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Our slumbering civil service

By Afam Nkemdiche
21 November 2016   |   3:10 am
Gory details of ongoing corruption charges in Nigeria tell the entire story. Nigeria’s civil service works at cross-purposes with corporate Nigeria’s aspirations.


Gory details of ongoing corruption charges in Nigeria tell the entire story. Nigeria’s civil service works at cross-purposes with corporate Nigeria’s aspirations. Were our civil service appropriately constituted, and its officials fully alive to its calling, even Nigeria’s all-powerful head of Federal Government would find it virtually impossible to misappropriate as much as a single naira of budgeted funds. But, in my view, since the mid and late 1970s when the backbone of the civil service was shattered to smithereens, Nigerian civil servants have essentially abdicated their responsibilities in pursuit of private financial security. This is all too evident. Now, emerging evidence suggest our civil servants have not only become derelict, but that they have also become oblivious of elementary facts and figures in their line of duty. This is disconcerting in an information-driven world, to put it mildly.

Two verifiable instances of this unacceptable state of our civil service would bring the point home. First, in a 2004 keynote address at a roundtable discourse on “The South Atlantic Region as a Zone of Peace and Cooperation: Nigeria’s Security Interests,” held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, among other things said thus: “On a personal note, you will notice that I was the foreign minister in 1986 when the UN adopted this resolution (UN General Assembly Resolution 4/11 on the South Atlantic Region as a zone of peace and cooperation). On that occasion, Brazil, which originated the resolution approached the Nigerian UN Mission and asked Nigeria to co-sponsor the resolution. The Nigerian Mission, while expressing an interest, indicated that since it had no authority, it would refer the matter to Lagos for instruction. At that point, the Brazilian delegate pointed out that in fact, it was a Nigerian idea and produced the bound volume of the NIIA conference proceedings on the Nigeria-Brazil-Angola axis…”(!)

It is inconceivable that even the least-informed middle-level official at our UN Mission would be so blissfully ignorant of the flurry of international activities that had followed on the heels of the United States of America’s proposal in the 1980s to develop a Deep Sea Port at Sao Tome and Principe (a euphemism for a military base). It would be recalled that Nigeria and Brazil had played leading roles in nipping in the bud a needless project that would have made the South Atlantic Region another sphere of military contests between the world’s two most unrepentant military supremacists, U.S. and Russia. To Nigeria’s embarrassment, that inconceivable notion proved to be the case, leaving one wondering at the preoccupations of our Permanent Representatives at the UN.

Second, in early 1995, the Nigerian Navy invited my company, ANC Engineering and few others to bid for the supply of a long list of replacement parts for the three set of MTU Friedrichshafen generators on one of its principal warships, NNS Aradu. In handing us the detailed descriptions of the said parts, manufacturer’s data, parts serial numbers, and all, Navy Captain Ijebu, then-head of the Dockyard on Victoria Island, advised us not to disclose to the MTU German manufacturer that the spares were destined for Nigeria. MTU had an exclusive agency Agreement with a high-profile indigenous company, which forbade the former to communicate directly with any other corporate entity in Nigeria, not excluding the Nigerian Navy (?) Consequently, one of the country’s principal warships had lain incapacitated for months, we were further intimated. (A rather unsettling piece of information on our defence paraphernalia, one might add).

Our business affiliates in the United Kingdom were appropriately briefed; and in mere days the coveted information reached Nigeria, to the apparent relief of the Navy. That episode was yet another reminder of the unacceptable state of Nigeria’s machinery of government. Our Foreign Missions are usually adequately serviced by commercial, military attaches, etc; but it is becoming evident that the country is not deriving the envisaged benefits of installing these offices in our foreign missions, at a significant toll on the nation’s foreign accounts, I dare say. This probably explains why Nigerian heads of federal governments embark on endless globe-trotting; this looks to me an area worthy of exhaustive interrogation in a season of economic recession.

For the present, we could well surmise that a consensus of sorts exists to the effect that Nigeria’s civil service needs a well-thought-through overhaul. Indeed, successive federal governments, going back to the immediate post-civil war years, have taken a shot at this recurrent challenge. However, most of these attempts seemed to have fought shy of the confronting the roots of the problem. To effectively solve a problem, one must go its roots, a la Karl Marx. Two issues readily come to my mind when pondering the roots of Nigeria’s dysfunctional civil service. First, the 1975 ban on permanent secretaries from the executive councils; that curious ban needs to be reviewed as a matter of great urgency. Second, the doctrine of “Quota System” in our civil service has done Nigeria more harm than good, for the simple reason that quota-system is mediocrity writ large. In reality, it translates into using less of available capacity; in Nigeria it manifests in quarter-capacity utilisation – our major public works, petroleum oil refineries, power plants, etc hardly operate above 25 per cent annualised capacity-utilisation. That obnoxious practice also stands in need of urgent review.

It is trite to state that the efficiency of a nation’s civil service impacts significantly on her cost of doing business, the velocity of money, cost of money, and thus the size of her Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is time to awaken Nigeria’s slumbering civil service.

Nkemdiche, a consulting engineer, wrote from Abuja.

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