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A retired chief accountant with the defunct Nigerian Electric Power Authority, Chief Taiwo Afinju, tells GODFREY GEORGE about his childhood experience and his time working at NEPA
How does it feel to be 60?
It is a moment of thanking God for his sustenance. Though Nigerians are known to be deeply religious, I can tell you that some of us are much closer to God than others. I think I am part of those persons who God has granted grace. Getting to 60 is a blessing and I owe it all to God. I want to thank God that in spite of all I have experienced, He has been faithful. Although the journey has not been totally smooth; comparing it with others, I will say that I have been extremely blessed.
When you look back at all that you have experienced, what makes you so fulfilled at 60?
My fulfilment comes from the fact that I have been divinely guided by God. That, I will say, has been the best gift God gave to me. God has always shown me the way to go. I qualified as a chartered accountant in 1991 and I was working with the National Electric Power Authority. After my promotion that year, my total salary for an entire year was N9,860. Which means I was paid N695 per month. Before my letter of promotion came out, it was 1992 and we now had the wave of new generation banks. Then, they were called ‘finance houses’. I made sure I read PUNCH every day to see if there were vacancies and I saw many. Nine of the 10 I saw were from these new finance houses. Naturally, all my colleagues at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria thought I would end up with one of these banks. I applied and eventually got three appointment letters from these finance houses.
One of those banks offered to pay me N120,000 a year, which was supposed to also come with an official car and a driver. The second one offered N80,000 and a brand new Peugeot 505. I had one of my colleagues at ICAN who owned two finance houses, and he told me to come to help him head one of his finance houses in Sagamu, Ogun State. He offered to pay N105,000 a year and an official car and a driver. Then, I was marking ICAN examinations by the side.
Did you take any of the offers?
The pressure was there. I was married already and the N695 salary was not helping at all. My wife kept pestering me to take one of the offers. My friends who worked with me at NEPA and had left for one of these finance houses would come and meet me, asking me to come over. The salary of the General Manager of NEPA then was N35,000. So, even though I wanted to wait, I won’t even earn up to 1/3 of what the banks were offering.
I had a dream a few days later when I joined a commercial bus going to Oshodi. But when I entered the bus, the seat was so hard. I remember I went to my father for advice and to help me interpret the dream, being a really spiritual man, and he told me to stay back at NEPA. He is going to be 89 years in a few weeks. He told me that the bus indicated progress, but the incomplete seat meant it was not a good one.
I didn’t believe him. He took me to one Pastor Sunday John. Immediately I entered, the man said God told him that I should still be in NEPA. He said he saw NEPA giving me a big white car. That was what he told me in 1992 and I believed it. I told myself that if God said I should stay, I would.
How did your wife take this decision?
When I got home and told my wife that the pastor and my dad said God told them that I should remain at NEPA, she hissed. But look at it now; I don’t regret being in NEPA one bit. In 1993, former (military) president, Ibrahim Babangida, said he wanted to do SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) Relief Award for civil servants. I joined NEPA in 1985 with Level Four. I was on Level Nine where I was earning N965 per month. The highlight of the SAP awards was that the government of the day then reduced the retirement age from 15 years to 10 years. Then, if one worked for 14 and half years and decides to leave the civil service, one will get a year’s salary. But since it had been reduced to 10 years, that person would be eligible for a pension for life.
The government also reduced gratuity from 10 years to five years. This was in 1993 and I had spent seven years already. So, I told myself that I would wait till I will clock 10 years in service so I would be eligible for a pension for life. I went back to my dad and told him about my decision. I was already a part-time lecturer at the Lagos State Polytechnic. I marked the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination as well as the General Certificate Examination, where I was paid N15 per script. But I had to make ends meet.
I was waiting until October 1995 to apply for voluntary retirement so I would go and look for another job. While I was in the office, my boss, who was not a chartered accountant – In fact, I was the only chartered accountant in my office then – called me and told me that I had been transferred to NEPA Headquarters, Abuja. I was shocked; he, too, was shocked. He asked me if I offended anyone because the transfer was rare.
What was your experience like at the NEPA headquarters?
At first, I thought I was being punished. This is because, before the transfer, I had not been to any other state apart from Lagos. I am from Ikorodu, a full-blooded Lagosian. I had not even gone past the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway as all my schooling was in Lagos.
When I got to Abuja, they gave me a table and told me that I would be in charge of banking transactions, and monitoring NEPA cash collection nationwide. Then, there was no online banking. NEPA bills were paid at the cash offices nationwide and some staff members were playing with the money.
So, whatever the staff had collected from the 1st to the 15th (of every month), they’d get the tellers across to Abuja and I would be crosschecking it with the bank statements to see whether or not the money was tampered with. The person who handed it over to me told me that, if I was good on the job, I could travel up to four times a year. I was coming from Festac Town, and I was in the field, which is quite different from the headquarters.
What were your observations as the chief cash officer at the headquarters?
I kept on working and our General Manager then, who is the younger brother of the present Governor of Kwara State, called me and told me that he had not got any letter from me. I was not used to writing letters since I had lived all my life in Lagos. The money I would use to buy postage stamps is more than what I would use as fare to see whoever I wanted to write.
