Thursday, 30th November 2023

Too early to say we are losing it: But can the bureaucracy come to the rescue?

By Goke Adegoroye
27 August 2023   |   4:11 am
From several people across social, economic and religious strata within my own ethnic group, all solid and passionate supporters of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu including those who before he was sworn in are so close to him personally as not to require a notice to see him...

Newly inaugurated Federal Executive Council after the swearing in ceremony of the Ministers in Abuja… last Monday.

From several people across social, economic and religious strata within my own ethnic group, all solid and passionate supporters of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu including those who before he was sworn in are so close to him personally as not to require a notice to see him, the one common thread opening their conversation in the last three weeks, be it on telephone or when we meet, after the titular salutation courtesy of Egbon, Bros, Doctor, Awe (buddy) in palpably worrisome tone is: “we are losing it”!

This is in direct contradiction to the euphoria of the first week after swearing in with courageous and far-reaching policy decisions that were commended by most Nigerians, the international community and, indeed, politicians across party lines.

While acknowledging the challenge of the Niger Coup to his administration at this early stage of his presidency and are able to wave aside the complaints of those who claimed to have worked for his success at the last election but are now sidelined, they seem worried by two main issues, namely:
• media posts alleging payment of huge sums of money to key individuals around the President to influence appointment into political offices and/or facilitate meetings with the President; and
• the new cabinet in terms of its size and composition. They point to the geo-political distribution of the portfolios as smacking of a reverse replay of what we accused the last President of, and the non-fulfilment of the promise publicly made to Malam Nasir el Rufai as both not reflecting the true Yoruba spirit.

Their “we are losing it” outburst, is driven by a sense of collective responsibility and it exudes their true Yorubaness as Omoluabi who want fairness for all, the fear that their expectation of a magic wand by the President is becoming a mirage, and the urgency of a reassurance to the populace as an imperative.

It has become my lot to embark on a well calculated gerrymandering to reassure them that things will begin to fall into place very soon. They all assume that as a former top civil servant living in Abuja and with working experience in the Presidency, I must be one of those advising the team of PB
AT behind the scenes and as such should be aware of what’s going on.

Yet I am at sea myself in finding a solid base to anchor the many theses of reassurance that I have been carefully offloading on them on a regular basis, as I am equally worried that the firm steps that are required to stem the tide might be gradually slipping away.

New Appointments and Deployments Demand Acculturation
ANYWHERE in the world, the swearing in of a new President and his Deputy entails new appointments of many aides, political office holders in executive positions and cabinet members, based on careful screening and selection processes. Because these aides and other political appointees are coming from diverse backgrounds, systems and terrains, manifestation of effectiveness and efficiency at their new duty posts is a function of not just the induction protocols they have been taken through but how soon such inductions have been made to take place, ideally before but not later than a couple of weeks after taking office. Otherwise, their entry into the system could lead to other challenges requiring strong efforts to tackle.

In my address at the public presentation of my twin-volume book – Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, Thursday, 25 June, 2015, under the title: Of Indigenous Species and the Threat of Invasive Species as the rationale for the books, I stated that “In the absence of careful selection and systematic introduction protocols, there is the danger of introducing species that can become systematically destructive and a threat to the survival of the native populations in the eco-system”.And that “this usually happens when such species are introduced at the top bureaucratic and/or political office holder levels where they are calling the shots and can deploy their own strains of practices, procedures and behaviours in carrying out their responsibilities”.

Induction training and protocols are an important and indispensable tool of human resources management. With the return to democratic governance in 1999, it was the first step taken by the Obasanjo Administration. Indeed, so crucial did he consider it that he made it to commence within a week after inauguration, with sitting permanent secretaries and key persons from outside the bureaucracy that he had considered as potential Ministers, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants etc as the participants. It was from the Induction that he was able to off-load some perm secs and make up his mind on his choice of Ministers and Advisers in certain States. Professor Adebayo Adedeji, now late, was the principal Facilitator.

