Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nigerian Civil Service at 60

On April 1, 2014, the Federal Civil Service Commission rolled out the drums and celebrated with pomp the 60th anniversary of the Service.  There were a lot of speeches, backslapping and conviviality at the event. All of these are in order. However, it is also the time for introspection and retrospection; a time for stock-taking. What is the scorecard of Nigerian civil servants in the eye of the public? How efficient, effective and professional have the average civil servants been in performing their assigned duties? How significantly have Nigerian civil servants contributed to national development? These are some of the posers the management and members of staff of the Nigerian Civil Service must find answers to.
In principle, civil service is the engine room of policy as well as project formulation and implementation for any government. It forms the nucleus of government bureaucracy and ensures continuity in governance. There are administrative, executive, professional and clerical cadres in the Service. Nigerian civil servants work in various Ministries, Departments and Agencies. As there is federal civil service, there are also state and local government civil services with their respective commissions established to deal with issues of recruitment, discipline, promotion and retirement. Civil servants are broadly divided into junior and senior positions. The junior positions are Levels 01 – 06 while the senior positions start from Levels 07 – 17. Although the senior position is also sub-divided into middle level (Levels 07 – 14) and management position (Levels 15 – 17). Curiously, there is no Level 11 in the civil service as members of staff are promoted from Level 10 to Level 12, thereby skipping 11.  The civil service is a career position where appointees are expected to spend a maximum of 35 years or retire on the attainment of 60 years of age.
Ordinarily, the civil service operates under some core values such as integrity, meritocracy, discipline, professionalism, patriotism, impartiality and secrecy of government information, except where the information divulged conforms to the Freedom of Information Act. In truth, however, many of these core values are observed in the breach in spite of the existence of the General Order which sets out the rules and regulations guiding the activities of the civil servants.
The Nigerian civil service is integrity deficient. Many civil servants are not persons of honour. While they are supposed to resume work at about 7:30am and close by 4pm, many of them are habitual latecomers while some others only come to work at irregular intervals. Sometimes, once or twice a week. Some forge their service records in order to gain undue advantage or stay longer in service. Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Alhaji Bukar Goni, recently said that through the Integrated Personal Payroll Information System, his office and that of the Accountant General of the Federation were able to discover about 1,050 personnel that had tinkered with their records of service. The Delta State House of Assembly Commission last month also dismissed 26 of its staff for certificate forgery.
It is not uncommon to read of the phenomenon of “ghost workers” in the civil service while all manner of recruitment scams, fraud and sharp practices have come to be the defining factors of the Nigerian public service. One of such is the pension scam where billions of naira meant for the payment of pension of senior citizens who had retired were diverted into private pockets. Corruption has so much permeated the Nigerian civil service that most of its officers occupying sensitive positions take advantage of such offices to corruptly enrich themselves. It is an open secret that many of the civil servants live above their means despite complaints of poor remunerations. For a fact, no political office holder can successfully engage in corrupt practices without the active connivance of civil servants.
Meritocracy in the civil service has also been sacrificed at the altar of greed, cronyism, ethnicity, tribalism, federal character, quota system and religious affinity.  Appointments, capacity building and promotions are sometimes done on the basis of whom you know within the system. It is no longer news that appointments in some MDAs are for sale. Foreign and local training opportunities are sometimes extended only to those in the good books of their bosses and the lackeys who are ready to bootlick.  The same for promotion. There are allegations of cash and sex for promotion in the service just as some are reportedly promoted based on some extraneous, primordial considerations.
Can anyone be bold to say that contemporary Nigerian civil servants are apolitical? Far from it! They are no longer politically neutral. They are indeed grossly enmeshed in polittcs. Some of them are mobilised to join the campaign train of their political bosses during electioneering. This is untoward and is tantamount to abuse of state and administrative resources.
The issue of professionalism in the service is also a serious one. In the last six decades, the Federal Government has tried ceaselessly to reform the Service in order to make it more effective and efficient. Some of these reform committees include the 1959 Justice Mbanefo Commission on Public Service Salaries and Wages; Justice Morgan 1963/64 Commission; the Simeon Adebo Commission of 1971; the Jerome Udoji 1972 Commission; the 1985 Dotun Philips Reform Committee and the Steve Oronsaye Reform Committee of 2009. In spite of these reform measures and despite the establishment of the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, and the Public Service College for manpower training of Nigerian civil servants, the Service has yet to demonstrate the requisite professionalism.
The Nigerian civil service has not been able to effectively integrate Information and Communication Technology into its operations. It still operates on an analogue platform in a digital age. The use of computer, e-mail, and other ICT tools for maximum performance is still limited. Files are still being pushed from one tray to the other when such communications could have been done via e-mail. Bureaucratic bottlenecks and red-tapism associated with civil service need to be dismantled for greater service delivery.
The civil service is too important to be allowed to flounder. Concerted efforts need to be made to redeem the battered image of the civil service in Nigeria. The Nigerian Civil Service needs administrative and financial independence. To my mind, the political office holders are interfering too much in the affairs of the service and this is hampering its service delivery. A conducive work environment with good remuneration, adequate working tools and right exposure to international best practices will help to increase the performance of the Nigerian civil servants.  There is also the need to enforce discipline within the service. Primordial sentiments must be eschewed in the appointments, training, promotion and discipline of civil servants. It should be clear to these bureaucrats that they are people’s servants and not their masters and as such should do all within their power to justify their employment.