Bureaucratic Anomalies


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Bureaucratic Anomalies: Conquering the Monster that have Bedeviled Governance




Michael II Oluwagbemi,






April 17, 2005



It is often said that corruption and inefficiency is the hall mark of my beloved country: Nigeria. In one word, “Nigeria is a country that doesn’t work.” Much as my patriotic innermost self would not want to admit, the more I look closer the less I question these assertions. Our nation is not a toddler at 44; she is an epileptic cripple at 44. A fool at 44 may be a fool for a very long time. But if there is in any institution that epitomizes those ills of inefficiency and corruption, it is the Nigerian Civil Service on all levels: Local, State or Federal. And be it as it may, the civil service of any nation is the mirror of her level of development; Nigeria is developing – her civil service is underdeveloped and inept. Therefore, there is no amount of political, economic or social reforms that would be fruitful if the national civil service is not effectively restructured in the manner it is operated.


The major problem of the civil service begins at the federal level and that is what the crux of this article is about. May be if the all powerful central government (so called federal government) changes, the minnow state and local bureaucracy would have no choice but to follow through. No amount of piecemeal restructuring that is geared into making civil service leaner, while the political advisers and juggernauts hold the presidency hostage in numbers and archaic idea would not work. An over bloated political class that sits atop the federal civil service is also not necessary; while Nigerians deserve a truly lean but not mean government.


The first true step towards reducing and making the federal bureaucracy would be to reduce the size of federal parastatal and government owned companies through the process of privatization. The present process is riddled with inefficiency and corruption and can be greatly improved upon. Governments don’t necessarily have to sell all her shares hundred percent, but should not be the majority shareholder in any commercial enterprise in the nation except the nation’s strategic institutions: Nigerian Mint Company, Nigeria Postal Service and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Government should however turn ownership of all other companies from NEPA to NITEL and even the nation’s refineries. Government should manage her minority shares in these commercial enterprises solely through the Bureau of Public Enterprises that would appoint staff members as board representatives, thus taking away board appointments from the dish of political favors politicians serve after elections – making most of these enterprises corrupt and inept.


In addition to these, the present bureaucratic structure needs to be changed. Nigeria is a nation of one hundred and twenty million people, we have about forty ministers! Who pays them? This is a crass waste of National resources. What Nigeria need is a trimmed national civil service with at most sixteen departments. Primarily the departments should cater for the major areas mention hereafter: Defense, Treasury, Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Works & Physical Infrastructure, Health and Welfare Services, Education & Technology, Transport (Aviation, Water, Rail), Agriculture & Natural Resources, Energy (Petroleum & Power), Mining & Mineral Resources, Water, Labor and Unemployment, Commerce and Industry. National Security Adviser and National Economic Adviser should also be cabinet level appointees that should require the approval of the senate. Stretching the resources of our nation thin would totally eclipse the little gain that we make on any front and rather than enlarging the national bureaucracy, we should concentrate on improving expertise within the various ministries as the case may be.


Furthermore, for the purpose of creating these ministries the constitution should require an act of the national assembly- hence if a new department is required such would pass through rigorous legislation of the two houses of the national assembly. In addition, whereas every department shall have a head be it a minister or a cabinet secretary, their name should be specific to the department of nomination. The President should retain the power to hire and fire, but should not have the power to reshuffle the cabinet. Whereas, it is supposed that someone is a misfit for a cabinet post such should be removed and a new person nominated for the senate to approve. In addition to this, the President should have the power to appoint not more that six persons as lower cadre advisers and should have the freedom to hire, to fire or reshuffle them as he might wish. However, the senate should e informed whenever he exercises these powers.


It is also a personal opinion of this writer that three cabinet level posts should be considered strategic: Head of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Justice. It is suggested that for the purpose of differentiation they should be referred to as federal departments of Defense, Nations and Justice and should be administer by cabinet secretaries not ministers and should be considered to be of strategic importance and should go through a different nomination process. The President should be allowed to nominate three persons specifically for each of these three positions and the senate should be allowed to select one of requisite qualifications without pressure from the executive arm. For this purpose, the president should nominate persons of a minimum of university degree or its equivalent, experience on the national level, and have not lost an election on a level in the immediate four year. The purpose of these requirements is to remove the influence of political jobbers and install serious minded individuals as heads of these departments of strategic importance.


