A Quiet Revolution In The Nigerian Federal Civil Service

Not too long ago, a survey of some of the developing economies revealed Nigerian bureaucracy to be not just one of the least efficient and one of the most corrupt, further it was also found that working with the Nigeria’s civil servants was a "slow and painful" process.


As early as the 1970, the blend of the oil boom into the liberalization of the Nigerian economy and the attendant developments gradually opened up the economic skies but every consequent government unfortunately tightened its hold over the resources. This brought to the surface the practices of kickbacks, both during disinvestment and offering government contracts, while setting up of industries by foreign businesses were soon employing same corrupt practices to survive in Nigeria.


Over the years, several reasons have been cited by various schools of thought regarding the sustained existence of corrupt practices within the Nigerian bureaucratic system, leading among them is its nexus with political corruption, lack of accountability and low regulatory controls. Others have suggested a rigid bureaucracy with an exclusivist process of decision making in an overly-centralized government as the reason its pervasiveness despite the passing years. In fact surveys have found it to be most resistant to transformation in its ways of functioning, even after repeated efforts by successive governments. Some experts believe that a fall out of the existing corruption and red tapism can be detrimental to the Nigerian economy in the long run, as foreign investors in a rapidly global, economies of the world still view entering into Nigeria as a monumental challenge and plagued as it remains both with political and bureaucratic corruption as well as systematic inefficiency which leads to long turn around period as project delays cause cost escalations in volatile market economies.


It is not possible to run any kind of government whether a military dictatorship or a democracy without a large number servants of the State to ensure that the orders of the “Ruler” are carried out. In Nigeria, for instance, prior to the emergence of democracy, which in itself is a relatively new form of governance, the Executive President or Governor appointed his servants i.e. Ministers, Commissioners, Special Assistants, etc from among his relatives and favourites. They were responsible to him and held their office at his whim and pleasure. Thus their loyalty is invariably only to him and not to the people


Be it said to the ninety years old tradition of the Nigerian Civil Service that it did not, for a very long time, in spite of their salaries having become meagre, become parties to dishonesty, fraud and corruption. Corruption descended to the Civil Services from the top and did not do so till it had thoroughly soaked the political world. In other words, both the military and politicians are culpable and have contributed a lot to the plight of the civil service.

Due to the very nature of the Nigerian Constitution, both politicians and the military have been opposed to the independence of the Civil Services from the very beginning, and this has contributed in no small measure to why he has become as corrupt as he is now. That Constitution is based on ideas which are still not understood or acceptable to the vast majority of the Nigerian people although they might be acceptable to the tiny minority which has received a westernised education. Those ideas are democracy, equality, secularism, human rights and, above all, the Rule of Law. All these ideas are of foreign origin and they are contrary to our traditions. 

In this context, where does the civil servant fit in? His function is to implement the law. This is regarded by the politician as a check on his power and that check is unacceptable to him. There is, consequently, a continuous war between civil servants who try and live up to the democratic concept of the Rule of Law. The weapon used to bend civil servants to the minister's will is frequent transfers or even dismissals which ruin a man's life. Once having said goodbye to one's conscience, it would be foolish not to also become a partner in the loot that is so easily available. There is unfortunately no denying the fact that an increasing number of civil servants are now corrupt. 


Another factor which has changed the position of the civil service is the spread of corruption at all levels throughout the country. Not too long after Independence the whole country seems to have changed its religion. The worship of and strict belief in God was replaced by the worship and celebration of Mammon. The economic policies we adopted, the strict control over private industry and the interference of the military in governance placed enormous powers in governmental hands and gave both, the politicians and the bureaucrat, an opportunity to make money. 


Yet another factor, which is more or less a widely held belief in Nigeria was the purge of the Civil Service by the Murtala/Obasanjo military administration of the mid-70s in which many civil servants found themselves without any property and/or retirement plan to fall back on after the sudden purge. Successive senior managers thus resolved never to be caught unawares again, and therefore started preparing for such future sudden purges by dipping their hands in the treasury or by engaging in bribery and corruption to secure a comfortable life out of service whenever this occurs. The corruption soon escalated in proportion and dripped down to even the most junior civil servant in all kind of ways.

