The immediate past Permanent Secretary, Special Duties, Ministry of Budget and National Planning and former Acting Accountant General of the Federation, Dr Mohammad Kyari Dikwa, in this interview, spoke about his days in the service, challenges while growing up and what he is doing in retirement.
We will, first of all, start by asking you about your parents, who are they?
My father’s name is Alhaji Kyari Dikwa, and my mother’s name is Hajiya Amina Kyari Dikwa, both of them are now late. They were all indigenes of Dikwa local government of Borno state and were prominent Islamic teachers. My father was known as Mallam or in our language called Goni. My grandfather was called Goni Zulum, who was one of the most popular Sheikhs in and around Borno state that people looked up to as role models. Most of our family members were educated in both Quranic and Western education, and we had a very humble upbringing.
How many wives did your father marry?
My father had only one wife, that’s my mother.
How many children?
We were seven, but two had passed away. The five of us that are alive include Alhaji Mohammed Kyari, and the second is Babagana Kyari, the third is Hajiya Fatimah Kyari (in Kanuri we call her Falta, popularly known as Falmata), I, Mohammed Kyari Dikwa, am the fourth, and my younger sister called Hajiya Bintu or Yakura as she is being called.
Have you ever had problems with your parents that led to you being beaten while growing up?
To be sincere, I was one of their favoured sons. I was never chastised because I always liked to please my parents. I used to be close to them and rendered all the necessary services they wanted. I used to buy kola nuts for them, and my actions and care always pleased them, and they were so happy with me until the time they passed on.
As you were growing up with them, what would you say was your difficult moment with your parents?
My difficult moment with my parents had to do with my Islamic and western education. It was a difficult moment because I spent quality time reading the Holy Qur’an and Islamic studies. Then suddenly, I was enrolled in western education, especially at a time when I was a bit older than some of my mates. So, it was an experience that was quite exciting and challenging because most parents in those days were very critical of western education, especially in our part of the country. Right from childhood, I always tried to be a self-made person. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, including my parents. Even though my parents had enough resources to take care of me, I never bothered to put the burden on them. I tried as much as possible to limit myself to what I had and remained patient. Setting goals for myself and pursuing them with patience and perseverance have actually been part of me since childhood.
What would you say is your fondest childhood memory?
When we were growing up in Dikwa, we used to find it very difficult to have tap water. We used to go to the pond to fetch water for our parents on a daily basis. Actually, I used to go to the pond and fetch water for them to the extent that I sustained an injury on my head, the scar of which I still retain to date. I had no choice than to be dutiful because I didn’t want to do anything that would have made my parents upset. I strived hard to ensure that I pleased them at all cost and remained obedient, and that was the reason why I had to go to that extent. Many of my contemporaries at that time were stubborn and used to be disobedient to their parents. Having that scar as a result of fetching water for my parents and the circumstances around it are the fondest part of my childhood. Really, it is something that has put a permanent sign on my head. If I remove my cap, you will see that sign, so it is something that would forever remain fresh in my memory, and we thank God for being obedient to our parents while they were alive.
At what point did you go to the University of Maiduguri for your degree programme?
When I was working with the World Bank, some people advised me to further my education. They said, ‘look, you are a young man; you are bright and intelligent, don’t waste your time without higher education.’ They insisted that I should go to university. So, I said okay, if that is the case, I should go. But at that time, there were lots of incentives as a worker with the World Bank. I used to have a monthly running cost of N1,000 (One Thousand Naira) cash. It was huge money at that time, and I used to travel to all the 27 local governments of Borno State with lots of packages including official car and fuel money, hotel accommodation and night allowance, among others, and then whatever amount that I did not spend, I returned back to the World Bank. Sometimes I returned N300 or N400 as the case may be. But the bottom line was that there were thorough checks and balances and accountability in the management of resources. We gave an account of every single kobo we had spent and returned what was left unspent.
In 1987, I came to the realization that even though the benefits attached to my office were huge, it was better I go back to school based on the advice of many people around me. That was how I enrolled at the University of Maiduguri on “in-service basis”. So instead of dropping the job completely, I applied to be carrying out some skeletal work. This gave me the opportunity of shuttling between my office for little work and the University of Maiduguri for my degree in Accountancy between 1987 and 1991.
At what point did you join the Borno State Civil Service?
