• I witnessed raw corruption in service, paid for being principled
By Rasheed Abubakar
After about three decades in the services of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Alhaji AbdurRazaq Adegboyega AbdusSalam, popularly known as Abu Umar Al-Faruq, has successfully bowed out, ending his career at the international broadcasting outfit of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Abu Umar Al-Faruq, who joined VON in 1992 as a producer, said it was the only public service experience he had in his blossoming career.
In an exclusive interview with Muslim News to commemorate his retirement, the renowned author and the Amirul Awwal (pioneer president) of The Muslim Congress (TMC) narrated how he rose through the ranks to become a director at VON.
He was also the first director in the Director-General’s Office, supervising the Public/Corporate Affairs Department.
According to him, as a pioneer director in the DG’s office, he had the challenging task to operationalise the duties of the department, invariably leaving a document that could be useful for at least a decade.
During the course of his service, he was appointed Special Assistant to the former Director-General, Voice of Nigeria, (VON), Mallam Abubakar Bobboyi Jijiwa in 2007; a role he quitted in 2015, after the end of his principal’s tenure.
Abu Umar, who hails from Aran Orin, Irepodun Local Government area of Kwara State, said Allah honoured him by enabling him to reach the zenith of his career, noting that it’s a rare feat which he is happy about.
Abu Umar Al-Faruq holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communication and a Masters degree in Political Science and International Relations both from the University of Lagos.
He has written several published books and articles, some of which include Why America Why?, Da’wah, An Experience, and the one that brought him to limelight within the Muslim community, Living with Others Bis-Salaam.
Excerpts from his interview below :
Q. You retired from service recently. How many years did you spend in service? What are the different roles/capacities you served in during your service years?
I joined VON in 1992 as a producer. I rose through the ranks to become a director, Alhamdulillah. I was head of several units (HOU) before I became Special Assistant to the Director-General. I was an Assistant Chief Producer then. I left that office in 2015 as Deputy Director and returned to my initial Directorate to head the English Department. I was returned to the Director-General’s Office in 2018 to supervise the Public/Corporate Affairs Department and I became its Director the following year. I remained in the Department till my retirement. This was my only public service experience.
Q. How do you feel retiring from service after 30 years?
Alhamdulillah, it is a rare feat. Allah has honoured me with reaching the zenith of my career. I am happy. The other side is the provision for after retirement. The system still needs improvement.
Q: We learnt that you had been processing your retirement for close to a decade but didn’t work until now. Why?
You know, the retirement rules are two: 1, it’s either you have worked for 35 years or you attain the age 60. The latter caught up with me. I wanted to leave earlier, before 60 so that I could plan a retirement package for myself. In my own philosophy, once you’re 45 years of age, it’s better to retire and use the remaining strength for other personal plans. At 60 now, how much can I do once the strength has left me? All the time you’re strong and healthy, you’re working for others but once you waited till 60, you may not have much strength to work for yourself. So, I planned to retire earlier but as Allah would have it, it didn’t work until now.
Q. What was your last assignment in service?
Basically to supervise the department. Before I was posted, no one had risen to that level in the department. It was my duty to firmly establish the department and operationalise its duties. I tried my hand on the assignment and left a document that can be useful for at least a decade.
Q: Could you recall your first assignment as an officer?
My first assignment was to cover the Nigeria Economic Society Investiture at the University of Lagos auditorium. Both Chief Philip Asiodu and Prof. Sam Aluko were being honoured. I did my assignment and was commended by my supervisor, Franklin Ilogu.
Q. What were your memorable experiences in service?
I had no previous paid employment before joining VON. I had opportunities of working with people from all over Nigeria, Africa and the world. I also confronted primordial sentiments – both tribal and religion. I came to realise that primordial sentiments are exploited by people to punish those who are disloyal to those sentiments. They capitalise on the innocence of many people who may have genuine reasons for their attachment to tribes or religions.
I also had the opportunity to travel the world, visiting so many countries and meeting people I never dreamt of. Globally, the common man seeks the same thing – peace, freedom and prosperity. I remember attending a course facilitated by three Israelis. I didn’t know they were scared of me until after the course when they gave glowing compliments about me.
I also realised that there is a price for the ideas you hold. I paid mine without any regrets. I saw raw corruption and now understand better why it is difficult to fight it in Nigeria. Let me say Nigerians are not ready for the fight. Most people complain about corruption because it is not their turn.
Let me state that the public or civil service is also a place where the game of interest predominates, just like in politics. Only few individuals care about principles and values. They are close to you because of certain interests they pursue. Once done, the door to your office will be forgotten and the speed with which they put you in the past can be surprising.
Q. At a time, you served as the first Amir of TMC, a faith-based organisation, how did you manage the office being a civil servant and considering that you would present the view of the organisation on a wide range of issues to the press?
It was not a difficult task. I ensured my thinking cap was on all the time. I tried to keep my table clean every day, no postponed duties and no vacillation. I worked ahead all the time. That gave me ample opportunities. TMC was forthright in all it did, I had no problem addressing issues, even the government. I made it clear I was standing on the spiritual pulpit.
Q. Can you tell us the influence you have had in the lives of people with your position?
I have worked with people all over the world. We shared ideas on broadcasting and politics. I have been able to modify some opinions and offered other points of reflection. I was able to let many see the futility in primordial sentiments. A few individuals have also come to accept that we are not all corrupt and that we can stand against corruption.
Q. You did serve as Special Assistant to the Director-General. How did the appointment happen and in what way did the role affect your career?
Well, the DG told me in his office that he wanted me to become his SA – Special Assistant. It was a kind of in-service appointment without any financial benefit. I accepted the challenge. That was in 2008. Before then, there was an SA who happened to be a friend. He was travelling to Brunei for further studies. I served in the capacity for nearly eight years.
It was very involving and it tasked my ingenuity deeply. The DG had three fronts. He was DG VON, Chairman BON – Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria and President CBA – Commonwealth Broadcasting Association now Public Broadcasting Association. It was my duty to coordinate all. I wrote speeches, replied emails and supervised memos on all fronts.
It was time-consuming. I was in the office till late almost every day. It was not the days of social media. I checked several e-mail addresses at least thrice a day. I travelled the whole country and several countries for my assignment. I was called from all over the world and had to respond. It was like that until I broke down in 2013.
Can you shed more light on what happened in 2013?
I was ill and admitted at Gbagada General Hospital, Lagos. I was there for a long time. It was quite tough but we thank Allah (SWT), I overcame it.
Q. What were some of the challenges you faced during service?
Like I mentioned earlier, Nigerians love to exploit primordial sentiments. I could have suffered from such sentiments but, Alhamdulillah, I escaped all the traps. The system wants everyone to be corrupt. Let me share a funny experience. I had an assignment in Abuja. One of the nights, I ate Tuwo outside the hotel, about Two Naira then. The women selling Tuwo had no receipt but the cash office in VON Lagos insisted that I should go to Oshodi to buy receipt. I replied that once I buy a receipt, all the other receipts supplied by me become fake. Unknown to me, the real issue was that I returned about Eight Thousand Naira from my allocation for the assignment. Meanwhile, all others on the same assignment were demanding for additional money! Our Director then, Alh. Lawal Yusuf Saulawa, saved me by endorsing an honours receipt on my behalf.
Q. Do you have any regrets after serving?
No regrets. I am optimistic and keep waiting for the wonderful workings of Allah.
Q. What is your next move after retirement?
Insha Allah, I want to go into farming. May Allah make it easy.
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