By Gabriel Omonhinmin
I spent a larger part of my adolescent years in the Nigerian public service and as such, it is only natural I cannot completely separate myself from the happenings in that sector, even though I voluntarily retired from public service in 2009 when I realized I could no longer stomach the rot in the service.
Since then, I have struggled very hard within me to ignore the happenings in the service and the decadence which has continued to grow worse in the federal public service. But as much as I tried, I found myself behaving just the way and manner Nehemiah, the son of Hachalliah did in 444 B.C. with regard to the problems of the Israelites of old. Even though Nehemiah was a comfortable cup bearer to a king in a foreign land, he could hardly ignore the plights of the Jewish people that had escaped captivity and those who were left behind in Jerusalem.
Any surprise, 100 years after he led his people to repair the broken walls of Jerusalem with Ezra, they provided the much required leadership for the people of Israel.
The way and manner Nigerian public service is going, I am genuinely worried that if something urgent is not done like the sting operation in the Judiciary, it may derail the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, no matter its noble intentions. So, there is urgent need to overhaul the present day public service, hence this intervention. Common sense dictates that all well-meaning Nigerians should join hands with the present administration in the fight against corruption which has destroyed whatever is left of our national ethos. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Therefore, whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until other Nigerians are what they are supposed to be. And no other Nigerian can be what they ought to be until I am allowed to be what I ought to be. This is what makes Nigerians tick.
For a very long time we have left unattended the rot of intrigues, backbiting, blackmail, cheating by all means possible and other unethical practices in the public service. These vices have festered and are now becoming life threatening to any government in power. These maladies have crept into professional agencies of government like the Nigerian Police Force, Nigerian Army and security agencies, thus, dragging the entire public service system into Golgotha. The role of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) whose responsibility among others is to recruit, review, approve and recommend the appointments, promotion and disciplinary actions of senior officers in the main stream Federal Civil Service, is to say the least not admirable. In spite of this decay, the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) sometime ago came out robustly to defend the commission’s performance to the utter surprise of every one who is a keen follower of the commission’s activities. On January 15, 2015, the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Deaconess Joan O. Ayo during an interactive session with journalists in Abuja, said “the current administration of the FCSC under my leadership is credible, disciplined and impartial”.
She stressed further, “before now, promotion was not done on annual basis, there was indiscriminate transfer of civil servants and improper placement as well as poor handling of disciplinary cases. This hindered proper career progression of the Federal Civil Servants and all these maladies are being corrected”. At the same occasion, she explained, “during the 2014 promotions examinations conducted by the commission, security agencies were put in place to ensure that the examination was done in line with world standards”. She stressed that in 2012, 32 percent of the candidates that sat for the promotion examination passed, while in 2013, 69.47 percent of the candidates made it. In 2014, according to her, 69 percent of the candidates, who sat for the FCSC examination passed.
Asked by reporters to explain the reason(s) for the sudden appearance of additional ten vacant positions for directors that were not initially in the list of the twenty positions for the directorate level, she said the additional ten vacant positions existed long before the then Head of Service of Federation assumed duty. And as such, the Head of Service needed to authenticate those vacant positions whenever he returned from his foreign trip as he was abroad on an assignment during the media parley. That was the last we heard of that matter up till now. When the Chairman of the FCSC was again confronted with the allegation of rent seeking and other sundry malpractices in the commission, she vehemently denied them saying “no one collected money from anybody that sat for any promotion examination”.
In 2014, I deliberately refused to comment even though so many people knew that the FCSC chairman’s position did not quite represent the position on ground at the commission just to allow sleeping dogs to lie. Now that the results of the 2016 promotion examination have been released and majority of the people who were supposed to have been promoted were not, which has heightened the ill feelings among the staff in federal ministries, it is just and proper that I speak out.
Generally speaking, the very senior officers who are affected, will never speak out, for the fear of being witch-hunted and punished. I was almost a victim of this type of treatment some years back but it took the grace of God and the intervention of a serving minister then who saved my job. That was when I lost interest completely in the service, before my eventual voluntary retirement some years after. It is a known fact that any of these officers who dare challenge the commission over the outcome of that examination, will for the rest of his or her life regret such action, as they will surely be hunted down and punished. Such officers risked being prematurely retired from the service. I have therefore decided to act as their spokesperson in the interest of the Nigerian public and in a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of other Nigerians to the activities of FCSC. This group of officers, who have been out-schemed by desperate and incompetent juniors, who are ready to do anything and everything to get to the next rank, just because they refused to play ball, must never be seen to complain no matter how bad they feel. That is the nature of our present day public service.
The public service of the 60s up till mid 70s promoted excellence and that was why government businesses were up and running. It was that process that produced men and women of the calibre of Ahmed Joda, Felix Asiodu, Alison Ayidah and Francisca Emmanuel just to mention a few. If the Federal Civil Service Commission is alive to its responsibilities as claimed by its present chairman, how come the dregs in the present day public service make the position of directorship at the expense of very brilliant men and women who are more competent? Is the chairman of the FCSC ready to make public the answer sheets and criteria with which the commission promoted the present crop of directors in the federal ministries? Will she be ready to allow external examiners to remark and reevaluate the answer sheets of all the 2016 candidates who wrote the promotion exams? How prepared will her commission be to allow credible men like Dr. Christopher Kolade to lead a team of external examiners to be drawn from private sector and tertiary institutions across the country to conduct the 2017 promotion examinations for senior civil servants in the country?
Is Deaconess Ayo saying in all honesty, that she is not aware that civil servants pay as much as N1million to some agents of the commission, if they want to be promoted to full directors in the public service? Most officers who refused to bribe to these agents end up leaving the civil service in frustration. I am constrained to use this medium to appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, to immediately look into the activities of the Federal Civil Service Commission as the rot in the place is vexatious and can no longer be tolerated. This must be done if Nigeria is ever to have a public service where excellence is the watchword. A situation, where the most incompetent in a system is made to supervise people who are much more brilliant and able will never help the Nigerian public service to grow.
Gabriel Omonhinmin is a Lagos based Media Consultant.