Unhinging public service from culture of making wrong practices the norm

 
Mon Aug 3rd, 2020 - Abia
 


In the absence of the driver’s seat platforms of my previous public service reform leadership positions, having retired from the civil service, invitations to serve as facilitator at cabinet retreats or high-level workshops have become the platform to highlight for the attention of State and Federal Governments my views on public service issues including, lately, the ever-growing list of wrong practices, processes, procedures and protocols that have become the norm in the public service. This I have been doing in line with the mission statement of GSDI (Governance and Sustainable Development Initiatives) Limited, my Management Consulting firm, of “providing strategic think tank using innovative and practical approaches to strengthen the public service as both the effective engine of governance and as the platform for State transformation and Sustainable Development”. Indeed, in the last 10 years, I have had several of those opportunities, from the Presidency, Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, as well as state governors. My delivery strategy, each time, has been to use eye-catching infographics and real-life pictures to arrest the attention of participants so as to spur those, among them, on the direct line of authority to action. Copious references are also made to the relevant pages where some of these errors are captured in my book Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria, Vol. 1: The Civil Service Pathway, (RGGN) published in 2015, for follow up action.

The Induction Workshop organized last week by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, (HCSF) Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan for the 12 permanent secretary-designates recently appointed by the President in exercise of his powers under section 169 and 171 of the Constitution, provided another of those opportunities. The topic that I was assigned, “Roles and Responsibilities of Permanent Secretaries as Administrative Heads and Accounting officers of their MDAs”, was the same topic that I spoke on at a similar workshop in February this year for Permanent Secretaries appointed towards the end of last year. Being aware of the practical hands-on examples with graphic illustrations of wrong practices and procedures committed by the civil service leadership that usually lace my presentations, blunt truths that would normally unsettle a lot of leaders, it is obvious that my repeat invitation by the HCSF to speak at such forum was not only aimed at maintaining consistency, so as to bring every perm sec up to the same page, but her own lesson to the perm secs on the essence of developing courage to face the truth.

The “Services” of the Federation include: the Federal Civil Service (mainstream, elite service); Federal Judicial Service; National Assembly Service; The Military (Armed Forces) Services – Army, Navy & Air Force; The Police Service; the State Security Service; Nigeria Intelligence Agency; Para-Military Services – Customs; Immigration, Prisons (now Correctional Service), Civil Defence, Federal Fire Service; Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC); Executive Bodies & Commissions (independent) like the ICPC, INEC etc; Parastatals, Agencies; the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); and Corporations (e.g. NNPC). Together, with their service commissions and/or governing boards, they constitute the “Public Service of the Federation”. While the Civil Service, regulated by the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) and managed by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, may be one of several services and composed of merely a total of 140,000 out of about 1.9 million federal work force, it is the foothold of Permanent Secretaries as Chief Operating Officers (COO) and Accounting Officers in the ministries that provides the HCSF with the coordinating platform for most of the public service. Therein (i.e. on the permanent secretaries and the HCSF) lies the burden of responsibility for Government Effectiveness, and the raison d’etre for this Induction Workshop by the Head of the Civi l Service of the Federation.

The target participants of the Induction Workshop, which was coordinated for the HCSF by Mr. Ibrahim Mairiga, the Director overseeing the office of Permanent Secretary, Career Management Office (CMO), number 12. Excitedly, they see themselves as reform champions and were referring to themselves as the 12 Apostles or Sahabah depending on their faith. These participants/ Permanent Secretary-designates and their States of origin are: Akinlade, Oluwatoyin (Kogi); Alkali, Bahir Nura (Kano); Anyanwutaku, Adaora Ifeoma (Anambra); Ardo, Babayo Kumo (Gombe); Belgore, Shuaib Mohammad Lamido (Kwara); Ekpa, Anthonia Akpabio (Cross River); Hussaini, Babangida (Jigawa); Mahmuda, Mamman (Yobe); Meribole, Emmanuel Chukwuemeka (Abia); Mohammed, Aliyu Ganda (Sokoto); Tarfa, Yerima Peter (Adamawa) and Udoh, Monilola Omokunmi (Oyo). Listening to them referring to themselves as the “12 Apostles”, I immediately remembered that, in the Nigeria civil service, that title belongs to the first intakes into the Nigerian Foreign Service in 1957 comprising, among others, Leslie Harriman, M.A. Sanusi (the father of Sule Lamido Sanusi) and Philip Asiodu, who were sent abroad for training as per the arrangement worked out by Mr. Mathew Mbu, then Nigeria High Commissioner in London on the directive of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (see: Olufemi George 2012 From Rookie to Mandarin – The Memoirs of a Second Generation Diplomat pp. 9-17). I was therefore curious to see how this “Class of 2020” of permanent secretaries would measure in comparison with those pioneers, whose title they have chosen to drape themselves in, and the interactive approach that I had already planned for my delivery became very apt for it.

