Saving public service from culture of wrong practices

Continued from yesterday’s back page

As I observed in 2013 and recorded in RGGN (2015), the VIP/Protocol lounges of our airports during the Jonathan administration were adorned with 24×30 inches gallery-sized pictures, produced by the then Minister of Aviation of herself and the President in total disregard of the size of Nigeria’s coat of Arms and the 11×14 inches official portraits of the Governors.

The sight at the Benin Airport, with the 11×14 inches portrait of Governor Adams Oshiomhole between them but with the head of the Governor rising above that of the President and without the Coat of Arms, the official symbol of authority in sight, was not only awkward but hilarious.

I also made the observation that, despite the introduction of the current Coat of Arms since 1979, replacing the National Motto of “Unity and Faith” with “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress”, the abolished Coat of Arms with “Unity and Faith” as national Motto is still what adorns some public offices, public buildings and public documents 41 years after! My latest embarrassment in this regard was the discovery last week of an advert of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) on the NTA network, in which the ICPC logo that was projected by the NTA clearly showed that the Coat of Arms embedded in the ICPC logo is the 1960 version that came with “Nigeria We Hail Thee “ as National anthem! I thought it was a mistake, unfortunately, my call to the Chairman of the ICPC only confirmed my worst fears. The realization that the ICPC, which is always headed by eminent jurists and lawyers, could be oblivious of this error over its 20 years of existence, and that the error could also slip through the expected eagle eyes of editors at the News and Commercial Departments of the NTA, the information bearing organ of government, beats my imagination. It speaks a volume as to how far the public service has sunk in terms of professionalism. The ICPC Chairman has however promised to take corrective action immediately.

The protocol for taking the National Anthem is unlike the error of abolished Coat of Arms in the ICPC logo, which the Chairman has promised to act upon promptly, as it is one issue (more of malady) that seems to have defied several efforts of curtailment. I have written and spoken about it at several cabinet retreats and policy dialogues. As captured on page 177 of RGGN (2015) “I fail to understand why some members of the cabinet cannot simply take cue from the President, and they end up placing their right hand over their heart to the shoulder.

“Placing the right hand over the heart to the left shoulder” is the protocol for observing the American Anthem while “placing the right palm to the heart” is the protocol for taking the Nigerian National Pledge! The correct protocol for Nigeria’s national anthem is to “stand upright with both hands stretched on the sides of the body”. The other day at a public function, I saw a left handed senior official who, sitting next to another top official doing this American style, was spurred to do the same. Intuitively, he brought out his left hand and placed it on his chest, both of them in the midst of other Nigerians standing at attention the correct way. What a comic but awkward sight!”

Unfortunately, the practice still persists as evidenced in the picture that I used to illustrate it to the Induction Workshop participants. The picture featured, standing for the national anthem, from the left; Adams Oshiomhole as Chairman APC, the Vice President, the President, the National Leader of the APC, the SGF. Unlike the President, the Vice President and the SGF who had their hands fully stretched by their sides, both the chairman and National Leader of the APC had their right hands placed on their hearts! I just could not understand why some leaders cannot simply take cue from the President. I hope this display is not reflective of the discordance in our governance.

I had called the attention of the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation to the National Anthem protocol error, as soon as he came into office, and I am sure that he must have brought it to the attention of cabinet members. Besides, citing it as a wrong practice was part of my Presentation at the Presidential Policy Dialogue at the State House last year, just as it was in my presentation at the first Induction Workshop for new Permanent Secretaries in February this year. Over the years, that I have been bringing this observation to the attention of those in authority to enable them address it, as a simple affirmation of our togetherness and a reflection of our willingness to take correction and abide by what is right, I have found that it has become a habit and, as they say, old habits die hard. Curiously, I have observed that most of those in this habit are the elected and/or high-ranking public office holders who once worked with or had close association with the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, for whom this might have been a carry-over of his American exposure.

As a former Permanent Secretary of Interior, I could not help going to the Comptroller General of Immigration, Mohammed Babandede, to implore him on the need to make the Minister of Interior take the National Anthem the correct way at public functions, especially when in the midst of his para-military service chiefs. The Minister of State for Health is another top official who seems addicted to the practice.

It does appear that this American style is being projected by these public figures, ostensibly as a demonstration of their greater sense of patriotism! Among those who have caught the bug but didn’t work directly with Asiwaju Tinubu is the Governor of my State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu. He had corrected himself the moment I addressed the issue at his Cabinet Retreat which I conducted in February 2018 with my team of distinguished facilitators comprising: Dr. Tukur Ingawa, Mr. Japh Nwosu Senator Olu Adetunmbi, Mr. Martins Oloja and Dr. Mrs. Yemi Mahmud.

Adegoroye, PhD, OON, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and pioneer Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) is also the National Publicity Secretary of the Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries (CORFEPS).

