Pioneer ECOWAS Staff reflect on life at ECOWAS

With nostalgia, some pioneer staff of ECOWAS have been reflecting on the journey so far at ECOWAS from their personal experiences. Mrs. Helene Nne Bassey (Office Manager/Head of Registry Unit, General Administration), Messrs.’ Mazi Kingsley Enwere (Human Resources) and Ganiyu Abujade (General Administration & Conferences) all gave rare insights into their life and times at the Commission. Peeping into the past, present and future of ECOWAS, the officers also provided useful hints for a greater community in the march from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of people. .

MRS HELENE NNE BASSEY-BRING BACK THE ECOWAS ‘FAMILY’

BASSEYIt is a somewhat different ECOWAS today…  We need to reinvent that sense of family and bring it back. We need to cultivate that love that was a binding factor that transcended geographic and language barriers, which made the ECOWAS region unique originally. We need to re-negotiate that sense of belonging where I am my brother’s keeper. We really need that. I know we are all working but we need the family and friendship to be injected back into the system.’’

As a young lady just coming into Nigeria after her studies in Lausanne, Switzerland, Mrs. Helene Nne Bassey joined ECOWAS on the 10th of March 1977 upon the invitation of her boss at the Secretariat of the Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC). She was the second staff to be recruited by the fledging Secretariat of the organization. Below are excerpts of her responses.

 

The attraction to ECOWAS

“Immediately I heard that ECOWAS had been created, I wanted to be a part of the integration train. There were not too many opportunities then and it was a wonderful feeling being part of the beginning of a new and bubbling international organization with a vision and a mission. That I studied French was also an added advantage”

 

Staff welfare, Motivation then and now

“The cost of living was very reasonable at the time I joined the organization which made life easier. There was also security of life and property. Everything was good really. I had fun. I was a young girl. I had no fears. I had great expectations for the future. I had just been married a month before I assumed duty. So everything seemed keyed into the right direction and I was happy. ECOWAS was like a family of people who cared for each other. ”

“…The salary was good in comparison to other organizations, and there was job security. I cannot really state the exact figure, but it was very good for a Nigerian then. You could do a proper budget and planning with your salary and be comfortable with your earning. We were looked upon as the middle class at the time. Talking about motivation. Look at this token being handed to me (a gift pack from the Communication Directorate). It is part of it. These are some of the incentives that push you to work harder. There is no alternative to staff motivation. I am very appreciative and it’s a wonderful idea. Because they are motivational. Incentives should be an integral part of an organization such as ours. There are so many other incentives that cannot be recounted here … If we weren’t here to make the sacrifices other people would not have been here to enjoy them today. We toiled, we sacrificed. We worked through the night, and still presented ourselves early to work or meetings the next day. No one grumbled. Our bosses sat with us while we worked during meetings and they ensured we were fed. We did not enjoy most of the benefits that people are enjoying now. We worked hard to pay our children’s fees from our salaries. Now better opportunities exist, but unfortunately I have never really enjoyed them because my children are grown. That’s life! Some people have to work to lay the foundation and make the sacrifices, and others enjoy, but I think we should be remembered, and our names should be inscribed somewhere. I mean pioneer staff of ECOWAS, their names should be put somewhere for posterity”.

Work ethics yesterday and today

“Oh that. In view of the above, the resumption and closing times were short due to the heavy traffic in Lagos. But during statutory meetings we sometimes worked from 9.00am in the morning to 5.30am the following day. Thereafter, you are expected to be in the office by 9 o’clock to document the proceedings of the meeting and produce a detailed report. We were always ready. We would get our attires right, whether traditional clothes or western and always looked good, prime and proper for all the meetings of Heads of States and Government or any other meetings. It was exciting and beautiful. We looked forward to going to work. We felt that urge to want to work and to go the extra mile. I worked during statutory meetings as coordinator over the years ensuring that all work from all sections were properly channeled. It made things easier whenever there was an omission. I stopped doing that in 2012. I have now put in a total of thirty-eight years to the Glory of Almighty God. I have spent most of my life here. I am grateful to all who have been with me through thick and thin. I have made friends and am acquainted with many staff. I have been lucky to date to have good bosses, who have motivated me. On the whole, ECOWAS has been good to me but I believe that God sent me to ECOWAS as a light to help grow the organization to where it has gotten today. I was taken to a new level of assignment as Office Manager/ Head of the Registry Unit since 2008 since my conversion earlier to Senior Administrative Assistant. I have tried to do my best for the staff. We have built a viable documentation and dispatch system…”

