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Raising federal civil service from current despair – Part 3

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Buhari and Acting Head of Federal Civil Service, Mrs Folashade Yemi Esan, at the State House, Abuja. Photo: TWITTER/NGCIVILSERVICE

From the point of view of HR management, the reasons adduced for this extension of service have only exposed the weakness of the office of the head of the civil service of the federation with regard to succession management.

This is because, with the records in its custody, the office is fully conscious of the exit dates of all serving permanent secretaries and the requirement of notice of retirement but it refused to activate on time the expected processes for appointing replacements, for those with less than 6 months to retire, and taking them through the induction training that would have fully prepared them for their new deployment.

Indeed, the granting of an extension of service to a group of retiring permanent secretaries which would deny officers next in line the opportunity of their potential appointment into same positions is an injustice, as it amounts to punishing those Directors for the ineptitude of the office that supervises and manages their career.

My overall assessment is that this extension of service granted certain permanent secretaries will do more harm to the system than good, as it is bound to make officers in the direct line of succession to lose faith in the system with an attendant loss of morale and, of course, public service productivity.

My recommendation is that the directive of the President, conveyed in the SGF circular announcing this extension of service, for the OHCSF “to commence the process for the selection of new perm secs to replace all retiring perm secs” should include the replacement for the seven permanent secretaries benefiting from the extension. Successful officers from that exercise should also be sworn in with their colleagues from other states and made to understudy the senior perm secs.

The notion that concurrent appointment of replacements, while the extension of service beneficiary permanent secretaries are still in office, will shoot up the total number of perm secs in the service, should not constitute a source of worry as there is no law prescribing a ceiling for the number of perm secs on post at any given time. However, as soon as these replacements are appointed, it would be more appropriate to re-designate the extension of service beneficiary permanent secretaries as Senior Special Assistant to the President (SSA-P) and be made to work within the respective Ministries/offices to support their replacements for the period of their extended tenure.

Hope is Rising on the Horizon for the Civil Service
The last year has witnessed the emergence of Tukur Bello Ingawa, OON, on the saddle as Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission. Ingawa’s educational, public service experience and personal integrity tower above those of his predecessors in office in the past two decades. He was a university lecturer, permanent secretary, Secretary to Government and Commissioner in Kaduna and Katsina States respectively. At the federal level, he was Director, Establishment matters in the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, among others, Secretary of the ICPC and Permanent Secretary Works, and Police Affairs.

Given the pervading corruption perception of the FCSC in the past, public knowledge of Ingawa’s previous tenure as Secretary of the ICPC has turned out an asset as it keeps on their toes, not just civil servants awaiting promotion or undergoing disciplinary reviews but, the entire Commission from career officers to the commissioners, in the belief that they are being secretly monitored for any corrupt act. Already, his appointment is yielding the expected results.

For the first time in a long while, the results of the promotion exercises for directorate level officers released last month was without the usual allegations of “money for marks”, favoritism or patronage that used to trail previous exercises. This service-wide acceptance of the results is gradually restoring confidence in the Commission. Therefore, hope is rising in the mainstream civil service that the FCSC is on the right track with regard to its core mandate of appointment, promotion, and discipline. Can the Ingawa-led FCSC shed the toga of conservatism and be bold enough to embark on those critical transformational initiatives that will put the civil service on the clear path of sustained growth in the quality of its directorate level officers? Time will tell.

Strengthening and Entrenching the Rising Hope through Due Diligence in Anti-Corruption
With the renewed hope being offered by the reconstituted Federal Civil Service Commission, the challenge now would be how to inject that hope into the other areas of the service and make it cascade down the entire spectrum of the public service. What is needed is a complement in a Head of the Civil Service who, though may not match the stature of Dr. Ingawa in terms of educational background and public service experience, would be assured of the support of the pool of experience available within the Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries (CORFEPS) but must, of absolute necessity, not be found wanting on personal integrity. That would be the first step in any effort aimed at strengthening and entrenching the sparkle of hope that this new chairman of the FCSC is kindling for the civil service. Toward this end, there should be Anti-Corruption Due diligence in the appointment of Permanent Secretaries and Head of the Civil Service.

The arraignment of Mrs. Oyo-Ita after nearly 4 years in office on allegations of infractions she committed, not just in her subsisting position as head of the civil service but in her penultimate position as permanent secretary, has called to question the thoroughness of the due diligence on corruption carried out on officers being put up for appointment into top offices.

The continued poor public perception of career public servants on corruption demands that there should be a thorough screening of top public servants from the Assistant Director grade level upwards. To carry out a simple corruption due diligence on any career public servant is not a difficult task. As I wrote in my book Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria (RGGN )vol.1 – The Civil Service Pathway page 64-65 “ Nothing is secret in the public service… we know one another….. we are all (literally) naked before our colleagues”.

In other words, career public servants themselves know the rogues, the indolent, the contractors, the politicians and the crocked among them because of their institutional memory of the system. Institutional memory is like a tracer or x-ray scanner on the career paths of colleagues and does become a powerful weapon as an instant reminder of the character of any officer among colleagues.

It was based on this thesis that, as chairman of the Osun State Public Service Transformation Team in 2012, I was able to assist the Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola – now Minister of Interior, to choose a Head of the Civil Service from 26 Perm Secs through the design and adoption of 20 quality traits of leadership, integrity, and incorruptibility.

