One of the greatest things social science bequeathed to society is the institution of government. Governments provide the parameters for everyday behaviour for citizens and guarantees protection of lives and properties. The Civil Service is an intrinsic part of public sector, in fact its jewel. Good governance in the public sector is the corner stone for effective and efficient organizational performance and is underpinned by a number of accountability requirements. Plato, the Athenian philosopher of ancient Greece posited that governance is an art predicated on exact knowledge and should be conducted by philosopher kings or those with the highest and clearest discernment. That is why public service with its bureaucracies are characterized by fixed rules, discipline and proper conduct for productive service delivery. The system and structure for governance must therefore be supported by effective leadership and organizational culture.
It is in the light of this that most Nigerians read with amusement, yet disillusionment, the statement credited to Mr. Charles Odili, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Director of Corporate Affairs, that based on the advice of the lead consultants conducting the forensic audit of the finances of the commission, mandated by the President over seven months ago, that most key officials of the commission should proceed on compulsory leave and mandatory retirement.
The letter signed by the Ag. Executive Director of Finance & Administration states clearly that those affected are Directors/Heads of Departments that have held sensitive positions in the past and those that have disciplinary proceedings instituted or about to be instituted against them. The letter also states that those that have two years or below in service should mandatorily retire. It is quite unfortunate that civil servants, much like judicial officers cannot be heard and can only protest quietly through established channels. This directive is illegal, abusive, high handed, ultra vires, null and void and absolutely of no effect. It is bunkum, balderdash and should be treated as what it is: a thrash.
There is even another annoying directive signed by the same Ag Director of Finance & Administration that officers from the state offices including Directors must procure written permission form the Ag MD before entering the head office building for whatever purpose. These emperors don’t want intruders on their turf.
The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by less qualified men. Let us therefore analyze the letters signed by the Ag Director of Finance & Administration without emotion or bias. The first, and most comprehensive place to look for decision making authority is the Public Service Rules/ Guidelines. It appears that the Interim Management Committee (IMC) is not conversant with this truth. As little attention as this vital document may have received from the team, it is the central nervous system of how civil servants should be queried, questioned, investigated, redeployed, penalized or retired. Despite being the constitution of the civil service, the IMC chose to ignore it for a variety of reasons which may include the high threshold required for a body as temporary as it is to inflict maximum harm on the career of its perceived enemies in the commission, uncertainty about where to focus and perhaps most of all, the glaring fact that it is time consuming to implement and just seems distracting from its pre-conceived dark agenda.
Public Service Rule (PSR) No 020810 provides for the retirement of a civil servant who has attained the age of 60 years or 35 years in service. Where did the IMC procure the authority to direct civil servants who have two more years or less to stay in service to proceed on compulsory retirement?
Rule No. 160501 confers the power to exercise disciplinary control over officers in parastatal on the Supervisory Boards/Councils. This power is however without prejudice to the provisions of Sections 2-6 of Chapter 3 of the PSR.
Under Rule 030301 of Section 3 of PSR which deals with misconduct, an officer must be informed in writing of the specific act of wrong doing or the improper behaviour inimical to the image of the service charged against him which must be investigated and proved before any disciplinary action can be taken against him. The letter from the IMC is apparently cloaked with an intention to engage on a misconduct fishing expedition as it sets out to punish those whom it intends to institute disciplinary proceedings against at a future date. What a load of hogwash! This arrant nonsense and deliberate intimidation and degradation of career public servants by persons who are temporarily occupying positions that may be beyond their pay grades must be condemned by all well-meaning people.
Under the provisions of Rule 030101, disciplinary actions of officers above Level 13, which include all Directors/Heads of Departments directly targeted by the IMC should be referred to the Federal Civil Service Commission. The civil service system cannot be nullified by appointed officials who insist on engaging in actions prohibited by law.
This IMC of NDDC is surely made up of people who can bear grudges until judgment day, if not so, how does one explain its directives on the retirement of officers who still have two more years to go in their career? They want civil servants with guaranteed tenure to retire before their due dates but the same members of IMC and their sponsors are lobbying to have their tenure extended despite the fact that it has since expired. The IMC needs to re-evaluate its grudge response strategies.
