The name TOTAL CHAIR reverberates in political and civil service circles in Akwa Ibom State. Sometimes, people forget the real name of TOTAL CHAIR but are never mistaken in the identity of the TOTAL CHAIR. There has been only on TOTAL Chair, and that is Architect Otu Ita Toyo, former Chairman of the people’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Local Government Service Commission in Akwa Ibom State. NEWS31 was privileged to have a session with this political tactician and estute administrator in which he bared his mind on several issues, particularly on those bordering on Local Government Administration. We considered it our privilege to sit with Architect Otu Ita Toyo and a further privilege to serve you this interview with this quintessential architect, politician, administrator and community leader. It is an irresistible dish, a three-course dish. Call it a full option, then that’s what the interview with the TOTAL CHAIR is all about. Happy reading
NEWS31– Sir may we have an abridge profile of chief Otu Ita Toyo
CHIEF TOYO : I am not very good at that but I will try. I am an Architech by training. I am 67 but that’s not for too long again because in another few weeks I will be 68. I went to school in zaria, Ahmadu Bello University and Hope Waddell, these are the critical schools that shaped my life. I have been doing architectural designs, construction and supervision all my working life and more than competing with that is politics and politics. I am in politics trying to ensure that the product of our politicking is or becomes beneficial end product to the masses. That is my kind of politics. My politics is people oriented left or centre but I don’t know where politics is at this moment. But it seems that our type of politicians are in the minority. And that is still politics because politics must have minority. I have been the chairman of a PDP. That was actually accidental. I went on a visit to Obong Ufot Ekaette for something else completely. I needed his help in a business I was doing and while I was talking he was looking at me when I finished he asked me, are you the Toyo who contested for the chairmanship of the party, I said yes sir. It was a joke to me because I cannot come from Lagos and become the chairman of PDP but you know Lagos people always think nothing is impossible, go and ask Udom, he will tell you. So I said yes and he asked me a second question. Obong Ufot was the power behind my aspiration. I speak of people like that with fear and trembling. He was an exceptionally and elevated man.
Chief Otu Ita Toyo, former chairman, AKS Local Goverment Service commission,
NEWS31:Tell us how you journeyed from being a politician to being an administrator in a Local Government Service.
CHIEF TOYO: I was actually invited by Governor Akpabio to take the place of Mr Afaghaide who was elevated to the position of Chief-of-Staff. He offered me the position and I took it gladly. I will give you the principles which drive that eventually somewhere in this interview and that is how I found myself again in Local Government administration. Victor Akan told me, most of what I know; I learned from him. He had factories and will tell me Otu do this, Otu do that and I will tell him Senator, I am not an engineer. He will say, listen, you see that certificate? It tells anybody that, this is the man who has been through series of trainings and he got certified by us to be able to handle any project to a successful conclusion. So please go to Abuja and get this thing done. I am of that opinion actually, everyone who has been through school and has proper pupillage can handle anything. Where your capacity stops is where specializing is required and that also behoves on you that as a trained capable person to know when to invite a specialist. So I became part of the local government and thankfully, I hear that I did well.
NEWS31:As the chairman of Akwa Ibom State local Commission, precisely in 2013 can you give an insight on the state of the commission you took over?
CHIEF TOYO : That is the question which gladdens my heart because I took over a commission that was pupiled by very qualitative persons. The spirit within the commission that I came to meet worse of the people who wanted to leave a better local government system and so from day one till when I left, we had a great working relationship. The focus of our commission, my commission I would say was to ensure that the people in the Local Government were treated fairly, that they were taken care of in terms of the facilities which they were entitled to and they were given the respect that their offices demanded. I was sworn in one week after the recruitment exercise of 2013 so I wasn’t the one who made the recruitment. chief Afaghide did and Governor Akpabio had said to me at the swearing in that there will be no recruitment for another three years which effectively locked me up in the room and threw the key away but that is neither here nor there. Of course, things like that must be encountered, so he told me that the focus was therefore on the people who are working in local government system and so I had that privilege working with these other four very knowledgeable people. We had a permanent secretary briefly when I landed there but she didn’t last there for long I am afraid but she was replaced by an absolutely knowledgeable gentleman. Mr. Wisdom Ekpo on whom I depended very greatly to guide me through the intricacies of the public service because that was my first time in my life working in a public service. I think everybody should have that experience. It is a voodoo existence because what you see wasn’t usually what you get (laugh) except somebody knowledgeable in the intrigues is and Mr. Wisdom Ekpo was an absolute God’s sent. He is a great guy and we worked together throughout my stay.