In the exercise, every perm sec was instructed to take himself/herself out of the equation and score the remaining 25 candidates on those 20 traits. Key among the traits were:
The integrity of Personal Records (e.g. in official records relating to the date of birth, first appointment, claims of qualifications and academic titles);

Service-wide/public perception about the officer’s ability to withstand corrupt inducement;

Service-wide/public perception about the officer’s wealth (whether the officer’s wealth can be explained by his/her official earnings); Service-wide/public perception about the officer in terms of ownership of privately-owned properties and businesses such as estates, buildings, hotels, supermarkets, schools and farmlands, etc; and Service-wide/public perception about the officer in terms of ownership and utilization of personally-owned or cronies-owned companies to execute government contract(s).

Names of three officers with the highest scores were forwarded to the Governor and he too kept faith by appointing the candidate with the highest score. The announcement was greeted with wide jubilation across the entire service (RGGN vol.1 pages 86-89). It is therefore obvious that in our setting, a similar exercise at the level of Directors as part of the screening processes to select permanent secretaries, and among permanent secretaries to select the head of the civil service of the federation, will certainly go a long way to expose highly corrupt officers at those grade levels. Our national experience with Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Okoi Obono Obla, as Chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property point to the need for due diligence on corruption for every officer under consideration for the top public service appointment. The civil service, in particular, should be spared the ordeal of what befell these two public officers and Mrs. Oyo-Ita, the suspended head of the civil service of the federation. The government must be able to vouch for its appointees.

Ensuring Effective Coordination of the Entire Public Service
It needs to be stressed however that the “Civil Service” that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation presides over is just one (1) out of several services at the federal level, the others being:
Federal Judicial Service
National Assembly Service
The Military (Armed Forces) Services – Army, Navy & Air Force
The Police Service
State Security Service
Nigeria Intelligence Agency
Para Military Services – Customs; Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons (CDFIPB); FRSC
Executive Bodies & Commissions (independent)
Parastatals, Agencies & Corporations

The above-listed services, bodies, parastatals, and agencies are independent of the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. Indeed, the “civil service” that the HCSF presides over consists only of officers recruited by the Federal Civil Service Commission, numbering less than 140,000, and that is only 6% of the population of the entire public service.

By norm, however, the HCSF is accorded official visibility as the highest office for all career public servants in the Federal bureaucracy. That visibility is further reinforced at the Federal Executive Council in a sitting arrangement that places the HCSF 2 seats away from the Vice President. The high visibility has not helped successive heads of the civil service of the federation, as it places on their shoulders enormous public expectation for federal public service in need of effective coordination.

Considering the subsisting limited statutory and constitutional powers of the HCSF, if the Federal Public Service was a jungle, the HCSF would be no more than a Cock/Rooster parading a massive comb and pairs of wattles and ear lobes in the midst of contending services populations of lions, tigers, hyenas, buffaloes, cattle, goats, that are armed with massive incisors, claws or horns, as the case may be. It is a situation of helplessness for a sitting HCSF in terms of the coordination requirements of the entire public service.

It is therefore imperative to put in place a platform that would be able to carry out a thorough and unbiased analysis/assessment of critical cross-cutting human resources management issues with service-wide implications before recommendations reach the desk of the President. That is the path to preventing the type of intrusions into extant policies of the public service like those of the four issues examined above that are currently agitating the minds of senior public servants. Public service policies should not be a product of sectional sentiments, by being selective in time and target officers, to the detriment of the others. Rather, it should have uniform applicability to all officers across their career paths. Otherwise, the tension that will be generated therefrom may not only result in loss of morale and productivity but can unwittingly institutionalize dysfunction in the system.

The Immediate/Interim way out is to explore the line of the correct interpretation of “Civil Service of the Federation” provided in the constitution as: “Service of the federation in a civil capacity …” to enable the FCSC to henceforth assume oversight responsibility for issues of appointment, promotion, and discipline of all public servants in the executive arm working in civil capacity in the federal public service, except those in service commissions created by the constitution; and for the OHCSF to similarly assume oversight responsibility for arbitration of complaints arising from their career progression, deployment, and other HR management processes.

The Permanent Solution is to establish a Federal Public Service Council (FPSC) as the public service complement of what already exists in:
– National Defence Council;
– Nigeria Police Council; and
– National Judicial Council.

The proposed FPSC should appropriately be chaired by the President in his capacity as the “Chief Executive of the Federation” (just as he does for both the National Defence Council and the Nigeria Police Council in his capacity as C-in-C) or his appointed representative. Details of the composition and functions of the proposed FPSC have been provided in RGGN Vol. 1 pages 296-301.

Moving from the immediate/interim solution to the permanent solution would require going back to exhume and reactivate the missing link, which is the non-implementation of the recommendations in the long submitted Ladipo Adamolekun-led expert Report titled National Strategy for Public Service Reforms, with regards to Governance and Institutional Reforms of the entire public service.

The overall goal, as Jide Balogunand many other experts would say, is “a civil/public service that is properly structured, efficiently managed, duly motivated, ably-led, citizen-caring and accountable”. The need for such an institution becomes compelling where, as in the case of this administration, the government (in response to public demands) has set for itself ambitious goals like eradication of corruption, formulation and implementation of sound fiscal and economic policy, wealth and job creation, institution of measures to contain terrorism, cultism and making the nation safe for citizens and foreigners alike.

Concluded

*Adegoroye, 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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