Ayida: The Rise and Demise of Nige­ria’s Su­per Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary

Few il­lus­tri­ous gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials gave Nige­ria’s civil ser­vice their all, the late Al­li­son Ayida was re­garded as one of the few good men that ever walked cor­ri­dors of power, writes Bayo Akin­loye


You would be for­given if you claimed you did not know Al­li­son Ayida. Yet, it would be a great dis­ser­vice to in­tegrity, hon­esty and com­mit­ment if you did not take time to find who Ayida was. He was born in 1930 and re­port­edly died on Oc­to­ber 11, 2018 at the age of 88 years at St. Ni­cholas Hospi­tal in La­gos.

For those who knew him, Ayida was a for­mer su­per per­ma­nent sec­re­tary and the Sec­re­tary to the Gov­ern­ment of the Fed­er­a­tion dur­ing the mil­i­tary regime of Oluse­gun Obasanjo – not much of him is known by Nige­ri­ans about “this ex­em­plary re­tired civil ser­vant be­cause of his quiet dis­po­si­tion”.

Chief Sun­day Awoniyi, Chief P. C. Asiodu and Ayida were known to be tech­nocrats of calm tem­per­a­ment but ef­fec­tive in their work as pub­lic ser­vants – and ap­pro­pri­ately re­ferred to as “su­per per­ma­nent sec­re­taries”. The trio were re­puted to have crafted most of the poli­cies and pro­grammes of the mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tions of that time. They were also re­garded as the “silent voices be­hind the mil­i­tary pro­grammes and poli­cies of the time” run­ning a sys­tem of civil ser­vice al­most de­void of cor­rup­tion.

It is lit­tle won­der Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari Fri­day could urge younger Nige­ri­ans and pub­lic ser­vants to im­i­tate the un­com­mon pa­tri­o­tism of for­mer sec­re­tary to the Gov­ern­ment of the Fed­er­a­tion, who was buried on Fri­day.

“Nige­ria will surely miss his wide ex­pe­ri­ence in pub­lic and pri­vate ser­vices. We need peo­ple like him and his col­leagues, the cel­e­brated su­per per­ma­nent sec­re­taries, who ex­hib­ited re­mark­able com­mit­ment to the progress and unity of the coun­try,” Buhari said.

An­other prom­i­nent Nige­rian, who also paid trib­utes to Ayida, the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, de­scribed his death, as a big na­tional loss and spe­cial breed Nige­rian and civil ser­vant ex­traor­di­naire.

“Ayida was a cel­e­brated, out­stand­ing and revered son of Warri King­dom, a na­tion­al­ist, an enigma, and a pro­file of what Nige­ria was and should have been. He was a dis­ci­plined, trans­par­ent and de­trib­alised pub­lic ser­vant who was highly re­spected by his peers and his sub­or­di­nates for his sound knowl­edge of the Pub­lic Ser­vice and es­tab­lish­ment mat­ters.

“Ayida was a man with a well nur­tured, per­cep­tive and res­o­lute mind. He was al­ways clear in his mind on what to do at any given time, and the choices he made set him apart from the pack. They (Ayida and the other ‘su­per per­ma­nent sec­re­taries’) were de­ter­mined to pur­sue the na­tional project and even­tual glory of the Nige­rian state by restor­ing a na­tion that had fought a civil war and re­quired re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion,” Atiku said. The pol­i­tics of bound­ary dis­pute and ced­ing of some oil wells be­tween Delta and Ondo states were some of the is­sues that thor­oughly tested his acu­men and prob­lem solv­ing abil­ity.

Atiku added: “His calm­ness, hu­mil­ity and forthright­ness played out in wav­ing through the tu­mul­tuous water of eth­nic and com­mu­nal pol­i­tics in­volved as he op­er­ated with the sen­si­bil­ity of a pa­triot.”

