Why civil servants are key in fixing Nigeria, By Garba Shehu

Following last week’s column on the harrowing exchanges between those ladies, Aruma Oteh and Ndidi Okereke-Onyuike, there were several Nigerians committed and emotionally attached to the country who called. They expressed their deep pains about how these women, along with other officials, plundered and mismanaged the Nigerian Stock Market and suggested ways forward for the troubled motherland.

This sordid state of affairs at the Nigerian Stock Market thrived under the so-called brilliant, technocratic officers who came home as did many having worked for many years in global reform institutions, mainly the Breton Woods Institutions. They came with high ideals but they sank to the level of debauchery and primitive acquisitiveness.

A country with the high and truly attainable dream of joining the top 20 economies by 20-20 is as a consequence, slipping into a coma as the country’s brilliant minds lose track, blinded by loot and greed.

One particularly deep person warned that leadership is not essentially about academic credentials but about character, values, integrity, compassion, duty, sensitivity and humility. “We have failed or lost capacity to focus on character. It is not about C.V.,” he emphasized. Nigeria’s crisis of development is therefore exacerbated by one, the fact that these well-qualified and experienced guys are cleverly manipulating and beating the system and two, in order to have the latitude to manipulate without interference, they have demonized the civil service.

Thus, a political class that has gone criminal and operates like a mafia has scared away the civil servants from their duty. Civil servants are the most scared people in Nigeria today. They are petrified. They fear their political masters who have perfected ways of beating whistle-blowers into line by denying them due promotions and punishing them with hardship posting. Our political leaders have no respect for systems, procedures and processes and this rot was exacerbated with Obasanjo as President. As a ploy to destroy the civil service, the former President appointed a construction worker to lead the reform process in the civil service. The uncouth young man went ahead to debauch the service. He cast the bureaucrats as lazy, conservative, arrogant and corrupt. This had the effect of killing the spirit of the many who were clean and hardworking. I myself have friends in the service who work for 12 hours a day 6-7 days a week. They keep salaries that are about a tenth of what the private sector would have paid them.

I am saying this because I believe that the civil service has welded this country together and ran it well in the past and they can do it all over again. If the military has failed, the civil society is not up and doing and the politicians are concerned with power, money and votes at any cost, civil servants should see the state of the nation as a wake-up call.

Our politicians have little interest in the bolts and nuts of running the country. This country went through 30 months of civil war and during that period, the civil servants ensured that the country didn’t shut down.

As it is today, there are many honest and hardworking people in the civil service. We have corrupt and dishonest politicians on the other hand who hanker for votes as a means to power, money and VIP perks without the least regard to the interest of the country. The civil servants can help Nigeria out of these doldrums. If the civil servants want, they can fix the country and rescue us from disaster because they know the system and know what is going on. In the light of this, it is immoral for them to sit down and watch the country drown in injustice, corruption and greed.

Increasingly, we are becoming a people who have lost the will to be honest. The old school says only a crack of the whip on the guilty can bring back some sanity.

A country at war with corruption grapples with accountability that has slipped into coma. Almost all the politicians including governors and ministers involved in the country’s biggest scams are out on bail. There is no clarity or certainty if or when any of them will ever be convicted. Given this situation, there are many who ask the question if Nigeria can ever be healed. Those who think well of the civil service especially considering how well they held the system together in the past consider the bureaucrats as the assets of this country.  There are many among them who are honest and hardworking but are scared by their corrupt bosses. They are silenced by fear, not the lack of knowing what to do that is right. If civil servants like it; if they work hard, they can revolutionize this country.

The thing then to do is for them to clean up their individual acts and to desist from joining the rest of the population in finger pointing. They, given their historic role in the society must take charge by first forcing the hands of the politicians. Civil servants should come out of the delusion that ministers and their collaborative permanent secretaries can run the system. The political bosses have failed as we can all see, and the civil servants should shake off their lethargy and reject their typecasting as indolent and corrupt. They should be strong enough to turn a new leaf for our nation. The time to start is now. Rome as they say was not built in a day. A mango tree is always planted by a grand pa, but the fruit is always reaped by a grandson.

Despite the clever and deliberate attempts to demonize the civil servants, there are many of them doing their jobs fearlessly and honestly. In 2002, a former Auditor General of the Federation, Mr. Vincent Azi was fired by the then Obasanjo administration for going public with his report, which exposed the profligacy of the Presidency and the National Assembly and their disregard for financial regulations.

The poor Auditor General committed no crime, except doing his job courageously and contentiously. Political bosses don’t want to be held accountable. On Monday this week, a national daily quoted the current Auditor General as saying that N24.8billion personal expenses borne by Senators and Reps were not accounted for or retired by the lawmakers. In fact, 313 Reps could not account for N20billion while 62 Senator couldn’t explain how they guzzled these public funds.

How can civil servants perform their duties without fear or favour when political bosses expect them to bend the rules or overlook them? Bringing in the so-called technocrats is intended to give the civil servants a bad name in order to hang them. These technocrats have been demystified and, therefore, the government must strengthen the hands of the civil servants to fix Nigeria.


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