Under the provisions of Rule 030601 of Section 6 of PSR, if a pubic officer is to retire in public interest on grounds which cannot be dealt with under the procedures laid down in Rule No 030305, the CSC shall call for full report from the Permanent Secretary/Head of Extra Ministerial Office in which the officer has served and (1) the report must be considered and also, (2) the officer must be given the opportunity to reply to the complaint by reason of which his/her retirement is contemplated. The usefulness of the officer must be taken into account before any decision can be reached. The question is: which of these provisions did the IMC comply with in its haste to do away with the finest and best trained officers of the commission?
The IMC claims to be acting on the advice of the lead audit consultants. This is most improbable because even snipers and corporate assassins that could have been the apparatchik out of the old Soviet Union Politburo would not contemplate this. It would be recalled that in 2014, Price Water House (PWC) an accounting firm of global renown was appointed to carry out a forensic audit of NNPC. It is not on record that it recommended that high ranking officials of the corporation be sent on compulsory leave or retirement before commencement of its work.
The singular problem with ignoring civil service regulations is that the rules set out the exact process to be followed in all conceivable disciplinary or retirement matters and anything done or purported to be done outside the ambit of its wide regulations becomes of no effect.
The Interim Management Committee story is in trouble because of its casual willingness to engage in wanton recklessness and ongoing heist. The apocryphal story of the he-goat that set out in search of a wife but came back pregnant seems apposite for the government’s constitution of this Interim Management Committee (IMC). The rat has unwittingly gone to the boa constrictor for protection. Today, the IMC of NDDC represents the despicable and ignoble face of public service the Supervising Minister promised the Niger Delta Region it would not see again. The IMC is daily issuing illegal orders to the workforce, repudiating contracts it awarded and signed, pretending not to recollect companies it awarded Billion Naira contracts less than two weeks ago, denying payments it authorized and effected, and weakly defending itself against allegations of numerous sleaze so much so that past managements of the commission are meant to appear like associates of St Francis of Assisi. The IMC has not done badly, it has done exceptionally badly, in some sense, because of the failure of leadership. Where is the supervising Minister of Niger Delta Affairs? Can this happen in his Ministry?
Something does not smell right here. Why does the IMC seem agitated and insisting that experienced hands who know where the bones are buried either proceed on compulsory leave or mandatory retirement? NDDC is like an abused damsel severally used and dumped by iniquitous men who saw her usefulness only in the fulfilment of their lecherous desires. The Directors are like her neigbours who know the full story of her crying shame. If you don’t ask them questions about her fate, who will tell her complete story? The President did not order a probe, he ordered a forensic audit which presupposes that all persons in the commission who played a role in any way whatsoever since 2000 must be available to answer questions. Anything to the contrary would be seen as a calculated attempt to shield facts and engage in mere imitation of action.
The auditors must be careful and professional so that they don’t walk away without executing any real changes after what is meant to be an exhaustive process. It may make the situation worse. The narrative that the Directors are against the audit seems to be a deliberate campaign of calumny against them. This evil narrative by the IMC collapses like a pack of cards when juxtaposed with the fact that the reports of the Project Verification exercise the IMC handed over to the appointed forensic auditors in a televised show about a week ago, were generated by these same Directors they are trying to demonize. This action of the IMC to pronounce judgement on the the Directors / staff of the commission before the commencement of the ordered forensic audit in flagrant abuse of the Public Service Rules as established above, clearly portrays their bias and consequent unfitness to supervise the process. The public space in the past two weeks has been inundated with hard evidences of the sleaze and humongous thievery the IMC has perpetrated in their less than two months of stay in power. If genuine results are to come out of the audit, then the President MUST do the needful by immediately disbanding the IMC and constituting a Governing Board in line with the NDDC Act to unbiasedly supervise the process.
Navigating the commission in a season of forensic audit requires collective action, focusing the efforts of the entire team, getting the right decisions quickly and compelling a skeptical citizenry to have faith in the process and likely outcome. The IMC as compromised as they are, cannot do this. The solution is the immediate constitution of an uncompromised and unbiased Governing Board that understands that leading together with management is simply critical. The governing board upon assumption of office shall in exercise of its powers in line with the Act, undo these illegalities perpetrated by the IMC. It is wise thinking to get the dynamics right and use all available human resources for a good result.
Ayo Adegbenro, a management consultant, writes from Lagos.