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2016 Budget Will Not Fall Below 70% Performance – Pastor Ekarika

Pastor Nicholas Ekerika, 53, is the Chairman of the State Board of Internal Revenue and Permanent Secretary in the Budget Office. In this interview, he says the Civil Service is the best platform for growth. Excerpt:

What has been your challenge as a Permanent Secretary?
I came on Board on the 27th July, 2011. Although I was working in Budget, I wasn’t the Director of Budget at that time but I was assisting the Director of Budget at that time, and the status of this Office was virtually limited. But today, with my position as a Permanent Secretary, the Office has been raised from being a Department to an Office with the Permanent Secretary. My first challenge came that very month of July and that was preparing the Supplementary Budget estimate for 2011.

So, in 2012, it became a full year budget for us to prepare. In that year for the first time in the history of Akwa Ibom State, we presented the budget and it was passed by the House of Assembly and off course assented to in December, 2011, we entered into full implementation in January, 2012. And I remembered during a dinner, the then Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, came to my wife and said: this man has made me proud. But I return all those glories to the members of staff in my Office.
In 2013, all of a sudden the Federal Government sent out a circular, that we should migrate from the normal Budget process to International Public Sector Accounting (IPSAS). We have not done it before, so the then Accountant General assembled all of us together, all the accountants and budget officers and threw a challenge that the first sector to succeed in IPSAS is budget, because the Budget office must provide IPSA’s code which is the national chart of Account code, and then the documentation. We went for first and second training and immediately after the second training we set our selves ablaze for the work. I can tell you proudly with all humility and glory to God, we became the first state to domesticate IPSAS in Nigeria. And up till this moment we are on IPSA’s code and we are ahead of so many states.

Looking at the 2016 budget of Akwa Ibom State, how realistic is it?

I have heard a lot of people say it will be prejudice. But as far as the budget preparation is concerned, we were able to take all the indices together. That is why you see that the budget of 2016 dropped from that of 2015 due to the global drop in oil price. The Federal Government took a benchmark of 38, but we took our own benchmark at 30 dollar. Federal government took the production level at 2-2million/day but we took only 2 million/day. So we were guided. The Governor, at the last Executive Council meeting, set up an economic team, which I am a member, to look at the Internally Generated Revenue which. We are looking at how to break through in other areas that have not been captured in the past. We are sure that everything being equal we will not fall below 70% performance.

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What is the strength of Akwa Ibom IGR in terms of supporting the Federal Allocation accruing to the state?
For this year we have taken a target and so far, we are between 1.3 and 1.5 billion. But we have taken a projection of minimum of 2 billion and 3 billion maximum. We believe that if we have that consistently, and it grows, we will be able to support whatever comes in from the federal allocation.

What is the Government doing to curb Leakages?
Yes, that is why immediately I moved in, the Treasury Single Account (TSA) also came in and we have adopted that. We are putting measures to make sure that we have an ultimate receipt. On my assumption, I addressed the issue of tax touting which has somehow handled leakages.

Having worked with Udom Emmanuel as Secretary to the State Government (SSG), how will you describe his personality now as the State Governor?

I don’t want to talk like a politician. I want to talk as a civil servant. I have worked with him; he is a man of dexterity, he is a man of integrity and he is a man of proficiency. I have worked with him in 2014 IPSA’s budget he came around and having come from the private sector that works with IPSAs, they were already there. It didn’t take him one second to dissect what I did. And from that time, we have been extremely close. There is a drive in me to learn from him. There are two things I have learnt from him: time and proficiency. You can’t beat him. One day he called me and said if you can give me the time and give me the efficiency you have beaten me. He is a man of time, efficiency and a man of many brains if there is a sentence like that. He knows virtually everything.

Do you ascribe to civil servants engaging in other menial activities?
Even the constitution, if you engage yourself in farming, nobody will crucify you. As soon as you finish your hours in services, you will go to farm to support yourself and your family. Even the constitution and the civil service do not say that you shouldn’t help yourself after your normal eight hours service.

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The State Budget Office has recorded great achievement under your leadership, what has been your drive?
Are you sure they have? Yes, if you say they have, I think the drive, like I said, is passion for service. And the fact that I am a minister of God, I know that I need to do my work diligently. So, I have the drive and passion for service. Since it is a vehicle for me to grow, I make sure everything in this vehicle is properly worked on so that I can drive.

Who is Pastor Nicholas Ekarika?
I am Pastor Nicholas Ekarika, born 53 years ago to the family of Late Chief and Mrs. Johnson Ekarika in Obot Akara Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. I had my First School Leaving Certificate in 1974 from the Sacred Heart Primary School, Ikwen. In 1975, I was enrolled into Saint Columbanus Secondary School, Ikwen. My civil service journey started precisely on the 12th of January, 1981, in Calabar. Throughout my stay in the service, God has been with me as I queued myself in every opportunity of educating myself using the platform of service whether it is in-service with pay or without pay. So, in 1983 I had admission in what is now called Federal School of Statistic, Ibadan. Before I left for school, I also made an attempt to take the in-service promotion exams because it was either you pass an exam called Compro and be promoted or you are promoted after three years in accordance with the Civil Service Rule. Though I wasn’t qualified to be part of that exam but the examiners said that since I had registered for the exam I should be allowed to partake in it and God being with me, I made the attempt and when the result was released I passed the exam and while in school my promotion letter to the next grade level was sent to me.
I got my Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in 1986 from the Federal School of Statistics and immediately proceeded to the Polytechnis, Calabar, for my Higher National Diploma (HND). I graduated in 1989 with Lower Credit in Statistics. I came back to Akwa Ibom to continue my service. When I came back, the Chief Statistician, Mr David Udo, as at that time was not happy with the way the Ministry treated me on my return because you know I worked in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. He told them that if they didn’t want my service, knowing that the course I studied was not meant to serve them; I was to be transferred to Department of statistics as at that time, so he then wrote to the then military Governor of Cross River State, Dan Archibong, asking for transfer of my service to Department of Statistics. That request was granted and I was subsequently transferred from Statistics to Budget. I was as at that time called Principal Statistical Officer. So, at this point, I went back to school and back a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Uyo. By the special grace of God I was given Budget Officer.
In 2010 I was given a double promotion to Assistant Director of Accounts, and today, I am the Director of Budget. It has been God’s grace all the way. So that’s the much about me.

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How will you describe your experiences as a Civil Servant?
I have passed through so many things. Even as a Level 4 Officer, I can remember my first day in the office. Though I was designated as a Level 4 Statistical Assistant, I was doing a messenger work. I have passed through the Civil Service ladder. It has been a good experience. I learned to be committed, passionate, diligent, disciplined and respectful. These are all the virtues and I can tell you, the civil service is a good platform to grow.

Any particular incidence you consider very important to be shared with upcoming civil servants, who may see you as their role model?
Yes, I can remember I missed one year of rationalization, and God later gave me a double promotion. So, I advise that we should always allow God to be our personal Lord and saviour and we should follow him with all diligence. The Civil Service is full of rules and ethics and as civil servants you must obey them. There are times you will not see promotion, you should endure, don’t see it as a cheat. But rather, look at it as vicious circle. God will eventually compensate you. You must be committed, hardworking, respectful, disciplined. These are the key tenets of civil service.

Giving another life, will you like to be a civil servant?
I know that after this I am going somewhere, and there is no reincarnation and therefore the issue of given another life to live cannot come in because as I finish as a civil servant, I will go into a private business to take care of my family and serve God.

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(Culled from FirstNews Magazine)

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