Nigeria on Fire : To Your Tents O! Nigerians IV – The Un-Civil Servants

 

It is once again like 1974 or almost, when Chief Jerome Udoji submitted a report directed principally at the efficient management of the Nigerian Civil Service. But in a typically characteristic fashion, the political overlords saw the report as a winning joker for its calculated intent to prolong its stay in power. The military administration of Yakubu Gowon quickly capitalised on the recommendation of the report for new salary structure and jettisoned the more fundamental recommendations on the restructuring of the civil service. The story line has never changed since then. If you want to win the country start the battle with the civil service. If you can break the backbone of the civil service and can carrot the wounded with vulgar incentive, the ruling powers believe the battle is half won.

Every vigilant observer must be suspicious already and must therefore be able to ask as quickly as possible, what does this military administration want this time from the people via the civil service. We could hazard a guess, is it a desire to obtain an unquestionable support of the people for its own Transition Programme? It will be a great pity if this administration and indeed the people of Nigeria could fail to read the signs of the time and to realise that the circumstances which hitherto permit a befuddling of an entire nation for the self-interest of a few is long gone.

It will be a greater shame if Nigerians who understand and can read every motive and action of the political power-crazy class of this country failed to climb to the roof top and to sing songs of liberty and deliverance to the docile majority who just want to be left alone to live in peace. The vigilant knowledgeable observers who understand that no freedom or peace is free must be willing and ready to rescue other Nigerians from the class of enslavers and exploiters who have sworn not to let the people go free.

The policy objective and decision to award salary increase or allowance increase or whatever to the Federal civil servants can never be borne from a purely altruistic motive. The reality of the increase is such that it has no scientific statistical foundation. What is the minimum wage in the country? What is the minimum wage required by any human being in Nigeria to secure a minimum living standard without recourse to something else outside normal day job? Was the increase adjusted to inflation factors, currency devaluation factors and all other prevailing economic factors within the country?

These are all variables that the Federal Office of Statistics should be able to supply in normal circumstances without any difficulty. But no, the administration is celebrating an arbitrarily fixed wage increase that has no bearing with the reality of life Nigerians and the Civil Servants are battling with. This is a continuation of the style of administration instituted by Babangida. It is a government by financial settlement that based its policy strategy on the all-conquering power of the Naira. The fundamental philosophy is, throw Naira at every problem in the polity particularly at the noisemakers and instant solution of Peace and Quiet would be yours.

The Nigerian Civil Service eventually died in 1993. The Nigerian Civil Service we have in mind includes, The Judiciary, The Police, The Government Departments and The Parastatal Corporations. Whatever that is in place at the moment is the ghost of the deceased institution. Before 1993 it was merely surviving on hope of a better tomorrow when the cruel machinations and evil devices of Babangida who purposely went all out to weaken the already weak institution beyond redemption would be wiped away. But the consequent developments of the past five years have obliterated all the little hopes that remained. The Nigerian Civil Servants have since accepted their fate as the nation’s underdogs and the ‘brighter’ ones among them have since decided to make the best of a bad situation.

This is not an essay that aims to sing an unfounded praise of the mismatch institution created by the colonial government. The civil service that was inherited from the British Colonial Civil Service was not by its nature and policy objectives designed to administer to the interest of the colonial country. By its nature, a state bureaucracy is theoretically designed to administer to the interest of the sovereign.

At the time of the colony, the sovereign was the Crown of England. The interest of the Crown at the time was territorial expansion of the British Empire and the exploitation of the conquered territories and their peoples for the pleasure of the Crown. And the pleasure of the Crown was gargantuan. This can be garnered from its many gold, diamond, and other rare gems of tiara, crowns and jewels, its many out-of-this-world palaces, its conspicuous sumptuous life styles, its wasteful vulgar exhibitions of personal and racial greatness and its ever ready willingness to show off its unparalleled achievements in the comity of empire owners.

