The Dilemma of Public Service in Nigeria: An Account of a Fast Decaying System By Mohammed Umar Saad
“…..because of jaundiced reform policy in this sphere (public service) many public enterprises have either collapsed, closed down or been sold to foreigners, while the public service which was once vibrant, productive and incorruptible has become a haven of corruption, inefficiency and stupor”
Professor Sam Aluko, FG Reforms Agenda and the Nigerian Economy 1999 – 2007: A Critical Assessment
“The greatest sufferer is the nation itself which has to contain the legitimate grievance of a wronged citizen; accommodate the incompetence of a favoured citizen and, more important and of greater scope, endure a general decline of morale & subversion of efficiency caused by an erratic system of performance & reward” Achebe, Chinua. The Troubles with Nigeria!
“All the nation’s checks & balances have been turned into cheques & bank balances and separation & division of powers have become a separation & division of the spoils of office-its leaders thieves, its officers keepers of stolen good & the people mere spectators” Adamu Adamu, Mathematicians of Mortality, Friday Column, Daily Trust 4th December, 2009
“The public service has been short-term in its vision, self-centred in policy formulation & corrupt in program implementation” Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, The Accidental Public Servant, Pp 323
Nigeria as a country situated south of the Sahara, North of Limpopo has, unarguably, been a nation blessed with both human & material resources within its borders. Being strategically positioned as an arbiter, negotiator, peace keeper and peace maker due to military might, economic buoyancy and petro-dollar socio-economic set-up, etc. has succeeded in establishing for itself, a name & is gearing all the necessary effort to sustain that name, at least externally; while to utter the fact that its public service system, purposeful leadership imperatives, good governance strategies, social justice collectivities & all other necessary rudiments and their respective requirements for national coherence, infrastructural development, efficient public service, human capital development, youth and women empowerment and so forth have been relegated to the background, at least internally.
However, with a fast growing population of especially the most active and economically productive segment of the population, that is the youth, coupled with religious and cultural ethos contributing to a rising profile of high dependency ratio, Nigeria is doing very little to accommodate the problems posed by such population index in terms of job creation, youth and women empowerment, private sector development and participation, etc. It is an indisputable fact that most, if not all of Nigerian youth of nowadays only put efforts to study at different institutions of learning for them to be engaged by the government and be absorbed into its public service (civil service) succumbing to the so much importance the government attached to paper qualification, a rather lamentable situation leading to a regrettable degree of idleness and labour market (job-in-waiting) syndrome; a public service that, despite several commissions, panels, committees, teams, commissions, etc. instituted by different government, regime, tenure, at different point in time in an attempt at revamping the once prosperous cadre is yet to be reformed to perform its functions and deliver services effectively. As it is known and regarded as such, the Civil Service is the administrative bureaucracy which occupies an essential position in the political system of nations. The new Encyclopedia Britainnica (2004) defines Civil Service as the body of government officials who are employed in civil occupations that are neither political nor judicial. Bezzina (1994) opined that Civil Service refers to employees selected and promoted on the basis of a merit and seniority system, which may include examination. The World Book Encyclopedia (2004), noted that the Civil Service consists of people employed by the state to run the public service of a country.
The Nigerian Civil service is a body of government employees entrusted with the administration of the country, and mandated to carry out the policies of the government of the day. In other words, it is the body of civilian employees of any level of government, not subject to political appointment and removal, normally hired and promoted largely on the basis of competitive examination. It is modelled after the British colonial public service administrative structure; in terms of ethics, values, culture and tradition, training, procedures and espirit de corps.
