Mrs. Zahra Omar
There is no doubt that Hajia Zahra Muazu Omar is a jinx breaker, a pacesetter, and a respected civil servant, who made an indelible mark on the sand of times. During her secondary school days, the young Zahra represented Kwara State in a Hockey game competition that took place in Lagos, she served as Agric teacher and also taught other science-related subjects in some secondary schools across the state before she was transferred from the teaching service to civil service in the administrative cadre. As administrative officer, she rose through the rank from level 7 up to Director and then Permanent Secretary before she was eventually elevated to the exalted position of the Head of Service, the first time ever a woman will occupy such prestigious position in Kwara State.
She is an archetype disciplinarian, very hard-working, humble, level-headed and dedicated to worthy courses. She is a God-fearing and submissive housewife. Her sojourn in the state civil service ultimately afforded her ample opportunity to serve the state in various capacities meritoriously. She began with teaching career in 1982 and later switched to administrative work in 1993, became first female Head of Service in the state on the 29th of May 2015. She retired from active service as a Head of Service in 2017. These and many of her attributes and virtues stand her out as a focal point of attention on this platform. For her service to the state, she would like to be remembered as a person who was God-fearing and someone who operated in the office without any bias.
GROWING UP YEARS AND EDUCATIONAL PURSUIT
Hajia Zahra Muazu Omar was born in May 25, 1959, in Wawalold Bussa to the family of Sulaiman and Haminat. Mallam Sulaiman is of Gwanara District of Baruten Local Government Area of Kwara State and Haminat is from Bussa, Borgu Local Government Area (formerly of Kwara State but of Niger State). She started her primary education in 1967 with the then Local Government Education Authority, Gwanara. She was part of the first set of pupils to graduate in primary school in 1972 after six-years primary school programme was introduced. Before then, primary education was seven years. She proceeded to Borgu Secondary School, New Bussa, in January 1973, which was when the school calendar adjusted to begin January and end in December. She spent only two terms in form one because it was that time again the school calendar was changed from January to September. By September of that same year, she was in form two. She finished her secondary education in 1977. She got admission at Kwara State College of Education in 1978 to read Biology and Food Science, the same year she got admission to read Marketing at the Kwara State Polytechnic. She opted for College of Education. She took that decision because of financial issues, having lost her father after graduating from secondary school. For the Kwara Polytechnic, she knew she was going to pay school fees, but education was free at College of Education. More so, students who are learning to become teachers were given bursary and other allowances. She graduated from College of Education, Ilorin in 1981 as Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) holder. Then, NCE holders performed mandatory national service by the National Youth Service Corps scheme, so she did serve her fatherland through the scheme between 1981and 1982 at Ilorin Grammar School, Ilorin.
In her avowed determination for continuous acquisition of knowledge, Hajia Zahra Omar gained admission into Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1988 and obtained a Degree of Bachelor of Education in Science Education in 1990. She attended the University of Ilorin, Ilorin and obtained a Degree of Bachelor of Education in Education Management in 2007. She also obtained Masters of Public Administration at the University of Ilorin in 2010.
TEACHING SERVICE AND CAREER SWITCH
Upon completion of mandatory national service, she got teaching appointment in 1982 as the assistant education officer II and her first posting was Ilorin Grammar School. She later got transferred to Ilorin Teachers College, and later Queen Elizabeth School up to 1993. Hajia Omar taught in several schools in Ilorin for 11 solid years. At a time, she was the only Agricultural Science teacher at Ilorin Teachers College (ITC). She spent more than half of her teaching years at ITC. She later got promoted in 1985 to the position of assistant education officer I, Ilorin Teachers College (ITC). And also, in 1988 she was promoted to the position of higher assistant education officer at Ilorin Teachers College (ITC). In 1991, she was elevated to senior assistant education officer, Ilorin Teachers College (ITC). In 1992, she converted to senior education officer. She was there until she converted to the prestigious administrative cadre of the civil service in 1993.
The decision to transfer from teaching to civil service was necessitated by the announcement made by the state government in 1993 seeking experienced hands in civil service. At that time, the government needed more qualified administrative officers into the system. That opened a window of opportunity for her to join the state civil service and started as level 7 officer.