This was the interest the Nigeria Colonial Civil Service and indeed all other similar colonies were serving. The onerous duty of the civil service was first and foremost: to rape the virgin soils of the occupied territories of all natural resources, to enslave the peoples for all kinds of demeaning services to the crown, and to maintain peace by passing double-edged laws. The colonial laws were neither aimed at recognising or respecting human rights nor at protecting the freedom of the people of the ‘lower race’ but were designed to put the natives in the lower position where the colonial lords thought they naturally belong as necessary and disposable fodder of the empire.

The fundamental principle of a civil service that was designed not to serve the interest of the citizen but that of the crown was transferred wholesale to the independent Republic of Nigeria. A mere change of the managers without a change in the values and purposes of the institution could not change the practices and in turn could not change the results of the operation. The Nigeria Civil Service, unfortunately, is still indirectly in the services of the Crown but this time through its Nigeria’s protégé.

How many Nigerians ever give a thought to why, after four decades of independence, are some important Nigerians still in the good books of the British Government and being presented with knighthood and other prestigious honours by the Queen? Won’t it be of interest to the country to know what kind of services these ‘patriotic’ Nigerians are rendering to Great Britain to warrant their being listed on the Queen’s honours list?

Anyway, please forgive the digression, since 1963, Nigerians, at least at the Federal level, have wholly manned the Nigerian Civil Service. But unfortunately the spirit of the service has remained foreign. It was therefore not surprising that the first batch of civil servants after independence were easily led by the nose and used by the politicians of the First Republic to rob the treasury. The bulk of the politicians of that era were mere opportunists who had no idea or knowledge or care what the nationalist fight was all about.

Unlike the colony that was managed for the pleasure of the Crown, the new republic was managed for the pleasure of the politicians who became the pretender sovereigns. Sovereignty was never quite defined nor if defined, was never quite understood either by the political class or the civil servants. These two classes of elite only knew that the white men were leaving the seat of political power and they, the elite of the land, were stepping in to take their places. They were more concerned about the sharing of the spoils of office particularly residences in the Government Reserved Areas occupied by the colonial civil servants and other outlandish comforts enjoyed by them.

In the end the Nigerian civil servants and their political masters forgot the raison d’être of the nationalist struggle. They forgot about freedom, justice and equality. They in turn perpetuated and intensified all the supremacist abuses the colonial government was accused and charged. The political fights, which continued after independence, was not about any high moral principle or virtue; it was about the loot of political office. By the time the first republic was suspended, politicians aided by naive civil servants were hiding stolen money in currency as fillers for mattresses and pillowcases.

By the end of the Yakubu Gowon Military Administration in 1975, the civil servants had become wiser to the game of corruption and they colluded in no small measure to ensure that the military boys and the group of empty-head academicians who served in the administration did not have all the booty to themselves. The revelations made by the Murtala/Obasanjo Administration on the extent of the loot was so baffling that most people could not believe the depth of greed in the human nature. Was it not revealed that one powerful civil servant in the regime owned virtually every house of note on Broad Street, the most important commercial street of Lagos?  Was it not revealed that a military governor serving in his State of birth almost owned every worthwhile investment established in the State during his term of office? And many other mind-boggling revelations were brought into the open to the embarrassment of the all-trusting and the ever-faithful citizens.

The civil servants in Nigeria, since the Yakubu Gowon Administration have become the master of the game of political corruption and the abuse of clerical power. The abuses have become so entrenched that civil servants have no knowledge of what government or what bureaucracy or what society is all about any more. This kind of knowledge is not necessary for the job performance in which most civil servants are engaged in. I should know since I was a part of this disgrace for 15 years.

