As a push back to critics of president Muhamadu Buhari’s delay in constituting a cabinet about four months into his administration, mr president reportedly retorted that ministers are ‘noise makers’ and the job of running the bureaucracy is actually carried out by civil servants, so why the hurry?
In deed , the delay in forming the cabinet was essentially because president Buhari was consulting with permanent secretaries who trooped in droves, into Aso Rock to keep our newly minted president abreast of the business of governance or statecraft.
So at the inception of Buhari’s regime, it was not uncommon to see top civil servants in photo opportunities splashed out in both print, online and broadcast media platforms ,in company of president Buhari, clutching files and grinning from chin-to-chin like cheshire cats to the consternation of politicians from , APC party who could not wait to climb into the ministerial saddle.
Back then, Mr president reposed so much confidence in Nigerian civil servants that he was not in a hurry to appoint ministers. However, civil servants being the wily crop of people that they are , must have regaled mr president with tales and fables about officialdom and their critical role and inevitability in running the bureaucracy that he became so sucked in and enamored to the extent of regarding civil servants as ‘blue eye princes’ while labeling ministers as ‘noise makers’ .
At that time, civil servants, whom some aggrieved Nigerians derogatorily tag ‘evil ‘ servants, because of their nefarious antecedents ,had not shown him their true colors.
Today, mr president would easily join the numerous Nigerians who have had close encounters with the ‘head honchos’ in the bureaucratic establishments, by also calling them ‘evil’ servants since he now has a taste of their evil plots evidenced by their reported resistance to Zero Base Budgeting, ZBB and the secret planting of a whopping N1.6 trillion into budget 2016.
Before president Buhari, many public servants have fallen victim of civil servants economic debauchery. At the level of the legislature ,lets take a look at the case of former senate president, Adolphus Wabara who was caught in the web of budget manipulation for a fee and subsequently lost his senate presidency on account of his indictment.How about former Aviation minister, Stella Odua who got fired from the cabinet of former president, Goodluck Jonathan, for purchasing an armored BMW car for an outrageous sum?
I can wager a bet that for every occupant of political office found guilty of corrupt enrichment, more often than not, they were instigated and encouraged by civil servants working with or under them.
This is because, over the years, civil servants have mastered the art of pulling the wool over the eyes of political office holders and their permanency on the job (35 years) as opposed to public servants( ministers or Directors General) who serve only one or two term of fours years each and often less, gives them the undue advantage to perfect their devious art which is why they exhibit the characteristics of the mafia .
Former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, now governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai was so keenly aware of the evil capacity of civil servants that he broke the mode of engaging civil servants as Special Assistants, SAs but instead sought exemption to source his aides from the private sector in order to achieve his development goals.
The beautiful city that he wove Abuja into, is a testimony to El- Rufai’s sidelining of civil servants to deliver on the mandate(as a man schooled in the art of building) of creating a modern city that was the envy of many visiting prime ministers and presidents.
It beats me hollow that, the former FCT minister who is a close confidant of president Buhari did not alert him when he was romancing and hub nubbin with civil servants.
It is to the credit of ‘eagle eye’ legislators and more especially, civil society organizations who dissected the budget to sniff out the potential heist embedded in the 2016 budget by civil servants.
Truth is that, civil servants which constitute less than 5% of Nigeria’s population actually consume about 70% of our country’s income, according to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi,ex CBN Governor, now emir of Kano . The giant sum of budgeted funds consumed by civil servants is in the form of salaries and emoluments,which is why Nigeria’s budget is tilted abnormally more to recurrent expenditure and less to capital projects, yet they are the biggest perpetrators of fraud.
Issues of corruption in the civil service in Nigeria have been well-documented. For instance, in 1975, after the late General Murtala Mohamed took over from General Yakubu Gowon as head of state, about ten thousand civil servants were sacked over corruption matters.
According to Pius Okigbo report, between 1988 and 1994, some $12.5b in govt revenue was stolen by civil servants.
Unsurprisingly, all the pension funds fraud, typified by the recent indictment of an assistant director in civil service commission ,Yakubu Yesufu who frittered away N32 billion and Abdulrasheed Maina, chairman of presidential task force on pension funds,who could not account for about N195 billion under his care, are clear reflections of the level of involvement of civil servants in corrupt practices.
Would you believe that Mr president’s discovery of the clever sneaking in of projects into the 2016 appropriation bill amounting to nearly a quarter of the budget is merely scratching the surface of the economic sabotage activities of civil servants?
Most Nigerians would be shocked to learn that in cohort with civil servants, it is indeed contractors that prepare Nigeria’s budget.
Here is how it is works: typically, a contractor like Julius Berger or Coscharis,(for the sake of this analogy) working with civil servants puts a proposal for the building or expansion of the State House clinic or supply of Conference Visitors Unit,CVU vehicles together.
The contractor co-opts the head of the bureaucracy in the ministry who is the Permanent Secretary , PS whose duty is to convince the minister, who is a politician, to buy into the proposal. Once the accent of the minister or head of the agency is secured, in toe with the civil servant who has been armed with the project details, the public servants proceed to the National Assembly, NASS to defend the budget.
