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The Evil Servant

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In Nigeria, our civil service system has been overtaken by nepotism, lack of merit, incompetence and complete disregard for critical thinking.

The same Nigerian civil service that once produced

Super Permanent Secretaries, now produces ethnic champions,

looters, “area boys”, and closet politicians. – Ruben Abati

Jesus was crucified between two thieves. According to the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus the penitent thief on his right was named Dismas while the unrepentant thief on his left was Gestas. We could liken the corrupt civil servant to Gestas, ‘Ole apa osi’.
“That Nigeria is not working is a fact that only those who deceive themselves would dispute. Yet, there is nothing that one can accuse the political class of for which the civil service can be exonerated. As the main organ through which the policies and programs of government are implemented, it stands to reason that the civil service is also culpable in the rot that now defines our society. Indeed, according to a research paper published by the United Nations University titled ‘Civil Service Reform: A Review’ credited to Sarah Repucci, “The civil service is the backbone of the state, and can either support or undermine a country’s entire system of governance.”- Segun Adeniyi.
Our civil service is not only excessively bloated (both at federal and state levels), but cesspool of corruption, nepotism and tribalism. The reasons for the corrupt civil service which in turn has given room to ineffective service delivery are the weak institutional structures, cumbersome administrative procedure, negative attitude of the civil servants to work and individuals’ insatiable appetite for wealth at all cost.( Gabriel Favour Eke: Corruption in the Civil ServiceThe Dearth of Effective Service Delivery.
It never used to be like this, as attested to by the Sage: “Our civil service is exceedingly efficient, absolutely incorruptible in its upper stratum, and utterly devoted and unstinting in the discharge of its many onerous duties. For our civil servants, government workers and labourers to bear, uncomplainingly and without breaking down, the heavy and multifarious burdens with which we have in the interest of the public saddled them, is an epic of loyalty and devotion, of physical and mental endurance, and of a sense of mission, on their part. From the bottom of my heart I salute all of them.“ – Awo. The Autobiography of Obafemi Awolowo (1960, p. 293).
This was the situation until the 1975 purge of the service and its gradual transformation into the Evil Service that it is today. Our erstwhile hardworking and diligent civil servants were transformed into Gestases, ‘Ole Apa osi’. They are now working in tandem with their political compatriots to ruin the commonwealth.
Lack of policy implementation and policy inconsistency are products of political corruption. While religious organisations are neck deep in monetization, the proliferation of civil societies in Nigeria has become an avenue to attract international donors. These are all off-shoots of corruption.
The President said that Nigeria’s civil service was declining due to its inability to articulate a vision and develop the required capacity to implement such vision:“Many, who mourn the decline of the civil service today from its days as ‘primus inter pares’ in the Commonwealth to one which has earned a reputation for inefficiency, low productivity, corruption and insensitivity to the needs of the public, fall into the error of thinking that the problem is a poverty of ideas and capacity on the part of the civil service; whereas, it is the inability to clearly articulate a vision, ensure that the service develops the required capacity to articulate and implement the various components of the vision.
Talking of vision presupposes that there are cherished values. The question that begs for answer is what are our values?  It is our values that translate into vision and ultimately goals; where there are no values there can be no vision. This unfortunately is where we find ourselves today.
We had it coming right from the pre independence period when the tripod of leadership was siting on divergent and irreconcilable values. The Northern People’s Congress (Jammaa Mutani Arewa) and its leadership had a Northern people’s agenda. The Action Group (offshoot of Egbe Omo Oduduwa) in the west was equally focused on its insular values. The NCNC, which was the most national in outlook however revealed it’s true colour as an Ibo irredentist organ; what with its Ibonization of the civil service, a situation that led to the pejorative soubriquet ‘ikeji ‘ani’. Said Zik, in an address to the Ibo State Union in Aba as early as 1949: “It would appear that God has specially created the Ibo people . . . . But also to adapt themselves to the role thus thrust upon them by history, of preserving all that is best and most noble in African culture and tradition. Placed in this high estate, the Ibo cannot shirk the responsibility conferred on it by its manifest destiny. . . . The keynote in this address is self-determination for the Ibo. Let us establish an Ibo State, based on linguistic and ethnic factors, enabling us to take our place side by side with the other linguistic and ethnic groups which make up Nigeria and the Cameroons.
The absence of commonality of values would eventually lead to the schism among the leadership and the creation of a fertile soil for widespread corruption that would see the civil service turned into ‘The Evil Service’.
“Flowing from these is the imperative that our society must be governed by the rule of law, administered by a trustworthy, fearless, impartial and efficient judiciary”.
In our public service, certain species of corruption have gone mainstream and have become normalized, nowhere is the evolution of smaller evils into bigger evils more evident than in Nigeria.
The Nigerian public service is irretrievably dysfunctional with the cardinal characteristic as a silo of corruption. The civil servants and the amoral middle class are the foremost destroyers of Nigeria. During the military era, everyone puts the blame of Nigeria’s dysfunction on the military. Under various democratic regimes, we blame the politicians for all ills but there is a constant enabling entity common under the various systems of government we have experimented with – the civil service.
“There are civil servants today who are richer than their ministries. Apart from kickbacks, envelope budgeting allows them to budget for the same things, whether these are needed or not. Unspent funds are shared at the end of the year, instead of returned to the treasury. Despite a ballooning population and dwindling revenues, many agencies exist whose functions have no impact on our daily lives. What is the impact of the millions of dollars budgeted for the National Space Research and Development Agency, the Defense Space Administration, and Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited? The Biotechnology Development Agency operates twenty-six centers cross country. Have you ever heard of these government bodies? What do they do? What are the benefits of these agencies to Nigerians? What are the economic returns on their significant budgets? . . . We do not have nuclear reactors, yet we have an Atomic Energy Commission and Nuclear Regulatory Authority. One can only say these establishments are conduits for bureaucratic corruption.- Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
There are some universal attributes such as self-reliance, trustworthiness, communication skills, compassion, positivity, inspiring, awareness and far sightedness which can be helpful in order to become a successful Leader. Allah SWT has considered in the Quran:“There has undoubtedly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an exceptional arrangement for any person whose faith is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] evokes Allah frequently.”(Quran 33:21)
If we summarize the qualities of leadership as observed in the life of the Holy Prophet and his companions, these are values that if shared among our leaders our lives could be transformed and made better than what we have now.
No doubt a clean and reformed civil service will make it very difficult for any politician to steal public funds or convert our joint patrimony for private use.
The Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo has said; a situation where privileged civil servants subvert the system for personal gains at the expense of the poor is the greatest tragedy that a nation could experience.
“Ihdinas-Siraat-Al-Mustaqeem” “Guide us upon the straight path”

Babatunde Jose
Ojogbon Baba’oba

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