the Ministry a trail blazer and pace setter; completely revamping and upgrading the ICT soft and hardware of the Ministry;

 Others are, design and management of the Ministry website by staff of the Ministry with ministerial activities update daily; ensuring uninterrupted power supply and giving the Minister a comfortable working environment; caring about the health and welfare of staff by establishing a state of the art Gym; establishing IPPIS HR center to help staff; making the Ministry’s Sport team one of the best service wise; Putting the Ministry in a global map through internet service provision; and ensuring continuity and succession plan by empowering middle cadre officers; face-lifting and modernization of the Ministry’s reception.

The workers further evoked nostalgic feelings with numerous rhetoric questions, making Ajan’s sojourn in the Ministry look like a tapestry of  rich and countless moments of glory.

“Have we considered the face-lift that our dear Ministries are enjoying today? What about the environmental hygiene status of the Ministries now and before? What about work stations equipped with modern computer systems for over 90% of the Ministry’s Staff? What about steady monitoring and evaluation of the activities of our Contractors and Consultants on sites? What about prudency in management of the Ministry’s budget Appropriation?  What about establishment of work plans that serve as guide for yearly programs of the Ministries?

 “What about the yearly and compulsory Departmental Training Programs for all staff. In this aspect, some departments even have more than two training slots. What about the annual reward and recognition of the deserving staff introduced in the Ministries by same Permanent Secretary? What about the send-forth parties with award given and part-away gift to our Retirees from the Ministries introduced by same Permanent Secretary?

 “What about Procurement of Sports Wears to all the staff of the Ministries without consideration of whether they participate in any sports or not?  What about the plan to establish a day care Center in the Ministry to take care of our staff’s babies that are still minors? What about the ongoing plan to establish a Staff Clinic in the Ministries by this out going Permanent Secretary.

Her modest milestones in the industry were featured as:  

·                     Implementation of the Deep Blue Project, a maritime security project combating piracy and other illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea and Nigeria’s territorial waters.

·                     Development of IOPC Standard Operating Procedures(SOP) and National Oil pricing Index and deposited with IOPC & IOPC fund office in London in 2022

·                     Supervision of the development and operationalisation of  Lekki Deep Sea Port

·                     Driven the completion of Dala Inland Dry port in Kano with several others at advanced completion stage.

·                     Led the review of the draft National Transport Policy, aimed at addressing the challenges in the transport sector and promoting sustainable transportation systems.

·                     Revitalization of the Nigerian Railway System – specifically the completion and utilization of Lagos-Ibadan, utilization of Warri-Itakpe line and significant progress of the other rail projects(Kaduna – Kano, Kano – Maradi and rehabilitation of Port Harcourt – Maiduguri)

·                     Implementation of E -Ticketing on all Standard guage rail lines (Abuja – Kaduna in 2021, Warri – Itakpe & Lagos – Ibadan in Nov 2023)

·                     Facilitated the bill for the establishment of a regulatory body, National Transportation Commission

·                     Promotion of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in the Transport Sector

·                     Led the efforts to upgrade the country’s ports and improve their efficiency, through digitization of cargo handling and clearance process.

·                     Drive the development of the Truck Transit Parks (TTP) project that provides logistics hubs and rest areas for truck drivers.

·                     Leading Gender mainstreaming in the Ministry and inclusive strategies

·                     Consistently ensured that the Ministry is in the top 3 Ministries in the implementation of FCSSIP 25. 

·                                             Marine and Blue Economy is the first Ministry to cascade the Ministerial Performance Bond to the Departments and Agencies of the Ministry – November 2023

·         The first to launch the Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS) Ministry-wide greatly improving the ability to digitally manage the treatment and processing of files and work in the Ministry and saved 60% on Stationaries in 2023

·                                             The first Ministry to implement all the phases of the new Performance Management System from planning to evaluation with signed Performance Management Contract and KPIs for all Staff

·                                             First Ministry to implement a performance review and session in public service increasing transparency and accountability within the Ministry.

·                                             The first Ministry to fully migrate all staff members to IPPIS Human resource module and use all components fully.

·                                             The Ministry has also migrated all staff members to the official email platform.

·                                             On ICPC Ethics and Integrity Compliance Scorecard, moved the Ministry from underperformance (below 50%) in 2020 to Substantial performance(74% and 4th position amongst MDAs in 2021) and to 85% and 1st among the MDAs in 2023

In what seems like a valedictory thank you message to friends and stakeholders, Ajani wrote: “Our dear Honourable Ministers, Captains of Industry & Transformative Civil & Public Servants of Federal Ministry of Transportation/Marine & Blue Economy, I wish to express gratitude to the Almighty God, His Excellency the President and the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation for the privilege to serve the nation in the capacity of a Federal Permanent Secretary in this great Ministry from Aug 2020 – Jan 2024.

“The road was bumpy, but with your great support and team work we were able to dream and recreate our Ministry. We contributed our quota and impacted our Nation. 

“All the Honourable Ministers I was privileged to work with provided great leadership and support. The strong guidance and support of the leadership of our various National Assembly Committees are commendable and appreciated.

“To the CEOs of all our agencies and the directors, your support was outstanding and gave us the wings to fly. I am indeed very proud of you and has been a great honour to work alongside you and to learn from you all. 

“I wish you all the best in service to the nation as I look forward to other opportunities for our paths to cross again in the very near future.

Her response elicited reactions from stakeholders. According Dr. Emeka Akabuogu ,Senior Partner, Akabuogu & Associates, ‘I congratulate you on achieving an impactful tenure at the Federal Ministry of Transportation, and lately Marine and Blue Economy. I have no equivocation in declaring that you are the most consequential permanent secretary the Ministry has seen in the last twenty-three years of my interactions with it.”

He said, “Under your guidance, major milestones of inter-agency cooperation were attained, which I only hope that your successor is able to build on. Please, continue in your sincere and problem-solving approach to service, and be sure that you have my support and that of well-meaning Nigerians.” 

 Former Secretary General, Abuja Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Ports State Control on West and Central Africa, Mrs Mfon Usoro wrote: “Our dear Reformist, Dr Ajani, you brought with you a refreshing approach to governance and professionalism in the public sector. We wish you the very best even as we continue to nourish the relationships built.”

The President of Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN),Comrade Adewale Adeyanju noted in his remark,”We shall all miss her motherly spirit in handling issues at hand always. She is a precious woman of our time”

The maritime media joined in wishing her well as Asu Beks of Maritime Media Group wish her “the best of luck in your future endeavours. We shall all miss a class without the ‘HeadMistress’

In the words of a former Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA),Mrs. Chinwe Ezenwa,” Dr Ajani, you are the Permanent Secretary of Permanent Secretaries. You exhibited great leadership from the time you were in the Villa taking care of human lives in your capacity as the Head of the Clinic

“Your stint with the Federal Ministry of Transportation really transformed the Ministry. You came with your integrity intact and left with it intact. Your quality of leadership desires emulation. Big Congratulations I wish you well wherever you go. The nation needs someone like you at this time.”

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