Some contractors even go further to ‘ lobby’ the relevant legislators for support in the passage of the ‘proposal of interest’ without reduction of the assigned costs. In some cases,the cost is jacked up to include the financial interests of the parliamentarian or parliamentarians who ‘guard’ the proposal through the budgetary process to ensure that nothing that would warrant removal of the project or result in cost reduction, happens.
So from the scenario above,invariably, it is the contractor that does the ground work and thus produces Nigeria’s budget. In other words, Nigeria’s budget is more or less an assemblage of myriads of proposals by a plethora of contractors and not the brain child of civil servants as we are led to believe. Civil servants only put the veneer to make it look elegant before laying it before the legislative arm of govt whose duty it is to appropriate our national resources.
As sordid and absurd as the foregoing revelations appear, that’s the honest truth. Now, l have read in the media where the chairman of House of Representatives committee on appropriation, Jubril Abdulmumim took exceptions to allegations that legislators are complicit in ‘padding’ budgets. His umbrage is a mere ‘corporate speak’ as he and his colleagues are cognizant of the truth, otherwise it would be assumed that the usually very vibrant and knowledgeable law maker is living in a bubble or in denial. This ritual which has been ongoing at the national level ,also happens in the same manner at the state govt level.
It should therefore not surprise anybody that about N3.8b was allegedly provided for the upgrading and furnishing of state house clinic, Aso Rock.Who has exclusive rights to construct and furnish such facilities in Aso Rock Villa, if not Julius Berger, a contractor?Who supplied bullet proof BMW cars that landed Stella Oduah, former aviation minister, in hot water, Coscharis, a contractor.
You can figure out who is likely to supply the estimated N1 billion BMW cars being proposed for use in the CVU in the villa. Have you noticed that the brand was expressly mentioned in the budget proposal to avoid sudden change to Mercedes or Toyota after approval had been received? That’s how clever and thoroughly detailed civil servants and their contractor partners in crime, can be.
Coupled with the spat that transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi reportedly had with civil servants who were supposed to travel with him to China and were flying in first class with tickets provided by the would-be Chinese contractor, it is easy to see that corruption is more endemic in the civil service than in the public service.
It’s just that while corruption is systemic in the civil service, it is sporadic in the public service as reflected in the $2.1 billion arms purchase fund converted to campaign slush funds now tagged -Dasukigate , which happened within a short period compared to the Yakubu Yesufu and Abdulrashid Maina heist which was consistently going on over the years.
Every disappointment, they say is a blessing, implying that every dark event also has its good side, if we take time to look closely. President Buhari now has his job cut out for him, as he must also, after dealing with the political class,focus his anti corruption war on the civil servants-the ant in terms of population size, (5%) that gulps the elephant size of Nigeria’s revenue budgeted (70%).
To that end, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC needs to be revamped, so that like the Economic and Financial Crimes Comission,EFCC which is currently prosecuting politicians and oil/ gas barons ,thieving civil servants can equally be brought to book. While acknowledging that Treasury Single Account, TSA, and Zero Based Budgeting, ZBB recently introduced to efficiently track and trap as well as allocate public funds on verifiable project-by-project basis, are helping to stem corruption in the public service, the whistle blowing bill currently in NASS for passage into law is also a useful tool that would help reduce, if not eliminate the debilitating effect of corruption perpetrated by civil servants in Nigeria.
So NASS should hurry up the passage of the bill that would help stem the hemorrhaging of scarce financial resources and thus save lives lost daily owing to lack of medical facilities for optimum anti natal and maternal care, one of the areas where Nigeria has fallen below the minimum threshold of Millennium Development Goals , MDGs which has now been transformed into Sustainable Development Goals, SDG of the United Nations, UN.
As a lot of pundits have argued, if Nigeria collects at least fifty percent (50%) of taxes that is due to her, there may not be need for the present hues and cries about the loss of oil revenue due to dramatic drop in international market price. As a political science scholar, l can confirm without equivocation that the level of tax compliance in a society is a reflection of the level of adoption of culture of democracy in the society.
In that regard,Lagos state takes the gold medal in generation of tax revenue (about N20b monthly) owing to the innovative tax system introduced to shore up revenue when former president, Olusegun Obasabjo suspended the monthly statutory allocation of funds from the federation account to the state as sanction for creating local govt development agencies beyond the provision in Nigerian constitution.
Thus, what was meant to be punishment and therefore an affliction, became blessing in disguise, of which the federal govt is now adopting by hiring Tunde Fowler, the erstwhile head of tax collection in lagos state, as the new helmsman at the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.
Of course, it is also the finding of political scientists that the corollary to higher level of tax compliance in a society, is that the govt becomes more accountable, as tax payers, are bound to demand more transparency and accountability on what govt does with the funds realized from the sweat of their brow.
As the roots of democracy deepens in Nigeria by growing from fibrous to tap roots, the days of kleptomaniac civil servants may be numbered, but president Buhari must, first of all, start by fishing out and sanctioning the perpetrators of the 2016 appropriation bill sabotage.
At least that would serve as warning to other potential saboteurs still in the civil service system and thus compel them to desist from the unpatriotic enterprise.
Onyibe, a development strategist, futurologist and former commissioner in Delta state govt, is an alumni of the Fletcher School Of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA. He sent this piece from Abuja.