That Induction for political office holders lasted 10 days. It was subsequently extended to the Directorate level officers GL 17, 16 & 15 as a 2-week course that spanned 20 editions, commencing under Abu Obe and concluded under Yayale Ahmed as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. I was the chairman of the team that synthesized the proceedings of the 20 editions into a single Report for the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation for presentation to the President. The establishment of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms is one of the outcomes of that series of Induction Course.

Arising from the change of guard that occurred on 29 May 2023 and the transitional imperatives of a near total overhaul of personnel, there were certain inherent challenges that needed to be addressed, namely:
• How to make the new staff and visitors to the State House appreciate that the respective transitions of Bola Ahmed Tinubu from Asiwaju/Jagaban the national leader of the topmost political party to Mr. President, and of Kashim Shettima from former Governor and Senator to Vice President, demand new sets of etiquettes and protocols.
• How to assist the Rt. Honorable Femi Gbajabiamila to quickly transit from Speaker, the No 4 in the Presidential hierarchy, to Chief of Staff to the President (CoS-P), a bureaucracy position that is devoid of his old paraphernalia of office but where he is compelled to meet up with the requirements of responding in quick time to the demands of the President.
• How to identify the weaknesses and mistakes in the implementation of the organizational set up operated in the State House by the immediate past administration, and put in place new structures, procedures, guidelines and protocols to overcome/avoid them.
In general, the finesse with which State House staff can handle visitors and foreign guests, and the quality of the Minutes/submission of the CoS-P on Memos and Correspondence to the President are a function of their mastery of State House etiquettes and protocols and how well the CoS-P and/or his staff understand the subject matter content of the Memos. Getting the right calibers of personnel to man the various desks in the State House and enhancing their capacity to discharge their responsibilities effectively and efficiently is also an imperative to make these happen.
There is nothing in the media to suggest that the political appointees in this administration have been taken through any induction protocols. Rather, actions that depict the absence of it are what seem to be confounding us daily:
• We are yet to see an alignment in the way the President takes the national anthem with what is prescribed.
• There is need to manage the crowd around the President to enable him perform State duties as efficiently as possible.
• That “we have done it in Lagos” has serious limitations and is prone to bouts of provincial champion syndrome. The “poster boys” of Lagos now in Abuja will soon find out that Lagos is not Abuja, and that Abuja is Nigeria.
• The Presidency is one. Accordingly, the President and the Vice President must be seen by all officers in the State House as the snug fit parts of the presidential governance apparatus. In this regard, the CoS-P must rise to the occasion in quelling all social media posts of unsmooth flow of communication between the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President. Just as the newly deployed Permanent Secretary must be clear in his mind that as Accounting Officer of the State House, Mr President is his CEO and the one from whom he derives authority for every spend in the State House.

Watching the NTA network news some 2 weeks ago on the visit of Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), my heart almost jumped into my mouth seeing that the protocol officer that was to position the President’s chair for him to sit, an assignment that entails guarding that chair firmly like a cricketer would cover his base, abandoned the chair midway to run to position Madam Ngozi’s chair for her. In the process,the President was inadvertently left to carefully situate his own chair for himself and sit (rather, he sank into the chair) with the officer scampering back to him! Where in the world has that ever been condoned?

And then just last week, we watched the Ministers resume at their duty posts. I paid attention to the FCT, especially because it was my last duty post as Perm Sec. I was dumbfounded. It was the Minister all the way and in a tone that reminded me of the Military era. If the Minister of State was allowed to utter a word, we didn’t know. The Chief Press Officer of the Ministry already has his job cut out for him, as he has swung into action to walk back on the reportage of that first meeting in the media.