“My wish for ECOWAS is that it will grow from strength to strength. It will live long and that everybody here will put in his or her best and continue to make sacrifices to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives. I wish that one of my children when I leave here or the children of other pioneer staff (if they so desire) can be given that opportunity to gain full employment here. It should not be only a few people sacrificing. Everybody should put in their best. The ECOWAS region is growing from strength to strength and experiencing growth at all frontiers, even outside its borders. I am happy about this. I think we have a bright future, and should now concentrate on improving on the current gains that we have. Let us take infrastructure for example, hands are working on developing that area with unflinching commitment, people should see tangible results and really see the impact this is having on the community and the lives of our citizens. If you are working on malaria elimination, we know once people see the results, they know it is ECOWAS that did it and they are happy to belong to the region. That is my wish for ECOWAS. In other words, if we are doing ten to twenty projects or programmes, we should drive these to their logical conclusions, so as to achieve tangible and solid impact on Community citizens”.

Through the years, significant milestones

“A lot has changed. I used to work with the statutory appointees whose designations were Executive Secretary and Deputy Executive Secretaries then. I was lucky to work with them as a Senior Bilingual Secretary. There were bosses, great bosses, and kind bosses, difficult and simple bosses but behind those bosses you have to be able to manage yourself in order to prove yourself and your ability. As a Bilingual Secretary, with each boss was a different experience. But I have been lucky to work with bosses I could relate with. Most of those bosses have empathy. You could walk into their offices and let them know the challenges that are hindering your work. They always had encouraging words and sought solutions to those challenges. It was a one on one relationship then. In Lagos our office building at Onikan was small, then the extension further down the road in the office of the then electoral body, then another office at Campos Square which those of us in the Division of Economic Affairs eventually moved to. It was a bigger building. The bosses seem to know everybody as there were not too many staff and we had a very good administrator then. Before computers became the order of the day, we started with typewriters, and we used to work late into the night. I recall we would prepare documents for the Heads of States’ statutory meetings, but we never complained and always looked forward to the end results. Once upon a time our current President, His Excellency, Mr. Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo, was my boss. I worked with him for eight years. He used to come and sit with us to encourage us during those long working hours. I never knew things would turn around twenty-two years later for him to return to the same organization as the President of ECOWAS. This was providence bringing him back many years after and I am still here. It is divine favour from Almighty God But now, there are computers, and laptops just name it to facilitate your work…”.

An Ideal ECOWAS Situation

Some things have changed as you would expect. The staff strength has increased. Everybody used to know everybody. It was one big family and you could tell the next person ‘please could you just oversee my children for me while I am away on mission?’ I never used to bother. We need to cultivate that love that was a binding factor that transcended geographic and language barriers which made the ECOWAS region a unique region. We need to re-negotiate that sense of belonging where I am my brother’s keeper. We really need that. I know we are all working but we need the family and friendship to be injected back into the system…Nowadays, you walk through the corridors passing people with ECOWAS IDs, and no one knows each other, …My wish for this Community is that it grows from strength to strength so that our grandchildren will have a place to go to, to see the legacy left behind. That all staff should strive at all times to put in their best, to help those who are upcoming, and give honour to those who sacrificed all to get this esteemed organization up to the standard as it stands today. May our hope and for ECOWAS become a reality”.

MAZI KINGSLEY ENWERE- GIVE SENIOR CITIZENS BADGES TO DISENGAGED STAFF

Mr. Enwere“Let’s make badges for our senior citizens and give them a Pass as persons who have worked at ECOWAS and who have made valuable contributions here so that when they visit the Commission or any of our institutions, they would be accorded due courtesies instead of being put through a question and answer session”

Jolly good fellow Mazi Kingsley Enwere saw the possibilities in the new world that unfolded with the birth of a supranational entity such as ECOWAS and decided to be in the Train on April 28th 1978. He had been found worthy of the fresh challenge by the fledging organisation’s first Director of Administration seconded from FESTAC, the late Jerry Eghagha who was looking for quality hands to ensure that there is a proper take off of the new organisation.