CAREER IN THE CIVIL SERVICE
As an admin officer, she was first posted to the State Water Corporation and later to the Ministry of Finance after spending six years at Water Corporation. She spent just only one month at Finance Ministry because her husband, who is now the Emir of Kaiama, was already working at the Ministry of Finance. So, she was moved to the Ministry of Information in 1999. After a while, she was posted to the office of the Head of Service, when she was already on grade level 13. She rose through the rank and in September 2009, became a Director in the Office of the Head of Service. A position she held until March 2011 when she was appointed as a Permanent Secretary and posted to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. In October 2011, she was moved back to the office of the Head of Service as Permanent Secretary, Establishment, and Training, a position she held until her appointment as the Head of Service on May 29, 2015.
ON HER ANNOUNCEMENT AS HEAD OF SERVICE
Just like any other worker who does his /her work diligently without being unnecessarily ambitious, Hajia Zahra Omar never thought of becoming Head of Service. That thought was also propelled for certain reasons. First, she thought a woman may not be so elevated because no woman has ever made it to that position. Secondly, for the disposition of Ilorin, the state capital, to the Islamic religion, there might be an objection for female leading all workers in the state, among other reasons. Her reaction to the announcement was not spontaneous jubilation, she said, adding: “It came to me as a surprise. It is a position I never sought for and I never dreamt of it. I did not lobby for it. My desire was to serve and when retirement comes I retire. I never thought that a female like me will be allowed to hold that position, especially in a state like Kwara where Islam is a dominant religion in its state capital, Ilorin. My prayer when I was a Permanent Secretary was to reach the retirement age and retire peacefully.”
Narrating the development then, she said: “I first received a phone call from one of my directors, then messages and calls kept coming; that was when I got to know that the news was true and real”. She said she would remain grateful to God for giving her the wisdom and understanding to justify the confidence reposed in her by those who nominated her for the position and to all workers who accorded her unwavering support throughout her tenure.
STEWARDSHIP AS HEAD OF SERVICE
Throughout her leadership of the entire state workforce, she demonstrated excellent traits. She sought to reposition the civil service and led by example. That principle precipitated her tremendous record of achievements in all the positions she held, particularly when she was number one civil servant in the state. “The rules I enforced were not new rules. They have been in existence since the colonial era. The Service Rules are there, even before I was born, only it seems we have forgotten those rules. What is spoiling the system is politics. In those days, we can only pray to Government to temper justice with mercy because there was no godfather the offender will run, but now ‘god-fatherism’ has spoiled everything. She dealt with late-comers and truants by introducing closure of the office gate against latecomers during her time as a Head of Service. She sometimes closed the gate by herself. That ultimately checkmated the habit of late coming by some workers.
Hajia Zahra Omar got married in 1978. She married before she started her NCE programme in Ilorin. She met her husband while she was still in secondary school. She was on a holiday and during which she was among those that were camped to play hockey for Kwara State. They were to represent Kwara in the second national game in Lagos. The school got permission from the players’ parents to retain them in school for their coaching. It was then she met the then Alhaji Omar, graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The 39 years marriage that has been very blissful and fruitful right from the onset till this moment is blessed with children and grandchildren.
COPING WITH OFFICE DUTIES AND HOMEFRONT
The high level of understanding radiating from her and her husband, who is an Emir, has been very cordial, radiant and mutual. She is having a friction-free relationship with her spouse as he gave her maximum support for the attainment of success. “When I was made the Head of Service, my husband was already an Emir of Kaiama and he is not resident in Ilorin. My last born was already 19, so where is the home front I am keeping alongside office work? So I had full time for the office except when he comes once in a while to Ilorin from Kaiama,” she said.
ANTIDOTE TO WORKERS’ INEFFICIENCY AND DECLINING PRODUCTIVITY
Hajia Zahra Omar shares the belief that money acquired fraudulently does not give lasting joy. According to her, a good name is more honourable than fraudulent wealth. “I started my career with N246 as monthly salary as a level 7 officer. The unholy quest for money, which is becoming order of the day, is one of the factors hindering worker’s productivity in Nigeria. Any money that has blessing is not small. The problem with many of us is that we want to acquire all worldly materials at a go. One adage says ‘if you want money, your hands must be dirty; meaning you have to sweat. Many do not want to work but only interested in money and that is what is crippling the system. Most workers are not ready to learn how to do the job. Even those who read public administration have to learn the how-to of administrative work while on the table,” she revealed. She strongly believes in this philosophy that was why she became nightmare to lazy workers.