The civil service plays a vital role in the formulation, implementation, evaluation and renew of government policies and programmes to an extent that, its reform provides an enabling environment for civil servants to perform their duties in an unfettered manner, fair treatment of personnel, and establishment of a demographically representative apparatus
Adebayo (2000) described the present Nigerian civil service as being long outmoded and grossly inadequate to perform the functions of managing an economy aspiring towards modernization
Moreover, the Nigerian public service that is responsible for providing job opportunities for the teeming population is replete with old, tired & doubly-functioning men and women that tends to perform poorly in terms of efficiency in service delivery despite, at their disposal, the enabling environment, if at all there’s & the necessary government apparatuses and impetuses. Any newcomer to Nigeria & even those that are just returning to the country from the diaspora would come to terms with inefficiency, nepotism, favouritism, bloated bureaucracy, bureaucratic bottlenecks, pen robbery, promotion delays, and inappropriate job transfer from one place to another, etc. etc. as synonymous with public service in Nigeria. The civil service is still considered stagnant and inefficient, and the attempts made in the past by panels have had little effect on the promotion of sustainable human development in Nigeria. Strong human resource management, man power planning and utilization, effective organizational performance, efficient employee-employer relations in a given establishment and high level bureaucratic stability have eluded the post-colonial Nigerian Civil Service, a concomitant damaging effect on the promotion of sustainable human development. Poor African Countries perform badly, considering the varying degrees they suffer from a number of pathologies like inefficiency, centralization, fragmentation, and poor leadership, lack of capacity, patrimonialism, corruption, poor accountability and legitimacy. According to Ayoade (1988), the need to improve efficiency and accountability in Nigerian Civil Service is therefore obvious. Nigeria should stop copying verbatim foreign models of Civil Service but develop her own model that will enable her achieve her developmental needs. She has to do this by emulating those countries that had suffered the same fate but have now adopted their Civil Service to their socio-cultural values and have achieved results.
Besides, the public service has been wholly weakened and rendered irrelevant by politicians who entrenched the culture of bribery and corruption, a rather pathetic situation whereby a given public servant awaits some rewards or goodies from someone he has helped retrieved a file, minute on a file, prepared and processed payment voucher or whatever he has perpetrated that has, initially, been part of his duty and that’s just one of many jobs he has been employed and is been paid to undertake. At the grass root level, officials and administrators ask for gifts of “Dash” or “Bread” for conducting even the most basic paperwork. In essence, the public servants have been ‘baptized’ politicians in the sense that the operate, act, do & behave like any given typical politician in Nigeria, a politician who is known for and proud to be dishonest, deceitful, liar, etc. the school of thought for such politicians that aimed at & succeeded, with little or no exertion whatsoever, in assaulting the integrity of the Nigerian fast decaying public service system. Compared with the 1960s and 1970s, the civil service by 1990 had changed dramatically. It had been politicized to the extent that most top officials openly supported the government of the day. The introduction of the quota system of recruitment and promotion, adherence to the federal-character principle, and the constant interference of the government in the day-to-day operation of the civil service especially through frequent changes in top officials and massive purges–meant that political factors rather than merit alone played major roles in the civil service. The civil service in 1990 consisted of the federal civil service, the twenty-one autonomous state civil services, the unified local government service, and several federal and state government agencies, including parastatals and corporations. The federal and state civil services were organized around government departments, or ministries, and extra ministerial departments headed by ministers (federal) and commissioners (state), who were appointed by the president and governors, respectively. These political heads were responsible for policy matters.
More so, it is an proven fact that Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) was established with the sole aim of ensuring that contracts follow ‘due process’ and are worthy of their quoted costs. Against that background, the usual ‘Nigerian factor’ come to play whereby contract costs are paddled to satisfy the sleazy cravings of corrupt & parasitic government officials and their lackeys. Historically, it is in the award of contracts by various governments in Nigeria that the poor transparency image of the country is mostly manifested. The life span of construction project in Nigeria is unpredictable. There are many abandon projects all over due to improper planning. Construction project suffer from capital flight, capital stagnation and capital sink.