NEWS31:Sir, during your time, what were those specific challenges you had as an administrator and how did you handle them?
CHIEF TOYO: The primary thing I encountered, the first thing was upon entry I found out that the office of the chairman was given an imperial interpretation. The chairman had a special staircase and forgive me, I am simple at heart. if I have to use a staircase not the staircase used by everybody in the commission. We had to step down a lot of social engagement. I brought into it a more relax atmosphere of administration. That was the time the commission had a spot of trouble with ghost workers. The commission before I came did a lot of work in trimming down the number of ghost workers and being ghost you know you can never win against ghost (laugh) but I think we had a very admirable outing against them. The Local Government chairmen were so grateful that they made us a few promises which I don’t think they had enough time to fulfill. Another thing was that there were a lot of unseriousness within the local government system. People hardly went to work for many reasons. One of which was that the Local Government system itself was run as unwanted arms of government and so the people there believe and also reacted to the fact that they were no challenges and the politicians and the public servants never really identified a common cause . So it was a big challenge. I decided to go on a tour of the Local Government . That magic had worked when I was in PDP, it recreated the party somehow and it did work as a Local Government Commission chairman. we made demands of them to up their games and create respectability for the Local Government which I think pound for pound, they did. I did not introduce the biometric but it was implemented by me. Because it was a very sensible system and everybody was happy with it because if you come to work you get paid and if you don’t come to work you won’t get paid. I can’t see anything fairer than that.
NEWS31 : But sir, did that initiative work?
CHIEF TOYO: well! Yes and no. Yes because it was a new system and a few people got affronted by it because habit dies hard. Local Government workers have been spoilt by the lack of regimentation but that is because the focus on Local Government; I don’t really know what the focus on Local Government is to be honest because as I look around, I don’t see what they engage in. They probably has a few revenue points which the invariably use as compensation for their foot soldiers. That is not local government duty. The place I have seen local government work are two : Abuja is a special place but Lagos is a proper place and Kaduna. I mean Local Government tarred roads. Have you seen the Mainland Local Government headquarters?Local Government should grow beyond the level of sitting down like a cloak of political people and then asking themselves what will I take home at the end of three years. It is a bit disheartening. The government must be powerful and committed enough to know how to make local government work.
NEWS31:You also mentioned the focus on Local Government and made some comparisons then and now. What do you think could be done in Akwa Ibom State for Local Government to grow such that they can be at par with Local Government in Lagos and Kaduna.
CHIEF TOYO: first, everybody and I mean this literally who is a Local Government chairman in Lagos has a capacity to run for governor. If you find five people in a gubernatorial election in Lagos State, four of them have been Local Government chairmen one time or another. The quality of people you put in charge of Local Government matter-very very important.
NEWS31: Do you say that the ones we have here are not experienced?
CHIEF TOY: No I am not saying that, I am saying that there are things which are required of Chairmen of Local Government which we must search for in those who are contesting before electing or choosing them. What I am saying is that if we have that frame of mind while addressing Local Government matter, I think Local Government will be more productive. There was a chap in Urue-Offong Oruko Hon. Osung and if you went there you will be surprised that he is running the same local government like the rest of them.That is crazy. His take home allocation was about half of what Mbo LGA collected but the activities in Mbo and that of Urue-Offong were like night and day yet Mbo had a lot of money. So it is not even money, it is people. Abiola told me something I lived by, when we met up with Abiola during the lunch of the community concord in calabar and ended up having lunch. At that lunch I asked him, My Chief , why are you interested in becoming the president? He wasn’t campaigning for president he was doing massive charity work. I didn’t know there was method to his madness but it was obvious at the end.This time he wanted becoming the president of Newspaper Proprietors Association. He was already too big for that type of position. He said, let me tell you young man, there is no small office, it is people who make the difference. If you take a big man and put in a small office it will not contain him, he will expand the office to his stature but in the reverse, if you take a small man and put in a big office until he reduces it to his size he will not rest, so it is people not office and as you can see if you take a man and give him money in Mbo it is either he increases it to his stature or reduces it to his stature.