A modern Civil Service, with its well-defined regulations, defines what qualifications its members should have, how they should be chosen, the duties they have to perform and their own rights regarding their salaries, their security in service and the like, is linked with democracy and the Rule of Law which is one of its prime functional features. 

The establishment of the Nigerian Civil Service dates back to 13th March 1862 when the British government declared its interest in the Port and Island of Lagos under the title of the settlement of Lagos. A government was constituted and provision was made for the various posts of Governor, Chief Magistrate, Colonial Secretary and Senior Military Officers. The Offices of Private Secretary to the Governor and Auditor for Public Accounts, Chief Clerk, Collector of Customs, Judge Gaoler and Registrar were established shortly afterwards.

By 1906, the British Government had extended its authority over most of Nigeria. The Government began to establish its instruments of Law and Order such as Departments of Judiciary, Police, Prisons and added Public Works Department and the Departments of Customs, Ports and Telegraph, Marine and Mines in quick succession. (Ref: http://www.hosf.gov.ng/civil_service_2)


In spite of the foregoing, the origin of the Nigerian Civil Service can best be traced to the administration of Lord Lugard who was the Governor-General of the amalgamated administration of Northern and Southern Nigeria from 1914. The real structure of the service as we now know it was put in place by Sir Hugh Clifford who succeeded Lord Lugard and was appointed Governor of Nigeria. He established a Central Secretariat in Lagos in 1921.


In 1939 similar Secretariats were established for the three broad groups of Provinces administered from Ibadan, Enugu and Kaduna. The 1940s and 1950s saw the emergence of the Nationalist Nigerian Administrator and marked the beginning of a truly Nigerian Civil Service. This period also marked the beginning of pressures for Reforms in the Nigerian Political and Civil Service Structure. Since 1945 various panels have been set up by various governments to study and make recommendations for the reforming of the Civil Service. Prominent amongst these were the Tudoe Davies Commission of 1945; the Harragin Commission of 1946; the Gorsuch Commission of 1954; the Mbanefo Commission of 1959; the Margan Commission of 1963; the Adebo Commission of 1971 and the Udoji Commission of 1972-74. The outcome of the reports of the various panels impacted on the structure of the service and the remuneration and productivity of the Civil Servant.


The changes also from the Westminster model to the Presidential System of Government over time also impacted on efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of the Civil Service. The Dotun Philips Panel of 1985 attempted to address observed lapses and inadequacies of the Civil Service. The promulgation of the 1988 Civil Service (Reorganization Decree No.43) had tremendous impact as well on the structure and the efficient performance of the Civil Service. Subsequent study group report as the Ayida Panel not only reversed some of the structural innovations but endeavoured to reinstate the noble values of the Civil Service of the glorious past. (Ref: http://www.hosf.gov.ng/civil_service_2)

Other major efforts aimed at repositioning the Civil Service to meet the challenges of the 21st Century as well as the aspirations of government are manifested in the ongoing "Public Service Reform". The mission of the Reform is to build "a public service that is performance and results-oriented, customer-driven, investor-friendly, professional, technologically sensitive, accountable, fostering partnerships with all stakeholders and committed to a continuous improvement in government business and the enhancement of overall national productivity".


In August 2009 the Head of the Civil Service, Stephen Osagiede Oronsaye, proposed reforms where permanent secretaries and directors would spend a maximum of eight years in office. The reform was approved by late President Umaru Yar'Adua. Stephen Oronsaye said that his goal is for the Nigerian civil service to be among the best organized and managed in the world.


On November 18, 2010, Professor Oladapo Afolabi OON was appointed and sworn-in as the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. He is an Applied Chemist/Biochemist who has specialized in environmental and food/nutritional chemistry and had began his academic career in 1976 as a Graduate Assistant at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and where he rose to the position of Reader in 1990.  In November 1990, he was appointed Professor and Head of Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso.


His Career in the Federal Public Service commenced when he joined the defunct Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) in 1991 as a Manager where he served in various capacities before the Agency was dissolved to form the Federal Ministry of Environment in 1999.


On creation of the Ministry of Environment in 1999, Professor Afolabi was absorbed as a pioneer staff. Subsequently, he was appointed as the Coordinator of the Department of Pollution Control and Environmental Health and later as the Director, Department of Pollution Control and Environmental Health, effective 1991.


