ASCON is fulfilling its mandate – Peters
The Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) is the Nigeria’s foremost training and leadership resort located in the historical town of Badagry, Lagos. In this interview with our correspondent, THERESA IGATA, the Director General of the College, Mr Ajibade Adewale Peters outlines how the college is helping to solve the nation’s manpower challenge especially in the public sector. Excerpts.
Second tenure in ASCON and challenges
My second tenure in ASCON started effectively on June 20, 2012, the first ended on June 19, 2012. Challenges are always there in any organisation. If there are no challenges then there will be no need for managers at all. Essentially the major thing we have been grappling with here is power supply and it’s a national issue. We run generator most of the time. For the past four years that I have been here we have been running 24 hours on generator. It is a challenge from the point of view of maintenance, fuelling i.e. buying of diesel, etc. We also generate our own water and if there is no power, it means the participants will not enjoy their classroom, accommodation and the environment. We’ve been running three generators for the past four years.
Role of ASCON in national development
In any economy human resource development matters a lot and our critical role is taken from the Act that established the college; we’re to play three major roles for governments at the federal, state and local level in human capacity building. We also engage in training, research, consultancy, publication and allied matters. The role that these will play in any economy is great. Right now we’re talking about the transformation agenda of Mr. President being able to meet the vision 20:2020 and I’m happy that there’s real focus on it now; the MDGs, what role do we play? Our role is to prepare people to be able to turn around the economy, the training programmes are redesigned to turn out public officers who can work in their organisations and turn around the economy and transform the country; the transformation cuts across all sectors; health, transportation, finance etc. The course we design here help to enable us produce catalysts, who after their training are able to think better, do more, and are able to key into the national transformation agenda.
Any special areas of focus?
We look at some critical elements like the e-governance. We’ve just come back from Ado-Ekiti where we had an e-governance seminar for all states Heads of Service, Permanent Secretaries and ICT directors. For three days we were looking at the role we have to play in e-governance and how you can deliver better, this is part of the transformation we’re talking about. How can you through ICT, internet deliver better service. Different states came and made their presentations which provided learning for one another and that really helped the application of e-governance in the country. That’s one area we’re doing our best to ensure that we contribute our quota to development. The training itself is a lot, people acquire new knowledge, skills and behavioural pattern. ASCON is the melting point for all cultural differences in the country, when we all come here nobody identifies himself with any particular ethnic group or religion, everyone becomes one. If you’re looking for a model of a country this is one place you can get it.
Uniqueness of ASCON
Our uniqueness is in the type of service we deliver. No institution has been so instructed, directed by the government to do what we’re doing through an Act. ASCON was established then by Decree 39 of 1973 and now by an Act. Before government established ASCON it identified the critical needs of the entire public service and then discovered that with the exit of the colonial masters there will be the need for a place that will do training and build capacity of the indigenous public officers and then they agreed to establish ASCON as the college to do that. Our staffs are very unique, they’re trained, their mode of facilitating is unique and they’ve had the commendation of the participants.
Dwindling leadership skills in Nigeria
In Nigeria, followership is a major problem. Take it from whatever level you like, everyone wants to be the one leading and it’s never possible. Indeed everyone is a leader at his own level, I’m the leader in my home, church and by the grace of God I’m a leader here but I have directors who are leaders in their departments. Even in the departments too they have other people who are either deputy or assistant directors, they’re leaders in their units but the truth is that people who lead at such levels do not want to see themselves as leaders, they don’t want to believe that they contribute to the overall leadership. Instead of following and keying into the general vision of the organisation or country, they begin to look for ways to scatter where they are because they think they’re the ones that should really be there. I think that is what is really wrong. Nigerians are very brilliant and highly educated and highly intellectual, but I’ll say to a large extent we don’t want to be the follower. In terms of leadership skills people know what to do and we also play a role in that area, we have the leadership development centre; bringing people together to discuss leadership skills, traits, elements of leadership, communication and other related subjects at whatever level and we have a whole department that does that here. When we say there is shortage of leadership in the country, in terms of the number people who know how to lead I don’t think there’s a shortage but you and I do not allow them to do what is right and also do not allow them function properly.
Followership is what makes leadership, if you’re a very good leader and nobody is following you where will you go to? You cannot have a general who carries a gun to fight a battle and he looks back to find there’s nobody behind him. Whatever arms he’s carrying he’ll expend within minutes and becomes alone and is captured. I think one area we need to look into is for people to understand the concept of followership, the concept of looking at a vision, jointly designing a vision and accepting ownership of it. That was why I said the transformation agenda is not Mr. President’s transformation agenda but our transformation agenda. Even at home when you want to do something and the children want to revolt they have ways of doing it; they could grumble and attract the mother’s attention who seeks to know why they’re grumbling and if it is something they haven’t told their father about the mother takes the message to him. There’re channels too for making known grievances and disagreements at whatever level of governance, whether corporate, regional or national. Those channels are there; I think followers should explore those channels and follow them.