NEWS31: Chief, if you are called upon to take over Local Government Service Commission again what will you do?
CHIEF TOYO: The battle to liberate ourselves is a perpetual battle. See where we are, is this life? I insisted only graduate, not just graduates but any other person contesting for the position of a Local Government chairman must show an evidence that he/she has ran a successful business of at least 50 people. I left them. They brought the people you see now. they are big men. You actually are a big man but that brings big responsibilities. If you cannot mind those responsibilities then your bigmanism has a problem. Let me give you a little analogy here. I went to Oron and I set up a group call the Oron Think Tank. Today I read some of the things they write and I certainly hope they are Oron people and there are certainly thinking. I know the chairman and I know he thinks and he actually looks like a tank (laugh). The Think Tank we set up then was headed by Ambassador Etim Uye, an exceptional man. We got top Oron professionals into it. Those who went to the Local Government Councils in Oron could not find Local Government Chairman who was a graduate. Today, because of my insistent on that formula from that Local Government System. Today, because of my insistence on that formula from that Local Government System, fifteen years ago, they are nineteen PhD holders . Now, that is the kind of story you want to tell.If you ask a PhD man to sell groundnut, he will do it differently. Like Victor Akan used to tell me, “that certificate doesn’t mean anything rather than to tell people that (Pidgin) this man we don train am,now na doctor of to get answers”. So give him anything, he will do well. Why cant we learn our lessons? . You people will remain in the Local Government system for no fault of yours. I don’t think anybody in this room can project into twenty years from now, you cannot. You will just be praying that by some grace you will be sent to a Local Government Council that has a better allocation and the chairman is liberal enough. Somebody else who was creative enough could start something. I was new in Lagos when the Igbo people started Alaba international market, selling electronics. Today it is the largest electronic equipment market in Africa. If you have a Local Government Chairman, knowing that market is the constitutional responsibility of Local Government, can’t he go and put ten big shades and call it Mbo international market and things will come in from Gabon, Equation Guinea. They are coming in now but they are not organized. Every night if you go to Mbo water front, you will see a beehive of activities. They bring in everything at night illegally but by morning the place is empty. Why not make it legal, charge some money, bring in customs Officials eventually Custom Official will be part of the system by arrangement after all if we are to be honest with ourselves arrangement is a way of life in our country . Look at it, build your shades, call it Mbo International Market and by arrangement have the presence of Customer, immigration and by arrangement get them to work. But two things militate against that. The moment the man with the idea starts it, it takes time to mature. The moment there is sign of small success, they will gangup against the man and they will remove the man. That dream dies like Tinapa. It dies because the next man does not know where to plug and won’t even be humble enough to call the initiator for a brief on the way forward. He can be made a manager of the place and in few years youth of Mbo will not migrate to Uyo to find means of livelihood. For Local Government to be successful in their plans we need discipline, we need a lot more from the government and its strong arm of discipline with the direction that the state must attain a certain level of proficiency. Maybe five years, ten years we need to start. Maybe the governor is doing it. I am not quite conversant with what he is doing. Your second question about Local Government commission. You know when we were all in Local Government Commission. At the risk of not sounding sanctimonious, there was no personal problems that I did not attend to. I don’t think there is anybody in the Local Government system then who did not know that he or she could walk into my office with a problem and that problem will be addressed instantly. There was a woman who has been in the system for a while (I have forgotten her name) one day she just walked into my office timidly and sat down. I asked her what the problem is. She mentioned her name and said that she is the only one with ICAN in the Local Government system. I said hang-on, you have ICAN? She said yes, I said don’t say anything again, this conversation doesn’t make sense. Come to the office tomorrow with your ICAN certificate. She came back the next day with the original Certificate. That week I called in the commissioners, presented her papers to them, invited her and she was made a director of finance. Your contributory pension Nko? I dont know if you people have started it again but when we were there the law of pension said that if it is not invested in five years it should be returned to the owner. I wrote a letter and had the money returned to you, una no collect am? Go and ask civil service people whether they have collected their own. It takes a person who knows. There was an underground spiritual games with that money. It works but to the detriment of the masses. You people are