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Perfidious civil service and the burden of change

By Robert Omote
19 July 2016   |   1:00 am
The transition of the Nigerian political template since May 29, 2015 has been mindboggling as it relates to inherent contradictions in our system of governance.

civil-service

The transition of the Nigerian political template since May 29, 2015 has been mindboggling as it relates to inherent contradictions in our system of governance. It has excavated and brought to the fore the unethical connivance of the civil servant with the executive in the reckless plundering of the resources available at the disposal of the different tiers of government in Nigeria. It is no news that many States and Councils owed arrears of salaries while the central government had to borrow to pay workers in the first quarter of the year. More worrisome with the commencement of our nascent democracy in 1999 in the brazen involvement of public/civil servants in party politics.

Section 318 of the extant constitution which bothers on interpretation defines the “civil service of the Federation” as service of the Federation in a civil capacity as staff of the office of the president, the Vice President, a ministry or department of the Government of the Federation assigned with the responsibility for any business of the Government of the Federation or ‘civil service of the state’ to mean service of the Government of a State in a civil capacity as staff of the office of the Governor, Deputy Governor or a ministry or department of the Government of the State assigned with the responsibility for any business of the Government of the State.

Bureaucratically and in tandem with the core functions of this noble and esteemed institution, it is imperative to prime the functions of the civil service to include primary policy formulation and their implementation among others. Interestingly, there are certain basic distinguished characteristics which separate the civil service from other institutions of governance; to wit, permanence as they are available to serve any government in power irrespective of their political correlation; political neutrality as they are precluded from party partisanship; impartiality as they must be fair in their dealings with all; continuity etc.

The framers of the constitution in rare display of wisdom have provided certain checks on the conduct of civil servants to guarantee good governance in tandem with the prevailing change mantra. Part 1 under the 5th Schedule x-rays the expected conduct of pubic officers.

S.1 provides. A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.

S.2.Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing paragraph, a public officer shall not: A. receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid the emoluments of any other public office; or B. except where he is not employed on full time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade but nothing in this sub-paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming.

S.3: The President, Vice President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Ministers, Commissioners, Members of the National Assembly and of the Houses of Assembly of the States, and such other public officers or persons as the National Assembly may by law prescribe, shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria.

S.6 (1)Further provide: A Public officer shall not ask for or accept property or benefits of any kind for himself or any other person on account of anything done or omitted to be done by him in the discharge of his duties.

S.6(2) For the purposes of sub-paragraph 1 of this paragraph, the receipt by a public officer of any gifts or benefits from commercial firms, business enterprises or persons who have contracts with the government shall be presumed to have been received in contravention of the said sub-paragraph unless the contrary is proved.

S.6 (3)A Public Officer shall only accept personal gifts or benefits from relatives or personal friends to such extent and on such occasions as are recognized by custom; provided that any gift or donation to a public officer on any public or ceremonial occasion shall be treated as a gift to the appropriate institution represented by the public officer, and accordingly, the mere acceptance or receipt of any such gift shall not be treated as a contravention of this provision.

S.7 Places restriction on loans, gifts or benefits to certain public officers such as the Presidents, Vice President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Ministers, Commissioners or any other public officer who holds the office of a Permanent Secretary or head of any public corporation, University or other parastatal or organization.

S.8 Frowns at public offers accepting bribe of any property, gift or benefit of any kind as an inducement for granting of any favour or the discharge in his favour of the public officer’s duties.

S.9 Provides that: A public officer shall not do or direct to be done, in abuse of his office, any arbitrary act prejudicial to the rights or any other person knowing that such act is unlawful or contrary to the code.

S.10 Prohibits public officers from belonging to or taking part in any society, the membership of which is incompatible with the functions or dignity of his office.

S.11 (1)Provides that every public officer shall within three months after the coming into force of this code of conduct or immediately after taking office and thereafter at the end of every four (4) years and at the end of his term of office, submit to the code of conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of eighteen(18) years.

S.11 (2) (3). Any declaration found to be false by any authority or person authorized in that behalf to verify it shall be deemed to be a breach of this code; and any property or assets acquired by a public officer after any declaration required, under the Nigerian Constitution and which is not fairly attributable to income, gift, or loan approved by this code shall be deemed to have been acquired in breach of this code unless the contrary is proved. S.13: A Public Officer who does any act prohibited by the code of conduct through a nominee, trustee, or other agent(s), shall be deemed to have committed a breach of the code.

The Code of Conduct and the Burden for Change
A panoramic view of the general provision of the code of conduct superintending the indispensability of the civil public service in the smooth running of the government provocatively reveal the salient fact that no President, Vice President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Members of the National Assembly, Houses of Assembly of the States can thrive without the support of the civil service. Paradoxically, the Nigerian civil/public service rather than being branded an instrument for social engineering has been caught in the web of indolence, gossips; corrupting the political class, extortion from contractors and applicants, ineptitude.

In reminiscent of their antecedents, they have been instrumental in assisting the political class even in this dispensation looting the treasury dry to an extent that different tiers of government now find it extremely difficult to pay workers’ salaries. A Federal High Court in Benin recently convicted a former Account General of Edo State and sentenced him to twenty years imprisonment. This legal punishment has to be extended down the ladder as no looting in government circle can prevail without the connivance of the civil service.

No doubt, the change mantra has commenced, but the President through the Head of Service must invoke the code of conduct for public officers who need a re-orientation in tandem with the expectations of the current government.All anti-graft agencies should henceforth extend their search light beyond the political class. If Nigeria must make progress, attitudinal change is expected of a value added civil/public service and indeed the entire citizenry.

Omote is a Benin-based legal practitioner.