Reforming the Nigeria’s Public Service

Reforming the Nigeria’s Public Service – By Yushau A. Shuaib

“The service was often perceived as corrupt, outdated in technology, lacking in creativity, slow in responding to issues and structurally weak…”
– Alhaji Mahmud Yayale Ahmad, Head of Service.

The observation above coming from a defender of Nigeria’s civil service and the current Head of Civil Service of the Federation, as reported in the front page of the Guardian of Thursday December 23, 2004. His observation is the home truth, which reinforces the need for urgent reform of the public service.

In the past, the civil service was the darling of applicants who saw it as a place to make contributions towards good governance and economic growth of the nation. Many joined the service because of job security, efficient career progression and self-contentment from realistic wage. It still remains the pillar towards sharpening the direction of national goals and aspiration.

Lately the system has been bastardized with the incessant victimisations of victimization and their sudden retrenchment for no just cause by the powers-that-be. As it is the public service is vulnerable to political interference and very weak to give genuine advice and sincere recommendation on policy issues.

When examined closely, the various socio-economic reforms introduced by the present government are intended to change the way the civil service has operated and inimical to economic rejuvenation, efficient service delivery and professionalism. The ongoing reforms, if successful executed, will reduce the level of corruption and promote transparency and accountability in public and private sectors of the nation’s economy.

President Olusegun Obaanjo has inaugurated a team, which is a mixture of respected technocrats with different ideologies to serve in the engine room for the reform. Alhaji Mahmood Yayale Ahmad, a fine core civil servant believes in the old conservative and unpolluted public service; Mallam Nasir Elrufai, is a dogged advocate of efficient service delivery that is profitable in all sense and Chief Effort Ekaette, a midpoint between the two extreme who had tasted the 3Ps at top level i.e. public, private and political life.

It is always difficult to appreciate aggressive and revolutionary changes for better society without facing stiff challenges and condemnations. Therefore misconception and misgiving on some aspects of the reform programmes are not unexpected. Most painful is that the civil servants as members of the conservative institution of government hardly express themselves publicly due to fear of official sanctions and reprimand. It is probably due to the timid nature in the service that President Obasanjo initiated and participated in an interactive forum with selected representatives of the civil service, mostly top management staffs, to express their views freely and to voice out on likely pitfalls in executing the policy.

The public service is driven by the public officers who are either elected or appointed and is managed by the civil servants who are employed through rigorous exercise. While the Public/political officers have authority to give final approval on policies and programmes, civil servants execute the directives.

I believe reforming the public service requires the reengineering of all aspects of the civil service: from recruitments to termination of appointment; from salary to promotion; from contractor to political interference, and from training to other motivational packages. As timely and desirable the reform is, it needs to be guided by procedure that will make it effective. It is either it is undertaken head on with full force or implemented in gradual steps because of the level of decay in the system.

Many wonder if the legitimate earning of an average civil servant is adequate for sustenance so as to disabuse his/her mind from temptations of corrupt practices. Some may wonder whether the salary of a public servant, from the junior cadre to top management can sustain their basic needs in term of feeding, accommodation, transportation, medication and schooling of the wards. The monetization policy introduced by the government for civil servants, like that of Public officers, should be based on economic reality so that the remuneration is commensurate with their works and position as to minimize, if not to totally eradicate, the level of corruption in the polity.

Rightsizing as against downsizing in the service is a welcome development if the unutilized servants are retrained and reassigned to suitable roles where their qualifications and experiences can be used for productivity. It is non-deniable the fact that the service is over-bloated with redundant and idle staff collecting salary monthly apart from tales of remuneration for ghost workers. Since the government is emphasizing on the need for partnership with the private sector, new and privatized companies can be encouraged to absorb staff disengaged from the service to discourage them into engaging in acts and actions detrimental to national security and economic advancement. As developed countries employ Information Technology to drive their economy, a worst scenario may evolve in Nigeria if the government embraces full computerization policy that will invariably allow computers, which are cheaper to acquire and maintain, to take over the job of human workforce without making provision for those to be eased out.