not investing this money, let us return it to the owners they know what to do with it. There was a lot of attack on me, if I wasn’t the kind of person I was, I probably would have been thrown out as at that time because I insisted that the money must be given back. We made sure that leave grants were paid through the system. When the system rolls out, it will roll with your leave grant and other entitlements.Nobody pays a government worker a living wage. The money you people take home, you spend in less than twelve hours. The rest you people won’t like to tell people how you got it. So we must also find a way to bring Nigeria up to scratch to make sure that the public servant can also look at his or her pay cheque and tell somebody, please go I wont do it. Until you can do that forget it. It is part of what we politicians will now create for an administrator to be able to survive. As long as you are not paying this people a living wage, don’t call that thing bribe, they got to survive and in your own small corner you are doing your own security vote
NEWS31: Chief, you just made a reference to the appointment you gave because of ICAN Certificate. Does it mean that during your time appointments were not given on seniority and Local Government basis?
CHIEF TOYO: Appointments were absolutely on seniority and local government basis. First of all, I didn’t make new appointments because I just came in and there have finished appointments. So the only thing I did was to balance. They were Local Government that did not have heads of service and then they were Local Government with six to eight heads of service. Yes you are head of service, personal to you, no problem but for as long as I am here, there will be no new head of service from those places because (Pidgin) una don reach six already, other people no go chop?. So one Local Government, since the beginning of that time Adam was around, they had no head of service. (Eastern Obolo). I sat down and I thought about it, I said before I leave this place I must make a head of service from Eastern Obolo. So I started investigation. I brought permanent secretary and we discovered that the highest man from Eastern Obolo was on level ten or something. I said well everything is possible but by arrangement, let us arrange how we can take him to the level of head of service. That’s the political part of its, so we promoted him through special promotion and he was appointed head of service. To make him psychologically ready for his new position, permanent secretary suggested we should send him to go tutelage under an experienced head of service. So he was transferred to understudy an older head of service by arrangement and within one year and half he was upto standard and he was transferred to one Local Government. He is now one of the oldest heads of service in the Local Government. So politics was just one of the weapons we used for positive ends. We never used politics as a weapon of mass destruction or victimization. We made sure that we balanced those Local Government that did not have treasurers.By the time I left everybody had something. There was no Local Government complaining of anything. The few people who wanted to move from cashier to treasurer we looked into those things very rigorously. I heard that when people came after me, there did not quite agree with some of the things we did .They reversed them. I am sure when you interview them they will give you reasons, but we did the best we could. I mean for all the time I was there. people said that Oron people were favoured. I don’t think so. The best that I did for Oron people, because you must do that was to listen to their complains and then address the situation in the most possible balance way.
News31: You just mentioned special promotion the course of our discussion. should it be encouraged in civil service?
CHIEF TOYO :Yes! It is just a special vehicle to attend a very minimal goal. The benefit to the larger community is big. The Eastern Obolo guy came and complained that since the creation of Akwa Ibom State Eastern Obolo has never produced a Head of Service. In this case, the position can be sacrificed but for effective sacrifice, this special tools was used. Special promotion used in a callous and victimization way is a terrible weapon because promotion by its very nature should be a reward for input. That is why other than the ICAN woman and the young man from Eastern Obolo you will not see or hear of anybody during my time who would say he or she was overtaken by the Chairman’s girlfriend because I wasn’t even connected to those processes. I was a policy man. If I had wanted to do politics, I would have sat everybody and explained why we are moving in that direction. To be honest, people were largely satisfied with our methods. I do not recall significant or even noticeable level of resentment in the service because if there was, it would have come to my notice. I am a man who doesn’t like such things at all. Even when I was the party chairman, whether you are His Excellency the governor or ward chairman, in the party we are all members and you have your respect. Everybody knew it and that is why PDP came alive in the state. I built the cathedral where PDP worshipped. Our people must bring development to Local Government, hunger has made our citizens very unresponsive to human kindness and now survival does not allow our people much room for empathy
NEWS31: What was the Commission’s policy on man power development?