For the 2-hour presentation, I had a total of 67 slides, covering such sub headings as
-The Title “Permanent Secretary” explained and situated within the context of Public Service;
– Overarching Importance of the universal Public Service Values;
– Uniformity of the General Duties of a Perm Sec across the globe and the variation specifics arising from the mandates of MDAs;
– The Imperative of firm grasp of the national codes: from the Constitution, and related acts of the MDAs to which the Permanent Secretaries are deployed to the Public Service Rules, Financial Regulations, Procurement Guidelines etc;
– The appreciation of Nigeria’s poor ranking in global Government Effectiveness Index at 169th as a verdict of: poor quality public service and poor quality public servants;
– Some Manifestations of weakness in public service performance, as exemplified by:
(i) Increasing list of Institutionalized wrong practices; and
(ii) A Tracer Analysis and listing of Official Abuse of Recurrent Appropriation;
Capacity as the Endearing qualities of an effective Perm Sec;
Conclusion: Making the Weight of the Office count; and

My Advice & Prayer
After dissecting Nigeria’s poor ranking in global Government Effectiveness Index at 169th as a verdict of: poor quality public service and poor quality public servants, the presentation went on to show how Erosion of the globally cherished public service Professional Value of Serving with Competence, Confidence, Excellence and Efficiency has led to the gradual institutionalization of wrong nomenclature, practices, protocol and procedures, citing as clear examples:

How the term “MDAs” an acronym for a group of self-accounting principal organs of government, headed by high-level appointees of the President/Governor as chief executive officers, has been casually accepted in its nominal interpretation as “Ministries, Departments and Agencies”, whereas, in the Nigerian setting, it is officially “Ministries, extra-Ministerial Departments and Agencies”. This is because, unlike the United States and the United Kingdom where Ministries are called Departments and are headed by Ministers, “Departments” in Nigeria are headed by Directors who report to Permanent Secretaries or Directors General, and are not self-accounting.

How the last line of our National Anthem has been carelessly altered by the introduction of “shall” to read “to build a nation where peace and justice SHALL reign”, thus making “peace and justice” an elusive factor rather than an integral factor of a stable polity as in “ to build a nation where peace and justice reign”, as intended and captured in the original lyrics.
How the National Flag aberration, where the Nigeria Coat of Arms is printed on the middle White portion of the flag, has now become the preferred version for the official portraits of uninformed political office holders. Considering that “the two green bands represents Nigeria’s natural wealth while the white band in the middle represents peace”, it will not be out of place for a mischief-maker to infer that the aberration of the white band marks the initiation of the disturbance of the nation’s peace and that the preferred use of such version of the flag as a symbol of authority by some key players in Government is how the perennial disturbance of the peace has been sustained!

The improper use of the National Flag, as exemplified by the social media publicized draping of the saddle of the horses drawing the Hearse Carriage at the burial of the mother of a popular Nigerian Senator.

With regard to Official Portraits, the standardization of size and placement of the official portraits in relation to the Coat of Arms has long disappeared.

As I observed in 2013 and recorded in RGGN (2015), the VIP/Protocol lounges of our airports during the Jonathan administration were adorned with 24×30 inches gallery-sized pictures, produced by the then Minister of Aviation of herself and the President in total disregard of the size of Nigeria’s coat of Arms and the 11×14 inches official portraits of the Governors. The sight at the Benin Airport, with the 11×14 inches portrait of Governor Adams Oshiomhole between them but with the head of the Governor rising above that of the President and without the Coat of Arms, the official symbol of authority in sight, was not only awkward but hilarious.

