Waziri Adio, former executive secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), says he turned down allowances that appeared wasteful during his time in office.
Adio served as NEITI boss from February 2016 to February 2021 and was succeeded by Orji Ogbonnaya Orji.
The Harvard-trained technocrat said he is proud of his “refusal to get sucked into the grandeur and permissiveness that we weave around public office in Nigeria”.
In his reflections, The Limits of Personal Example, published in THISDAY, Adio said he maintained a simple lifestyle and resisted the requests to give employment and contracts without following due process.
“I turned down allowances or perks that didn’t make sense or appeared wasteful to me and insisted that not everything that is allowed should be done,” he said.
“I asked that even token gifts like hampers be returned, and if not possible shared or donated, and I tried to institute a gift policy. Also, the job was never a sinecure for me.
“I actually threw myself into it, got to the office before most of the staff, closed after most, and did more than just hold meetings or treat files, I actually spent a considerable amount of time reading, editing, and writing reports.”
Adio said as a government official, he travelled only when necessary and used economy class “even before there was a circular to that effect”.
He said: “This provided the moral authority to check the entitlement dispositions of others, an endeavour that didn’t win me plaudits.
“I have nothing against earned wealth and comfort, but my attitude is that we should spend public money more prudently than we spend private one, not the other way round.
“This attitude was conditioned by a few things. One, public office is at its core a moral undertaking, as positions are held in trust, not at the expense of the collective.
“Two, there are existing rules, codes, regulations and even laws designed to tame the base human instinct to take undue advantage of positions, but they can be undermined easily by a permissive culture.
“Three, there is a lot those at the top can do, beyond delivering on their core mandate, to set the tone and shape behaviours of others.
“And indeed, it is important to acknowledge that there are more than a few public officials doing a lot in modelling a prudent and an ethical approach to public life in Nigeria, but my sense is that they are still in the minority.
“On deep reflection, I have come to conclude on why this is so, though leading by example is necessary and has its personal and public utility, it has its limits. It goes back to the unsettled debate about individual agency and the operating environment/culture.”
Adio said he resisted any attempt to be treated as a “big man” and the “temptation to treat myself as one”.
He said: “I remain convinced that the ostentation, obsequiousness, and idolatry that we have inserted into public service are not only unnecessary but also obscene and open to abuse.
“I have always been a simple person. Public office didn’t change that. We lived in our semi-detached three-bedroom bungalow on the outskirt of Abuja for almost two years of my time at NEITI before we moved to a rented house closer to town. I drove in my 2011 Passat to and from work for most of my tenure.
“I used the official vehicle strictly for official duties. And that did not include taking our then six-year-old to school on my way to work or going out for lunch in the afternoon or going for Jummat prayers.”
Adio said he drew inspiration from the lifestyle of Lateef Jakande, the first civilian governor of Lagos state who died in February at the age of 91.
The former NEITI boss said he chose to drive his personal car so as “not to not tie myself to the desperation to keep the job, to be able to move freely and stay grounded”.
Following the end of his tenure at NEITI, TheCable published some of his major achievements in five years.