Nigeria must develop a competent civil service, says Asiodu
Former Presidential Adviser and Minister of Petroleum, Chief Philip Asiodu in his assessment of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration one year in office posited that the country would rather need an efficient Civil Service as the way out of the developmental problems currently confronting it.
Challenges confronting the country
As we are all aware, Nigeria is passing through very challenging times as regards public welfare, security, political stability and the quality of governance. There is general uneasiness amongst all citizens. They are far from happy. They are not sure what the immediate and the mid-term future will be for their children and grandchildren as regards the things, which determine the standard of living and quality of life of the citizens – food, security, water, shelter, education, health, economic development and growth and the availability of well-enumerated employment and adequate infrastructure of power, transportation and communications. These are things people expect from the government irrespective of the form of government or its ideological orientation.
Our country’s history over the past 55 years of independence has been very disappointing, given our enormous resource endowments and the remarkable progress achieved by the three regions of Nigeria in the run-up decade before Independence. There were great expectations for rapid progress- economic growth and development- given Nigeria’s enormous endowments and our human capital resources and the caliber and stature of our first Republic Government. With Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Governor General, later President, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister and Head of Government, with many experienced men who had achieved prominence as professionals, businessmen and teachers as Ministers. The Government was highly respected in the Commonwealth and the World. We can also recall the high caliber of the Principal envoys sent to us from UK, USA, Germany, India and others.
Then came the first bloody January 1966 Military Coup that ended the First Republic and brought in the first military government of General Aguiyi Ironsi. General Ironsi was overthrown in another very bloody coup in July 1966. Nigeria then perilously hovered at the brink of disintegration. We had a brief interlude of Civilian Rule under President Shehu Shagari from 1979 to 1983. This was terminated by a military coup in December 1983. Then followed years of increasing years of deterioration in the quality of governance, and economic stagnation with an average growth rate of only 2 per cent per annum over the decade ending in 1999.
On May 29, 2015, a new administration was sworn into office with President Muhammadu Buhari as the head. He had been elected on a Promise of Change – particularly the end to corruption and the re-introduction of good governance, which will pursue public rather selfish personal interests.
Buhari has impeccable personal credentials for probity. However, he leads a party which, like the other Nigerian political parties, has neither articulated a clear long-term vision for Nigeria, nor a manifesto with clear programmes and projects for the transformation of Nigeria into a first world state.
It has not explicitly adopted Vision 2020 even as a basis for further long term planning. However, the people remain hopeful.Everyone agrees that the Public Service is the first and main manifestation of government for the people. How it performs, its fairness, promptness, care, and the quality of the service of its service delivery determine the opinion of the majority of the people as regards the government. This should be a matter of much concern to the political leadership in properly functioning democracies. The vast majority of the citizens, however, would not normally be aware of the various factors, which determine the quality of service delivery by the officials who constitute the Civil Service and the Public Service.
The Governments in Nigeria since the 1980s have preferred to rely increasingly on the private sector to provide the necessary goods and services. However, the private sector can play the roles required only when the government provides and sustains over a long enough period, the enabling pro-investment regulatory environment, and implements measure to enhance Nigeria’s international competitiveness. For this, the governments in the centre and the states must have competent, well-trained and positively motivated Public Services.
We are immediately struck by the fact that after the military overthrow of Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s administration in July 1975, the massive purge of the Public Service from September to November 1975 by the Gen. Murtala Mohammed/Obasanjo Administration produced a drastic negative change in the evolution and performance of the Public Service.
How the 1975 purge of Civil Service fuelled corruption
The consequences of the 1975 purge of the Civil Service were very tragic for the nation and the country. The traumatic massive purge of about 10,000 officials over a period of two months, without due process, involving officials from the rank of Permanent Secretary to the class of messengers being retired or dismissed, including some obvious leaders and role models, some without any terminal benefits or pensions destroyed the professional, non-partisan, fearless, prestigious, merit driven Civil Service and Public inherited from the
British Colonial Administration. In the process, the nation lost a great deal of institutional memory and valuable international connections.
Some of the more senior ones, who inspired by the ideals of the pre-independence movement and the patriotic commitments of the leaders of the First Republic, were sill energetic in suggesting and developing policies, programmes and projects and also imbued as they were with the old core values would be able to provide some checks and balances were swept away. The suffering, including the pre-mature death of scores of officials affected by the purge fuelled the resort to “make any hay while the sun shines” an obvious euphemism for corruption which now threatens the future of the country.
For an emerging country like Nigeria, it is absolutely necessary to have good civil services and public services at the centre and in the states. The public service should be well trained, competent, professional, non-partisan, patriotic and dedicated to serve the public interest, honest and transparent and accountable with zero tolerance for corruption.
The leadership of the public service – here the Administrative class must be well educated, recruited through a transparent competitive process, undergo a career-long process of training and retraining to be able to assist the political heads of the ministries and the governors or the president in collating data and proposals, consulting all relevant agencies, researching various options before submitting proposals to the political head on the implementation of objectives desired by the governments./ once decisions, they would be responsible for implementing such decisions as efficiently as possible.
The desired Civil Service and Public Service generally must acquire a new image of a pro-investment, pro-people, honest provider of services and drop the current image of rent-seeking extortionists caring little about the progress of the country and the welfare of the people.
To this end, the members of the Public Service must imbibe and adhere to the core values of integrity, competence, accountability, transparency, honesty, courage, political neutrality and eagerness to deliver service. Continuous monitoring, prompt unbiased administration of rewards and sanctions are necessary to keep the average person on the correct path. In the old days, a boss interrogated a subordinate if he noticed in him any tendency to live beyond his means, or if he suspected some unusual accumulation of assets.
I must recall the quotation from the late Lee Kwan Yew, who in 30 years led his small state of Singapore after they were excluded from the Malaysian Federation from a Third World subsistence economy to a modern First World metropolis and important regional economic and financial hub. He says: “We cannot afford to forget that public order, personal security, economic and social progress and prosperity are not the natural order of things, that they depend on ceaseless effort and attention from the honest effective government the people must elect.”
I believe that the nation is ready and will respond to President Buhari should he call the nation to order regardless of how all the key players have arrived at their present positions – a call for a revolutionary change of attitude regarding the object and conduct of politics, to embrace good governance in all its aspects and genuine patriotism in the public interest.
This will entail dedication to: The Rule of Law; Efficient and Prompt Administration of Justice; Predictability, objectivity and consistency in government measures; Respect for the sanctity of contracts; Abandonment of the pursuit of self enrichment as the motive for seeking political leadership and office; Zero tolerance for corruption and the prompt application of adequate sanctions against offenders including seizure of all properties corruptly acquired;
Efficient and timely service delivery by all government agencies; Return to planning and admission to the discipline of planning, respecting pre-determined priorities in the utilization national resources; Return to the principle of collective responsibility of government; Entrenchment of merit and the pursuit of excellence as a core national value.