I also made the observation that, despite the introduction of the current Coat of Arms since 1979, replacing the National Motto of “Unity and Faith” with “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress” , the abolished Coat of Arms with “Unity and Faith” as national Motto is still what adorns some public offices, public buildings and public documents 41 years after! My latest embarrassment in this regard was the discovery last week of an advert of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) on the NTA network, in which the ICPC logo that was projected by the NTA clearly showed that the Coat of Arms embedded in the ICPC logo is the 1960 version that came with “Nigeria We Hail Thee “ as National anthem! I thought it was a mistake, unfortunately, my call to the Chairman of the ICPC only confirmed my worst fears. The realization that the ICPC, which is always headed by eminent jurists and lawyers, could be oblivious of this error over its 20 years of existence, and that the error could also slip through the expected eagle eyes of editors at the News and Commercial Departments of the NTA, the information bearing organ of government, beats my imagination. It speaks a volume as to how far the public service has sunk in terms of professionalism. The ICPC Chairman has however promised to take corrective action immediately.

The protocol for taking the National Anthem is unlike the error of abolished Coat of Arms in the ICPC logo, which the Chairman has promised to act upon promptly, as it is one issue (more of malady) that seems to have defied several efforts of curtailment. I have written and spoken about it at several cabinet retreats and policy dialogues. As captured on page 177 of RGGN (2015) “I fail to understand why some members of the cabinet cannot simply take cue from the President, and they end up placing their right hand over their heart to the shoulder. “Placing the right hand over the heart to the left shoulder” is the protocol for observing the American Anthem while “placing the right palm to the heart” is the protocol for taking the Nigerian National Pledge! The correct protocol for Nigeria’s national anthem is to “stand upright with both hands stretched on the sides of the body”. The other day at a public function, I saw a left handed senior official who, sitting next to another top official doing this American style, was spurred to do the same. Intuitively, he brought out his left hand and placed it on his chest, both of them in the midst of other Nigerians standing at attention the correct way. What a comic but awkward sight!”

Unfortunately, the practice still persists as evidenced in the picture that I used to illustrate it to the Induction Workshop participants. The picture featured, standing for the national anthem, from the left; Adams Oshiomhole as Chairman APC, the Vice President, the President, the National Leader of the APC, the SGF. Unlike the President, the Vice President and the SGF who had their hands fully stretched by their sides, both the chairman and National Leader of the APC had their right hands placed on their hearts! I just could not understand why some leaders cannot simply take cue from the President. I hope this display is not reflective of the discordance in our governance.

I had called the attention of the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation to the National Anthem protocol error, as soon as he came into office, and I am sure that he must have brought it to the attention of cabinet members. Besides, citing it as a wrong practice was part of my Presentation at the Presidential Policy Dialogue at the State House last year, just as it was in my presentation at the first Induction Workshop for new Permanent Secretaries in February this year. Over the years, that I have been bringing this observation to the attention of those in authority to enable them address it, as a simple affirmation of our togetherness and a reflection of our willingness to take correction and abide by what is right, I have found that it has become a habit and, as they say, old habits die hard. Curiously, I have observed that most of those in this habit are the elected and/or high-ranking public office holders who once worked with or had close association with the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, for whom this might have been a carry-over of his American exposure.

As a former Permanent Secretary of Interior, I could not help going to the Comptroller General of Immigration, Mohammed Babandede, to implore him on the need to make the Minister of Interior take the National Anthem the correct way at public functions, especially when in the midst of his para-military service chiefs. The Minister of State for Health is another top official who seems addicted to the practice. It does appear that this American style is being projected by these public figures, ostensibly as a demonstration of their greater sense of patriotism! Among those who have caught the bug but didn’t work directly with Asiwaju Tinubu is the Governor of my State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu. He had corrected himself the moment I addressed the issue at his Cabinet Retreat which I conducted in February 2018 with my team of distinguished facilitators comprising: Dr. Tukur Ingawa, Mr. Japh Nwosu Senator Olu Adetunmbi, Mr. Martins Oloja and Dr. Mrs. Yemi Mahmud. I had assumed that the change he made at the retreat was permanent, only to discover in subsequent public outings that he had reverted to this American mode. The two Governors who stood corrected, the moment I addressed the issue at their respective Cabinet Retreats and had maintained it till date, are the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi and the Governor of the State of Osun, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola.

I went ahead to list 16 channels through which political heads seek the connivance of Permanent Secretaries to abuse the provisions and control measures prescribed in the Public service Rules, Financial Regulations, etc. as discussed in Adegoroye (2015) RGGN vol.1: pages 144-164 as follows:
i. Taking Deliberate Advantage of Subsisting Accounting Gaffe to pay political office holders for items already covered in their emoluments; ii. Large Retinue of Aides with unregulated and unapproved designations: like “Senior Special Adviser”, “Chief of Staff” to Ministers; etc
Iii. Payment of Hotel Accommodation/Rent to political office holders already receiving Daily Allowance in lieu of hotel;
iv. Official Travels without Approval of the President;
v. Unwieldy Delegation Size on Official Trips
vi. Air Travel Costs and the Newly Acquired Taste for Chartered Flights;
vii. Manipulation of Estacode rates, Warm Clothing and Contingency Allowances to undeserved delegates;
viii. Double dipping in the funding of official tours, from Ministry and agencies at the same time;
ix. Payment for Unofficial Trips, including Weekend Trips to home towns from government purses;
x. Attendance of Social Functions and Festivals at Government expense;
xi. Payment of Irregular Allowances e.g. Police Uniforms;
xii. Press and Public Relations;
xiii. Organization of Out-of-Station Retreats, Workshops and Meetings in home State of Ministers;
xiv. The Burden of Over-sight Functions of the National Assembly
xv. Election Year Pressures of the Ruling Political Party
xvi. Off record purchases of Official Vehicles and Personal Computers
I had to stress repeatedly the weight of responsibility carried in the provisions of the Financial Regulations 104 (iii) which states that:

“The Accounting Officer shall be held personally and pecuniarily responsible for all wrongdoings in his Ministry/ Extra-Ministerial Department. Delegation of his duties or functions shall not absolve him from these responsibilities and liabilities”; and pointed out that failure to promptly reply audit queries has been responsible for most of the public embarrassment faced by Permanent Secretaries and HCSFs.

I had to go to this great length, in order to show these Permanent Secretary-designates the challenges that lie ahead of them. Together we were able to come to the realization that the trail of wrong practices, processes, procedures and protocols, which are now inadvertently being institutionalized as the norm in the service, were a product of Weak Permanent Secretary capacity, sustained over time, coupled with inept subordinates at the Directorate level especially those in the habit of circumventing the direct line of authority of the permanent secretary to egotistic and oftentimes overbearing political heads. They now know that, upon deployment to their duty posts, they cannot just take everything on ground for granted as the norm but to deploy their critical thinking to unravel wrong practices, processes, procedures and protocols and to bring the weight of their offices to correct them wherever they may be. The case of the ICPC logo, that has subsisted for the entire 20 years of its existence without catching the eagle eyes of its past political office leadership, should be a lesson. More importantly, together we were also able to appreciate that the way out is their own capacity, which in turn is a function of certain innate and acquired personal qualities revolving around integrity and courage to take the right actions.

Concluding, I stressed the imperative of making the weight of their office count, by:
(i) Commanding the respect of their Ministers through the full display of their respective experience, proactive initiatives, quality of advice, maturity in handling sensitive issues and timeliness of response to ministerial, legislative and presidential directives;
(ii) Ensuring that the provisions of the various Rules, Regulations and Guidelines of Government come alive to their responsibilities of upholding the public trust;
(iii) Rising above the pedestrian level of conniving with subordinates to manipulate the provisions in those statute books for personal gains/favours; and
(iv) Ensuring that approvals that carry their signatures are those that they can defend before external auditors, public accounts committee and any commission or panel of inquiry.

Obviously, we have gone on this road many times before but we can never get tired of walking it again. That is the import of Induction Workshops. Parodying the words of the American singer and song writer, Bob Dylan, the question is: how many roads must the service walk down before it makes its impact as the service of our dream? Whether this class of 2020, dubbed the 12 Apostles / Sahabah, being put through the furnace of this just-concluded training by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, will turn out to be the champions that the service needs to realize that dream, time will tell as the answer, for now, is blowing in the wind. My prayer, especially in the spirit of Eid el Kabir at this time, is that God will imbue them with the right wisdom and courage to face the challenges ahead and make the weight of their office count, so that they can succeed, even where the efforts of my generation have fallen short of public expectations.

Adegoroye, PhD, OON, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and pioneer Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) is also the National Publicity Secretary of the Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries (CORFEPS).

 
 

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source: Guardian