The civil service and flight of values - The Guardian

By The Citizen

Nigeria's civil service has certainly suffered a serial debasement of its values, desecration of ethics and, especially, erosion of professionalism exemplified by crass incompetence and flagrant disregard for rules and regulations by government employees. A re-orientation and renaissance, therefore, is a necessity if the engine of government, which the civil service is, would run smoothly and efficiently. At no other time than now does the Nigerian civil service need such a rediscovery.

Difficult as it may be to pin-point at what stage the decline set in, the fact is that the problem predates the present administration. Being so old a problem and being now so entrenched, it would take a drastic approach and strong political will to halt the drift and stabilize the ship. The recent ban on civil servants from accepting chieftaincy titles and other sundry awards (except after retirement or disengagement from service) is therefore laudable as one of many steps towards a rebirth. Head of Service, Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji, is indeed very right to say that such vain glorification as accepting awards or titles by civil servants is inimical to the principles of anonymity, integrity and political neutrality.

However, there is nothing novel about the directive which failed to take cognisance of the White Paper on Allison Ayida panel report of 1995 - itself a derivative of Dotun Philips's of 1993/94 - a section of which forbids civil servants from taking chieftaincy titles. A lack of institutional memory is apparent here. It was also an attempt then to scale up efficiency in the service. But as it is with most of government's laudable moves, it was good only for the archives. Now that Goni Aji has dug it up, a thorough enforcement of this rule would serve Nigeria well.

As an institution, the civil service is the real driving engine of governments where efficient service delivery, discipline, integrity, political neutrality of public servants are sacrosanct - to enhance public confidence. These and other cherished values and ethics including loyalty and patriotism, probity and accountability, modesty and even tidiness in work environment make the civil service the place of choice for any nation's best hands. It is therefore necessary not only to return to these age-long values but also stress that this particular directive on titles and vanities which are at the root of corruption in the service must be enforced and sustained.

Civil servants are not politicians and, therefore, cannot be competing with the latter on acquisition of titles or on insensitive display of wealth, against common sense or service rules. There must be decency in everything they do as public servants and as professionals. The country yearns for the old order in the civil service which witnessed the highest level of discipline and professionalism and provided necessary support for the government of the day.

Today, many top civil servants are not only shady businessmen; they openly participate in these deals and are not ashamed to flaunt the proceeds therefrom. With their ill-gotten wealth and obscene display of same through the practice of arranging social events especially weddings of daughters or sons in choice locations outside the shores of the country, it is doubtful if Nigerian civil servants can still lay claim to integrity and professionalism. The  absurdity of  their conducts in service could be gleaned from  another directive to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to check the unauthorised use of siren, covered number plates and unregistered vehicles which the government believes constitute security threats.

Because civil servants are part of a larger societal picture, the scenario painted by these developments should be seen as part of the tragedy of the country, going by the lifestyles of successive leaders who, by their words and deeds,  encourage or even personify corruption. Service to the people or adherence to the oath of office is secondary. To say that the decadence has reached a new level even in the civil service would be an understatement. And it is a scourge which cannot be left unaddressed.

That the system is today accommodating elements who are not afraid to loot the treasury shamelessly in their craze to be listed among the elite or to pursue political interests, calls for serious concern. With their stupendous wealth, proceeds of corrupt practices, such officials go for chieftaincy titles to assuage their vanities.  As a result of the corruption of many in the civil service, other loyal and honest public servants have not only been deprived of their entitlements and thrown into post-service life penury, the institution is even nearing total destruction. Besides, such negative influences on the service have not been sanctioned publicly to serve as a deterrent to potential breaches.

This laxity is also directly or indirectly flowing from the conduct of those in leadership positions who definitely have not been too exemplary role models.  Presidents are particularly guilty as they have not always sent the right signals. Olusegun Obasanjo's fund-raising for his library while in power is an example. President Goodluck Jonathan's  acceptance of a questionable gift of a renovated community church the other day and another fund-raising in his homestead remain bad examples of how to entrench values in the public service.

For the civil service, certainly, the identified inadequacies are a pointer to the need to reposition it for the years ahead.  But the entire public service, especially the political or elective offices, need an overhaul in composition and orientation. Otherwise, the present administration's much-touted transformation agenda would be nothing more than another slogan.