CHIEF TOYO: I believe that was one of our biggest successes. I inherited a gentleman who was in charge of training Mr Ekaette Ekaette. He was a health director or so but he was a replay of what i said about having a proper Certificate. You can do anything. Mr Ekaette took over training and I doubt if there were very many Cadre of staff who did not benefit from certain level of training or the other under Mr Ekaette Ekaette. Indeed that was our biggest effort and Ekaette made sure people were sent on training. The only thing we did not have was the luxury of oversees training which used to be there before I came. My commission sent our staff to ASCON and CMD to get trained. I am convinced we did well on training and retraining. I heard people commending our outing on training. Thank God you brought this question. The Local Government Service has the fundamental business of perpetually training and retraining her staff. There is nothing like knowledge. You know federal government has this one percent training fund. It is not very small. It is enough to train people in batches and if we focus on training. When people are not sent on training know that there is something being trained on that money and it is not moving on a positive direction and that is part of the dislocation of the system. We as the people must do our utmost particularly as an administrator. You guys are journalists right? Forgive me, in ten years to come there will be no journalism anymore. The profession is dying because it is reforming. Twenty years ago if you are a journalist everybody will be looking at you with one eyes, now when you say you are a journalist why will people fear you? Afterall we are all writing, write your own and I write my own. No thanks to social media. Even so, the training which you had made the difference and in addition, the available tools. If you are not trained now, in some years to come, those tools you used will fade out. For instance, most of the things we are learning in our schools in Nigeria are not used again in schools abroad. Any profession that does not address these two critical needs is doomed. Your profession must be able to provide services. You must think out systems which brings solutions to existing problems and journalists are doing that. If God is on our side, I pray something happens that will open the eyes of Government in all the Locals Governments. Have you seen the hectares of land lying waste in our various local Government? If this people have threatened us with food shortage should we not be proactive enough to start engaging in large scale agriculture on those lands. There must be some creativity but when you do not have creative people in charge, it becomes a problem. Change must come from people. For instance, if Owolowo and his team did not make western Nigeria what it is today there would have been no Lagos. For any one who wants to be in Government, know that it is a place to give service while planning on how to engage the position which you have to make a difference. Local Government more than any part of government is the most critical government in this country. Part of Nigeria’s problem is the neglect of Local Government. Half of the country’s problem would have been solved and the people working in the local Government system happier if there is a deliberate effort to make local Government work.
NEWS31:This much talked about Local Government Autonomy seems like a mirage, what is your take on it?
CHIEF TOYO: My take on Local Government Autonomy is that Local Government practitioners are mere toys in the hands of the Executive because there is the enablement for the Autonomy. Autonomy does not end in money, in it full sense autonomy is taking back what belongs to you in the schedule of the constitution. Autonomy if given to Local Government will ginger local Government to look inward and becomes more creative in terms of avenues to create robust IGR system. Infact, local Government will grow.
NEWS31: Before we wrap-up, how did you get the name TOTAL CHAIR?
CHIEF TOYO: (laughs) you know I even prefer to be called total Chair than my real name because it reminds me of a time in my life that there was mass appreciation of the effort I put in doing anything. The name was given to me by party people (PDP) when I was the State Chairman before you know it was all over the place. Late Ambassador Edem the then chairman of NDDC had a party in his house and invited many people including me. It was a big party with so many VIPs. He brought one MC from Port Harcourt. The MC kept introducing people and I was sitting there unrecognized. Maybe because I wasn’t very impressive anyway. The MC did not mind me atal untill someone walked to him and drew his attention to the party Chairman’s presence in the party. The MC came up after that short interruption and said ” this man now I am going to introduce is the Chairman of this and that. He is the Chairman of everybody. Infact, he is the total chair. I think it would have ended there if ambassador did not re-echoed” I must refer to our total chair” in his vote of thanks. From that day the name became popular within and out of the party circle.