Dr. Mohammed Kyari Dikwa: Perm Sec with a Difference
Those who have had a consistent run of governance in Nigeria are not politicians or intrusive military rulers. Unlike politicians and the military who come and go, those in the civil service remain in their jobs until retirement – and that is like some thirty to thirty-five long years of continuous service – from junior to senior clerks, mid-level officers and then up, up and up in whichever ministry, department or agency.
At the top of this bureaucratic perch are the permanent secretaries, invisible but influential individuals who have wielded more power and control over policy implementation than the politicians or military dictators who appoint them. Though answerable to ministers, permanent secretaries in Nigeria almost always outlive them in office suggesting that they, in fact, call the shots despite their invisibility.
For instance, it was not the politicians who suggested the TSA policy that has now saved the Nigerian government billions of naira. When civil servants mooted the idea more than fifteen years ago, they were sort of mystified that no government seemed interested in it. Worse still, a phalanx of professionals opposed the idea right from the start – bankers, university teachers and so on. It was not until President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in 2015 that TSA became fully operational.
One of the brains behind that policy is former Minister of Special Duties, Ministry of Budget and National Planning, former Permanent Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Kyari Dikwa who retired early this year, precisely on his birthday January 3 when he turned 60.
Dikwa was born on a Sunday to Alhaji Kyari and Hajiya Amina in Dikwa town, headquarters of a local government area of the same name. It is also an Emirate Council, not far from Yedseram River. Dikwa’s grandfather was one of town’s prominent Islamic scholars. His own father was; a family tradition Young Mohammed took up early in life by attending a Quranic school. By the time he started his primary education, he was already 11, a head start, you would think, ahead of his peers.
It was so. Right from the get-go, Mohammed showed he was a cut above the rest, he could speak English fluently coupled with the advantage of his early Islamic education. A family source has said that Mohammed used to report at school in the mornings, pen and notebooks handy, and then, in the evenings sit before an Islamic teacher, slate and chalk also handy. Thus did Mohammed acquire early education, egged on by an ever attentive father who wanted his son to have it both ways. Of course, becoming one of the best students, if not the best, in school came as no surprise at all. Hear one of his classmates, for instance, on his sterling performance in school.
Alhaji Modu Korambe alias Kauris was his classmate who saw Dikwa as a model student: “Mohammed was very intelligent and performed very well in class,” Kauris has said. “His position was always between the first and the third while I was between the 8th and 9th position in class. I always looked up to him to catch up with him while he was always also working hard to be 1st in class but the first position always goes to Tijjani, another brilliant chap. We were about thirty-five in the class at that time.”
Mohammed will continue that sterling performance right up to Gashua Government Secondary School where another classmate recalled his above average performance. Honourable Bakura Abba Jato is now a lawmaker. He was General Manager of Borno State Television, Maiduguri and later appointed Commissioner of Information by Governor Babagana Umaru Zulum of Bornu state.
In his words, Mohammed was good in English and with numbers – an accountant in the making, any one might imagine. “He is simply the personification of generosity and humility. He relates very well with everybody.”
Relating well with others is one trait Dr. Dikwa cultivated at home, starting with his own parents. Of seven children, Mohammed is the second to the last, a position that will surely mould him to become what he is today. Moreover, he was a favoured son, but not pampered beyond redemption.
“I always like to please my parents,” Dr. Dikwa told Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye of The Sun in an interviewer early this year. “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 they passed on.”
In the same interview, Dr. Dikwa said that “setting goals for myself and pursuing them with patience and perseverance have actually been part of me since childhood.”
How true! Dr. Dikwa recalled of his younger years thusly: “When we were growing up in Dikwa,” he told Taiwo-Obalonye, “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. 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…Having that scar as a result of fetching water for my parents and the circumstances around it are the fondest part of childhood.”
It is a truism that some Nigerian big men rewrite their stories to match their fat egos. For instance, once they become very important personalities, chaps from penurious homes with barely enough to eat could make up tales of Sunday banquets. Only someone humble enough can recall that his most difficult years growing up were also the fondest.
Already used to such hardy living, Mohammed didn’t find it difficult teaching for some time after writing WAEC/ SSCE, a period most people hardly remember now, as narrated by his sister. While waiting for his SSCE results, Mohammed filled up as a teacher. “After he completed his secondary education,” his sister Hajia Yahura said recently, “he started working as a teacher which a lot of people do not know. He was a teacher back then. Later our father said he should further his education; that was when he went to Ramat Polytechnic.” That was in 1982.
