The importance of bureaucracies cannot be overemphasized in the workability of any nation, this is even as highlighted by President Muhammadu Buhari in his democracy day speech of Friday, June 12, 2020 wherein he said “ The Public Service of Nigeria remains the bedrock for the formulation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects in the country. This accounts for why it continues to evolve especially as new socio-economic challenges emerge for Government to address”.
For people like us who have traversed both the private and public sectors in Nigeria, we have been able to appreciate the fair understanding of both sectors that we have obtained. The private sector has been able to obtain much more skills owing to the more access for transfer of knowledge and skills from expatriates to locals and this has been responsible for the emergence and development of critical professional skills in the country. Even though, the private sector also has its own issues of non regulation, non appreciation and proper placement for local professionals and workers as well as the exportation of locally available skills.
However, my venture into the public service thought me that the problems that existed in the private sector were a resultant effect of the lack of sound regulatory frameworks and expertise from the public sector that was in charge of those various private sectors. Who would blame any investor who has seen opportunity for optimization of profits.
Looking further into the workings of the public service, I got to understand that the effect of the military rule for which Nigeria experienced for a long period of time had penetrated deep into it and was responsible for many misconceptions and anomalies. The public service players have not woken up to realize that Nigeria had since moved into democracy and is also clearly consolidating on it. By this, it was expected that the Public Service Rules were meant to be understood vis a vis the Constitution of the country and which will culminate into a more robust, participatory and functional service.
For example, the various councils of professionals in Nigeria like the COREN, CORMEG to which I belong, ARCON etc keep churning out practice and professional seals to their qualified members including public servants but there is this law that the public servant is not suppose to do anything other working and receiving salaries and farming, some will even argue that the farming could only be for feeding purposes and not commercial. If this is not a retrogressive practice and understanding, what could ever be more?
Even though the CCB Act is clear in Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the 5th schedule as follows:
“1. A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.
2. Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing paragraph, a public officer shall not–
(a) Receive or be paid the emolument of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid the emoluments of any other public office; or
(b) Except where he is not employed on full times basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade but nothing in this sub-paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming.”
It leaves a lot of concern as to why the various councils of professionals who are also government funded will continue to issue instruments of practice to individuals including the public servants. Common sense should also check to see how many solutions to so many critical problems the government could be loosing because certain top notch professionals have been held back from practice by the provisions of the above law. I thought the basic principle should be the protection against conflict of interest as against total prohibition. Perhaps, the various Professional Councils, Labour Congress and the National Assembly could look into the matter with a view to fine tuning the Public Service for excellence.
There is also the misconception about the participation of a civil servant in politics or having a public opinion and other related matters. Justice Agboola of the Supreme Court has clearly ruled that the Nigerian under a democracy is entitled to a right to association and mingling as enshrined in Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), which, in section 40, provide: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.” Under section 45, this freedom may be restricted by “any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society a) in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.” However, the Civil Service Rules are not a legislation per se as provided by the Constitution or subsidiary legislation, as they are not made under any enabling Act or Law.
Regardless of the foregoing, the public servant is expected to be a professional in the discharge of their duties regardless of their opinion as anything other than that will be a clear conflict of interest and which is also not supported by the constitution.
Therefore the moral of the submissions of this article are that there was a need to start a sensitization of the public service in a democratic setting and an evolving world where speed is most needed than too much rules. The military mentality that has followed the service has made it difficult for superiors to establish a harmonious working relationship with their subordinates regardless of how much progress they have to bring to the table. A lot of the rules of the service run in contrary to the provisions of the constitution of the Republic while the constitution is the guiding principle in a democratic setting. The Master and Slave mentality still applies so much in the Nigerian Public Service and that cannot be healthy for productivity.
Furthermore, the was a need for the public service to recognize how much skill and professionalism it requires before it can stand above the private sector talk more of regulating it. And once there is appropriate skills and professionalism, the issue of acting in conflict of interest will give way regardless of personal opinions and affiliations.
Finally, Democracy allows for freedom of expression as long as it does not threaten national security. The public service has to be reformed to key into the ideals of democracy now that Nigeria is celebrating 21 years of interrupted democracy. The service has to be seen to be a space that allows more engagement and freedom of expression. This way ideas could be collected and incubated for national progress. Nigeria requires more and more of robust engagements which are capable of changing earlier retrogressive mentalities.
Happy Democracy Day Nigeria
Hashim Suleiman can be reached via