Wednesday, July 4, 2018 11:04 am
By Rasheed Akinkuolie
The decline of moral values and the development of malpractices (corruption) in Nigeria are linked to the present dysfunctional state of the Nigerian civil service.
Strange at it may sound, but this is true taking into consideration the central role of the civil service in government finances, contract awards, revenue allocations, budget preparations, recruitment into government service, human capital development, management of government owned companies, pensions and several other activities which cut across the three arms of government.
Civil servants are employees on government payroll in ministries and parastatals. They are Doctors in government hospitals, Customs and Immigration Officers, Military, and Security agents, Administrative / Executive Officers in the home service, Foreign Affairs Officers, Teachers in government schools and higher institutions. The importance and centrality of these group of workers to the administration of a nation is obvious. Their efficiency and performance is therefore a determinant factor in assessing the success or otherwise of a nation. In this sense, no country can rise above the quality of its civil service.
The Nigerian civil service emerged from the British colonial office and was structured after it. The civil servants of the newly independent Nigerian state worked assiduously to build a viable modern nation, and it remained the permanent institution which kept the nation running with minimal disruption to state activities during the long periods of military rule.
The permanent secretaries and officers piloted the machinery of state through very difficult times, especially during the civil war at the end of which Nigeria emerged as a continental power.
However and unfortunately, the unexpected happened in 1976, when the military regime of that era, against the norm and without the involvement of the Federal Civil Service Commission retrenched thousands of civil servants.
There were other purges in 1984, 1999, 2003 and 2005 and it became a routine for incoming governments to sack civil servants as a sign of strength and to instill fear in the institution, naively ignoring the extensive long and short term consequences for the stability of the country.
In this atmosphere of insecurity and fear, civil servants resorted to self help to meet with their immediate and future needs by stealing from the government.
This was a dangerous development for the country, considering the fact that government ministries and agencies hold and control the expenditure of public funds and also check fraudulent activities in the system. Technically, a dime of government funds cannot be missing undetected , and at the same time, millions may be lost , if the preventive and audit mechanisms are disabled by collusion and conspiracy by the parties involved.
The decision by the government to appoint private sector executives as Permanent Secretaries, Director Generals and Directors in the civil service was intended to gradually privatize the civil service.
This decision was a mistake because a bureaucracy cannot be run like a private enterprise. Moreover, bureaucrats or civil servants at the directorate level are products of long term groomings, with trainings and retrainings which could go on for decades, through the ranks, during which vast experiences are acquired. The bureaucrat at the highest level are also well educated, versatile, articulate and most importantly conversant with the workings of the bureaucratic system and its milieu. Armed with such expertise , decisions taken on behalf of the government are always sound and well reasoned out. These attributes cannot be replicated overnight without going through the processes mentioned.
Private sector managers in a bureaucratic system turned out to be misfits. Decisions taken were often wrong and they cannot be challenged out of fear of victimization because of the personalities involved.
The privatization policy, bank consolidation the sale of government owned enterprises (GOE) and others which ended in fiasco are such decisions taken without depth of thought.
Precious national assets, such as the Nigerian Airways came down from 32 Aircrafts in 1985 to 3 in 2000, and was eventually liquidated in 2003. The vast assets in real estates which spread all over the world were stripped and looted.
The NNSL shipping line was liquidated with 22 ships in 1995, after sailing for 36 years. The Ajaokuta steel mills, the refineries, the Vehicle Assembly plants, the Aluminum Smelter Company (ALSCOM), the Paper and Newsprint companies and other conglomerates were similarly destroyed or rendered comase in fuzzy circumstances.
The invitation of International Financial Institutions to run the economy further deepened the national crisis and entrenched corruption.
These institutions lacked the competences to address the problems of a third world country, which are not much more than the provision of potable water, health facilities, education, housing, food security and such mundane social amenities which make life better for the larger population.
The policy focussed more on economic growth, monetary reforms, Bank consolidation and such spurious policies which created the cabal of powerful and wealthy oligarchs in the country.
The issue of poverty was never addressed, and as people got poorer, they tend to resort to criminal activities and rebellion which is on going in different parts of the country in form of insurgencies and communal clashes.
Nigeria has now acquired the unenviable status of the country with the largest concentration of extremely poor and destitute people in the world.
The devaluation of the national currency was another grave economic blunder which was undertaken without taking into consideration the long term consequences on inflation and the standard of living of the people. The value of the naira went down from 0.75kobo to 1 USD down to 360 Naira to 1USD.
The minimum wage of 18,000 naira (50 USD) to the wage of a Director in the civil service, 380,000 ( 1,060 USD) a month became a derisory joke.
As custodians of public trust and funds, the temptation to make ends meet by other means by civil servants was too compelling. The cases of corruption and stealing of public funds became widespread and inevitable.
In summary, the trajectory of the journey to pervasive corruption and poverty in Nigeria started with the policies which undermined the sanctity and independence of the civil service without taking into consideration the long term consequences.
The induction of private sector executives into the mainstream of the civil service at the management level created confusion in the polity such that wrong decisions taken by these powerful group could not be challenged out of fear.
The International Finacial Institutions worsened a bad situation by introducing programs which did not address the problems of social development, but rather created a few stupendously rich people.
Despite the extensive damage done to the civil service, there is still room for redemption. The process of recruiting and removal of civil servants must follow laid down rules. The clause which empowers the government to remove civil servants in the ‘national interest’ should be expunged from the civil service rules.
The perks of office enjoyed in the past by civil servants should be restored. For example, a housing policy on owner occupier basis on confirmation of apppinntment is a good incentive to stay committed and loyal to the service and career.
The Nigerian National Supply Company which in the past distributed food items such as; vegetable oil, rice, milk, sugar to civil servants and the public at cost price or subsidized rates should be revived, as a direct way of fighting hunger and poverty.
The failed privatization policy should be reviewed and state owned enterprises, such as the Kraft and paper mills at Jebba , ALSCON, the Steel Complex and others should be repossessed and placed under government control with good managers identified within the civil service.
It is a fallacy that there is no business of government in business. If this axiom is true, then, why is the country in such a deplorable situation after decades of private sector driven economy ? .
The responsibility of the government is the well being and prosperity of the people, and this can only be achieved, if the most important sectors of the economy, especially those which have direct social impacts are directly under government control. The need to revive an almost dormant civil service is a must for Nigeria to come out of this quagmire because the aggregate success of a country can be measured by the quality of its civil service.
• Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director of Trade and Investments, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. akinkuolie. [email protected]