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OUR BATTLE AGAINST GHOSTS IN DELTA - OFILI, HOS

By NBF News

By Emmanuel Aziken
Like a man living a second life, Sir Okey Ofili radiates a smile and the purposefulness of a man on a mission. Ofili, Head of the Civil Service of Delta State who survived a kidnap last year, counts himself specially privileged to head the bureaucracy under Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. While appreciative of what he says is the governor's principled stance towards upholding the dignity and discipline of the civil service, he reviews the challenges and culture of the service he heads. Excerpts:

How would you describe access into the civil service when you entered?

I think, with the knowledge of hindsight I want to say that it was relatively easier than what we are seeing now. In our third year in university we already had people who were coming round to interview us for jobs.

After that we had to go for the NYSC and after that we still continued with those contacts. I know that much fewer number of persons were coming for interviews then. The numbers were relatively smaller, part of the reason being that there more openings, more companies were working and the numbers that we were churning out from our university system was relatively not as large as what we now have.

Uduaghan
I couldn't have imagined what we have now when you put up for an advertisement for one or two positions and you see about 30,000 persons applying. I know that when I came for the interview for the service we were just about 50 persons for 20 positions and off course, all of us who left that year, immediately after our NYSC found places, either in the civil service or in the corporations or in companies and I don't think there was any of us in my class who did not get a job immediately we left service unlike what we see now when we find graduates of six, seven, eight years still looking for jobs. So, I want to say those were really the glorious days of Nigeria and we are looking forward to see if we can go back to those glorious days.

Do you see yourselves as obligated to the political authorities or to the citizenry?

In carrying out my duties as a civil servant, we are accountable to our political masters, because our political masters are the representatives of the citizenry, but we also owe the citizenry an explanation where we need to make such an explanation.

First of all, we are responsible to our political masters not losing sight of the public we are to serve. Ideally, there should be a feedback mechanism where members of the public should have an opportunity to assess what we want to do, where once in a while we go and report to them, through press briefings and what have you. But it is important that we don't lose sight of the fact that we are accountable to our political masters.

What is the size of the Delta Civil Service?
The core civil service, I think we are about 17,500, but if you want to talk about the entire workforce of the entire Delta State and we now include the people in the Post Primary Education Board, Hospital Management Board and so on, we should talking about 55,000.

Out of these, how many are ghosts?
Firstly, they are called ghosts, so they don't enter into the system in the usual way. What has happened is that you have situations where there is some connivance, maybe at the level of those responsible for the payment of salaries…these ghosts manifest in different ways. Firstly, there could be an outright situation where salary is being paid to a non-existent staff. Secondly, there could be a situation where yes, the staff exists but doesn't come to work, he has a job somewhere else, but his name is on our payroll.

Then we have another situation where someone has retired or is late and his name is still on the payroll and the last one is that where an officer is being arbitrarily paid a salary which he is not supposed to get. Maybe his salary is supposed to be N30,000 a month but he is being paid about N70,000. All these are arbitrations and the general name for them is ghost workers. It would be difficult for me to say what proportion of ghosts is in our service.

It is a challenge because at the end of the day, so much money is lost through this means. It is not something that should be encouraged, it is something that we must all try and fight vigorously. It is a reflection of the part of the decadent in our society.

The only way to fight it is regular monitoring of our wage bill. If we carry out an exercise today and flush out say about 200 fake names, if we wait till next year, we will get about 300 or 400.

How do they come back?
Well, firstly part of it could be that those who are supposed to check these things in the system are not checking like those who are retired or are late and their names are still on the payroll. Then, it could be a deliberate effort by some unscrupulous civil servants who because they have the opportunity to prepare the payroll, they introduce these names into the payroll.

So, I think strictly speaking it is a self inflicted injury and I am sad we are talking about it because it is a poor reflection of the civil service that these kinds of things can happen. These are not problems created for us from outside the system, this is a battle or an aberration that emanates from within the system and that is why it keeps on resurfacing with all the attempts we make to stamp it out.

How supportive has the governor been to the service?

Let me say that our governor is very, very supportive of the civil service and I consider myself, very, very lucky that I am head of service somebody like His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, CON is the governor of Delta State. He started as a commissioner and later on as Secretary to the State Government before he became governor and he has taken a lot of interest in familarising himself with the rules and the regulations of the Civil Service. He believes in due process, he believes in things being done orderly, and as governor he has continued to emphasise that we must do things orderly. I don't have any challenge with him.

During his period as governor we have had a lot of achievements. Firstly, our directors have been moved to grade level 17, I want to say that we got that because we have a kind of governor that we have. We continue to promote our officers as at when due in spite of the financial difficulties that we have, he has not in any way stood against promotion of officers. We have never embarked on any arbitrary lay off of staff because we want to downsize or right size, he is an apostle of human capital development and we have continued to get quarterly releases for our training programmes, the housing loan scheme and the vehicle loan scheme are still very much in place and in the appointment of permanent secretaries he has allowed service rules to operate.

As you know under the constitution he has the final say in the appointment of permanent secretaries and he can decide to get anywhere to appoint permanent secretaries, but he also believes that it may have a negative impact on the civil service, so he has resisted that temptation so that all appointments are from within the civil service and he does not believe that government can operate without the civil service.