The federal public service system witnessed two important celebrations within one week in the past two weeks, namely the 2019 Civil Service Week and the Nigeria 59th Independence Day. The 2019 Civil Service Week, was a belated marking of June 23 – the United Nations Public Service Day, a global adoption through General Assembly’s resolution A/RES/57/277 of 2003 of the Africa Public Service Day, an initiative of African Ministers of Public/Civil Service taken in Tangier Morocco in 1994. The UN Public Service Day is to “celebrate the value and virtue of public service, highlight its contribution to development, recognize the work of public servants and encourage young people to pursue careers in the public sector”.
Celebrations are normally a time of pomp and cheers but these are not the best of times for federal civil service. The civil service week celebration came barely seven days after the appointment of Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan as acting Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF). Reports say that the substantive holder of the position, Mrs. Winifred E. Oyo-Ita, was asked to step aside because of allegations of corruption for which she is being investigated. The corruption perception index of the public service appears to have reached an all-time high, going by the media reports of the number of cases being investigated by the EFCC and ICPC. As if to rub salt on the festering wound of a civil service reeling under this poor public perception on corruption, the reportage of the presentation of the Civil Service Week Guest Speaker, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, speaking on the assigned Lecture topic: Youth Empowerment and Migration: The Imperative of Good Governance, Innovation and Effective Poverty Reduction Strategy was that “poor leadership and corruption are the major cause of Nigeria’s underdevelopment.” That must have been an uncomfortable welcome for the acting HCSF, considering that this was her maiden outing. But who is to blame since that is the blunt truth as newspaper headlines in the next few days would confirm, with the arrest of Abdulrasheed Maina the erstwhile Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) and the conviction of former Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Clement Illoh, who had in January this year been made to forfeit N664m and $137,680 and was now sentenced to 5 years for misappropriating N14.1 m SURE-P funds. While the corruption cases of top public servants are making headlines in national dailies, within the service itself the general concern is on the attitude and quality of officers across all grade levels, including the permanent secretaries and chief executive officers of parastatals and agencies.
It would be recalled that the appointment of Mrs. Oyo-Ita in 2015 followed the removal, in one fell swoop, of 15 of her permanent secretary colleagues who were not due for retirement, ostensibly on various allegations of impropriety. Emerging from such a service-wide screening of permanent secretaries that had removed as many as 15 of her colleagues connotes that due diligence on incorruptibility was carried out on her before she was appointed into that exalted position. Accordingly, my only personal concern then was on appointing a career accountant with no record of outstanding human resources management (HRM) cognate experience as the “chief human resources manager” of the Federation. However, that concern was one that I believed she would overcome given the collegiate system operated by successive appointees into the position and, especially, if she supported herself with sound officers from the administrative cadre.
Mrs. Oyo-Ita spent 3 years 10 months on the post, which makes her by far the longest serving HCSF among the eight officers that have occupied that office from 2007 to date. No doubt, she put in her best. Indeed, in terms of reforms, she oversaw after service-wide stakeholders’ consultations the emplacement of the 2017-2020 Federal Civil Service Strategy and Implementation Plan. Unfortunately, the strategy is not yielding any measurable improvement in the attitude of civil servants to their work and, consequently, the effectiveness and efficiency of the service. Writing to me recently, a serving Director – undoubtedly one of the most hard-working and committed officers in the system, stated as follows: “The Service is in a very sorry state. What you wrote about the state of the service in your books in 2015 is a child’s play; now it is impunity, nepotism, lackadaisical attitude, corruption, ineptitude, apathy, name it. Civil servants are stealing like mad. I am so ashamed that I don’t want to introduce myself at any public function as a Civil Servant. No official says what he/she means, neither do they mean what they say. There is a pervading atmosphere of hatred among civil servants, which is not helping matters. Unfortunately, I am spent and can’t fit anywhere else”.
The statement above underscores the need to look below the surface to unravel what may be aggravating the situation. A large percentage of the quality challenge of the civil service at its top level today stems from the bastardization of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) guidelines, delegated to MDAs between 1993 and 2002, which resulted in:
Overloading of the civil service at higher grade levels through transfers and absorption and regularization of officers from States’ civil services and defunct federal agencies;
Patronage-induced advantaged placement of transferred/regularized officers due to lack of adherence to guidelines by the FCSC; and
Absorption of less qualified aides of political office holders and, in certain instances, the political office holders themselves after their tenure into directorate level vacancies that would normally have been available for the more experienced serving officers;
Contending with these challenges has now been compounded by a series of politically motivated intrusions into extant policies of the civil service that the system has been made to witness in the course of the tenure of this administration. Top among these are:
– Appointment of non-civil servants into permanent secretary positions;
– Suspension of the tenure policy;
– The bungled handling of purported reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina; and recently
– The extension of service of officers due for retirement.
Goke Adegoroye, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and pioneer Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR).