Kogi State Government has embarked on civil service reforms designed to foster better service delivery by workers. Deputy Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the implementation of the initiatives and how they can be sustained to foster efficiency and good governance olashade Ayoade, scholar and Secretary to the Kogi State Government, has a vision for the civil service of the 30-year old Northcentral State.
But, what she met on ground, following her appointment by Governor Yahaya Bello, was a big obstacle to the realisation of her dream of effective, efficient, productive and result-oriented service.
Before her appointment, she was a deputy director with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Few weeks after her resumption at Lokoja, the state capital, she embarked on a critical evaluation of the civil service.
She got to her office one working day around 8. am. The State Secretariat was almost empty. Dr. Ayoade was taken aback at the disposition of the civil servants to work. She instantly commenced an on-the-spot of assessment of the multiple offices; from ministry to ministry, and department to department.
What the Secretary to Government (SSG) saw starred her in the face. Few workers on ground were liotering around the secretariat. It was evident that some had absconded duty without permission. Many of those who reported for work were idle. It was alleged that some had even turned their offices into mini-shops, selling biscuits, colanut, groundnut, pure water etc.
A preliminary investigation by Ayoade revealed a dispirited civil service characterised by lackadaisical attitude to wok, poor motivation, lack of monitoring, absence of proper supervision, eclipse of discipline and loss of sanity. All these made the civil service a compelling and comprehensive failure.
That was the awful picture of the civil service inherited by Governor Bello, ironically a former civil servant, who was elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015. Reality dawned on her that no government, even with the best of intentions and programmes, can succeed with that kind of workforce.
“What came to my mind was the urgency of reforms, if the ‘New Direction Blue print’ of the administration is to see the light of the day,” Ayoade told reporters in Abuja, where she tendered her stewardship. She knew that speed was required, and delay could further elongate the decay.
She never lobbied for the position. Of course, her appointment, despite not being a politician, underscored the governor’s resolve to appoint a round peg in a round hole; a total commitment to competence, dedication and excellence, which should dictate critical appointments in the public service.
The SSG spoke on efforts to reposition the civil service in the state; a task made possible by Bello, who gave her a free hand to introduce required changes and modifications to service rules.
It was at the two-day maiden ‘GYB Seminar for Nigeria’s Political and Crime Editors’ held at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, last month. The event was attended by the governor, his commissioners and special advisers, other top government functionaries, media executives, and resource persons.
According to the organisers, the purpose of the seminar was to empower the relevant sections of the local and international media with deeper knowledge of the peculiarities of Nigeria as a nation, with a view to delivering authoritative reports on the political environment as well as crime without harming the essence of Nigeria’s unity.”
Keynote remarks were given by the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mallam Mustapha Isa, and President of Nigerian Union of Journalists Chief Chris Isiguso. The Editor-In-Chief of Leadership Newspapers, Azubuike Ishiekwene, presented a paper on ‘Reporting Nigeria for Nigeria.’
Ayoade, who holds a doctorate degree in Biochemistry, presented a paper on ‘Impact of Civil Service Reform on National Growth: Kogi as a Case Study.’ The significance of her exposition is that, if there is peer review among states, they can tap from some elements of the Kogi Civil Service Reforms.
The role of the civil service in national development cannot be overemphasised. Ladipo Adamolekun, frontline professor of Public Administration, put this into perspective when he declared that it is the engine room of government responsible for the day-to-day implementation of policies and programmes, including the raising of public revenue and management of public expenditure.
Many experts agree that the central role of the civil service requires that competent, highly motivated, productive and efficient personnel should be recruited, trained, re-trained, and sustained, because civil servants, unlike temporary political appointees, are expected to enjoy permanence of tenure. Also, as executors of government policies, they are expected to be educated and possess expertise knowledge, either as generalists in public administration and civil service code, or as specialists in specified technical areas.
But, while a virile civil service is an asset, Kogi’s pre-2015 experience was a wide departure, making it a liability. “I met a huge wage bill and a huge debt due to undefined salary structure and over-bloated service compounded by ghost workers,” Ayoade lamented, stressing that the monumental corruption constituted a drain on the state treasury.
“We had to confront embezzlement and sharp financial practices in the civil service and MDAs,” she added.
It is an understatement. Findings revealed that the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) was not remitted to government coffers. It ended in private pockets, to the detriment of the state.
Ayoade, who confirmed the official sleaze, graft and culture of ‘steal and go,’ said she dared the cesspit of corruption in the interest of the state.
“Now, there is proper accounting, owing to the Treasury Single Account, ” the SSG stressed.
The next challenge was how to halt the poor attitude to work. Ayoade found out that factors underlying civil servants’ aloofness and lack of dedication and patriotism were poor conditions of service and uncobducive working environment. Among others, workers were owed backlog of salaries and promotions were delayed. “Some got promotion without corresponding financial backing,” she pointed out, noting that it was confounding and condemnable.
Besides, there was duplication of duties in Kogi Civil Service, making it impossible for superordinates to really hold ordinates responsible for jobs that poorly done. The baseline was the indiscriminate recruitment of many youths into the civil service without a criteriom beyond the peculiar notion “jobs for the boys.” In addition, as recalled by Ayoade, infrastructural decay and lack of adequate and proper tools for work hampered effectiveness and efficiency.
As the SSG swung into action, she knew that reforms, like every innovation, could be resisted. Also, she understood the fact that while changes could herald a new dawn of progress, it could also produce casualties. But, having secured the backing of the governor, the coast was clear for bold initiatives.
First, Ayoade, in tackling the duplication of duties, canvassed a merger modality’. The systematic harmonisation was cost-effective. Therefore, there was value engineering, which implied a constant creativity method in the service geared towards cost reduction, greater productivity and ultimate efficiency.
Second, the SSG embarked on personal audit, which became a permanent routine. The staff verification yielded positive results. To her consternation, 9,000 ghost workers milking the state treasury were discovered and instantly purged out. Shedding light on the success of the audit, she said: “We weeded out the Diasporal workers and unintended beneficiaries from governments payroll.”
However, she was silent on what became of the culprits, whether they were handed over to security agents for prosecution or just allowed to go scot-free.
Third, general discipline was restored among the workforce. The system of reward and penalty was instituted. More shoddy deals by unscrupulous events in the civil service were halted. “We had to check the activities of those enjoying unapproved study leave, which had become rampant. We also discovered that some workers entered the service with fake sertificates. We put a stop to it,” she recalled.
Also, Ayoade confronted the menace of interlopers, particularly retired officers who indulged in collecting salaries and pensions.
But, more worrisome were the infractions by unpatriotic civil servants who were sustaining the names of dead people on the payroll.
To maintain a clean break from the past, Ayoade said:”We had to digitalise Kogi Public Service. We therefore, blocked the loopholes for good.”
Other reforms relate to the appointment and transfer of permanent secretaries. The crave or preference for what is typically called ‘juicy ministries’ by top officials became a thing of the past. The SSG said “there is a written examination” to determine the fitness and suitability of top officials for ministries, based on their long years of service, experience, skills, conduct and public good.
However, being a plural state, the state government often ensures that Kogi’s distribution of permanent secretaries, reflect the diversity of the state. The goal, as explained by the Commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, is to foster inclusion, sense of belonging, unity and diversity.
In his own paper at the seminar titled: “Peaceful coexistence in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society: How Kogi’s three main ethnic groups became one,” Fanwo said none of the ethnic groups is excluded in critical appointments. “This is necessary. It is non-negotiable to ensure unity and peaceful coexistence among our diverse people. But, competence is never compromised,” he added.
Since 2015, Kogi Civil Service has also taken keen interest in life after retirement. It has keyed into the Contributory Pension Scheme introduced by the Federal Government in 2004. This enables workers to save for the rainy day. “Apart from paying wages and pensions regularly in appreciation of workers’ commitment to the “New Direction Agenda,” we also sensitise workers, who are potential retirees, to the import and challenges of retirement as they cannot be in the service for ever.” she emphasised.
The state has also embarked on the reforms of the local government system, in a bid to make it an effective unit for service delivery at the grassroots. This is crucial to the ease of administration across the state.
Ayoade said: “Our civil servants are exposed to sound training and retraining to improve their capacity.”
Evidently, the civil service reforms are on course in Kogi. But, the question is: can government develop the will and capacity to sustain the reforms? Will the reforms outlive the current administration? Time with tell.
According to observers, their sustenance will lead to a regenerated and time-tested civil service capable of withstanding or coping with the increasing challenges of the dynamic society. If not, the reforms may pale into a wasted effort with the passage of time.