The Nigerian public service is irretrievably dysfunctional with the cardinal characteristic as a silo of corruption. The civil servants and the amoral middle class are the foremost destroyers of Nigeria. During the military era, everyone puts the blame of Nigeria’s dysfunction on the military. Under various democratic regimes, we blame the politicians for all ills but there is a constant enabling entity common under the various systems of government we have experimented with – the civil service.
The civil service is a problem of major league proportions. We cannot achieve meaningful and sustainable development if those entrusted with public office routinely sow the seeds of corruption and partake in its proceeds. Have you asked who drafts the memos for politicians? Who are those making the submissions for appropriation of funds? Who disburses the funds? It would be near impossible for politicians to engage in corruption if public servants refuse to be used as means to corrupt ends or if they decline to be willing accomplices in corrupt schemes. Politicians cannot and do not act alone. They act in concert with civil servants.
Procedurally, politicians cannot initiate transactions on behalf of government and complete them without public servants. The officers in charge of public till are not politicians but civil servants, no stealing or conversion can take place without their active connivance. The golden age of selfless public servants is long gone, the civil servants we have today are not different from the politicians they serve; they are undercover politicians. Add to that are instances where partisan demagogues are appointed as permanent secretaries, commissioners or ministers in place of seasoned technocrats. If we want a clean government, the startup point must be the civil service. A clean and reformed civil service will make it very difficult for any politician to steal public funds or convert our joint patrimony for private use.
In our public service, certain species of corruption have gone mainstream and have become normalized, no where is the evolution of smaller evils into bigger evils more evident than in Nigeria. Examples are civil servants who do very little to earn the salaries they are being paid. One is routinely confronted with the famous “Oga is not on seat” miasma of despair when you need urgent service. They are either sitting at home or conducting other business while statutory obligations for which they are paid languish. If receiving money you have not worked for is corruption, “Estacode” loving public servants who collects of all kind of sitting and travel allowances and per Diem for nothing are corrupt. Same for civil servants who cheat on expense reports and present fake receipts for room and board and even fueling costs when on official trips. Even though these sharp practices have been normalized “as long as you retire the imprest or bring receipts it’s ok.”, it is wrong. It is corruption when cleaners steal, take home or sell tissue paper and detergents even if very few see it as corruption.
Bad things tend to feed itself. If one engages any one of these forms of corruption, they will tolerate and possibly promote grand corruption and seek ways to profit from it. For Nigeria to succeed, no level of corruption should be normalized or accepted as tolerable. We must denounce and oppose all manners of corruption and cleanse our country of this vice. At all levels, we need to strengthen people’s faith in the institutions of the state and in the political leadership of this country. Mediocrity, impunity and corruption are our biggest impediment to good governance. There can be no good governance in a country where corruption is currency. Good governance requires honesty in the discharge of public duties and corrupt elements cannot be expected to be honest in their discharge of public functions.
Did anyone notice the obsequious Captain Fola Akinkuotu of the NCAA attempt at explaining away the oily BMW purchases by his minister, Stella Oduah? The fruits of most civil service crimes are not difficult to see. Akinkuotu is no different from any one of the thousands of paper shuffling public service mandarins who populate the middle to senior reaches of the state and federal service. The civil service mandarins are brewed in the same pot, they are almost always complicit in white-collar crimes. They believe their deliberate subterfuge and economic sabotage hurts no one. When they take backhanders from contractors in return for dishing out tens of millions of Naira in orders; it is fair game. Unfortunately, white collar crimes like the attempted cover-up in aviation is not victimless. Because of conversion, embezzlement and graft, our international airports cannot not qualify as airstrips in civilized climes. Our crash prone, cattle meadow airports still rely on manual controls while funds meant for airport maintenance and development are diverted for ego trips, private pockets or laundered to fund political machines.
The public service in Nigeria is a conglomerate of gifted mediocrity and sloth. It is very risk averse and insufficiently innovative at a time when the world is moving rather fast with changes requiring creative minds and creative solutions. The service is rigged with rudimentary skills in technology, procurement, service design and delivery. They routinely fail to reduce demand and cost because they are more focused on response instead of prevention. Nigeria has a long history of civil service reforms. Despite reforms, the service is a hopeless bureaucracy unfit for good purpose. An unwillingness to challenge bad performance is its underpinning and it is undermining its efficiency and image.
The service promotes an inbred culture of protection against inadequacy within its rank and that is very antithetical to what the government needs and what we deserve. To be fair and balanced, civil servants are denigrated because civil service is considered the grand choice of incompetents. Their pay is completely out of sync with what is on offer in the private sector. Everywhere you turn in the state or federal civil service, morale is under pressure and the civil service’s assumed neutrality is threatened.
The time has come to look again at our system of administration and consider the case for more radical reforms. The civil service as it stands is bloated, corrupt and unfit. A wider debate is needed about how to shield the service from political interference and ensure that the brightest and best are drawn into public service. Enmeshed in our public service inefficiency is Nigeria’s cantankerous disdain for long term planning and coherent policy. That must change. We need a more open system, one in which talented individuals could consider a career in. For now, the civil service is too centralised, hierarchical and status obsessed with major preoccupation with process to the neglect of outcomes. These issues along with the independence and neutrality of the civil service; the role of political appointees and public accountability must be confronted for us to develop.
Join Nigeria’s Soul Index on Facebook and invite your friends. Our group is non-violent and nonpartisan. The group is open to Nigerians home an abroad without bias to gender, ethnicity, religion or any of those things that seeks to divide us. Remember, – “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” Let us take Nigeria back an inch at a time. Change!
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