I am aware that most of my colleagues had no fundamental conceptual understanding of what the whole institutions stands for or its relevance to the larger society. Most civil servants have their horizon set at the myopic level of the yearly budget and how the bulk of the departmental budget can be cleverly cornered for personal use. Or where they are involved with tasks having direct contact with the public, how they can erect all kinds of traps and embargoes so that the public will see them as rendering a favour and so would be obliged to be grateful with gifts or bribes. Even colleagues don’t just walk into another government department for common official assignment without seeking escorts and unofficial assistance.

The civil service of Nigeria, in essence has the form of a state bureaucracy but lacks the spirit. The spirit of any bureaucracy is patriotism that manifests in the unquenchable fire of faith and pride in the country, full commitment to provide selfless service to fellow citizens and a life of sacrifice to the betterment of the fatherland. There is no such civil servant in Nigeria apart from those enjoying the illicit fruits of federal character that has faith or pride in Nigeria. And none would ever dream or be prepared, after years of travail, insults, unfairness, nepotism and tribalism from the political overlords, to sacrifice anything of self for Nigeria. This is the reality. The ‘patriots’ could challenge this perception but I stand by my observations, which were borne of vivid personal experience.

With this backdrop, is it not asking too much, if any design to move the country, the economy, the political stability, and the social cohesion forward is built on the capacity of a demoralised civil service? If not, what is the alternative institution open to the optimists who sincerely believe this chimera of a country can still be rescued from the doom and gloom already in place?

In all progressive countries, patriotism is the principal motive why a professionally qualified citizen with choice to pick a job anywhere in the economy would opt for a civil service appointment. A civil servant that has no faith in the nation should have no business in its service. The political instinct to render a service for the sake of the commonwealth should override the personal interest of seeking fortune and fame through the civil service.

Alas, this is not the case with Nigerians who chose to serve in her civil service. It is not a hidden secret that most recruits would pull every string to be posted to any of the following adjudged departments or ministries of booty: custom and excise, immigration, inland revenue, works, administrative cadres or other obscure government commissions that were created for the members and families of the inner circles in the power cults. This is not a group of Nigerians who want to serve the fatherland but it is of those who want to pillage, rape, and steal from the fatherland.

This is the nature of the development in the civil service that was centrally positioned after independence to articulate and to engineer the social and economic emancipation of the new nation.  It is quite obvious now that the high regard placed on this arm of government was totally misplaced. The result of such oversight is a civil service that has become more of a problem than a catalyst for growth and development of the Nigeria State. The present imbroglio about salary increase or allowance increase will have no impact in changing the direction the civil service has been treading particularly since the coming of Babangida’s administration. The little figment of light in the civil service was captured and trapped by that administration and was fatally snuffed out.

The top civil servants and a good chunk of the upward mobile ambitious middle ranks were sucked in to the quagmire and rottenness of the Babangida administration. They were deeply involved in the money-power game that was personally instituted by Babangida who believes that everybody and everything in Nigeria have a price. The civil servants became irreversibly immersed in the culture of settlement. It was alluded by Babangida in his 1990 Budget speech while offering salary adjustment to the junior officers in the civil service that the senior civil servants were not included because they have other means and ways for making up their salaries. This was definitely an official acceptance of corruption as a policy for wage structure because it seems to acknowledge that the salary given to the civil servants are the allowances while the main wages come through known but yet unchallenged corrupt engagements and practices.

So for the shakers, movers and the unfailing optimist of the new Transition Programme, where is the bureaucracy on whose shoulder the implementation of the policies of the dream Nigeria democratic government shall be erected?

What exactly can be done in the next few months that can rebuild the letter and the spirit of a national bureaucracy that is at the moment more of a problem than a catalyst for development?

Can a policy of unrealistic salary tokenism do the trick of healing the deep wound that years of neglect, dehumanisation, political treachery, federal character abuse, nepotism, cronyism and other cankerworm of corruption have inflicted in the body and soul of the civil service?

One thing is obvious; the civil service in its present state is not and can never be the answer to the moribund British-Nigeria State.

SAM ABBD ISRAEL

29 January 1999

(To be continued)