Capital flight occurs due to imported materials and imported technical inputs into capital projects. Capital sink occurs due to bad planning, wrong location of project and over design in construction. Inflated contracts sums and abandoned projects due to bad cash-flow are all parts of capital sink. Capital stagnation occurs where a project has a time over-flow more than necessary. There is also no succession plan in Nigeria leading to a lot of completed projects not utilized. The process of award and the cost of contracts represented a major governance challenge inherited, notably, by the Obasanjo administration. Considering these malaise that have characterized the public service as well as the need to reposition it by making it people-oriented and compatible with the realities of global standard, President Olusegun Obasanjo approved the establishment of Bureau for Public Service Reforms (BPSR). The bureau was mandated to streamline and standardize the public service at the federal level, including setting minimum standards to be met by each ministry or agency. The task was ‘to build a civil service that is performance and result oriented, professional and technologically sensitive, and committed to a continuous improvement in the conduct of government business and the enhancement of national productivity’ (Ajayi 2006). The core thrust of the Federal Government position, Ajayi explains further, was to ‘reposition and re-professionalize the public service for greater efficiency, effectiveness in service delivery, accountability, transparency, and overall national productivity’.
According to Nnebe (2006), inflated contract costs and processes were at best closed, discretionary and well-designed conduits for abuse of public power. Government, he continues, therefore set up the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (BMPIU) that commenced a process of contract award review, oversight and certification, now commonly referred to as the ‘Due Process’. It is a simple mechanism that certifies for public funding only those projects that have passed the test of proper project implementation packaging. Through the instrument of certification, value for money is once again returning as the fundamental premise for public expenditure. This new operation was designed to institutionalize transparency in tendering, contract award and payments.
I would, however, be dumbfounded that an average Nigerian doesn’t know, is unaware and never heard of contract ‘kick-backs’ notably known as ten percent (10%). This situation that calls for sober reflection has been aggravated by the unambitious and brazenly corrupt leaders in the country, whose rise to power has been paved by corrupt politicians who are always ready and do bankrolled the candidates campaign and, as god-fathers, decide the stooges actions or inactions & dictates to him policies that are meant to favour them. Such stooges become helpless while in power as they can’t act independently because they succumbed, and have no options than to do just that, to the whims & caprices of their political warlords. Such puppets lack any substance of coherent ideologies, grand ambitions and crackpot ideas to lead a once prosperous country called Nigeria. As the poor man whose mandate, if at all he has any, has been insulted or to an extent even denied, continue to wallow in hunger and penury, his leaders are enjoying the money tucked in foreign bank accounts in a far way Dubai, New York, Paris, UK, Mexico, etc.
However, the most recent assault on the integrity of the Nigerian fast decaying public service system that has obviously exposed the rot within is the Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment scam involving the Honourable Minister of Interior who anchored the whole recruitment process in which desperate youth were caught in the web and exploited, a process that generates huge amount of money worth 6bn NGN from the proceeds of sales of forms through to the interview. It was later established and made known to the general public by the Immigration Boss-oh sorry, Comptroller that such vacancies so advertised for which several applicants sought after do not actually exist, huh! Due to the massive turn out of the various desperate youth applicants, virtually all the designated venues were overcrowded, a disorderly, poorly organized situation that led to the death of many and several casualties sustaining different degrees of injury. This is one of the many public service recruitment process in Nigeria. In essence, the self-discipline, transparency, accountability, honesty, commitment to duties, selflessness, dedication, etc. associated with public service has been eroded as a result of rapid decline in the quality of public service, as the public service has since been turned into a personal service with each public servant highly engaged and fully engrossed in a game of surviving at all costs-even to the inconveniencies of those he has been employed to serve, indulging in such acts as over-invoicing, non-retirement of cash advances, lack of audit inspection, payment for jobs not done, double-debiting, contract inflation, lack of receipts, back up purchases made, brazen violation of financial regulations, release of money without the approving authorities involvement etc.. Despite the increasing reported cases of corruption in the Civil Service, sanctions are not effectively implemented. As a result, Civil Servants often are not punished for offenses such as misappropriation or mis-use of public funds. …the failing and defects of Nigerian Civil Service can be summarised as follows: over-cautiousness in its approached to problem solving, lack of creativity, skepticism towards new ideas, insularity and lack of sensitivity towards the public and the issue of the day. To these we must add failure arising out of a narrow and restricted conception of management an ‘impoverished concept of management’ too narrow to cope with the full range of problem with which managers of the public sector must deal. It fails to take account as well as questions of organizational design and the use of resources (Adebayo,
From the foregoing therefore, it can be reasoned that the Nigerian Civil Service is being faced with the challenge of: Continuous corruption and embezzlement of public fund.