Since inception the Nigerian Civil Service have been bedeviled by the problems of nepotism; rearing its head in the name of national or minority interests. What has happened is that the culture of natural heritage has developed among the ranks of civil servants. It is important that the ethics of meritocracy be raised above mediocrity. In this direction, the power to hire and fire should be invested in each government ministry. Pooling of staff should be eliminated; while staff promotion and advancement should be based solely on performance and need. Individual ministries should out-source their recruitment process to renowned consulting firms, while ethnicity should be eliminated as a requirement for employment. There is need to establish an affirmative action program for minorities in our society to guarantee fairness but this should not be construed to mean a quota system- only professional and qualified individuals should fill position in our civil service. The remuneration of the civil service should be boosted after trimming it, while an enviable retirement and pension system should be instituted to attract the best to the civil service.


There is need to increase the frequency of training in the civil service, thus a case a should be made for the expeditious establishment of the civil service university, to train and retrain graduate for life of national public service. There is need to immediately institute a severance program that would require both productive and non-productive civil servants to willingly enter the private sector and become employers themselves. There should be a convergence between a virile agro-industrialization program (see On Agriculture and Culture of Laziness by Oluwagbemi, Michael) and the small and medium scale enterprise program to implement the severance package that would attract the most motivated individuals into the productive private sector while freeing up much needed resources for the development of our nation. In any case, there would be need to clean house at the conclusion of the voluntary severance period by using available instruments including sack, retrenchment and compulsory retirement.


Also, the financial management system presently obtainable in all government departments is grossly inadequate and outdated and should be changed. There is need to be transparent in financial dealings and to follow due process in the award of contracts. Citizens Tenders Board should be created on the federal level, to scrutinize government contract using the jury system. The members should be selected randomly among a jury pool made up of all graduates of all institutions of higher learning in the country. This would instill transparency in the contract award process: It is important to make the identities of the tenders’ board members’ secret until the end of their term- preferably a short six months. Details of the all activities of federals departments and ministries including the Presidency should be available on the web in an up to date manner, and financial activities be also available through the web for public scrutiny.  Regular audit of government departments should also be implemented, and the auditor general recommendation should be given immediate effect of law when it is accepted in part or whole by the National Assembly.


The Freedom of Information act that would provide information to the public should also be passed quickly, while a Whistle Blower Protection Act should be considered expeditiously to protect the identity of individuals that might be willing to expose corruption and inefficiency in our civil service and government. Above all, the office Comptroller General of the Federation should be created within the national assembly that would responsible solely to the legislative arm. The Comptroller General should be in charge of releasing budgeted sums to various government agencies or departments after the due process is satisfied. There is a need to appoint agents (Inspectors) of this office in all government ministries or agencies to monitor incidences of waste or corruption and report back to the legislative arm. The due process office should be maintained in the Presidency to continue to cross vet contracts before they are finally awarded certificates of execution even after they might have been approved by the Citizens Tenders Board.


Finally, there is need for change in the budgeting process. While it is important for the National Economic Development Commission in the presidency to set national priorities, individual ministries should be allowed with guidance from the presidency to select projects that would best impact on the lives of Nigerians in a given year. It is also important that individual departments should be given opportunities to set budget priorities all year long, so the budget process should be all encompassing ( a bottom-up process) that would be realistic and worthwhile. Furthermore, there is need to look into the possibility of changing the span of the fiscal year – because of  our culture and to avoid the end  of year rush to clear unused funds, a March to March fiscal year  or an alternate need to be considered.


The need to restructure the national civil service can never be more necessary than now. Nigerians should begin to see government like a public enterprise for public good, not an avenue to corrupt them or waste them. The public good can only be served if we are once again true to ourselves and determine that we would recommit one another to the work of nation building that was bequeathed to us by Hebert Macaulay, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe and Ahmedu Bello. May the dreams of our founding fathers not faint nor falter. Amen.



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