Joseph Ari: A promise made, a promise kept

Let me start this piece on the reappointment of Sir Joseph Ari as the Director-General and Chief Executive of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) for another four-year term with a very familiar Hausa proverb which says “Alkawari kaya ne”, meaning “A promise is a burden”.

In his inaugural speech while taking over the mantle of leadership of the flagship organisation on September 29, 2016, Sir Ari expressed deep appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari, saying he saw his appointment as an act of God and PROMISED (my emphasis) not to fail but to deliver to the best of his ability.

He had told the entire ITF family that Mr. President and Nigerians as a whole expected a lot from the organisation and “we cannot afford to betray the trust that is given to us. We must note that our activities must be carried out with utmost commitment and total dedication. I, therefore, call on the management and the entire staff of the ITF and other key stakeholders to contribute innovative ideas. The time has come for us to really come together as a family and do something meaningful and different.”

Four years down the road, Sir Ari, having done so well with the mandate thrust upon him by the Federal Government, has been found worthy of a reappointment by keeping his PROMISE. The icing on the cake was the letter of commendation in respect of the reappointment of Sir Joseph Ari, written to Mr. President by the supervising Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo. It was a rare gesture from a supervising minister who met Sir Ari on ground. Elsewhere, the minister would have schemed for his preferred candidate as a successor.

The approval for the reappointment was contained in a letter to the minister via the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, dated July 16, 2020, about 10 weeks to the expiration of Joe Ari’s first tenure. That again speaks volumes about his rating at the Presidency.

When the appointment of Sir Joseph Ari as the Director-General of the (ITF) was announced in September 2016, I nursed some fears that it was one big cap into which his head would vanish. I came to the conclusion because I had followed the succession to the headships of the massive organization since it was established in 1971. In fact, the outfit was in its infancy when I relocated from Zaria to Jos to take up an appointment with The Nigeria Standard Newspaper. So, I was privileged to follow the metamorphosis of the Fund ever since until I relocated to Abuja a little over a decade ago.

I came closer to the ITF during the tenure of the late Alhaji Hassan Ahmed II when he became the director-general in the early 90s and later the Emir of Nasarawa until his passage a couple of years ago. Alhaji Hassan Ahmed II was a hard core technocrat as far back as during the military administration of the late J. D. Gomwalk in the defunct Benue-Plateau state where he was then the director of protocols, and gradually worked his way to the top. By the mid-70s, he served as the commissioner for Information in the old Plateau state. He also served as the director of administration at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, near Jos. It was from that position that he was catapulted to the ITF as the director-general.

Before and after Hassan Ahmed II, quite a handful of seasoned administrators had sat in the saddle in the 49 years of the organisation’s existence. Sir Joseph Ari, who was just 11 years old when the ITF was founded, happened to be the youngest man to head the outfit. His much older predecessors had left behind caps of different sizes… mostly big ones.

So, when Sir Ari was considered next to wear the seemingly larger than life cap, I kept a calculated calm. Joe Ari has been a close friend of about three decades. I can say I know him the way the hand knows the route to the mouth even in the dark. We are both Knights of the Pen except that he has gone a step or two further. I have not. Joe is a Knight of St. Mulumba (KSM).        

My relationship with him kicked off at the time he began his broadcasting peregrinations with the Plateau Broadcasting Corporation as a news reporter/presenter. He had sojourned at the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Lagos, as a newscaster and subsequently moved over to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) as a news editor/caster.  He was later to veer off the mainstream broadcasting into the public relations realm, becoming the Public Relations Manager (North) of the National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria (NICON).

When Sir Fidelis Tapgun became the governor of Plateau state under the tortuous IBB transition programme in the early 90s, Sir Ari was brought back to Jos to serve as his Director of Press and Public Affairs. And that was when he dazzled us with his oratory prowess at various occasions he had to anchor. His command of the English Language and ability to manipulate it to convey his messages were captivating.

Sir Ari was later to be appointed to head the Plateau Publishing Corporation (PPC), publishers of The Nigeria Standard Newspapers. It was during his tenure at the PPC that he fell in love with law and pursued his ambition at the University of Jos where he bagged his LL.B and later LL.M degrees.

A few years later, he found himself in his familiar terrain… broadcasting. He was reassigned to the Plateau Radio and Television Corporation (PRTV) as the general manager where he brought his rich knowledge to bear on the organisation. He thus set a record as the first Plateau indigene to pilot the two state-owned media outfits at different times.

Sir Ari’s career in the Plateau state civil service came to an apogee when he was appointed Permanent Secretary in charge of Government House Administration, a position he held until his appointment by the Federal Government as a Deputy Director in the Department of Public Relations, External Affairs and Publicity of the ITF.

Upon returning to his second love (public relations), he, as the Head of Public Affairs, introduced the re-branding philosophy which saw members of staff re-oriented to provide quality service to clients of the Fund. The policy also engaged external stakeholders, thus paving the way for increased support and collaboration for smooth implementation of the ITF Act. Little did anyone know that it was the beginning of his meteoric rise to the zenith of the organisation… the first insider to achieve the feat! Small wonder the news of his reappointment sent members of the ITF family into rapture all over the country. The jubilation was spontaneous and the backslapping accompanying it must have left some of them nursing back pains!

In the last four years that Sir Joe Ari has been in the saddle, his head has grown in size, literally, to prove that the 45-year-old cap he inherited was not too huge for his head.

Sir Ari has manifested series of innovations too numerous to mention in this limited space. He has also introduced several result-oriented programmes. To attempt to reel out his achievements here is to risk getting lost in a labyrinth.

For me, Joe, as I fondly call him, has delivered on his mandate and surpassed our expectations in the first tenure. Now, he is primed to renew his PROMISE in the next four years. And I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that he will build on his accomplishments this second time around. Surely, by the time he exits the organisation, he will leave behind a legacy that will be difficult to match let alone surpass.

Congratulations again, Sir Joseph Ari, on your well-deserved return.

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