Ac­cord­ing to a pol­icy ex­pert and pub­lic com­men­ta­tor, Tunji Olaopa, the ad­min­is­tra­tive his­tory of Nige­ria’s pub­lic ser­vice will not be com­plete with­out the men­tion of Ayida. He fur­ther as­serted that just a men­tion of Ayida’s name will be a se­ri­ous dis­ser­vice to the his­toric role that he played in the at­tempt to re­con­fig­ure the pub­lic ser­vice sys­tem, as well as put the Nige­rian project right back on track ad­min­is­tra­tively.

“Like the leg­endary Simeon Adebo and Jerome Udoji, Ayida be­longed in what we af­fec­tion­ately, and with a bit of nos­tal­gia, re­fer to as the golden years of pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion in Nige­ria. And even more so, he was one of the “no­to­ri­ous” su­per per­ma­nent sec­re­taries whose roles in the pros­e­cu­tion of the Nige­rian Civil War have been the sub­ject of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive analy­ses. To­gether with Ahmed Joda, Ime Ebong, Ahmed Joda, S. O. Wey, Phillip Asiodu, and so on, Al­li­son Ayida played a sig­nif­i­cant and cru­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive part that had a lot to do with their vision of the Nige­rian project, as well as the pro­fes­sional cre­den­tials they had ac­quired as pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tors,” Olaopa stated.

Ayida, like Adebo, Udoji and other ex­em­plary civil ser­vants of the first-gen­er­a­tion pi­o­neers, was in­vested the best that the Bri­tish ad­min­is­tra­tive train­ing could muster – they were pro­fes­sion­als who im­bibed the ethos and val­ues of what it means to be pub­lic ser­vants.

In the early 1950s af­ter a stint at the King’s Col­lege, La­gos, Ayida at­tended Queen’s Col­lege, Oxford, grad­u­at­ing with a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree in Pol­i­tics, Phi­los­o­phy and Eco­nomic.

By the time he re­turned to Nige­ria, the coun­try was al­ready well into the post-colo­nial tra­jec­tory that would al­low him to show his class. He made the tight list of per­ma­nent sec­re­taries that Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi col­lected as part of the Fed­eral Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil – and was put in charge of the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­istry.

It was a min­istry re­garded as where the mil­i­tary re­ceived the best ed­u­ca­tion about how to take Nige­ria for­ward. As if the sud­den des­per­a­tion en­abled by the 1966 coup was not enough, Ayida and the rest of the bu­reau­crats watched with hor­ror as the coun­try was thrown into the ten­sion of an ap­proach­ing war, Olaopa re­called.

Yet, you might have won­dered what made Ayida and his ilk su­per per­ma­nent sec­re­taries?

“They be­came ‘su­per’ be­cause they lived in an in­ter­est­ing but un­palat­able time which tasked their pa­tri­otic sen­si­bil­i­ties and their pro­fes­sional ca­pa­bil­i­ties to the limit. Nige­ria was about to go to war and these pub­lic ser­vants were con­fronted with the un­en­vi­able task of fash­ion­ing a pol­icy frame­work for war time and post-war Nige­ria,” Olaopa pointed out.

“For in­stance, there was a pend­ing is­sue of draft­ing the sec­ond na­tional de­vel­op­ment plan which was on­go­ing with the cru­cial as­sis­tance of the renowned economist, Prof. Oje­tunji Aboy­ade. The im­pend­ing civil war there­fore pro­vided a se­vere cloud of lim­i­ta­tion around which these pro­fes­sion­als needed to work.

“But like the gold that be­comes re­fined when taken through the fur­nace, Ayida and the other su­per per­ma­nent sec­re­taries turned their well-honed pro­fes­sional ca­pac­ity and pa­tri­otic fer­vour came to the res­cue. And there was no dither­ing. Sev­eral po­lit­i­cal commentaries have been writ­ten about the sup­pos­edly no­to­ri­ous roles played by Ayida and his col­leagues in ad­vis­ing Gowon about the war.” Olaopa as­serted.


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