“Governments are policymakers and the work of the civil servants is to implement the policies of the government for the dividends of democracy to reach the grassroots. If we refuse to do our work as civil servants, the impact of the government will not be felt. I advised civil servant to wake up from their slumber and take their work seriously. Like I do tell them that civil servants do not need to belong to any political party, we already have our party which is All Government in Power (AGIP). We have to be loyal to any government that comes on board” she added.
INSULATING CIVIL SERVICE AGAINST POLITICAL INFLUENCE
Though she believes in the power of political influence, she tried to dissociate herself from romancing with politicians while in office. “Starting from myself, I did not engage myself in any political outings or activities. I have never appeared at the popular “Great Hall” not because I was not in support of the leader who gave me the appointment but when workers sight me at the place, they will start castigating me for not showing leadership by example. Ideally, civil servants are not expected to be seen at a political gathering, the arena is meant for the politicians. That was why I tried as much as possible to avoid such problems,” she asserted.
HER APPOINTMENT AS A GATEWAY TO WOMEN EMANCIPATION
Going by the resolution at the Berlin conference that says 33 percent of women should be in politics, Zahra Omar does not satisfy with men/women ratio in the position of power in Nigeria. To her, Nigeria and some African countries have not even attained that feat. “My appointment as a Head of Service is a morale booster. I want to implore women to be up and doing, one day their efforts will be appreciated. I strongly believe in the words of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that says “whatever hit you will not have missed you and whatever missed you will not have hit you”. So, if I do not achieve something in life, I believe that is what God has ordained for me”. She is of the opinion that people should try as much as possible to be content with what God has given them in order to live a peaceful and harmonious life.
PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE
She is the type that takes life very simple. She is considerate and loving. She believes in oneness of Nigeria and derives pleasure in putting a smile on the faces of others. “I don’t take life as a do-or-die affair. I was brought up by parents who were disciplinarians. My birth is a royal birth but we have not become spoilt children. We grew up and we never lacked anything”. She believes in hard work, honesty and she jealously guides her integrity.
ADVICE TO WOMEN IN POSITION OF POWER
She wants women in the corridors of power to cultivate the habit of levelheadedness, reiterating that whatever position a woman is occupying, she is still under a husband. She wants them to give their husbands respect and remember that position will not last forever. “Yesterday I was a Director, I was a Permanent Secretary and even I was a Head of Service, but today I have left all those positions, such is life. Young women should not allow a position to becloud their senses of judgment and humility. If a woman holds a position that is higher than that of her husband, such a woman will have to tread with caution. Like Emir did say jokingly when I was the Head of Service ‘I am now his boss and that I can decide to stop his salary’, that did not make me misbehave because I hold a high position. Where is that position today? Am I not back home now?” she advised.
HER TAKE ON MINIMUM WAGE
To her, a minimum wage is not the ultimate; what is important is to advise the government to make prices of commodities affordable for the masses. “If the government makes commodities cheaper in the market, workers will purchase many commodities with little money. But if the salary of workers is being increased and the prices of items that were hitherto sold for like N10 now rises to N20 or N30 because of the salary increment, it makes no difference. It is better to have commodities cheaper in the market so that we have more purchasing power with our little salaries that we earn.”
ADVICE TO GOVERNMENT, CITIZENS, AND SUCCESSOR
She believes any government in power should make sure that the basic necessities of life such as good roads, electricity supply, access to good healthcare, potable water, and others are put in place for the masses. Such measure will, she argued, add value to their lives and people will have ample time to concentrate on what they specialized in, rather than causing mayhem in the society.
She enjoined Nigerian citizens to promote oneness, saying, “Nigeria is one and we should continue to remain as one. One of the stanzas of our past National Anthem says, ‘in brotherhood, we stand.’ Why don’t we uphold that stanza? If Nigeria is playing against Ghana or other countries, in football, we remain one and that is the only time we remain as one Nigeria. Why can’t we extend that unity of purpose outside the football arena, so that we continue to live together peacefully as one Nigeria?”
She, therefore, advised her successor thus: “I will just say she should follow my footsteps, after all, we have worked together in the office for quite some time. My advice is not to say do this or do that. She knows the legacies of the office and I want her to keep those legacies of the office and make sure that that Promised Land we want to take the service to, we get there by the special grace of God.”