I started my working career with the World Bank after my National Diploma at Ramat Polytechnic. Like I said earlier, I went to the University of Maiduguri for my degree while working as a staff for the World Bank. But when I was about to finish my studies, the World Bank informed me that the Borno State Agricultural Development Programme was coming to an end, and they could not extend my appointment. The Programme was to be changed to Southern Borno Agricultural Development Programme. They also said they could not fund my scholarship and advised that I resign or transfer my service to the state government. So I did the latter and transferred to the mainstream Borno State Civil Service as an Accountant, and thankfully, they allowed me to finish my degree programme at the University of Maiduguri.
What informed your decision to transfer your service from Borno State Civil Service to Federal Civil Service?
As of 2003, I was already the Accountant-General and Permanent Secretary in Borno state. That was the highest position attainable at the State Civil Service. I was still young in the service at the time I was made Accountant-General and Permanent Secretary. At best, I could stay in that position until retirement. In May 2003, a new administration took over from us in Borno state, and they needed to inject new blood. So, the best option for me was to transfer to the Federal Civil Service. However, the problem with the Federal Civil Service at that time was the issue of limited vacancies because there were only about five Directors of Finance and Account. As at the time we were coming to the Federal Civil Service, there was only one vacancy for Director of Finance and Account, only one vacancy for Deputy Director, and three of us were recommended to the Federal Civil Service – myself, Dr Shuaibu from Kogi state and Mr Otunla from Oyo state, who rose to become the Accountant-General of the Federation. Mr Otunla was given the position of a Director of Finance and Account, Dr Shuaibu was given the position of a Deputy Director, and I was given the position of an Assistant Director. But the problem was my position as an Assistant Director was far below my ranking as the Accountant-General and Permanent Secretary at the state level. It was a very difficult placement for me. So, I had a choice to make – either return to the state government and retire as a
Permanent Secretary or accept the new position of an Assistant Director despite the fact that my colleagues were placed above me. One very funny thing about my placement at the federal level was that as at 2003, I was the chairman of the Forum of Accountants -General in Nigeria (FAGN), a body made up of the Accountants-General of the 36 states of the federation, and some members of the forum were placed above me when we joined the Federal Civil Service. As chairman of the Forum of Accountants-General in Nigeria, I organised a maiden Accountants-General Conference in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital in May 2001. We brought in stakeholders and financial experts including Malam Adamu Ciroma, who was the then Honourable Minister of Finance as well as Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, the then HOCSF. We brainstormed for five days on how to standardize the operation of government accounts in the country. The reason was that state governments had adopted one pattern of an accounting system or the other, and there was no uniformity as far as accounting standards were concerned. It was resolved at the conference that there was the urgent need for the standardization of accounting standards in Nigeria, and that was how the accounting standards came into being, with the implementation at the federal level, which culminated into the final adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).
I eventually came to the Federal Civil Service as an Assistant Director. I was promoted to the rank of Deputy Director in 2007, and in 2011, I was promoted to the rank of a Director. I was appointed Federal Permanent Secretary on the 1st of December, 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari, a position I held until my retirement on the 3rd of January 2020.
Give us an insight on how you got involved in the conceptualization and execution of programmes such as GIFMIS, IPPIS, TSA and Whistle Blowing Policy?
Like I earlier told you, before I joined the Federal Civil Service, I served as the Accountant-General of Borno state and Permanent Secretary of the State Ministry of Finance. I had a background and sound knowledge about financial reforms. When I came to the Federal Civil Service, most of these reforms were not put in place, and nobody was even thinking about them. When the then Accountant-General of the Federation left, and Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo took over the mantle of leadership, we came up with ideas on how to make those financial reforms institutionalized at the federal level.
Dankwambo and I were state Accountants -General of Gombe and Borno states, respectively. In fact, we are close friends and co-authored a book titled “Private and Public Sector Concerns for the Accountant.” We came up with a lot of ideas on the reforms and asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assess the ideas and see if they were in line with global best practice because we didn’t want a situation where the ideas we came up with would not be accepted globally. Interestingly, the World Bank and IMF showed great interest in our ideas of public sector financial reforms. Meanwhile, many other countries had already implemented some of these reforms. We started with the computerization, the GIFMIS and then the IPPIS. On the issue of IPPIS, we were concerned that there were a lot of ghost workers on the payroll, a lot of duplications and double payments, outright inflation of salary figures and so on. We computerized payments using the biometric data capture, and so on. There was a lot of resistance because of the fear of the unknown. Civil servants using the payroll system to defraud the government also put up a strong resistance, but we refused to put off the reforms. We engaged in serious sensitization and enlightenment campaign, and at the end of the day, we were able to scale through. I did not expect that the process would take government more than 15 years to implement despite the different types of machinery we put in place to ensure speedy implementation.
