Of indigenous populations and the threat of invasive species: The RGGN rationale (1)



IN my retirement speech on 26 August, 2010 titled “The Weight of 35 Years’ Service in the Life of a Man and the Nation,” I had identified two main groups, namely, the civil service and the political class, as the problem of Nigeria. In proffering the solution I had made some sterling recommendations in respect of the two groups:

On the civil service I had stated: “I believe very strongly that if Nigeria is to move forward, it must start with the strengthening of its bureaucracy”…. And that “the starting point is for the President to endeavor to appoint credible and competent men and women of impeccable integrity into the three central bureaucracy offices of Secretary to the Government, Head of the Civil Service and Chairman Federal Civil Service Commission”….

In respect of the political class I had advised: “We must allow the will of the people to prevail. And that “We must shun the pretense of praying to God to give us good leaders while, at the same time, we constitute ourselves to playing God by determining what should be”. (Appendix I).

Nearly five years on, the pertinent question that anyone may wish to ask is: “how have we fared as a nation with particular reference to the bureaucracy”?

I regret to say that public perception of the civil service today is worse than it was in 2010. Inefficiency and corruption have virtually become the synonyms of the Nigeria’s public service, and the reason is not far-fetched. The 2012 pension saga portrayed permanent secretaries, the accounting officers and custodian of the public trust, in their worst elements. Ever since, deriding permanent secretaries in the public for their poor performance, has become a past-time. Presentations and budget defense at the National Assembly have become an opportunity to make a public show of the contempt haboured in the recess of the minds of politicians for the bureaucracy.

Merit-Driven Appointment as Bedrock of Efficiency
But the situation has not always been like this. From independence in 1960 up till 1975 the Nigerian civil service was a pride to all, in terms of efficiency, courage to speak truth to power and their ability to uphold the public trust. We had excellent examples at the federal level in the likes of C.O Lawson, Philip Asiodu, Abdul Aziz Atta, Ibrahim Damcida, Alison Ayida, Ahmed Joda, Mrs Francesca Emanuel etc; and in Simeon Adebo in the West, Jerome Udoji in the East and Akilu in the North. The appointment of the trio of John O. Oyegun, John Oduah and Gilbert P.O. Chikelu to the post of permanent secretary is a classic story of how the civil service used to operate.

The two Johns – Oyegun and Oduah – were very brilliant officers working with and reporting to an efficient, highly respected but relatively quiet boss, Chikelu, at the then Ministry of National Planning. In 1975, the two Johns were put up for appointment as Permanent Secretary. It was at the point of approval by the Head of State that it was discovered that their boss was yet to be appointed Permanent Secretary. What was then done was to add the name of their boss and so all three became permanent secretary the same day. The story of what happened eventually got to Chikelu and what he did was to thank his two subordinates, that the visibility of their performance had made the system to remember him.

The lessons are clear: appointment then was by merit and performance; it was a transparent procedure that the entire system could vouch for. It was not patronage-driven or based on age, year of graduation or how long an unproductive officer had stayed on post. The boss didn’t vilify/accuse his subordinates of being overly ambitious as to want to surpass him. Rather, he was graceful.

Today, the situation is different. The sudden rise, in recent years, in the success rate of officers from the Accountancy and Procurement cadres over those of the generalist/administrative cadre, and of transferees over those who started their career in the civil service, in securing appointment as permanent secretaries, makes it difficult for any objective analyst to wave off the allegations that officers from those cadres may have been deploying the practicing instruments of their cadre to secure those posts as bid and patronage items.

Later today, as in other years since 2008 when, as Permanent Secretary of the Manpower Development Office, I got Engr Ebele Okeke as Head of the Civil Service to approve the categorization and elevation of the yearly Civil Service Awards from simple commendation to include the “Presidential” and “Head of the Civil Service” Awards for Excellence, these Awards and Commendations would be given to deserving civil servants, as the high point of the Civil Service Week Celebrations.

However, when one considers that, in not one of the exercises conducted for the appointment of permanent secretaries, from that 2008 to date, has the civil service leadership brought these awards and similar proven records of commendation, into the equation for the assessment of candidates, the situation becomes worrisome.

Corruption and the Lifestyle of Public Servants
On the issue of corruption, the story of how the public service of those days effectively monitored public servants to ensure that they did not live above their means, has been told by many distinguished public officers. The experience of President Olusegun Obasanjo, in this regard, as a young officer has been told many times. He had bought a car whose market value was more than the ceiling of the approved car loan for his grade level, by pooling together savings from his regular salary and those related to his assignment in the Congo. He was promptly reported to his Commanding Officer (CO) and made to appear before a board of inquiry. Even though he was cleared after producing all the supporting evidence for how he got the money, he was still admonished as to the proper way to go about such issues. Writing about the issue in his latest book My Watch he says:

“…the issue of ensuring that a public officer did not live above his means pervaded the public service during the colonial days and the immediate post-independence period. Chief S.O. Adebo consoled me that what happened to me on my car would happen to a civil servant in the same situation, and that if a civil servant wore three different suits to the office in one week he would be investigated. (My Watch Volume 1: page 139-140)

I am not advocating hypocrisy. I know that some of us here would recall the case of a Pastor civil servant, on GL 15, whose personal outlook and conduct never betrayed that he was in any way more comfortable than the average civil servant, only for us to discover after his sudden death that he had over 2 billion naira in one of his accounts! The ethics that the civil service is promoting is that, even when you are in a position to explain your source(s) of wealth, it is still incumbent on you as a public servant to show decorum and not flagrantly display yourself.

