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Upgrade roadmap for a dysfunctional public service: Matters arising

The directive by President Muhamadu Buhari that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HOCSF) Mrs Winifred Oko Ita should develop a roadmap…

The directive by President Muhamadu Buhari that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HOCSF) Mrs Winifred Oko Ita should develop a roadmap for reforming the nation’s public service, is one indication that the present administration is eventually dragging its beleaguered change agenda, closer to home. For without this initiative, the administration’s efforts in the direction of changing Nigeria, would have remained a feeble enterprise of launching reforms that are only skin deep. Given the pivotal role of the public service as the engine room of any administration, its presently dysfunctional state would have eventually delivered to the present administration the same dose of debilitating hemlock, which it offered past governments, and which accounts for their serial failure to move the country forward.
The syndrome of dysfunctionality of the nation’s public service manifests in different forms, some of which are outlined below. In the first place is the spate of impunity by elements in the political class who assume the attribute of invincibility and inviolability to act with impunity in asserting and aggrandising themselves over the common weal. By this process they routinely appropriate the common patrimony exclusively to themselves. It is this tendency that accounts for the age-long systemic and systematic looting of the public largesse by many occupants of public office. The tales of missing billions and trillions of pounds, dollars and naira are there to attest to this despicable scenario.
 At another level is the practice of well-disposed public service workers who ingeniously create or identify loopholes in the system arising from the porous state of checks and balances for safeguarding the safety of the public till, and steal the funds so exposed. It is significant that much of their enterprise of sleaze goes on routinely with the aid of well-placed members of the society who yield themselves as the conduits for funnelling the proceeds of theft out of the system through a series of compromised contract awarding procedures.
Seen in context therefore the nation’s public service is no more a system for service delivery to members of the public but a benefit sharing enterprise to favour selected operatives or outsiders who are privileged to serve as conduits for facilitating theft of public money. This remains a far cry from its intended purpose of serving as the platform for delivering dividends of good governance by any government in power.
Of particular interest are the prospects of success for the present Buhari administration, given its vision and mission for actualising change in the way public affairs in Nigeria is managed. True to its mission so far, it has introduced a new dispensation in the ethos of managing public funds; especially the adoption of the Treasury Single Account(TSA), along with a campaign of demonising the perpetrators of abuse of public trust and loot of the common patrimony, by sending the anti-graft agencies after them. So far the results have vindicated the administration that it is neither chasing shadows nor engaged in undue witch hunting, in many instances.
Even the most sceptical of critics of the administration cannot ignore the mind boggling facts emerging from the tales of sleaze unearthed by the anti-graft agencies. As it were, public money had lost the sanctity it should enjoy and has degraded to mere pocket money for as many as found themselves in public office. The more bizarre dimension is the new trend whereby state governors now openly and without shame divert public funds – including salaries of government workers into private pockets and projects, only to keep the hard-pressed workers unpaid for months on end. Interestingly, the odious state of affairs with respect to non-payment of salaries of public servants has attained such an offending level that that the governor of Edo State Adams Oshiomole recently described as thieves and criminals, all non-salary paying ones among his fellow governors. His indictment of these vagabonds in power(VIPs), clearly confirms that their failure to pay salaries of civil servants, is avoidable and therefore remains indefensible. 
The outrage by the governors assumed a most comical and dubious dimension at least in one publicised case being the initiative of the governor of Imo State Rochas Okorocha who is advocating a cut in public sector workers’ wage bill by reducing their working hours from the present five to four days per week, in order to give them room to engage in farming and any other job.  The immediate weakness of this argument is that Imo is a state at the heartland of Ndigbo, who are renowned around world for outstanding personal and collective enterprise. It is obvious that misguided potentates like Okorocha and his co-travellers are bereft of even the most rudimentary appreciation of the self-manifest obligation which they owe, to lead their people to higher levels of self-fulfilment, especially in periods of trying economic circumstances like now.
If anybody needs a pay cut therefore it is a failed governor like Okorocha and whoever in his cabinet that joined to endorse this assault on the time honoured ethos of public service as a facility for providing and maintaining stable and uncompromised life support for the public. In any case, why he still remains the governor a day longer than his condescending treatment of the great people of that state, remains their collective shame.
To appreciate in full panoply the presidential order for a roadmap in respect of leading the nation’s public service out of the woods in which it presently finds itself, goes beyond the exercise of producing a working document which is no big deal. The real deal lies in what the administration will do with such a document when it is eventually produced.  Will the administration muster the political will to implement the recommendations of the exercise which expectedly will be far reaching and may require earth shaking presidential interventions, to make any impact?
A reform process for the nation’s public service that will yield tangible results can only succeed if it is launched as a national emergency through a joint operation by the three arms of government and at the three tiers of administration. It requires a critical buy-in by the various elements in the highly networked elite class, many of whom see the plunder of public funds as a birth right. This is just as others who are presently located at the lower rungs of the social ladder are aspiring to reach the top where they shall also ‘enjoy’ the privilege of sharing (looting) the public till.
 Many Nigerians are hinging their expectations of change in the status quo on the reputation which President Buhari built during his first time in governance, and has demonstrated signs of continuity in his present status. With such antecedents not a few compatriots believe he can deliver on his mandate. Reforming the public service delivery terrain will however remain his ultimate testing ground, on which if he succeeds, will confer on him the ultimate honour of the real icon of a new Nigeria. So help him God.

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