Unprogressive mindedness and resistance to reforms, Arbitrarily large to the extent of having placement for political touts, Excessive political intrusion, and Lack of accountability among the civil servants which has led to non-implementation of huge budgetary allocations in Nigeria.
Hence, it is futile to keep talking about progress and development in all the sectors of the economy while dishonest, ‘eye service’ and little or no effort is been surmounted to, against all odds, resuscitate the public service that has since long been in peril & restore its qualities & characteristics that were once part and parcel of it and were synonymous with efficiency, purposeful leadership, and service delivery. Fifty years of Nigeria’s existence is not only characterized by the under development of the bureaucratic setting, but has also generated orchestrated economic crunch, political instability, social disorder and manpower decay. The Nigerian Civil Service for the past fifty years, has suffered a tremendous set back from the hands of various military and civilian governments that have ruled this country. Simply put, promotion of sustainable human development, which, under ideal situation, should have been the major preoccupation of post-independent governmental machinery, is addressed with profound ignominy, complacency, lethargy and absolute indifference. To this point, civil servants suffer administrative stagnancy, obsolescence, and other forms of clecheic practices generated by pronounced unwillingness of government machinery to re-position the nation’s civil service in real truth and in spirit. However, the quest for the involvement of workers union in the transformation of the Nigerian Civil Service begins from the belief that there cannot be any meaningful public programmes implementation without progressive-minded civil servants and the reform of the lethargic Civil service, the reforms much needed encompass enhancement of professionalism, decentralization and delegation of functions; institution of checks and balances; promotion of general modernization; enhancing the combination of responsibility with authority; aligning the civil service with spirit of Executive Presidentialism, and enhancement of efficiency, effectiveness and speed of operations. “In recent times, the most castigating institution in government has been the civil service. Hardly a day passes that one does not read articles on comments in the press attributing all the ills of the nation to the civil service… Faults are laid at the doors of the civil service. Whether the accusations are true or not, the mere fact that the public regard the civil service as an institution capable by itself of causing the failure of successive governments and regarding the social and economic progress of the nation is enough justification to take a hard look at the civil service as we embark on the threshold of another milieu (and national transformation)” (Adebayo 2000)
In a nutshell, it is no longer news that absenteeism, away without leave (AWOL), redundancy, inefficiency, wastefulness and corruption, ‘coffeism’, laziness, underperformance, etc. are now part and parcel of our public service, a practice that has become a culture and sadly accepted. The usual term of ‘ghost-workers’ is associated with the dying public service culture, a situation whereby certain highly-placed public servants and ‘untouchables’ manipulate, manouvre and mastermind the recruitment & selection process by concocting, recording & listing of ‘unknown’ and unrecognized names of persons as filling a vacant position (s) in a given Ministry, Department and Agency (MDA) & such fictitious names are counted as staff with all the necessary particulars, salary, grade level, step, etc. & entitled to all the allowances allocated for such a post whereas in actual sense, such persons only exists in the papers for the records. The benefits accrued therefrom belong to the accomplices who pooled together to create the ‘ghost-worker’ myth.in the same vein, the teeming graduates, even if half-baked, are roaming the streets of, especially, major cities or capitals in a hurry-scurry manner to submit job applications, curriculum vitae (CV), and running helter-skelter to locate venues where aptitude tests and job interviews are slated. In the process, many lucky or unlucky, as you may like to call it, candidates are being extorted to pay certain amount of money in the name of ‘processing’ as for both males and females, whereas in extreme cases, the females bait is the sex advances. It is disgusting is to say the least, that some desperate ladies whom I personally termed as ‘women of easy virtues’ willingly surrender themselves to such unscrupulous men-the very undesirable elements in the society-men whose desire every woman could whet. This case applies to all the three (3) tiers of government from federal to state down to local government, the last been adjudged as the most corrupt tier of government. Accordingly, the problem of Nigerian Civil Service is not necessarily administrative reforms and their implementations, but how to assimilate the able-bodied manpower, who are graduates roaming the streets of the country searching for gainful employment on daily basis. The government should do something about this, otherwise, Nigerian bureaucratic system may end up producing what we do not consume and consuming what we do not produce. Hence, this is a serious challenge to public administration in the twenty-first century Nigerian Civil Service.
