As the commissioner representing Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi States in the Federal Civil Service Commission, Garba Buwai doesn’t appear any different from other senior officials of a public service reputed as corrupt and unproductive.
But a message he dispatched to the new Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Danladi Kifasi, shortly after Mr. Kifasi was sworn in to office last August, stood him out.
“If you are still looking for the ideal place to launch a radical reform of the civil service as you assume office, don’t look too far,” Mr. Buwai counselled. “Beam your searchlight on the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC).”
The memo detailed extensive violations of public service rules, nepotism and other excesses in the commission he currently serves, and urged the new head of the civil service to act swiftly or risk being reported to President Goodluck Jonathan.
How much response that will yield is unclear yet as Mr. Kifasi is barely a month on the job.
But Mr. Buwai’s warning, part of his 15-month-old campaign for reforms of the civil service, showcased a rare forthrightness lacking in a civil service ranked the fourth most corrupt institution in Nigeria by Transparency International.
The 2013 indexing by the global corruption watchdog ranked only political parties, police, and the National Assembly higher.
Amongst Mr. Buwai’s battles was the appointment of new directors in 2013 for the civil service, a process dented by multiple violations as earlier reported by PREMIUM TIMES.
A memo by the immediate past Head of Service, Bukar Aji, to President Jonathan had identified Bayelsa and Ebonyi, along with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as the three disadvantaged states with no director in the Federal Civil Service.
In his response March 28, 2013, Mr. Jonathan authorized the federal civil service commission to appoint five directors each for Bayelsa and Ebonyi States, and two for the FCT.
But in implementing the directive, the commission unilaterally included a candidate apiece from Ondo, Ekiti and Oyo States not covered by the waiver, raising the total of new directors to 15.
At the time of the presidential waiver, Ondo had 14 directors, while Oyo and Ekiti had 10 each, compared to states like Plateau and Nasarawa with nine each; Kebbi and Bauchi with 8, Akwa Ibom (7), Zamfara and Rivers (6) each, Sokoto (4) and Jigawa (2).
While the report of the sub-committee that conducted the recruitment was yet to be submitted for deliberation by members, appointment letters were issued to the new directors in violation of Part II, Section 6 of the FCSC guidelines on appointments.
Even so, there was a more serious flaw in the process. A review of the new directors’ qualifications showed that at least eight of them did not meet the requirements stipulated in the Scheme of Service; FCSC Guidelines on Appointment, Promotion and Discipline; the Public Service Rule (PSR) and existing establishment circulars.
The Scheme of Service emphasizes career progression in service and cognate experience on the cadre, while FCSC Guidelines Parts II and III; PSR 020506 Section 1-6 as well as Establishment circular B53304/1 of March 19, 1997 give specific rules on appointments.
For transfer into the Federal service, the guideline says: “Serving officers to be accepted on transfer into the Federal Service from the state government and other scheduled government agencies should be placed on the post they would have attained by normal promotion as provided in the Scheme of Service of their cadre, if they had joined the Federal Civil Service in the first instance.”
The appointments also included 11 others on transfer of service from the states, contrary to official circular by FCSC Chairman suspending such exercise into the Federal Service to allow deserving officers enjoy career progression and avoid stagnation in service.
The eight new directors hired in breach of laiid down rules include Musa Talie, Chukwu Dennis, Omogo Bernard, Aduda Gabriel, Afe Idowu, Alo Williams, Fashedemi Peter and Famous Eseduwo.
Mr. Eseduwo, who received a post-Graduate Diploma in Public Administration& Local Government Studies from University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2002, the same year, rose to the rank of Assistant Chief Administrative Officer (GL.13) in Bayelsa State Local Government Service.
He was in that position till May 2013 when he was appointed Director (Administration) in the FCSC.
If Mr. Eseduwo were to follow the normal career progression, the earliest he would have achieved that cadre would be 2028.
Also, Mr. Aduda, a 1994 graduate of Urban and Regional Planning and holder of a Masters degree in 1998, whom by the Scheme of Service should be in the Town Planning Officer cadre was appointed Director in charge of Economic Research & Policy Management Department, Federal Ministry of Finance.
Until his appointment in 2013, Mr. Aduda, a relative of Phillip Aduda, a serving Senator, was Head, Strategy and Reorientation Unit, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Grade Level 15.
If he were to follow normal career progression, Mr. Aduda would not have risen to become a substantive Director earlier than 2022.
For Mr. Idowu, a 1994 graduate of Mathematics & Statistics, who was appointed Director, ICT, FCSC, if he followed normal career progression, he would not become a substantive Director earlier than 2023.
