When he was announced the Director-General/Chief Executive of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) in September 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari, Sir Joseph Ntung Ari, the Fund was almost in disarray. The crisis that hitherto ripped workers apart was crippling harmonious labour relationship. Less than six months after his appointment, he launched a renewed mandate vision for the ITF with the sole aim of returning the Fund as the nation’s prime human resource development agency.
Now in his second and final tenure as boss of the ITF, more than any of his predecessors, the Plateau-born technocrat who is also a public relations expert and legal persona has walked the Fund to the pinnacle of excellence as demonstrated in his uncommon passion in carrying along critical stakeholders, including workers, in rewriting the story of ITF that was once an agency fraught with controversies and tug of war between management and enraged workers.
Before Ari’s appointment in 2016, he was one of the longest serving management staff of the ITF who served in critical positions during the administrations of his predecessors. While serving as a top management staff, Ari deployed his insider’s knowledge for effective roadmap capable of turning around the fortunes of the agency. Owing to his disposition in putting humanity as his focus, it was not difficult to understand the dynamics behind the mass appeal he enjoyed from the agency’s workforce.
A devout Catholic who is a Knight of the Catholic Church of the Order of St. Mulumba (KSM) and Knight of St. Sylvester (KSS), Ari’s exceptional leadership quality is seen in his humility. The DG’s perspective on life is shaped by his aphorism: “This, too, shall pass away.” Considering the fact that life and positions are transient, the need to embark on development when given an opportunity to serve remains the best option for Sir Ari who is conscious of the fact that leadership is basically to serve the people and develop the system. Little wonder, his leadership of the ITF has been founded in service and attracted attention from critical organisations. His trajectory reflects a deliberate journey in acquiring what is needful in providing quality management of human resources through the acquisition of knowledge and skills.
Born on December 21, 1960, less than three months after Nigeria’s independence, Ari’s walk in the public service commenced when he completed a diploma in Broadcast Journalism and Post-graduate Diploma in Journalism. He would later broaden and capped it with a Post-graduate Diploma in Management. Always filled with the unquenchable quest to broaden his intellectual prowess, he would bag a degree in Law, and later added a Masters Degree in Law. Determined not to be kept in the dark in business management, he would acquire another Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA), thus synchronizing his legal knowledge with his business intelligence, thus broadening and sharpening his leadership potential.
He was a reporter and programme presenter with the Plateau State Broadcasting Corporation. He would relocate to the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), and later embraced bigger challenges and expanded his horizon in the broadcast media by transferring his services to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) as news editor and broadcaster. After many years of broadcasting, his quest for more challenges took him at the National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria (NICON), where he was appointed as the Public Relations Manager, North. It was an appointment that not only exposed him to practical application of theoretical postulations learned in schools; the then rising PR practitioner learned the dynamics of public relations for corporate development.
He served as the Director of Press and Public Affairs in Plateau State where he served two administrations. His hard work and diligence earned him the position of Sole Administrator and later General Manager of the Plateau Publishing Company, (PPC). He was later appointed as the General Manager of the Plateau Radio Television Corporation, (PRTVC) where he turned around the fortunes of the media outfit. After leaving the Plateau State Civil Service as the Permanent Secretary in charge of Plateau State Government House Administration, he was appointed Director, Department of Public Relations, External Affairs and Publicity of the ITF.
As the Director in charge of Public Relations of the Fund, he deployed his experience as a top class PR practitioner to improve quality service to the agency. Apart from heading the Public Relations Department of the Fund, he was also at different times the Director of Administration and Human Resource Department, Corporate Planning Department and the Director Business Training Development Department at the ITF Headquarters.
Since his appointment as boss of the ITF over six years ago, Ari has left footprints of unprecedented infrastructural developments, innovations and driving measures aimed at improving the fortunes of the agency, especially on the implementation of the renewed vision for the Fund. More than at any time, the Ari-led management has been leading the springboard for the emergence of a new redefined and re-invigorated ITF aimed at providing employable skills for job and wealth creation in areas where the country has comparative advantages, especially in Agro-Allied, Construction, Services, ICT and Digital jobs, Metal and Solid minerals, and Oil and Gas, among others.
In a bid to ensure that Nigeria’s teeming youths acquire skills, the Fund under Ari since 2016 has successfully empowered no fewer than 500,000 youths in various skills through the following programmes: National Industrial Skills Development Programme (NISDP); Women Skills Empowerment Programme (WOSEP);Air-conditioning and Refrigeration (Training on Wheels); Designing and Garment Making (Training on Wheels) for Nigerian youths; Skills Training and Empowerment Programme for the Physically Challenged (STEPP-C), among others.
The ITF under Ari has completed and commissioned several projects, including the Mechatronics Workshop and Administrative Block at the Industrial Skills Training Centre (ISTC) Kano; Katsina Area Office Complex with an Administrative and Vocational Wing; Lagos Island Area Office Complex and Vocational wing; Modern e-Library Complex and Central Stores in the Headquarters complex; and Classroom Blocks and Intro-tech Laboratory at the ITF Staff School, among others.
Presently, no fewer than 24 projects are waiting commissioning. Some of these projects that have been completed and waiting to be commissioned include the Multi-purpose Building in Maitama, Abuja; The Institute of Hospitality Management at Oba Akran in Lagos; Headquarters Auditorium and Gymnasium and Access road; A special Agriculture Greenhouse at Ofadaland in Ogun State and Upgraded facilities at its Industrial Skills Training Centres (ISTCs.
The perennial hardship suffered by participants in the Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) has been tackled by Sir Ari. The SIWES programme, before September 2016, was bedeviled by backlogs of unpaid Students and Supervisory allowances. Since becoming the DG, Sir Ari has paid N23.1 billion as Students allowance, while N1.05 billion as supervisory allowances within that same period.
Working so hard to improve service delivery has also been a focal point for the ITF’s helmsman. In 2020, he expanded the then existing 10-Departments and 4-Unit structure to 16-Departments and 2-Unit structure to address administrative needs. Some of the new departments include Administration and Human Resource; Business Training; Corporate Planning; Field Services; Finance and Accounts; Information Communication Technology; Internal Audit; Legal and Council Affairs, Procurement; Public Affairs, among others.
To demonstrate his faith in finishing strong at the end, he once told me: “Each morning I come to the office, I am reminded of the transient nature of life and public office. There was someone before me; and certainly, there will be someone after me. So, I am reminded that the office I occupy today is a public trust. There is nothing to be proud of when occupying a public office. I have learnt never to be carried away by the allure of public office and to do my best for the system and people.”
In attesting to his human-focus leadership, the ITF’s DG was overwhelmingly named the Plateau Man of the Year 2022. His people also honoured him with the title: Kurnajam (Minister of Defence) of the Goemai Nation Worldwide. His nomination as LEADERSHIP Public Servant of the Year 2022 is a clear demonstration that Ari’s silent revolution in transforming the ITF into a national pride in developing Nigeria’s human resources is slowly being recognised. More than this, he has deployed leadership as service-oriented, thus reflecting the essence of management as a major change agent in national development.