Corruption: Between Politicians and civil Servants _ By Yushau A. Shuaib
The debate about corruption comes to the fore again at two different academic environments. Guest speakers at the separate universities are young personalities, key players in policy formulation and household names that hold sensitive public positions. Due to their backgrounds, utterances made by them at such fora are not only authoritative, but can become guides for development of national policies.
They are Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who at the 8th Convocation Lecture of Igbinedion University, Okada, disclosed that the National Assembly (NASS) collects 25 per cent of the overheads of the Federal Government and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, who at the pre-convocation lecture held at University of Lagos (UNILAG) Auditorium, stated that “civil servants are the most corrupt in the country”.
Majority of Nigerians agree with Sanusi’s assertion, which he stuck to even when he was summoned by the legislators to the National Assembly for obvious facts on how politicians have continued to milk the nation dry with their excessive expenditures and outlandish life-styles in the name of jumbo packages.
Nothing is more worrisome than the allegation of the Speaker, who, in an attempt to pick holes in Sanusi’s argument, went on to transfer his aggression by describing Nigeria’s civil servants as most corrupt in the country.
In his argument, which was quoted in the media, Bankole said corruption in Nigeria was perpetuated by corrupt and inept civil servants and not the political class. According to him, “in the past five years, an estimated N1 trillion was taken from the budget annually by civil servants and not returned to the treasury”. He went further to add that in 2008, when he became the Speaker, N21 billion was returned to the treasury from ministries. After probing and threatening of different people, they returned N350 billion as the unspent budget. The following year, he added, “they returned N350 billion and [in] 2010, they returned over N200 billion even though we extended the accounting year to March.”
Mr. Bankole probably forgot to realise that the heads of those agencies were not civil servants, but political office holders who were tenured and could be handpicked for such positions. He may also need to confirm how much the legislators returned within the same period since the alleged civil servants in the said ministries were at least magnanimous enough to return their unspent allocations.
While we all acknowledge the fact that corruption has permeated all sectors, including the traditional institutions, the media, spiritual houses and even schools, the most corrupt institution remains the legislative tier of government and by extension, the political class, which manipulates the electoral process and appointments of various officers.
We must try to define the role of players that guide and operate the public service. Civil servants are usually the best candidates employed in the service after going through rigorous screening exercises, even though those processes, in some cases have been bastardised by the political class which forces its candidates into public institutions by all means. Most of the civil servants including even drivers, messengers, clerks, and middle cadre officers, pass the screening for their competence. Some of them reach the level of directors through deserved promotions and just a fraction of that (about one percent), are promoted to the top level as Permanent Secretaries. A civil servant works on instruction and makes recommendations but the ultimate approval still lies with the political office holder.
One of the major criteria for selections or appointments into political/public offices is for the candidate to have an influential godfather or enough wealth to manipulate the process in order to achieve the desired positions. Apart from cases of certificate forgeries, some legislators got to the National assembly by being ‘Papa’s pikin’, and some got to their principal positions after the removal of their predecessors for corrupt practices. Check the National Assembly list.
The public is now aware of how elections are rigged and how unqualified and unscrupulous candidates are given political appointments, while the fate of civil servants is left in the hands of this calibre of public officers to determine who gets what in terms of political and financial patronage.
Corruption in the civil service is influenced by the political class. Bankole, probably needs to be reminded that the major suspects and culprits being prosecuted for financial and economic crimes are not the submissive civil servants but the political office holders that include members of the legislative and executive arms. Reeling out the names of such high-flying corrupt officers would not be possible due to space limitation.
The Speaker and those who look down on civil servants as nonentities and describe them in derogatory remarks, need to visit either, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to see the records. It is well known how the oversight functions by legislators are turned into money-spinning ventures. We also cannot forget in a hurry, the antics of rabble rousers like former Chairman of the House Committee on Power, Ndudi Elumelu and his counterpart in the Senate, Senator Nicholas Ugbane, and other legislators who stage-managed a public hearing on the Independent Power Projects (IPP) probes, only to be involved in multi-billion Naira scam.
While this writer is not attempting to exonerate the civil service of corruption, those that soil the name of the institution are those that form the political class in collaboration with disgruntled, few corrupt officers in the service who are either cowed to submission for fear of losing their jobs and the greedy ones who could tolerate temptation to get a share of the national cake.
Is it not strange to every right thinking person that the same National Assembly that recently queried Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for proposing an unnecessary and outrageous bill of N6 billion for SIM card registration approved same? The reversal of the rejection is not uncommon: it is just their usual threat meant for socio-political and economic extortions. By the way, have we forgotten serious allegations against principal officers of Bankole- House of Representatives by the Progressive group of the chamber led by Dino Melaye, who alleged that the Speaker, “Bankole, had not only ran a corrupt leadership since he assumed office in 2007, but through his style of leadership, generated a rift between the House and the Senate; displayed high-handedness and disrespect for members; and frequently breached the rules of the House”, as quoted?
We are eagerly hoping for the period to do away with leaders who are power- arrogant, and entice young ladies with their ill-gotten wealth into immoral affairs and executive prostitution. It is regrettable that not only are some of those officers engaged in treasury abuse, but also responsible for the bastardising of public infrastructures, including health and educational facilities by cunningly privatising our collective patrimonies to their cronies and providing private alternatives as latest investments.
The condition in Nigeria may force the cray-fish to bend, but not to the level of everyone losing semblance of integrity as most civil servants who are patiently looking forward to brighter future would never sell their conscience for pots of porridge.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib has appeared in December 2010 in some of the national dailies including Daily Trust, Nigerian Tribune, Thisday, the Punch, Daily Independent, Leadership, Champion, the Sun and Peoples Daily.