I had assumed that the change he made at the retreat was permanent, only to discover in subsequent public outings that he had reverted to this American mode. The two Governors who stood corrected, the moment I addressed the issue at their respective Cabinet Retreats and had maintained it till date, are the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi and the Governor of the State of Osun, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola.

I went ahead to list 16 channels through which political heads seek the connivance of Permanent Secretaries to abuse the provisions and control measures prescribed in the Public service Rules, Financial Regulations, etc. as discussed in Adegoroye (2015) RGGN vol.1: pages 144-164 as follows:

i. Taking Deliberate Advantage of Subsisting Accounting Gaffe to pay political office holders for items already covered in their emoluments; ii. Large Retinue of Aides with unregulated and unapproved designations: like “Senior Special Adviser”, “Chief of Staff” to Ministers; etc
Iii. Payment of Hotel Accommodation/Rent to political office holders already receiving Daily Allowance in lieu of hotel;
iv. Official Travels without Approval of the President;
v. Unwieldy Delegation Size on Official Trips
vi. Air Travel Costs and the Newly Acquired Taste for Chartered Flights;
vii. Manipulation of Estacode rates, Warm Clothing and Contingency Allowances to undeserved delegates;
viii. Double dipping in the funding of official tours, from Ministry and agencies at the same time;
ix. Payment for Unofficial Trips, including Weekend Trips to home towns from government purses;
x. Attendance of Social Functions and Festivals at Government expense;
xi. Payment of Irregular Allowances e.g. Police Uniforms;
xii. Press and Public Relations;
xiii. Organization of Out-of-Station Retreats, Workshops and Meetings in home State of Ministers;
xiv. The Burden of Over-sight Functions of the National Assembly
xv. Election Year Pressures of the Ruling Political Party
xvi. Off record purchases of Official Vehicles and Personal Computers
I had to stress repeatedly the weight of responsibility carried in the provisions of the Financial Regulations 104 (iii) which states that:

“The Accounting Officer shall be held personally and pecuniarily responsible for all wrongdoings in his Ministry/ Extra-Ministerial Department. Delegation of his duties or functions shall not absolve him from these responsibilities and liabilities”; and pointed out that failure to promptly reply audit queries has been responsible for most of the public embarrassment faced by Permanent Secretaries and HCSFs.

I had to go to this great length, in order to show these Permanent Secretary-designates the challenges that lie ahead of them. Together we were able to come to the realization that the trail of wrong practices, processes, procedures and protocols, which are now inadvertently being institutionalized as the norm in the service, were a product of Weak Permanent Secretary capacity, sustained over time, coupled with inept subordinates at the Directorate level especially those in the habit of circumventing the direct line of authority of the permanent secretary to egotistic and oftentimes overbearing political heads. They now know that, upon deployment to their duty posts, they cannot just take everything on ground for granted as the norm but to deploy their critical thinking to unravel wrong practices, processes, procedures and protocols and to bring the weight of their offices to correct them wherever they may be. The case of the ICPC logo, that has subsisted for the entire 20 years of its existence without catching the eagle eyes of its past political office leadership, should be a lesson. More importantly, together we were also able to appreciate that the way out is their own capacity, which in turn is a function of certain innate and acquired personal qualities revolving around integrity and courage to take the right actions.

Concluding, I stressed the imperative of making the weight of their office count, by:
(i) Commanding the respect of their Ministers through the full display of their respective experience, proactive initiatives, quality of advice, maturity in handling sensitive issues and timeliness of response to ministerial, legislative and presidential directives;
(ii) Ensuring that the provisions of the various Rules, Regulations and Guidelines of Government come alive to their responsibilities of upholding the public trust;
(iii) Rising above the pedestrian level of conniving with subordinates to manipulate the provisions in those statute books for personal gains/favours; and
(iv) Ensuring that approvals that carry their signatures are those that they can defend before external auditors, public accounts committee and any commission or panel of inquiry.

Obviously, we have gone on this road many times before but we can never get tired of walking it again. That is the import of Induction Workshops. Parodying the words of the American singer and song writer, Bob Dylan, the question is: how many roads must the service walk down before it makes its impact as the service of our dream? Whether this class of 2020, dubbed the 12 Apostles / Sahabah, being put through the furnace of this just-concluded training by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, will turn out to be the champions that the service needs to realize that dream, time will tell as the answer, for now, is blowing in the wind. My prayer, especially in the spirit of Eid el Kabir at this time, is that God will imbue them with the right wisdom and courage to face the challenges ahead and make the weight of their office count, so that they can succeed, even where the efforts of my generation have fallen short of public expectations.

Adegoroye, PhD, OON, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and pioneer Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) is also the National Publicity Secretary of the Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries (CORFEPS).

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