Reconciling large cabinet with the lean government promise of the PBAT manifesto
THE media is still awash with analysis of the Ministerial composition that is challenged by various shades of credibility questions, smacking of inadequate due diligence before compilation. Like other Nigerians, I am aware that the size of the cabinet runs counter to the proclamations in the President’s manifesto to “run a lean and efficient Federal Government with zero tolerance for wastefulness, corruption, and inefficiency”. Yet I have had to go on a national Television ARISE to rationalize it. I did so in the belief that SGF would have been directed to issue service wide circulars spelling out drastic cuts in: (i) the paraphernalia of office for political office holders, (ii) type and number of vehicles in the Ministerial fleet and their usage, (iii) the moderate characterization and designation of aides without room for such frivolous appointments like“Chief of Staff to the Minister”; (iv) the number of personal aides, limiting them to only 1 no. Special Assistant from outside, 1 no. Personal Assistant whose salary is already part of the emoluments of the Minister, while other Special Assistants and/or Technical Advisers, as the case may be, will be sourced from the wider public service. This was how it was done in 1999 by Chief Ufot J. Ekaette whom I served in the capacity of Director Special Duties and Head Think Tank to the SGF. I hold this to be true in the belief that the President will, indeed, commit to zero tolerance for wastefulness, corruption and inefficiency. I hope I will not be put to shame.

Getting the Bureaucracy to the Rescue
GIVEN the way the political appointments into the cabinet and other CEO positions have gone so far, getting it right with the bureaucracy is now a non-negotiable expediency. Yet the bureaucracy too is already challenged both in real terms on the question of capacity and in the public perception of Inefficiency and Corruption that has virtually stuck on it as an epithet.

In addition to the capacity question hanging on the bureaucracy, the emerging concern of most Nigerians is the commitment of the current crop of leadership across Ministries, extra-Ministerial Departments and Agencies (MDAs) at the level of their Accounting Officers, namely Permanent Secretaries, Directors General, and Executive Secretaries as the case may be.

This commitment concern of the populace is driven, not just by the consciousness of the usual “wait and see attitude” of civil servants to any new administration and the sordid corruption cases in the print and social media by the immediate past administration in which they were the drivers, but by a new apprehension from revelations of the last election results in the Federal Capital Territory, the seat of Government and the thoughts that many elements in the bureaucratic leadership being part of the majority that did not vote for the ruling party are, at best, in a lukewarm disposition to the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Administration pending the outcome of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT).

Exhuming Dwight Waldo’s 1977 Royer Lecture thesis of the ‘dialectic of bureaucracy and democracy in governance’, the new administration is bound to discover sooner than later that it is operating in a “professional environment wherein the art of pretense and, indeed, of wearing a mask has become the virtual prerequisites for a successful career”.

The million-dollar question therefore is, even when the court cases are over: How would the President be able to win over the leadership of the bureaucracy in terms of loyalty to his administration and the nation, given that the losing parties are bound to attempt to coalesce into a formidable opposition force, in the stark realization that four years is a long wait?

A service-wide Circular announcing the Commencement of the Process of Appointment of Permanent Secretaries went out on 21 August 2023. The circular is coming out amidst the lingering questions surrounding the proper implementation of the Tenure Policy that the HCSF announced its restoration last month. Directors on GL 17 who have spent 8 years on post have been directed to retire from service. There is a suit at the National Industrial Court seeking “An Order of Perpetual Injunction” against the Federal Government to exit from service GL 17 officers in Federal Government Tertiary Hospitals, Federal Polytechnics and Tertiary Educational Institutions etc. who have not attained 60 years of age or 35 years of service.

The mode of implementing the restored Tenure Policy for perm secs is yet to be stated. The Public Service Rule (PSR) prescribes 4 years tenure renewable for a further 4 years and no more. For most Directors, there is a brewing discontent about the implementation of the Tenure Policy to the disadvantage of their cadre. They feel, and rightly so, that they are being hounded to leave the service on account of 8 years, while their former colleagues with the right connections and pecuniary muscles to cross over to the Permanent Secretary grade are midway in a fresh tenure cycle of 8 years.

The Tenure Policy was my brainchild. It wasn’t designed to confer the advantage of a serial 8-year tenure per grade level on any officer from Director through Perm Sec to the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. The rather opaque way that succeeding HCSFs have been implementing the Tenure Policy for Perm Secs is what has baffled me.