That was what played out during the sales of federal government houses, when the official residence of the then HCSF was offered to him for first choice refusal as the occupant but at the bid offer price of N300 million. As a HCSF, there were banks which were willing to offer him mortgage for the property at favourable rates; and if he had gone for it with a view to disposing of it at a later date he would have been able to sell the property for at least twice the amount. He was conscious that his action might give room for the public to harbor the wrong perception about the civil service. So, he refused to take the offer. Instead, he opted to move to a rented apartment until he was in a position nearly 4 years later to move to his own building.

That type of oversight on the lifestyle of public officers has now disappeared, and according to President Obasanjo, “The loss of that oversight was the beginning of pervasive corruption that has enveloped the public service to this day” (My Watch Volume 1: page 139-140).

Today, it is public knowledge that among those of us sitting here, while the majority is made up of regular honest officers who even as Directors on GL 17 are struggling to pay their children’s school fees and are living in Lugbe and Kuje, like Dr. Mrs Taiwo Odubela, the winner of the maiden edition of the GSDI Award for Integrity in Public Service whose citation you will read in this book, there are also officers, not just of the directorate and permanent secretary levels but of lower levels, with multiple properties in choice districts of Abuja, including those who have acquired almost a whole street on which houses for every member of their families have now literally sprung up overnight. That we know this and the service is still tolerating this type of public servants and giving them higher responsibilities make us complicit; and it is why we are all reeling under the yoke of the public perception that civil servants are corrupt.

Institutional Memory
Institutional memory is the backbone of not just the processes and procedures but of the advice and decisions of civil servants. The transferee syndrome has exacerbated the institutional memory problem of the civil service, as we now have federal permanent secretaries who cannot boast of having 10 years’ experience within the mainstream federal civil service system.
This loss of institutional memory manifests today in the failure of successive heads of the civil service of the federation, since the introduction of the tenure policy, to make newly appointed permanent secretaries abide by the provisions in extant circulars on political appointment. Circulars, Ref. No. HS/PSA/6314/16 of 20th December, 1979, by G.A.E. Longe, and Ref. No. CND.100/III/608 of 28th June, 2002, by M. Yayale Ahmed, on Acceptance of Political Appointment by Career Public Officers, as further re-affirmed by Circular Ref. No. HCSF/EMS/EIR/B.63694/IV/T/196 of 27 July, 2009, titled: Interpretation of Public Service Rules on Compulsory Retirement Age/Year of Service in Relation to Tenured Appointments of Serving Public Officers, are clear. Tenure is an instrument of political appointment while age and years of service are instruments of career appointment and disengagement. Both cannot be used at the same time as they are mutually exclusive. By their failure to abide by the provisions of those circulars, either by act of omission or commission, the entirety of our permanent secretary cadre and the head of the civil service himself, have rendered their current appointments irregular.

The Danger of Invasive Species
My training as a scientist, especially in agriculture and environmental management, has taught me that one of the ways to improve the quality of crops, livestock or horticultural populations, is through the introduction of non-indigenous species.

Those species are, however, usually carefully selected and screened for the qualities that are desired and oftentimes quarantined to ensure that they pose no adverse effects to the indigenous populations before they are brought in contact with these populations. Whenever these careful selections and systematic introduction are not done, and/or when, as a result of uncontrolled transportation mechanisms, foreign species of plants, insects and animals are allowed through the borders of any nation, there is the danger of introducing species that can become systematically destructive as to become a threat to the survival of the native populations in the eco-system.

The destructive populations of introduced species are called invasive species. A notable example in Nigeria is the Water Hyacinth.

In the public service eco-system called the Civil Service, the transferees are the introduced species. Unlike in the pre- 1985 era when the best officers were identified from the State civil services to be seconded to the federal, transferees now come in various shades and include rejected, persecuted or indicted civil servants from State civil services; officers who were brought in by top politicians from the academia or the private sector, especially from failed financial and mortgage institutions as well as from personal businesses that had collapsed under the management of these individuals, to fill perceived quota of their States in the federal service; they also include products of defunct agencies of government (NALDA, FEPA, FEAP, PTF) that were regularized into the civil service; as well as special assistants to Ministers and other political office holders that were left stranded within the civil service after the departure of their principals.

Adegoroye, Ph.D, OON Abuja Nigeria,

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1 Comment
  • Mazi JO

    Statements of facts from an insider of our National establishment. The fact also is that these officials must not be denied their genuine savings, investments and rewarding ventures outside the call of duty as far as they earned them lawfully. What should be alarming is when they, in-your-face, are cannibalizing their official responsibilities and in many cases National resources in the process. They should not prohibited from investing because they are civil servants. The rule for them in that regard should be if they are ready to serve two masters, it should be done transparently and perfectly either way. What they bought and did with both accruing revenue should not be anything to bother with as far as they are done within the Law and ethics. As a matter of fact, such practices border on boosting the economy. OBJ’s case is a good one because at that period, he never had the premonition that in 1976, he would ever be the Military head of our Government not to talk about his being elected into office later. It is good at times to display ambition if very much within societally acceptable norms. We are engaging in free market norms now. We cannot examine the private living standards of our officials unless they failed in the consummate delivery of their responsibilities in the system. The world of today threads differently from our earlier ethical rounds.