With less than fifteen staff, most of whom brought in their typewriters and desks from the wound up FESTAC secretariat, Enwere and co worked and watched yesterday’s seedling become today’s massive house of integration.

Attraction to ECOWAS

“I joined ECOWAS because Mr. Eghagha felt it was a new place where I could give more and make more impact. I knew I had what he saw in me. They were looking for new Nigerians, people who could see beyond Nigeria and people who possessed competences. Already FESTAC had a diplomatic colouration. So we all came in to contribute our own quota. That’s why Eghagha employed most of us because these were people he could induct without much ado. Before I came to ECOWAS, I was in the office of the minister of Finance. I wanted a place where I could put in more work. I was younger with a slim waist line and the energy was there. It was a challenge I wanted to grab and since that time, I have never looked back”.

Through the years, significant milestones  

“The structure of ECOWAS then is not the same as we have it today. It used to be a much smaller unit as a task force then later ECOWAS started evolving and transforming with more staff coming in and I have also witnessed the periods of increased salaries. We were using the residence of the first prime minister of Nigeria-Tafawa Balewa that has become our liaison office in Lagos. At that time, ECOWAS had in the pool, only one vehicle. That vehicle was a beetle (Volkswagen old German car). Which was later sold on auction to one Mr. Adebisi. My salary was N120 and my housing was N20 making a total of …But it was enough to meet your needs and you will still have enough to save. The other day, I looked at my old Passport and saw the BTA (Basic Travelling Allowance) as it was called then. It was N500. So what I got was almost four hundred and something dollars then”.

Staff Welfare & Motivation, then and now

I think it is a little better now. There used to be a lot of discriminatory practices among in the treatment of nationals…. It is better now. People can now move, not minding the country from where you come. Then we were using quota system where certain positions were allocated to certain countries. We used to have positions as if people from certain countries were born into them. You can be moved up now. Then it was not so. What we have as professional staff today were called international staff those days. …So today, we can say that a part of the commendable staff welfare scheme which also goes to motivate a lot has to do with the fact that ECOWAS takes care of the education of your children and gives you the exposure, I mean international exposure”.

The Bounties of ECOWAS

First, my prayer is that ECOWAS should live on. After all, a child that was born forty years ago is a matured person. He can attain to anything and can become the president of any nation. There are still a lot of things here that may have been lost but by virtue of my being around, we can help in curating. For example, old staff can help identify some pictures and do a proper captioning of the pictures in an album and in inviting old retired staff for the anniversary celebrations or for the purpose of creating an album. That’s the kind of legacy I and the first Librarian Mrs. Abimbola now retired will like to leave behind. We started this library by picking papers from the ground…ECOWAS is growing. We are already integrating. And I use to say this: If not because I work with ECOWAS, how would my horizon be broadened to this extent? I interact with friends across the borders. We are all the same. Now there is brotherly interaction between Anglophone, Francophone and lusophone speaking people across the borders and the interface is provided by ECOWAS. We are seeing how free trade is being aided instead of the prevalence of smuggling. Like I said, we have friends across member states which is increasing business relations. This in itself is part of the objectives of ECOWAS”

An Ideal ECOWAS situation

“It is high time the ECOWAS single currency dream is actualized. It has been on for as long as I can remember. We are happy that the Common External Tariff has now taken off. There are a lot of programmes that can be improved on. We want ECOWAS to be one ‘big country’ in Africa and not fragmented as states. We want to see less barriers. This (free movement) is the kind of thing we should put on the table. Drawing strength for example from what is happening in Europe Where If a person says he wants to go the UK (United Kingdom) and don’t want to fly, then he takes a train and goes to France unmolested so long as you are a citizen of a member EU country. Yes we know that there is some security challenge but we can work around it. Free movement should be made workable. Free movement is at the core of integration. That is one of the things that can make ECOWAS to continue to live. We want to see the essence of trade liberalization to make trade easier, softer and really to work… If we want to move forward this trade liberalization, free movement, the protocol on right of residence and single currency should be addressed. We want the single currency only to be used as trading instrument. Individual countries can still have their currencies if they so choose. I am of the view also that there should be a pension scheme at ECOWAS. Look, the other day, one of our staff who had retired was trying to come into the Commission premises and security personnel stopped him at the gate and were asking him all sort of questions. …A place where I have worked all these years where I have laboured, where I have used my youth, it would be made impossible for me to gain entrance… Let’s make badges for our senior citizens and give them a Pass as persons who have worked here and who have made contributions so that when they visit the Commission or any of our institutions, they will be accorded due courtesies instead of being put through a question and answer session…

I wish that as we are celebrating our 40th year, those staff who are still around, should be invited and be made to be a part of the activities instead of a situation where when you leave, there is no information about anybody again and people are now just leaving with all the knowledge that they have acquired”.