A lone voice
When words filtered out about the irregularities in the appointments, Mr. Buwai, himself a former permanent secretary, was the first to raise objection. He called for a reversal.
When no response came nearly 10 months after, on February 3, 2014, he documented his grievances in a formal memo to the Chairman of the commission, Joan Ayo, all the 14 other Commissioners and the acting Permanent Secretary.
In the memo, Mr. Buwai drew attention to the violations, and argued that appointing junior officers above their seniors was not only a grave injustice, but a dangerous precedent at variance with the government’s hyped reforms in the Public Service and the transformation agenda of the Federal Government.
He called for a review of the appointments to comply with the relevant rules and regulations in the interest of fairness, equity and justice.
He specifically proposed that the appointment of the eight officers be reviewed to ensure their proper placement on positions/ranks commensurate wiith their qualifications, cognate experience and service records.
Those transferring from the states found to have been placed above their seniors should be made to revert to the position/rank they would have attained by normal promotion as provided in the Scheme of Service.
“As someone who rose through the ranks in Nigerian Civil Service, both at State and Federal levels, to the positions of Director and Permanent Secretary at the Federal level, I feel the pains, because the position of the serving officers are jeopardized and has collateral damaging effect on the service,” Mr. Buwai said.
“I also feel the pains even more when clear extant rules and regulations (Public Service Rule), approved Establishment Circulars, Scheme of Service, and Appointment Guidelines of the Commission are explicitly violated. I feel the pains much more when I recall that each one of us (15 Commissioners and Chairman of FCSC) stood before Mr. President, holding the Qur’an or the Bible, took the Oath of Allegiance, and pledged to discharge our duties with fear of God, justice and fairness to all,” he said.
A month after, when he still did not receive a response, Mr. Buwai wrote a reminder on March 4, 2014.
A defiant Commission
Mr. Buwai’s petitions, and those by aggrieved deputy directors, who have remained for years without promotion, only succeeded in compelling FCSC Chairperson, Mrs. Ayo, to constitute a four-member committee on April 10, 2014, to review the case and submit a report within one week.
More than five months since the panel submitted its report, FCSC Chairman, Mrs. Ayo, herself from Oyo State, has defied calls to table the document before a meeting of all Commissioners for consideration.
Enquiries by PREMIUM TIMES on the issue in March 2014 was rebuffed for several weeks.
When the commission eventually responded to this newspaper’s Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the Head Press & Public Relations, Joel Oruche, claimed the commission was committed to “strict adherence to rules and regulations” and would address all anomalies and compliant issues within the regularization or confirmation period.
Mr. Oruche avoided most of the questions raised in the request, including how candidates from Ondo, Ekiti and Oyo States, which were not among the disadvantaged states granted presidential waiver, ended up benefiting from Mr. Jonathan’s directive.
Undeterred, Mr. Buwai in another memo to the Chairman and the Commissioners, in July 2014, pointed out that the continued refusal to address the issues raised in his petition was a clear violation of the public service rule, and federal laws.
“It is a clear injustice against serving civil servants to appoint junior officers over and above their seniors, while the error genuinely observed for correction in line with existing regulations is being frustrated by the Commission to which I was appointed to serve,” he noted.
“As a core civil servant, who rose through the ranks and retired as Federal Permanent Secretary, it is only obvious that I feel the pain and frustration meted at me and civil servants by the Commission. Mr. President appointed us to serve and constitutionally we are empowered to handle the mandate of the FCSC, as provided in the 1999 Constitution, Sections 153, 161b,c,d; 170, Third Schedule D, Section 10,” he said.
Urging the Commission Chairman and the new HOCSF to take the matter before the next statutory Commissioners committee, he said the long delay and inaction did not augur well for the leadership of the commission.
“Indeed, the commission, which is the last hope of the civil servant, is frustrating genuine efforts to ensure that justice and fairness, which are the core values it consistently preached, were made sacrosanct,” he said.
If his grievances are not addressed and the appointments reversed, he said he intends to petition the president for his intervention by constituting an administrative panel of retired civil servants to look into the issue as the FCSC and HOCSF cannot be judges over their case.
The Executive Director, African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, David Ugolor, said the refusal of the Commission to address the issue was a reflection of the level of corruption and impunity in the civil service.
“The Presidency must intervene decisively in this matter and order the immediate review of the appointments. If this is allowed to stay, it will only confirm that the present administration is not interested in tackling the monumental corruption and impunity in the country,” Mr. Ugolor said.
Executive Directive, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said the new HOCSF has the responsibility to urgently intervene in the matter by ordering the immediate reversal of the appointments to restore confidence in civil service.