But you were able to do it in less than 15 years?
Most of these things had to be fast-tracked. The resistance was so much, and that was what delayed most of the implementation. But we pushed the programmes through. These include the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) that encourages transparency and accountability in public expenditure in line with global best practices. We also came up with the Treasury Single Account (TSA). I drafted the first circular on the TSA which was signed by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. We categorized the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) into eight groups: those that were fully-funded by the government and draw their funding from the budget of the Federal Government, MDAs that were partially-funded (they generate their revenue but also have a government funding component), and those that were not funded completely. There were also revolving funds corporations, and some companies, which are treated under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
The idea of the Treasury Single Account is that government funds should be channelled and linked with sub-accounts. These sub-accounts are then maintained by MDAs to enable them to know what they are paying in and withdrawing from the sub-accounts at any given time. Because of the volume of transactions carried out at the same time, you will find it difficult to tell what exactly the MDAs are doing. If you look at section 80 sub-section 1 of the Constitution, Consolidated Revenue Account is the account that is constitutionally recognized which gives the government a clear overview of what it has at any given time. So, one of the reasons for having the Treasury Single Account was to have a consolidated view of government resources at any time, online, real-time. Another reason is to reduce the charges by commercial banks. Before the introduction of the Treasury Single Account, commercial banks used to charge N5 for every N1,000 withdrawn by government or an individual.
Introduction of the TSA also brought about efficiency in service delivery. For example, prior to the implementation of the TSA, if you wanted to release the money, you would have to go through a hectic process via the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the commercial banks. But now, everything is being done electronically within the twinkle of an eye; real-time and online.
Another fundamental reason for the implementation of TSA was to improve the liquidity position of the government. For instance, before the implementation of TSA, the government used to borrow money to fund some projects because monies were released to MDAs not based on need, rather rationally and were being kept in commercial banks at the detriment of the government. Sometimes, government officials connived with the bank officials to keep public funds to accumulate interests, which they shared at the detriment of projects, policies and programmes of government.
With the TSA in place, we only released funds based on the needs of MDAs. Funds are not released just like that anymore. That’s why we introduced another initiative called Cash Management Policy. The policy was introduced to assess the needs of MDAs on a monthly basis primarily. Every month, we met in the Office of the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning to assess the needs of MDAs, and we made releases of whatever we had in the treasury based on those assessments. The yearly budgetary estimates would give the MDAs the legal backing of spending, but the cash releases were based on the needs of the government institutions. We had to prioritize spending to ensure that the government makes positive impacts on its key priority areas with the limited resources at its disposal. We channelled funds to the priority projects so that at the end of the day, there will be something to show for the huge expenditure. That was what we did using the mechanisms of the Cash Management Policy.
There are other laudable policies and initiatives like the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Auditing (PICA), the Whistle Blowing Policy and Efficiency Unit, among others. These initiatives were introduced to strengthen government institutions further and instil accountability, transparency and prudent management of government resources. For example, when we came up with the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Auditing, we were able to save the government about N700 billion. The reason was that, if we had allowed MDAs to use their allocations just like that, they would have wasted a huge amount of public funds. What we usually did was that if an agency, say, wanted N1 million for a project, we strived to find out if the agency really needed that N1 million. After we went there and checked, and sometimes we would discover that the agency needed only about N500,000 and not the N1 million requested for. Even if the approved budget were N1 million, we would give only the N500,000 that was actually needed to do the work based on our assessment and findings, meaning we would save the remaining N500,000 for the government that possibly would have been abused. Through these checks and balances, we were able to save N700 billion that would have been wasted. We also achieved a lot on the Whistle Blowing Policy. The policy was initially introduced to strengthen the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and it has eventually succeeded in reducing the level of corruption in the country, people are now afraid because nobody knows who may report infractions in MDAs. Under the policy, there is a reward system, and people are taking advantage of that to report corruption and corrupt practices in MDAs. They are always eager to report cases so that they can derive the benefits attached to it.