Politics is not for Lilian Asuzu until she hangs her hat as a civil servant. Then, you can check her out on any political platform – the lucky party isn’t known yet. It may be DPP, PCA, PUGA or any other. But until then, you cannot draw the soft-spoken, conscientious permanent secretary into any public political banter or debate. She’s keeping it close to her chest for now.
Like most top civil servants, hers is to support the Government of the day until she hangs her boots. Former Head of Service Mrs. Nkechi Onumajulu made that clear in her interview with Face2Face in April. Asuzu’s position is no different and her able PRO, Mr. Ben Uwazurike, makes sure she keeps on the straight and narrow, where the media is concerned. Uwazuruike will first interview the interviewer before releasing his boss. “Don’t even go there,” he would warn with a soft but determined voice.
Even then, Mrs. Asuzu makes it clear she has dreams bigger than her rectangular office in Port Harcourt Road. She is focused and quietly ambitious, performing her duties judiciously while waiting for the final bell. For now, the Arondizogu-born concentrates on the challenging job of making more money for Government.
“It is more intellectual in the Ministry of Finance because we are dealing with money – we are looking for the money, searching for it. Everything you do here revolves around getting enough funds for Government – that’s the challenge here,” she said, carefully choosing her words.
“The average day is busy with meetings. Now we’re dealing with IGR – internal generated revenue – we are trying to make sure our IGR is something we can depend on. We have a board- an IGR management committee. What we’re trying to do is, in as much as we’re trying to make money, to give it a human face. We deal with all the taxes, levies, fines and fees – making sure that money is not being extorted from people in the different agencies. Right now, we’re trying to streamline the IGR of the state so you don’t have people paying for one thing twice or even three times and to the wrong people that don’t even get it into government coffers – so that’s what we are doing right now.”
A graduate of Economics and Public Administration, Azuzu is well qualified to handle Government finances, initiate sensible ways of increasing revenue and also to balance the books. It’s not for her, however, to spend the money. Her job stops with making it.
The woman who would have been a pharmacist said she joined the civil service in the 1980s on her mother’s advice. That’s just after returning from studies in the USA.
“I studied in New Jersey and came back. My mum said ‘join the service, I think you’ll make a good civil servant’ – and you don’t really argue with your mum so I decided to consider it. I joined the civil service at Enugu as public health administrator. I’ve been there since then and I enjoy what I’m doing,” she added, reinforcing it with a smile and a nod.
Since then, It has been a steady climb from one position to another and from one ministry to the other. To say that Asuzu knows every pothole in the civil service is to state the obvious. Before her present position, she was in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, a ministry considered difficult by many. Notwithstanding, the devout Catholic had a smooth sail – thanks to her experience, disposition, spirituality and determination to serve people.
“I love to serve people” she said for the third time, “I love making sure people are taken care of”.
She continued: “I was appointed permanent secretary in 2010 and deployed to Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. From there, I was deployed here. It gives me joy that people come into my office and go out smiling – yes – if you want to find their files you can. I don’t even believe that because am a PS, I can’t leave my table. Where I was in the Ministry of Local Government- you had to deal with lots of grassroots people. They will come in with all kinds of requests and leave smiling – even if you’re saying ‘no’. “
A committed member of the Catholic Charismatic Movement, Azusu said she loves putting a smile on people’s faces either in her position as a top civil servant or a member of the Catholic Women’s Organisation CWO. She recalled a time when she, herself, needed a shoulder to cry on and, more so, someone to help her smile again.
It was during the war and Azusu, a blooming teenager, had suddenly lost her father and best friend, Dr Obioha.
“We just heard that my father was sick, my mother had to go and they had to go at night, because of the air-raid. The following night, I had to go with an uncle only to get there and see my dad in coma at Emekuku hospital. He passed on Oct 15 1969 at 41. I was the first child and I had six others behind me. My mum was 32 and a teacher. I really didn’t understand what was happening but all I knew was that my father wasn’t there anymore,” she recalled.
Emotionally, she tried to paint the gruesome picture of the war as she saw it – moving back to the village from Onitsha and sharing her home and conveniences with hordes of strangers. But the real pain was her father’s demise. The medical doctor’s young life was snuffed out by the hepatitis he developed while travelling up and down and treating people.
The loss of a beloved dad and family breadwinner coupled with the stress of war produced serious confusion and crisis in young Lilian Obioha’s otherwise happy home.
Going back to Owerri Girls was as challenging as it could be, worse still paying school fees or even feeding and buying simple items formerly taken for granted.
“How do you even get the Nigerian money?” She asked rhetorically and recalled two angels who put a smile on her face – just in time.
“My father’s friends, Mr. and Mrs. Henshaw, they were on the Nigerian side and, were therefore, doing well. They came in just when my mother was thinking about what do with these kids going back to school . They arrived with food, clothing and 100 pounds. That was the money that we used to go back to school.”
Azusu, a mother of three, also had another occasion to smile while weeping with frustration in the USA. The circumstances were trying and she was just 18. But again, Lady Luck smiled on her and she was awarded with a federal scholarship. For this top civil servant, therefore, life is about sharing and caring. But her message to anyone going through a rough patch is “be focused!”