Attitudes Towards Public Service


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Attitudes Towards Public Service And The Social Contract




Michael Oluwagbemi II




November 6, 2005



Nigerians are very political animals – and we act our political ideologies in many ways than one. However, we are a case in study of contradiction and paradox when it comes to  our attitudes to our government, our fundamental belief in our nation (or disbelief as the case may be) and the way we dramatize, extrapolate and act these beliefs are in many ways more compelling than normal.


In Nigeria today, the public discourse is dominated by two attitude towards public service achieved through the ballot box or its proxy i.e. appointment by someone who earned office by election. The first school of thought posits that the acceptance of public office is and should be seen as joining the establishment – the establishment being a corrupt class of aristocrats who have cornered the national case since independence regardless of the category of government in place be it military or otherwise. The second school of thought posits the exact opposite – it beliefs that to change Nigeria you need to be in government, and that being part of government is not necessarily an evil thing, it is in fact what you do with it that can guarantee your membership in either the Statesman Club or the Kleptomania Club of public opinion.


There is no doubt in the mind of this writer, that the former dominates the sphere of public debate today. With every day of lives being dogged by news of one governor or another government official using their ‘hard earned’ loot to purchase one asset or another abroad, public opinion is squarely in the corner of the pessimist. In today’s Nigeria, you join government and your integrity is a thing of tomorrow. In fact, an observer once said we have two parties in Nigeria: those in government and those who are not. This observation even holds water when one observes those former governors that lost at the ballot box about two years ago. Suddenly, they have all turned to opposition leaders overnight! These were people who never gave a hoot while in office what people thought, but to see their own reputation suddenly boosted by being out of power, some have decided to cash in by bastardizing their successors or those in government – we won’t name any names we will just leave it to your imagination.


Without a doubt, like the law of unforeseen consequences the effect of this attitude on public debate is just beginning to be seen in recent times. In these precarious times in Nigeria, any suggestion of the minutest support for any government policy is usually interpreted as surrender to the forces of darkness, a sign of being paid for some public relations stunts by the man in Aso Rock, or better still the height of praise singing to earn government favor or attention. In today’s Nigeria, to earn a crown of glory is to attack everything our government stands for, and automatically you become the people’s champion regardless of the ideological soundness of your critique and basis of understanding of the issue at hand.


The most succinct examples of this can be found in Nigeria web world of journalism. Most writers without thinking once or twice jump on the populist wagon of labeling every single government official a thief and agents of the devil. Writers falling prey to this populism have relentlessly cashed in on the fundamental distrust of government Nigerians generally have – especially those that have unfettered access to their articles online i.e. Nigerians in Diaspora. This has fed a very negative image of our country within our small yet large community or better still clientele of well heeled Nigerian professionals residing abroad. We have conveyed to fellow Nigerians a country of bleak prospect, an image of perpetual backwardness and a persistent pessimism of the prospects of our great country.


On the fringes however, we find those brave writers. They conveniently ride the saddle of objectivity to cut through the noise of pessimism with some flash of optimism. Dishing out observations that put their motherland in perspective of what it really is – a work in progress. But I am afraid this sector is being marooned and quieted little by little. In fact a cursory visit to most discussion board will show a rather more than vitriolic responses to the ideas of this sector of our modern day “web” commentators. They are greeted with hues, laughs and sheer indifference when they try to feed the public with their own sincere observation.


In today’s Nigeria, there is no doubt that we have a fair share of our public officers engaged in nefarious activities ranging from raping the public treasury to laundering those monies in illegal activities in and out of the country. But we also have a very small minority of Nigerian public holders trying their best for their motherland. There are sectors e.g. postal systems, debt management, telecommunication sector that have been put on a positive path through the sheer efforts of public officers or technocrats that have deployed to these departments and they deserve our praise and adulation. Public officers like Mallam El Rufai the FCT Minister,  Dr. Akinluyi the NAFDAC director , Dr. Okonjo-Iweala the finance minister, Madam due process now the solid minerals minister as well as some notable members of the Economic Management Team and Mr. Ribadu, have done a very fine job in the various positions they have been sent to oversee.


Indeed, it amounts to oversimplification to put all public officers in this present dispensation in the same category as the kleptomaniacs that are still dictating the pace in our political sphere. In order to change this perspective however, there is need for a fundamental reform in the political realm. Me thinks the recently concluded political conference was window dressing and that what Nigeria needs is a serious and an all engaging renegotiation of the social contract between the governors and the governed.


It will not matter to people so long they belief the best men cannot get power. Even if we implement the best reforms today, what guarantees have we that these reforms will remain tomorrow? In fact like a recent editorial in the Nigerian Tribune observed that “that the political class as presently constituted within and without the ruling party needs drastic restructuring. Such reform has to take the party away from entrenched forces and interests which due to wealth and structural hold on the party machine have become godfathers scaring away citizens with impeccable records from seeking public office.”


It is an observation that is coming right in time, what Nigeria leaders need least today is a waffling of our political space by profiteers- we need serious statesmen that will be rededicated to the goals of nation building and a way to do this is to clean the electoral process rapidly, remove the unpredictability in the political space, restore trust to governing and increase accountability and participation at all levels. This will first involve refocusing the anti-corruption war, making those necessary amendments to the constitution that will remove the blanket immunity granted to certain undeserving political holders, diversifying the political space and making civil intervention easier in the case of recall of under performing political office holders. The sooner we do it, the better our chances of attracting able young men and women to public service that will uplift our nation.


Last line:

“I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”  Albert Schweitzer

“There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men. There is no greater contribution than to help the weak. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.”  Walter Reuther



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