To what extent have you been able to achieve your goal in ASCON?
If I say 100 per cent then we should all pack and go, but sincerely speaking I’ll say that in terms of what we’re supposed to do we have put in all machinery and we’re fully on course. We have done various trainings. Apart from such regular programs we have tailor-made programs and also ad hoc programs. We also have a lot of collaboration with the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation; right now we have people who are attending pre- retirement course in ASCON. The office of the Head of Service came to open it and we also have another program on manpower planning and budgeting holding in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and I know that we have more than 200 participants already on that one. So when you say to what extent, I think you’re happy when you’re doing a job according to specification. If I say we’ve achieved our goal 100 per cent, it means we’ve finished working and don’t forget that training is a continuous thing; human resource capacity building is a continuous thing because there will always be new methods, concepts and challenges at work.
We now have a number of geopolitical offices in Port Harcourt, Rivers State to cover the South South geopolitical zone, Ado Ekiti for the South West, apart from being in Badagry which is a national office and Abuja which is another headquarters, Niger State has written to us and has given us an office in Minna. We also have in Gombe and Taraba has prepared a place for us. That means ASCON is meeting the goals and objectives, we have impacted on them and they want to make it more convenient for us to serve them. We touch the federal, state and local governments, which is our mandate.
Vision for ASCON
All I want is for ASCON to be the only MDI (Millennium Development Institute) in Nigeria. I want it to remain everywhere and reaching every home. Operating through e-learning, new technology where you have highly trained people who can respond to your training needs at all times, that’s one thing I’m looking forward to.
Also my vision and prayer is to have the privilege of handing over to another DG who comes from within. Once this is accomplished, I tell you, I can now go to sleep, first giving glory to God and then thanking the government because if you don’t have a good successor then any job you have done could be destroyed. I believe that good succession can come if leadership comes from people who contributed to doing what you’ve done. Those who had a role to play in it, who did things together with you, the moment you leave they’ll be able see other things that are left and think of doing them.
I have been in ASCON since 1981 and I’ve served a number of managements and I’ve been in management position since 2000 and so by the time I was appointed I didn’t need to begin to study ASCON because I already knew the staff, I knew areas that were bad and it was easy to call my staff together to say let us reason together. It is not something that will take you two months before you keep on running but when you bring a new person, he will study the organisation, and people, he may not even know what to do. I want to leave and pray that I hand over to somebody from within the college; I want the college to be so known as the first MDI in the entire Africa and believe me we’re working towards that now. There is nothing that is done within the MDIs in Africa that they don’t call ASCON, in fact within the Commonwealth they call ASCON. I’ve just received a letter from the Commonwealth secretariat that they’ll like to come here to see areas that they can still further assist in building our capacity. By the time I’m leaving I should be able to close my eyes and thank God that I’ve left an ASCON that is better and greater than when I took over.
Advice to managers and leaders
Leaders generally whether young or old should avoid greed, it is an opportunity to serve, it is a big privilege to serve. To me, that I sit on the roundtable with Heads of Service, cannot be quantified in terms of money. Talking to people that matter, can’t be quantified, I derive a lot of pleasure from that and it does not translate to money. When you have a resource to deploy to a particular place please use it for that purpose. The hunger and thirst for money everywhere I think is terrible and that is one thing that is running the country down. I’m an advocate for e-governance so that there’ll be transparency and with transparency there’ll be reduction in corruption. That’s the area I’ll advise leadership at all levels to look into.
Ghost workers in the civil service
Today in the federal Civil Service there is automation. The moment you are in service your name, the date you entered the service, your salary everything is captured. You get your salary through that particular pay; your picture is there in fact everything about you is there so you can no longer be a ghost. I think many states have wasted resources saying they want to identify people to receive their money by cash. If you run on an e system then you don’t need all those things, when people retire they retire. In this college today, we have a format where once you retire say this month your salary will not be sent to us from next month. The amount of salary we receive as salary will reduce by the amount of salary you earn. That is because all these things are run electronically.
In the states and local governments we’ve had some cases and it’s because of the mode of recruitment. In the local government the chairman can just bring in people and ask them to join them at work and they put them on the pay roll to earn salary and after about six months they want to regularise them. By the time you just put somebody and say he/she is engaged without being gazetted by government, such a person is not really a civil servant and if that system is audited those people are ghosts even though they’re there in reality.
Message to participants
We welcome all participants, the choice to come to ASCON is the best decision they have made in their lives. There is no other place they can go that will be better than ASCON whether in Nigeria or abroad because we interact with all MDIs all over the world. We’re prepared to meet their challenges which training can solve, challenges which research and consultancy can also solve. We’re prepared to partner with them to contribute to the development of their organisations.
How do you unwind?
Anything that takes you off your job literally allows you to unwind; prayer sessions and worship services take me off my job. At home I have a granddaughter who keeps me busy all the time. My family is very jovial and they sometimes make jest of me, these things help me quite a lot. In the office, when a meeting is getting too serious we find a way to break it to laugh and calm down.