Hon. Commissioner Dr. Daniel IYA, Nasarawa State, Nigeria
“However beautiful the plans and strategies, governance is the real key.”
“Where I climbed the trees as a young boy, one now finds skyscrapers”. Dr. Daniel Iya - “please call me Daniel” - (67), laughs when he contemplates how fast things have changed in his country Nigeria.
Born in Karu, in what was once the Plateau State, later Nasarawa State, Dr. Daniel finds himself for the second time in his life Commissioner (Minister) of Health of his state. The first time was between 1992-1994, during a brief period in which the transition from military to civilian rule was tried with Babangida as the short-lived president.
As a son of a dispensary owner (“a kind of village health worker”), Dr. Daniel was called to the high administration early in life. He was a pupil at the Sudan Interior Mission school which he describes as, “A mission which combined the gospel with education and outreach in health”.
He was then a diligent medical student at the Amadu Bello University in Zaria and became a young doctor at the mission hospital called Evangel hospital, which later became the Bingham university teaching hospital in Jos.
From an early age, people trusted Dr. Daniel with leadership roles, national and later federal roles. He is a longstanding fellow of the West African College of Surgeons, fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, and was chairman of the Nigerian accreditation committee of the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council. After his first term as Commissioner, Dr. Daniel became chief medical director in the state’s teaching hospital from 1996-2004. That was also the time he did a postgrad public health course at Harvard.
“My wife urged me not to enter the political arena again,” says Dr. Daniel “But this was not about me. All my life, I have really felt it is a privilege to serve. Being a doctor is privilege, not to be abused. The same holds for public office. I have always tried to live by my conviction, create ‘approachable leadership’ and try to speak from conviction. This has not always been easy. There are moments you really have to stand firm.”
“People may not like you for speaking out and exposing abuses. In the corridors of power they may treat you as ‘not one of us’. At this stage of my life, however, I feel more than ever that I can say things that for other people may be difficult. Am a free man, never craved very much the usual trappings of power.” Jokingly Dr. Daniel says, “One of my colleagues told me once: ‘you walk the corridors of power, but nobody would notice’.”
At the same time, Dr. Daniel agrees you cannot fight all battles. “Most things are best changed through first understanding them. And then try to strike a balance: we cannot play God.”
After a long life in public service, Dr. Daniel is convinced governance is crucial.
“However beautiful the plans and strategies, governance is the real key. My main interest now is in true accountability. By that I mean that communities should have firm means to hold their leaders to account, all the way. Power corrupts, sometimes in major ways, and so accountability should be very strong.”
He sits up. “I try to invite criticism, because often things get too silent for my comfort. In many of our states, accountability to citizens and their power to pull their leaders to account is not yet strong enough. This is why I was so delighted that just the other day, quite unexpectedly, somebody in an audience stood up and asked: “Tell us, sir, what you did with the money?” That is a great step, and made me think about how to move much further along that road: to equip citizens with the skills and tools to develop governance and accountability. So any global governance collaboration should be about that: how to raise our communities to that power, and how to synergize much better the little we do.”