The two volumes of Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria (RGGN) were my own contribution to assist those appointed into the Civil Service leadership positions of Chairman FCSC, HCSF and Perm Secs to make a difference. A total of 43 pages, spanning pages 67-109, are devoted to the Tenure Policy in volume 2, within which the Incorrect Application of Tenure in Relation to Permanent Secretaries from inception in 2009 till 2014 is covered on pages 90-95 to guide those still in the service. What then is holding back the civil service leadership in properly implementing Tenure as it should be for Permanent Secretaries or to review it and issue appropriate guidelines?

There is no doubt that Permanent Secretaries are in political appointment: They are not under the Federal Civil Service Commission but at the pleasure of the President by section 169-171 of the constitution. They have been exited from the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), as they enjoy the salaries and emoluments prescribed by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) like other political office holders. Accordingly, PSR 020909 is merely reiterating provisions in the circulars of past HCSFs namely: Gray Longe in 1979, Yayale Ahmed in 2002 and Stephen Oronsaye in 2009, for career civil servants taking up political appointments who are expected to retire from service before being sworn in by the President, which is what is done for career officers in parastatals and agencies.

Age and Years of Service are instruments of career management while Tenure is instrument of political appointment. The only question that may arise is how to contain Tenure within or make it co-terminate with 60 years of age,and to allow it to overshootthe age ceiling provided it is within the tenure of the administration under which the appointment was originally made. It smacks of hypocrisy that the bureaucracy leadership that ensured the disengagement of Executive Directors operating below the rank of a CEO as in NTA, on account of 4-year tenure, cannot see the absurdity of not giving the President the inherent benefits of tenure in screening the Perm Secs that he has inherited.

Appointment and Deployment of Permanent Secretaries are the prerogative of the President. Relying on the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation for advice and recommendation to carry out the two functions is a delegated responsibility. Unfortunately, the two functions have effectively been hijacked by succeeding HCSFs to achieve their personal interests. Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria vol.1 The Civil Service Pathway (chapter 7 pp. 77-95) has discussed The Context and The Hijack of Presidential Powers of Appointment in the Bureaucracy.

Specifically on page 89, it states that analysis of the permanent secretaries appointed since 2007 has revealed “not only the challenges of varying degree of credibility in competence and integrity but the personality, as well as personal and professional biases of the sitting HCSF”. The professional bias of the present HCSF is an open secret. She is from the medical cadre, and over the past 4 years of her being on the saddle, there has been a steady increase in the number of medical doctors appointed as permanent secretaries, as to now constitute 25 per cent of the current crop. In the past, Officers from the Accountancy and to a lesser extent Procurement cadres held sway both because Accountants were the HCSF and other reasons, prominent among which is the allegation of their being better placed to mobilise what is required to facilitate their candidacy. In all cases, their performance has not justified their dominance as Perm Secs. At any given time, the loyalty of the average Perm Sec is to the Head of the Civil Service, rather than the president, due to the powers of appointment and deployment recommendations that cleverly tie the hands of the President.

If the allegations circulating in the social media about huge sums of money being paid to people around the president to secure political appointments has any iota of truth and those with similar tendencies in the bureaucracy are allowed to align with them to secure their own appointments, then the country is finished.

An objective screening of Accounting Officers, service wide, in terms of competence, capacity and character (personal integrity) has become an urgent imperative, for the bureaucracy to come to the rescue and allay the fears of those who feel that we are losing it.

The Yoruba would say “Agba kiiwaloja ki oriomotitun wo” (the elders in the market cannot afford to stay on the sideline watching the baby’s head dangling precariously at the back of the mother). The Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries and Heads of the Civil Service of the Federation (CORFEPS) parades the likes of Chief Philip Asiodu as Chairman Board of Trustees, Yayale Ahmed as Council Chairman, Engr Ebele Okeke as First Vice Chairman, Dr Bukar Usman the longest serving Permanent Secretary in the Presidency, and several others who have rendered distinguished and unblemished service to the nation, who are willing to help the President to “restore the positive image of the post-colonial public servant”so boldly stated in his manifesto, if he so desires.
Dr Goke Adegoroye, OON, pioneer Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms and retired Permanent Secretary is the National Publicity Secretary of CORFEPS.