I began to write my observations. They (staff) were stealing in bulk. The GM once approved for me to travel to like seven places. That was the first time I went to Warri, Delta State. I left Lagos at 3 pm. I had thought Warri was just around Sagamu. I got there at 10 pm or 11 pm. When I came back from Warri, I travelled to meet my mum to tell her about my experience. It was like I went to London.
By October, I had forgotten I wanted to retire because I was now travelling so much, and I was now enjoying the job. I went virtually everywhere to uncover these loots by these staff members.
In 1994, after the annulment of Chief MKO Abiola’s election, almost all the banks and finance houses collapsed. All my friends and colleagues that had left NEPA for the banks lost their jobs. My friend who had two finance houses was arrested at the airport when he wanted to run away because of the debt. This was when Gen. Sani Abacha established the Failed Bank Tribunal to arrest the bank MDs that failed. That was also when they created the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Company (now Corporation). God who knew the end from the beginning was actually directing my steps then.
Were you from a wealthy family?
My father was living in a boy’s quarters, but my mum was from a wealthy home. I was the one paying for their rent which was N25 at the time and could not afford to lose my job. So, I perished any idea of leaving NEPA. Abacha removed NEPA from the civil service payment structure and asked the union to negotiate another structure, and that was how we started earning salaries as though we were in the private sector.
As of the time I was retiring, I was earning almost N1m. They also gave us bulk rent. With that money, I was able to build my house. I bought the land then for N1.5m. Now, in my place, you cannot buy a plot of land for N40m. That was how I ended up spending 28 years in NEPA.
When did you retire?
That was in 2013 when the government said they have privatised NEPA into 18 power-holding companies, including generation, transmission and distribution. I was transferred to Kainji in 2009 as the Head, Finance and Accounts. When they sold Kainji to Mainstream, unfortunately, we were all retired on the same day even though the contract said they should give us a six-month contract. The handing over was done on November 1 and on November 4, we saw a letter of disengagement.
Was there a reason?
No reason was given. They just told us that we were being disengaged. So, I went home and told my wife and my kids who were in high school then. I then moved back home. But as of the time I was leaving, I had no reason to complain. All the suffering that most retirees go through, I never went through any. By August the following year, the government paid us all our emoluments. Some of my colleagues are dead now; some are down with stroke. You know the money they paid us then was much. Some got as much as N60m, depending on one’s grade and number of years. Someone who had not seen such money before will misuse it.
I remember one of my colleagues who, on the very day he was paid, got so drunk that he had an accident and died on the spot. One of the security guards who was paid N10m went to the bank with a big bag and asked them to give him all his money. One of my colleagues told me how he was hypnotised and swindled of N25m by someone he trusted. He came to my house to narrate it to me.
You mentioned that your parents were not rich. What was it like growing up as a child?
Growing up was dynamic. My mum died in 2007 at the age of 90 or more. My dad who is alive will be 89. Do the math. It means my mum was older than my dad for over 15 years. My mum, before she had me and my twin sister, had 11 children who did not survive. They all died as infants. They didn’t just die, they were poisoned. My mother was from a wealthy family. Her only problem then was having a child who would survive after losing 11. They all died of diarrhoea. She told me that she travelled all around West Africa looking for a priest or medicine man who would give her a solution. Anywhere she went, they would tell her that they did not see anything. She had married many husbands before meeting my dad, who, according to her, was her last resort.
I remember that when I was growing up and would get into a fight, my mother would come there and prostrate before whomever it was I was having the fight with, begging them to leave me. She would drag me inside and would begin to tell me stories of how she suffered to have me. Before she had us (twin and I), my mum said she sold all her property and said she was going back to God. She joined one church and started living there in search of a child. It was in that church that she met my dad who was a Muslim and they had my twin sister and me there.
Did she tell you how she met your dad?
As I said, my dad was a Muslim. She met my dad through her cousin who was friend with my dad. My dad used to follow her to the church as a guard of some sort to ward off bad boys who would not allow her to rest. So, my dad would wait for her outside till she was done and would follow her back home to get a change of clothes. She was far older; so, my dad used to call her ‘Aunty’ as a sign of respect, not knowing that my mum was falling for him because of his kindness. His name was Rasaq then, but he is Fredrick now after his conversion.
Everyone knew my mum because of her family. She was what many would call a famous woman. I remember my mum used to tell us that my father used to prostrate to greet her before they got married. My dad used to tell us that my mother’s firstborn who had died was two weeks older than him. People used to call us spoilt children, adding that we were supposed to be the grandchildren of our mother, not her children.
It was a challenge for me, particularly, because my mum said a prophet warned her not to disclose to anyone that I was a twin or else I would die like the rest. In fact, my sister and I, a few months after birth, as we were told, started vomiting and stooling like the others. It was that same prophet that told my mum to stop giving us breast milk because, according to him, someone from our family poisoned her breast spiritually. I cannot tell how that happened, but my mother told me that immediately, she stopped giving us breast milk, and we became healthy again.
Did she try to find out who might have been responsible for this ‘spiritual attack’?
She did. It was one of her relatives who said he didn’t want her to have a child. They were fighting over their landed property since they were from a royal family, and since my mum was the eldest, she was entitled to get some land. But this person was not happy about it. He is not alive today though, but they reconciled before he passed.
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