Obinna Oriaku: a study in calm professionalism

By Factnews on 30/05/2017

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...2 years after....Part 3

By John Okiyi Kalu

It is not easy to measure performance of Commissioners whose portfolios are strictly involved in service delivery to others. You can't count number of roads done or palm seedlings grown by such commissioners.

Double wahala is trying to assess someone managing what every other person need to perform or fail. Your best shot might just be to check if others who depend on them are succeeding and then postulate that they are indeed doing their job.

Hon. Obinna Oriaku, Abia State Commissioner for Finance, is a professional banker and that much shone through in the organization of his slides during the scorecard review presentations at the international conference center Umuahia. His slides were bold and clearly bulleted with figures and graphs as expected within a professional environment and coming from organized private sector background myself it was easy for me to appreciate his nearly 2 years work by merely examining the numbers and studying the graphs he presented along with his confident explanations.

Yet I know much more to warrant rating him in the top 5% performers league. That dude managed a near impossible situation and yet came out looking like pure gold, in my view.

Sample: imagine inheriting a state wage bill of about N2.8b and after your first FAAC meeting as a Commisioner your state received N1.9b whereas your Governor has already flagged off reconstruction of more than 10 roads with pending mobilization fees and payments to contractors who are already on site and sweating it out to deliver within time. Of course there are other pending urgent bills like security and administrative expenses waiting in the wings too. Not to talk of backlog of salaries, pensions and gratuities to pay to workers that voted for your boss because they believed that with his civil service background they will all receive everything due to them immediately.

No SURE-P or Excess Crude funds to fall back on.

Okay, given that just before your boss came to office the state was receiving around N5.5b monthly you try to juggle things in the hope that revenue inflow will improve next month and return to at least previous year levels. But alas things got worse and by December you received N1.6b as allocation with IGR dropping below the previous average of N500m.

As if that is not enough "uwa ntoor" situation, your national economy heads straight to recession with those managing at the Centre literally sleeping on duty while passing buck to the previous regime.

How do you dig out from such financial hole, fund the 5 pillars of the government you are serving in and then pay salaries to keep workers quiet?

Well our man Honorable Obinna Oriaku, who joined the Ikpeazu-led administration first as economic adviser, managed through that and today he is a superstar, in my eyes, and a classic case of Governor Ikpeazu slotting a round peg in a round hole.

Permit me to start x-raying the nearly two years of Commissioner Oriaku properly, based on what I know as an unbiased observer. I perfectly understand that a finance commissioners is like a finance minister, nobody likes them because it is their business to say no MOST OF THE TIME.

Whatever the other Abia commissioners achieved was because the Commisioner for finance found money somehow to fund them. To that extent, he takes at least 50% of the credit for the achievements of all his colleagues in the government. Unless you can prove to me that there are things you can do in government without being funded.

Let's look at minute details to paint a picture of what this fine gentlemen achieved in 2 years.

1. He slashed the state's wage bill from about N2.8b to N2.2b without sacking any legitimate worker. He simply verified workers using a combination of tools, including biometrics and payroll centralization and rooted out ghosts and economic saboteurs within the civil service.

Commissioner Obinna Oriaku has saved the state at least N600m monthly multiplied by at least one year.
Is there any commissioner that made N600m monthly for the state?

Now you get the gist; a good goal keeper normally does not receive lavish praise for saving shots from strikers but strikers get all the accolades for scoring against goal keepers.

2. He grew the state's IGR from about N500m to above N1b monthly from December 2016.

3. He refused to take even legislature approved loans with high interest rates but went for bail out funds and foreign donor funds from world bank, RAMP, NEWMAP and others with low interest exposure and long tenor that he managed so well that NLC Abia Chapter, ICPC and the National Assembly verification team applauded. Soon the state will receive needed funds from some of these low cost international donors, if not already in the coffers.

4. He was upfront with workers in funds deployment and carried them along in decision making related to their salaries. At every time an exceptional inflow is received he worked with committees made up of Labour leaders to allocate funds to highest need areas.

He effectively balanced the need to pay wages of workers who constitute less than 7% of the population with the development needs of the other 93% of the population.

5. Even me still wonder how at a time states like Kogi are owing more than a year of workers salaries across board, even after bailout, and Ogun state and neighboring states are battling with more than 6 months outstanding salaries, only 15% of Abia workers are owed more than two months salary arrears. 
Aside from some grossly mismanaged revenue generating supposedly autonomous units like Abiapoly, Abialine, ABSUTH and few others our state is not actually badly hit by the national salary crises within the state's of the federation. Our biggest challenge is with primary and secondary school teachers salaries. That will soon be history too.

And to think that even in the midst of all that the state continued to construct durable roads (40 completed so far) and still meet other statutory obligations is pure financial management ingenuity.

6. To date he has not answered EFCC questions on the mismanagement of state funds and nobody has accused him of stealing penny in a state that folks are used to throwing unsubstantiated allegations about with long public petitions.

7. Abia state has witnessed the fastest growth in 2 years that is unprecedented in the history of the state, ironically at a time the state has also witnessed the steepest decline in FAAC revenue inflow.

You know who to credit with that, don't you?

8. Honorable Oriaku has been saving Abia state a minimum of N80m monthly by merely centralizing the Pension payment system. For that singular act those who used to bleed the state using the sub treasury system have harassed, petitioned the house and complained to his employers at First Bank. Yet the man remains unruffled.

If you understand change management in Nigeria you will understand what it means to lead change in any sector, talk less of change that removes food from entrenched financial crime cabals within a civil service system used to chop-I-chop.

9. Honorable Oriaku is on secondment from First Bank and has not cost the state government N1 in salaries. Again, add the normal monthly wages of a Commisioner and see how much he saved us.

10. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his on the job performance, to me, is his self confidence induced transparency in financial information management. Almost every week he is on one live Radio program or another answering questions from Abians who want and deserve immediate solutions to their financial worries. At all times he calmly responded to questions on salaries and others with figures on his fingertips and delivers hope to even the most worried. That alone must have contributed to the state not experiencing wages related upheavals since Governor Ikpeazu came on board.

A few days before his scorecard presentation at the international conference center Umuahia, he told me calmly that we are nearing the end of the era of outstanding salaries. He intimated me on his detailed financial projections based on expected inflows that indicate that as soon as the expected second tranche of Paris Club refund is received Abia will solve outstanding salaries issues for good while continuing to fund development projects and government programs.

It is because I believe him that I am telling those who care to listen to me that it is only "nwa mgbe nta" and Abia's resurgence under Governor Ikpeazu will move to the next level of growth consolidation with regular salary payments as promised by Governor Ikpeazu. Already Commissioner Oriaku is working to raise the state's IGR to N2b monthly so that salaries can be paid without waiting for FAAC.

In summary, what has made the Honorable commissioner exceptional include his efforts at cost cutting, prioritization of payments to areas of greatest critical needs and sourcing of cheaper funds for development projects. He is clearly a top 5% performer in my books.

Take a bow Honorable Obinna Oriaku.

 


 

 

Posted on May, 30 2017

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