Repositioning the civil service
IT is just as well that President Mohammedu Buhari is paying close attention to the critical role the civil service plays in good governance. Civil servants have the onerous duty to execute government’s policies and programmes.
The impact of such policies and programmes on the citizens is determined by whether they have been implemented excellently or shoddily. This in turn depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of the civil service. President Buhari, instructively, ran his government for almost six months without ministers, relying only on civil servants.
Thus, as a machinery for the delivery of good governance, the civil service deserves the greatest attention. There is also need for concerted government efforts to pinpoint the weaknesses of the service, streamline past efforts to revamp it, and apply vigorous measures to make it a truly enduring and supportive institution.
The president made some changes lately through the removal of 17 permanent secretaries and the engagement of 18 others. But this alone will not make the civil service more efficient. All civil servants, beginning from the permanent secretaries to the lowest official, should have a new template of values for them to be effective.
Efforts at improving the civil service have not been in deficit as many panels had been set up to reform it, beginning with the Morgan Commission of 1963; followed by the Adebo Commission of 1971, the Udoji Commission of 1972-74, the Dotun Philips Panel of 1985 and the Ayida panel of 1994. Even after the country returned to democracy in 1999, fresh attempts were made to reform the civil service. This resulted in some reform proposals made in 2009 by the then Head of the Civil Service, Stephen Oronsaye. But despite these reforms, the civil service has not been in a position where it can discharge its functions irreproachably.
In its glorious years, the civil service was a great stabilising factor in governance. Civil servants guided new public officers, such as ministers, on their duties. They checked the excesses of some ignorant or mischievous public officers. Over the years, civil servants deviated from their stabilising role in governance, and gradually became the breeding ground for many societal ills, including greed, depravity and infamy. Instead of guiding fresh public officers on how to effectively perform their duties, civil servants began to teach them how to truncate those responsibilities. They taught them how to exploit or create loopholes in the laws of the land to amass wealth for themselves.
An otherwise upright public officer would succumb to the pressure from civil servants to be corrupt if he does not guard his values jealously. In the end, most public officers lose their integrity to the pressure of civil servants who then benefit immensely from the consequence. Today, many civil servants are among the richest Nigerians, acquiring choice property at home and abroad.
Apart from directly stealing from the treasury, they also steal from the citizens, by deliberately causing delay and loss of opportunities; by demanding bribes to perform their statutory duties, including taking a file to a superior officer, awarding contracts or granting access to their superiors.
Thus, to return the civil service to the path of honour, there must be value re-orientation. The civil servants must imbibe the virtue of contentment. They must learn to live within their legitimate incomes. They must not forget that they are occupying offices meant to serve the people. They must not use these offices to immerse the people they are meant to serve.
The new permanent secretaries have a role to model good conduct. Their character must be exemplary such that those working under them would nurse no doubt that a moral pattern has been set for them. The permanent secretaries cannot expect those working under them to make judicious use of available resources when they (civil servants) can see that their superiors are misappropriating official funds. It is only when the permanent secretaries are disciplined that they can enforce discipline among the civil servants.
President Buhari says he is set to run a prudent government. For the permanent secretaries to be relevant in this government, they must align themselves with this vision of the president. Prudence and integrity must be the watchwords in the performance of their duties so that enough resources can be freed to improve the well-being of the citizens. They cannot perpetuate a culture of impunity, profligacy and ostentation at a time the president has said that the nation is broke and that he would run a lean government. If they deviate from this template, they stand the risk of being retired prematurely; or going to prison for misappropriating the nation’s resources.