GANIYU ABUJADE-GIVE MORE TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES TO STAFF!

ABUJADE“There is no organization that is perfect. What we can do is to continue to improve on what is on the ground. One thing we cannot do without is training. It is the bedrock of capacity building and ultimately ECOWAS benefits if staff are trained and given more opportunities for further trainings. There are bright prospects in the horizon”.

Old reliable, Mr. Ganiyu Abujade is a multitask master. As a pioneer store-man staff of ECOWAS, he was at the heart of the more technical exertions of the time and has through the years remained indefatigable.

Attractions to ECOWAS

“When I joined ECOWAS in March 1977 on Mr. Eghagha’s recommendation, I started out in the store after being asked to head a Task Force for the ECOWAS secretariat and thereafter converted to full staff. Then, treaties and modalities were in place but the documents had to be operated. For me, I just wanted a place where I can contribute more, make hard work count while remaining a fulfilled man. So the prospects of a regional organization was very exciting”.

Through the years, significant milestones

“At the time, our first executive secretary Dr. Abubacar Outarra was directing the affairs and we were not up to ten that started out. There were Secretaries like Madams Helen Bassey, Eneh, Okpah and one other good woman from Akwa Ibom state now late, before Orok came later on. I was combining procurement, transport, and maintenance. I set up the stores, and had a lot of tasks combined. We were few. Then after the Executive Secretary, we used to have a Deputy Executive Secretary (DES) Administration and Finance and another DES Economic Affairs as well Financial Controller. Under the big offices you had other departments. For instance Library used to be under Administration.

There is no organization that is perfect. What we can do is to continue to improve on what is on the ground. One thing we cannot do without is training. It is the bedrock of capacity building and ultimately ECOWAS benefits if staff are trained and given more opportunities for further trainings. There are bright prospects in the horizon.

Through the years, there have been changes. People are enjoying good pay now. We started with what you can call peanuts if you like. That time it was N176, 77 kobo as at that time, they were not paying us in foreign currencies as you have it now in CFA or dollars. It was in Naira terms and everybody was happy. Even with that money, you will still have savings and something with which you can enjoy yourself because at that time, the naira was still very strong”

Staff welfare, motivation, then and now

“ECOWAS has started considering staff welfare. It has been a long journey. There were initial issues…including those of disparities in salaries were being looked at when French speaking staff were being paid percentages of their salaries in foreign currencies while it was not so for others including Nigerians…

Personally, I thank the Almighty Father for having the opportunity to make my contributions in ECOWAS…Some staff have been talking about ECOWAS being a leeway or a place to make a career. My prayer is that things get better…I have made the most of opportunities here to give myself further training and this has paid off in the discharge of my duties…I wish the organization well”

An Ideal ECOWAS Situation

Yes, there are things that I would wish were different. There are things being discussed already and this 40th Anniversary is an opportunity to look at all of the issues. Look for instance, at the UN when a staff is enrolled in an office, literally speaking, he may even rise up to the position of Secretary General if he improves himself. He would be groomed from the rank and file and would know everything about the organization…I think that is an ideal situation Things are improving little by little but more can still be done to boost the morale of staff. So staff moral must be looked into even though salaries are better now as people are being paid in foreign currency… We are happy to serve ECOWAS. So we earn our living here. I believe that we cannot reach a point where people are allowed to just train themselves. To have a career fulfilling advancement. They should be sent many times over as long as opportunities and resources permit.

Mr. Nwagboso Henry, Librarian, left, presenting gift to Mr. Ganiyu Abujade, after the interview on ECOWAS at 40. Abuja, 2nd June, 2015. IMG_9146 Mrs Bassey receiving a gift from the Communication Directorate presented by Arthur Obayuwana Mr. Nwagboso Henry, Librarian, left, presenting gift to Mr. Kingsley Enwere, after the interview on ECOWAS at 40, with them is Mr. Ganiyu Abujade. Abuja, 2nd June, 2015. IMG_9148

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