How Salihijo Ahmad repositioned REA for effective service

In this part of the world, an organisation is as effective as the man who heads it. The implication is that the organisation will be effective, efficient and competent as the person who leads it. The converse is the case when an ineffective man is in the saddle. 

The above remains a problem in most third-world countries where institutions are built around strong men rather than the other way around. One immediate implication of this is that, once the strong man(read effective or capable or efficient) leaves the organisation, in most cases, the efficiency becomes a vapour, and then everyone goes back to the status quo of gross inefficiency and state of inertia. 

Two institutions readily come to mind with the above thesis.  There’s a consensus among Nigerians that NAFDAC was at its best when the late Professor Dora Akunyili was the head of the agency. The same can be said of the effectiveness of the National Bureau of Statistics when Dr Yemi Kale held sway as the strongman there.  No one can deny the fact that FRSC was super efficient when Osita Chidoka called the shots as the generalissimo of the traffic agency. 

One could go on and on to bring up examples of men and women who changed the status quo of the organisations they headed in the past, even though one could count them by the fingertips. But our collective glory as a nation is not entirely in the past. There are also men and women currently doing wonders in the agencies, departments and ministries of the government where they call the shots. One such person is Engineer Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad, the managing director and chief executive officer of the Rural Electrification Agency.

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The REA was established in 2005 by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to enhance electricity in most rural communities and places hard-to-reach places by the national grid. The Inaugural Board and Management were not inaugurated until March 2006, almost a year after its establishment. 

The first set of employees in the agency resumed in November 2006, but little or nothing was recorded about its achievement in terms of actualising its mandate until the appointment of Engineer Ahmad years later in 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari, who wanted to rejig and rejuvenate the agency in line with the power agenda of his administration. 

Expectedly, on the assumption of Engineer Ahmad as the Managing Director/CEO of the Agency on 29th December 2019, there was a catalogue of unresolved staff matters in the Agency staring him in the place. Among others, the matters that had defied resolution until his coming included: Staff career stagnation due to poor organisational structure, overdue staff promotions, inadequate staff, wrong job description and specification, overlapping departmental functions and poor standard operating procedures, e.t.c.

Undaunted by the sheer volume of work to be done to reposition and repurpose the agency so it could meet its statutory responsibilities, Engineer Ahmad hit the ground running immediately by deploying his youthful zeal and high-octane education to the agency’s services. 

To retool the agency for robust service delivery, Ahmad wasted no time designing and gaining approval for a robust organisational structure.

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The Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation on September 29, 2022 approved the structure, and since then, career progression in the agency has been unhindered.

Also, in no distant time, Engr Ahmad, a renewable energy expert, cleared the backlog of overdue staff promotion by promptly promoting all staff due for promotion. As of today, no staffer of the agency is behind in their career promotion. 

To resolve the inadequate staffing due to no approved establishment, the sheriff in charge of the agency again applied to the Office of the OHCSF for approved establishments and waivers to recruit, which the OHCSF graciously granted to recruit additional staff spread across different cadres. 

To his eternal credit, REA successfully conducted a keenly contested employment aptitude test and oral interview to recruit an additional 43 new staff into the agency. These 43 new staff had been in the agency as interns (some for over eight years) and have now been employed in public service, ending the internship program. As of the last time I checked, the officers recruited and whose internships were regularised have been inducted and posted accordingly.

Besides, under Engineer Ahmad’s stewardship, the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation also approved the upgrade of the Legal, Audit and M&E units departments, which, overall, has strengthened the monitoring and evaluation functions of the agency.

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Per job descriptions of the various departments and specifications, Engr Ahmad has successfully redefined everything and wholly eliminated overlapping departmental functions, a recurring decimal in the past. 

Aside from introducing  Standard Operating Procedures into the Agency’s daily activities, Engineer Ahmad also set up a committee that came up with Standard Technical Specifications for Capital and REF projects which have undoubtedly improved project delivery and execution.

It is on record that the first ever town-hall meeting in the Agency was initiated by the MD/CEO, which gave room for staff to express themselves freely to the Management, who, in turn, updated the team with the happenings of the Agency. The MD also assured that the town-hall meeting would be a continuous process in addition to improved staff welfare.

In case anyone is wondering how Engineer Ahmad was able to rejuvenate, revamp and repurpose a hitherto comatose agency to the extent that the immediate past minister of state for power, Jeddy Agba, declared it the star agency in the ministry, his restructuring efforts, as highlighted above, did the magic. The rewarding restructuring could only have come from an enterprising, innovative and forward-thinking brain that likes to confront and overcome challenges frontally.

Haruna Usman wrote this piece from Kaduna.

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