By 2010, Nigeria shall hit the golden age of 50; however it is doubtful if she would have resolved her challenge of nationhood by then. Forty-nine years after Independence, government policies are still being viewed with ethnic lens. If there is a section of the 1999 Constitution the Nigerian elite do not joke with, it is section 14 (3), which makes application of federal character in the composition of government and its agencies mandatory. Every appointment the President makes is subjected to clinical scrutiny of ethnic balancing: from the appointment of cabinet ministers, armed forces service chiefs to board appointments, etc.
Until President Umaru Yar'Adua appointed Ogbonna Onovo as the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Igbo had been lamenting that it was only Ndigbo that had not produced IGP for Nigeria. When the incumbent Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was appointed, some people accused the President of appointing his economic team from the North and indeed Kano State, since the current Minister of Finance is also a Kano indigene.
Some analysts have attributed the on-going banking reform as a Northern agenda aimed at undermining the domineering Southern interest in the banking industry. The Southern elite have also accused the incumbent Group Managing Director (GMD) of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Sanusi Muhammed Barkindo, of ethnic cleansing in Corporation where they claimed many top southern staff have become casualty of the on-going reorganisation, to pave way for Northern dominance. Interestingly, some Northern elite have also openly condemned the new Civil Service reform setting tenure for the Permanent Secretaries and Directors in federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
One of the few things for which Yar'Adua must be commended is the introduction of tenured appointment for the Permanent Secretaries and Directors. According to the circular which was said to have been issued by the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation on August 26, 2009,
Permanent Secretaries shall henceforth hold office for a term of four years, renewable for a further term of four years, subject to satisfactory performance, and no more; while directors shall compulsorily retire upon serving eight years on the post. The approval is said to be without prejudice to the relevant provisions of the public service rules which prescribes 60 years of age and/or 35 years of service for mandatory retirement.
Reports say there are 42 federal permanent secretaries out of which six retired after reaching the mandatory age. Nine of the remaining 36 who are said to be mainly from the Northern region are, by the new rule, to retire as from January 1, next year. Concerning the directors, the nation is said to have over 140 in 28 federal MDAs while parastatals have between 83 and 100. However, those who may be affected by the new circular will be about 60 directors. This is what some Northern elite said will effectively drag their region back by 25 years in the service and have condemned as "a cruel and illegal way of removing the top civil service and an attempt to decimate the highest level of Northerners in the civil service".
The mischief that this new reform is supposed to cure, according to the Presidency, is the fact that there is a chronic lack of vacancies at the top directorate level of the service and that subordinate officers are retiring ahead of their superior officers, creating a grave succession crisis in the service.
According to the President's spokesperson, Olusegun Adeniyi, "Ordinarily, the Public Service Rule prescribes three years as the maturity period for officers to earn their promotion to the next Grade Level, between GL.08 and GL.14, while the maturity period to move between GL.14 and GL.17 is four years. It follows simple logic, therefore, that an officer entering the civil service with a first degree would require a minimum of 27 years to attain the post of director (GL.17), leaving only eight years as maximum number of years that an officer could possibly spend on the two grades of director and permanent secretary.
"Unfortunately, available facts reveal that the records of some officers are not in sync with this model; and the real situation is that there are directors who have spent 10 to 12 years on post and still have more than five years to retirement; there are permanent secretaries who have been on the post for more than eight years and still have several years to retire, meaning a large number of hard-working and effective officers who could not be promoted due to lack of vacancies."
Is this the situation the antagonists of this reform want to sustain?
The tenure system, according to the Presidency, is primarily meant "to institute due process in the appointment of directors and permanent secretaries, arrest the succession crisis in the service, create vacancies, reinvigorate the system and boost the morale of qualified and deserving officers". This reform, if followed to the letter, will render useless the notorious practice of falsification of age and records of service by some of the civil servants. Good enough that the retiring permanent secretaries will be replaced by equally qualified officers from their states of origin. I enjoin Yar'Adua to stand by this noble decision; in fact, governors should introduce similar measures in their respective states to boost the morale of their bureaucracy.
This reform is long over-due and should be faithfully and dispassionately implemented.