With the reform geared towards creativity and efficiency, recruitment and promotion exercises should not be based on parochial considerations but purely on performance and merit after due consideration of qualifications and experiences of the officers. Sometimes lack of qualified and experienced civil servants encourage some personal aides to chief executives, especially Ministers, to take over the jobs of core civil servants who are considered ill equipped and inexperienced to discharge sensitive and technical matters. While it is unfair the rate at which retinue of aides easily take over the jobs of some directors and departmental heads, the civil servants should be encouraged and motivated to perform to desired expectations.

Unlike in the private sector where merit is the keyword for promotion, in the public service, it takes some hardworking staff many years to be considered. It seems without the death or termination of appointment of workers, vacancies for elevation may be elusive because the senior and aging civil servants consistently update their ages backwards to remain in the service by refreshing their birth documents and dyeing their hair. The attitudes of those true “Senior Servants” delay others’ promotions and deny fresh recruitments. Even if vacancies for promotion are declared, it appears the essential requirement is long-years-in-service as against exceptional performance and outstanding achievements. It is therefore not surprising to see brainy applicants cutting corner by getting rapid promotions from some agencies or other tiers of government and afterward seek transfer to the federal service on higher levels.

While it appears easier for one to move into the public service with ease from the private sector, the civil servants are not allowed to enjoy such progressions which may help them gain further experience outside the service. If only the civil servants can be allowed on secondment and transfer of service to the private sector, on return such officers would inject new positive skills acquired into their jobs.

Every senior civil servant is proud to reiterate the rules and ethics of the service and can easily quote the sections that dwell on every corrupt and unethical tendency, but experience has shown that the byelaw is tactfully manipulated for selfish interest and for vindictiveness. Since the rule forbids staff from private practices, it is baffling the allegations that some civil servants amassed huge wealth, own properties, send their children to foreign schools and live highly ostentatious life. How possible could that be, if the rules and regulations are pragmatic and realistic?

It seems only medical workers and academics are allowed to undertake private practices and consultancy services respectively, while the core civil servants are disallowed. If the salary and allowances cannot be enough to sustain them, the government may allow those in the service to undertake other professional practices that could not undermine their official integrity after office hours. They may also be permitted to trade and even drive personal vehicles for commercial purposes to boost their legitimate earning.

It is unfortunate that while the government encourages training and retraining for further empowerment and skills acquisition, some civil servants see the gesture as opportunities to make extra money. Apart from making management development and capacity building mandatory, the government should sponsor staffs to acquire professional membership of relevant bodies for the purpose of updating themselves on the latest trends in their field.

The major beneficiaries of the civil service in monetary terms are the contractors and consultants. The Financial Regulations permit contractors and consultants to serve as the major executors of government jobs, even when some of such services can be handled successfully by highly experienced and qualified staff who are abundant in the service. One wonders what disqualified a supply or store officer from purchasing items directly from producers and manufacturers. What prevent a clinical pharmacist from procurement of drugs from wholesalers? What stop PR Officer from organizing International Press Conference and producing informative publications? What denies Maintenance officer from fixing equipment and working on capital projects? What prohibits a legal officer from defending a case in the competent courts? If competent professionals are available in the service to handle programme and projects at relatively cheaper cost than inflated quotations from contractors, they need to be encouraged to boost their morale and save the nation from profligate spending.

Probably due to the fact that the civil servants know the true value of inflated quotations, with or without Due Process, they are compelled to demand for unwholesome gratifications from contractors who are mostly without fixed business addresses. Though there is no moral justification for bribery in whatever guise, it may be necessary for the service to recognize genuine manufacturers, producers and their representatives for award of contracts, than the use of middlemen in the name of contractors to undertake such assignments at outrageous cost. That will also curb the attempts by civil servants to award contracts secretly to themselves and their cronies.

It is extremely difficult to deny the existence of corruption in the service or to exonerate oneself from the endemic syndrome; every Nigerian must support the reform in the public service to reclaim its lost glory and for sanity in our nation. There is nothing that encourages hard work, commitment and patriotism than enabling environment and realistic wage that make one gratefully indebted to the nation. Anything less is balderdash.

This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Daily Champion Jan.4, Leadership Jan. 30, New Nigerian Feb. 5, Nigerian Tribune Feb.11, The Punch Feb 17, Thisday Feb21, Daily Trust March 1, *African Renaissance March-April 2005

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