At Ramat Polytechnic Maiduguri, Mohammed would benefit from the law of unintended consequences. Initially, he was to read Urban and Town Planning at the institution. According to him, he was fascinated with the limitless possibilities in becoming a surveyor. But one of his teachers doused his enthusiasm. Whether a sadist or not, one can never say. What else do you call a lecturer who, despite his students’ academic effort, will go ahead and fail them during examinations? Mohammed was one of the many students who suffered under the dictatorial don. He just could not endure it anymore.
So, what did Dr. Dikwa do? He simply left his intended course of study and switched to Accounting that would later become a defining moment in his life. According to those who knew him in school then, “he made good use of his time at the polytechnic by excelling in both academics and sports. Mohammed made his mark as a talented footballer at Ramat but he was more renowned as a brilliant student. Although an introvert and somewhat reserved because of his natural tendency to listen more and observe people, Mohammed was always ready to contribute to discussions in class.”
Fresh from Ramat, Mohammed worked with the World Bank in Maiduguri, suggesting projects or inspecting ones already executed around the 27 local government areas in Bornu state. As a World Bank staff, it was comfortable and privileged enough, all perks provided more than he needed.
Dr. Dikwa himself recently told a journalist there were lots and lots of incentives from the world financial institution – a monthly running cost of N1000, travel to all the 27 local governments in Borno, official car, fuel money, hotel accommodation, night allowance. It was also there that Mohammed had a first-hand experience of what it means to be accountable. “Whatever amount I did not spend, I returned to the World Bank, sometimes, N300, 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 account of every single kobo we had spent and returned what was left unspent.”
Mohammed was still at the World Bank when he decided to go back to school, this time University of Maiduguri where got a BSc in Accounting. He would later work with his state government rising to become Accountant-General. By this time, he was also the Chairman Forum of Accountants-General in Nigeria (FAGN.)
In that capacity, Dr. Dikwa hosted, for the very first time in Nigeria a conference of FAGN – a body comprising the A-Gs from the thirty six states and the FCT – in May of 2001 attended by his fellow A-Gs, stakeholders and financial experts. Mallam Adamu Ciroma who was Minister of Finance then attended, so with Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. For five full days, they “brainstormed on how to standardize the operation of government accounts in the country.”
All the state governments, according to him “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 system came into being, with the implementation at the federal level, which culminated into the final adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).”
He went on to say that “a background in financial reforms were not in place when he joined the Federal Civil Service.” He teamed up with Hassan Dankwambo, on appointment as Accountant-General of the Federation, a friend with whom he co-wrote a book, Private and Public Sector Concerns for the Accountant. “We came up with ideas on how to make those financial reforms institutionalized at the federal level.” Dankwambo was his counterpart in Gombe when Dikwa was in Bornu.
Although Dr. Dikwa was Acting Accountant-General before his retirement, he certainly would have made it to the number one position in the nation’s accounting – and not for lack of requisite credentials. Consider these: PhD (Account & Finance), Senior Executive Course 34 in 2012 from National institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Jos, certificates in Public Financial Management Reforms, Leadership Programme and Treasury Management at Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford in the UK. He is also a chartered accountant, Fellow Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria, former Chairman Technical Board Bank of Industries (BOI) and Bank of Agriculture (BOA), served on the board of Transcorp Hilton, Defence Industry Corporation, Royal Swaziland Sugar Company.
When government programmes succeed, it is the politicians who get the credit most times even though they may not have originated the idea(s). It is the civil servants who must consider very carefully very thought and action before taking decisions that might affect millions of people; a single error, a false positive info or data might just upturn years of meticulous planning and, so, render useless programmes or projects that would otherwise have been grand successes.
Nigerians of a certain generation remember the era of the Super Perm Secs: the Allison Ayidas, Phillip Asiodus, Ime Ebongs, Ahmed Jodas, powerful and influential civil servants who have left their matchless legacies in the Nigerian civil service. Mohammed Dr. Dikwa belongs in that special class. It is not for nothing he has been showered with both national and international awards for his contribution to Nigeria. Apart from his numerous awards in the Accounting field, he is one of a few possessors of the Nelson Mandela Award bestowed on him in 2019 for Public Service.