However, it is only in Nigeria that certain actions, duties & activities are doubly performed or carried out by different government employees in different public service calling that ought to be merged to serve as one. What have we not seen in this country?
Yet, we keep conversing about it casually & playing the blame game as if it is someone else fault. The system is Nigerian & we are Nigerians, talking about the problem only or avoiding it, running away from the country would only go a long way in compounding the problem. After all, Nigeria belong to us all & as a matter of exigency, we must all work to salvage it together as we have no country other than this. I just hope & pray fervently that my contemporaries wouldn’t disappoint me when they find themselves at the top echelon of the nation’s public service. Only time tells!
To address this enormous challenge, Nigeria must, among other things, ensure the establishment of a highly motivated, competent, effective and respected public service. Over the years, policy process in Nigeria has been adversely affected by vague direction, inconsistency, poor implementation and lack of continuity in implementation; a failure that is attributed to persistent instability in governance. It is imperative that government takes urgent action to re-orientate
Nigerians and bring about a positive change of attitude that will restore high moral values, encourage hard work, honesty and selfless service, as well as inculcate a sense of patriotism which will bring to fruition government policies and programmes. The Civil Service of any country is a moving force that pilots its administrative machinery. The fifty-one year existence of Nigeria’s Civil service, vis a vis, its promotion of sustainable human development have been critically appraised, with the conclusion that the civil service is still characterized by unequivocal sense of contradictory systemic malfunctions and profound character of administrative ineptitude, bureaucratic inertia and, personality decay. To this end, actualization of sustainable human development in the context of contemporary civil service in Nigeria is a fundamental mirage. First both the military and civilian administrations have placed little or no premium on such efforts. Again, the Nigerian civil service truly needs bold and far reaching reforms, not tepid, and arbitrary changes. We need to keep the permanent secretary, permanent. We need to create a lean, dynamic, and imaginative service. We need to recruit the highest quality of individuals to the service, and above all, instrumentalize the service as the delivery arm of government. We need to remove quota as a condition for the recruitment of the
Administrative cadre of the service, and base both recruitment and advancement on merit.
Above all, the greatest challenge of the fast decaying public service system in Nigeria which I consider its dilemma is the vile attitudes of dishonesty, distrust, mistrust, deceit, misappropriation, bribery, corruption, nepotism, favouritism, etc. In such mixed circumstances, it is apt to point out that it is the situation in which the most dedicated & honest public servant is exposed to two (2) extreme choices of either stealing to, of course, enrich himself and his immediate family by all means and at all costs, thus, preparing himself for the ‘thorny’ & difficult days that lay ahead of him after his ultimate retirement; or to serve diligently & avoid, honourably, foul play by eschewing such bad attitudes highlighted above by agreeing, against his innate distorted wish & desire, to live the rest of his after work life-retirement-with the meagre accruals to his purse known as ‘pension’. In essence, either one is involved in dirty deals, misappropriating public funds & abusing ‘due process’ just for him to ‘enjoy’ his retirement flamboyantly or abjuring all the temptations to steal & live on his hard earned pension-a rather unwanted & detested ‘low-key’ life. In my own humble opinion, I consider this ethical dilemma as the dilemma of public service in Nigeria contemporarily, as opposed to the good old days when honesty, dedication, commitment, & accountability reigned supreme!