On October 20, 2006, Professor Afolabi was appointed as a Permanent Secretary of the Federal Civil Service of Nigeria.


As a Permanent Secretary, Professor Afolabi has served in the following Ministries:

  • Federal Ministry of Labour, June 2007 – November, 2007
  • Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, November 2007 – February, 2009
  • Cabinet Secretariat, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, February 2009 – August 2009
  • Federal Ministry of Education, August 2009 – November, 2010

Since 1999, the pace of reforms in the Federal Civil Service quickened as government strived to reposition the service for improved service delivery and to dispel the perception of the Nigerian Civil Service as a corrupt, unwieldy, over-bloated, and inefficient institution. A major thrust of these reform efforts is the capacity building of civil servants to foster acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes matching the demands of public service in the 21st century and for a country aiming to be among the top 20 economies by 2020.


On assumption of office in November 2010, Professor Afolabi moved very quickly, keenly and proactively to build on the gains of his predecessors in the area of capacity building by initiating novel and bold strands of activities. First is the provision of high-level training for Permanent Secretaries by staff of the Kennedy Business School, Harvard University, USA and the second initiative is the e-Learning initiative


The major objective of this project  is to link competency testing to promotion in the Federal Civil Service via e-Learning, taking into consideration the over 100 cadres with many different categories of specializations within the service. The base courses will be designed for all Civil Servants irrespective of areas of specialization; and grade courses from Level 8 to Level 17, with each grade having its own level of complexity.


E-learning is justified because of the following:


  • Personal choice will run throughout the entire project where employees are given the opportunity to learn at their desk, or at learning centres or even in their own homes, thus offering flexibility which is appealing.
  • E-Learning will also reach employees who have traditionally resisted any formal training, and hence change.
  • It will also provide ready access to the managerial and change management skills needed – and do so affordably.
  • Employees can also tap into the online and other learning programmes to sharpen existing skills retrain through acquiring new skills and improving knowledge in relevant areas.


During this period of global change, e-learning needs to form part of the overall learning strategy – whether it is for induction, re-skilling, promotion, performance management or management and leadership training for all staff. Eventually, everyone will have access because everyone – individual, organisation or the country as a whole – can benefit


Accompanying this initiative is the plan to make available to all the 197,000 civil servants each a laptop computer to aid in accessing on-line training and taking progression tests and examinations.


To this end, the Online Training Programme for the Federal Civil Service has already taken off, initiated and implemented by the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) and the Manpower Development Office of the OHFCS with the full backing and commitment of the Federal Government and the inclusion, participation and technical expertise of various organisations such the Nigeria Universities Commission, Nigcomstat, Richfield Technologies, Galaxy BB Ltd; and the Public Service Institute of Nigeria (PSIN), Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) and Centre for Management Development (CMD) as the executing agencies as well as several Consultants each with specialised areas of training, modules and units development, etc.


Moving this forward with gusto, excellence, patriotic zeal, selflessness, commitment, experience, professionalism and esprit de corps  are, amongst others, Professor Peter Okebukola, former Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Universities Commission, NUC, and his team of professionals – The Okebukola Technical Team; Mrs Nkechi Ejele, Permanent Secretary of the Manpower Development Office of the Office of the Head of Service; Dr Habibat Lawal, Deputy Director (Training) – “The Lawal Training Team”; Dr Francisca Odeka, - The Odeka Module Development Team, and Mrs Moni Udoh, Assistant Director in the Office of the Head of Service.


The overall vision is “about building the capacity of the Civil Service to be responsive to major changes which are occurring, to be flexible and adaptive and to seize opportunities”,  Prof Afolabi said, adding that changes in working environment have increased instability and magnified many of the challenges that were being faced at local, community, national and international levels. He lamented the fact that promotion in the service was on the basis of seniority rather than results and their substantive contributions.


“We reward people for patronage instead of for innovation and achievements. To break out of this morass will require a massive cultural change in our civil service practice and ethos,’’ he said


A new dawn has come to the Nigerian Federal Civil Service, and hence to Nigeria as a whole. It is a legacy that Prof Afolabi wants to leave behind and wants to be sustainable.


All we need is a few good men and women!

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