BY Eric Teniola
Of all the mistakes made by the military, none is greater than the 1975/1976 assault on bureaucracy in this country. It was termed THE GREAT PURGE by the media at that time. But that action destroyed the robust Civil Service system and since that time this country has lost its way. In any National development, there is no alternative to a robust civil service system. Tampering with the bureaucracy is the foundation for a total collapse of the government itself.
The military indulged in playing the civil service like a sporting event without knowing that it will lead to the decay and the rot we are witnessing now.
Bureaucracy means “the civil servants, the administrative functionaries who are professionally trained for the public service and who enjoy permanency of tenure, promotion within service-partly by seniority and partly by merit.
Bureaucracy meticulously is also professed to be apolitical. This basically insinuates that a bureaucrat is not to have a political agenda of his own but preferably, faithfully effectuate the policies of the government of the day. It also has another and presumably more important meaning and that is: a civil servant’s allegiance and adhesion should be to the constitution of the land and not to any political party, politician, etc.
Public bureaucracy is a very invigorating element of the development process. Bureaucratic capacity adjudicate, what will get done when it will get done, and how well it will get done. The dexterous capacity of the bureaucracy to implement labyrinthine economic and social development plans, the higher the development potential of that society.
Bureaucracy epitomizes the most consummate, and rational way in which one can codify human activity and that methodical processes and standardized hierarchies are indispensable to maintain order, maximize efficiency, and eliminate favoritism.
A bureaucracy is ostensible to be impersonal. This predominantly, means that a bureaucrat is anticipated, to be guided by objective premeditation while ensuing rules and regulations in the scheme of implementing opalescent policy measures and directives. In other words, a bureaucrat or a civil servant or a government official regardless name we choose to call him by – is not putative to be guided by his idiosyncratic whims and fancies, biases and prejudices in the dispensation of his official duties”.
These are what we are told that bureaucracy stands for by Dr. V. Pardha Saradhi.
In spite of the purge of 1975, what positive thing have we achieved since then? Discipline erring officers but don’t collapse the system. In an attempt to discipline certain officers, what was done in 1975/1976 was to collapse the system in itself. We fought a civil war between 1967 and 1969 and we fought that war without borrowing a kobo but the success of that war could be traced to a robust civil service that was in existence at that time. No doubt the military officers went to war as foot soldiers but the backup energy was provided by the bureaucracy. In case we forget, Mr. Nowa Omoigui made a comprehensive report on the efforts of bureaucracy before and after the civil war.
He wrote that “for the ten months of the Gowon regime, there was no federal cabinet. Permanent Secretaries who dealt directly with Gowon headed Federal Ministries. In the confusion of the weekend of July 29, 1966, the birth of his government at the Ikeja Barracks had been partially mediated by a group of federal permanent secretaries. These included Abdul Aziz Attah, Phillip Asiodu, Allison Ayida, Musa Daggash, Ibrahim Damcida, HA Ejueyitchie, Yusuf Gobir, BN Okagbue and others. Other prominent federal public servants included the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Alhaji Sule Katagum. Along with others, as well as the British and American envoys, these men counseled caution in the heat of the events that were unfolding.
These pre-war grand strategic and political machinations aside, the federal civil service played a complex role during the war, alternately being viewed as an ally or irritant by the front-line military.
Civil servants suggested the establishment of security and civil defence organizations in various states, tapping into logistic resources provided by various ministries. They counseled the promulgation of many war-time decrees, such as the Public Security Decree (No. 31 of 1967) which outlawed the private possession of weapons and ammunition, and the Military Courts (Special Powers) Decree (No. 4 of 1968) designed to enforce discipline among federal troops. A whole variety of Trade disputes emergency decrees were also promulgated to settle wartime trade disputes.
Mr Gray Longe, who later became the Head of Service, recalls that initially there was an Armed Forces Committee on the procurement of Supplies. This committee included the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the MOD, along with the Army QMG, Air Force Logistics Officer and specialised differences between services needs, this Committee gave way to a purely military Joint Supplies Board to reconcile competing requests. Then in October 1969, apparently in response to abuses in the system, as well as competition between Army Divisions (who were each doing their own thing), Gowon created a central Procurement Committee that would make recommendations to him on the basis of input from the Joint Supplies Board. However, initial offers for weapons, ammo and supplies were to be channeled directly to the Service Chiefs and the Director-General of the Armed Forces Medical Services.
But there were other angles. The mobilization of personnel and resources across the country was stepped up at an unprecedented rate. For example, control of monetary and banking policies were more tightly controlled by the Federal Executive Council. The Central was empowered to purchase, sell, discount and rediscount Treasury Bills and Treasury certificates in order to increase the borrowing power of the government at war. When the consortium under the Standard Charter of Britain became reluctant to do so (because of wartime risks and export disruptions), the CBN was also directed to finance produce-marketing boards. Mr. I.J. Ebong, then Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, chaired the first wartime propaganda committee.
Civil Servants even participated in some military operations. When Lagos was threatened by the Biafran invasion of the Midwest and West, initial holding action was achieved by the destruction of the Shasha Bridge on mile 82 of the Ore road. However, the subsequent epic battle of Ore on August 29, 1967, at which eastern troops advance towards Lagos was decidedly reversed, was conducted with disused old colonial maps of tracks in the area. The maps were provided by a surveyor in the civil service who passed them on to the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the MOD. Such vital intelligence enabled the encirclement and destruction of eastern troops in that sector.
To limit the utility of internationally exchangeable money allegedly looted by secessionists from the vaults of the Central Banks in Enugu, Port Harcourt and Benin, the Federal Government changed the Nigerian Currency in 1968. As various localities were recaptured by Federal Forces, normalcy administration loans were granted to help reactivate local industries.
Civil Servants in the Foreign Service traveled to numerous countries all over the world on diplomatic missions in support of the war effort.
The civil service helped to enforce import control policies to conserve foreign exchange, and all civil servants contributed to what was known as the Compulsory Savings Scheme and Armed Forces Comfort Fund. Relying on the strategy of deficit financing, the Federal Ministry of Finance made funds available for the prosecution of the war. Recurrent expenditure for all arms of government except the MOD was restricted. Credit facilities were liberalized. Promissory notes were used more frequently. Treasury certificates were issued, beginning in 1968.
The Statutory limit to the issuance of Treasury Bills was raised again and again. In fact, the funds used for early reconstruction efforts in 1970 came from such sources”. Yet these were the same people that the military turned their guns of retirement on between August 1975 and November 1975 when the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council by then, Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo, formally signed a statement that the clean-up exercise was over. In spite of the statement, we are feeling the ripples of the purge till today. It was a dark period. Now let me go personally. In 1975, I was a senior reporter in THE NIGERIAN HERALD under the management of Aremo Olusegun Osoba(83) who took over from Chief Abiodun Aloba alias Ebenezer Williams.
I remember I was in my office on October 3, 1975, of THE NIGERIAN HERALD, owned by the Kwara state government, in the Adamasingba area of Ibadan, Oyo state, when Alhaji Raheemi Olajire Aliu, who later became Oyo state Chief Information Officer, then Press Secretary to the Military Governor of Western state, Colonel David Medayese Jemibewon (81), summoned newsmen to the Agodi office of the governor. When we got there, we were handed a press release, which contained the retirement of six High Court Judges of Western state. They were Mr. Justice Adegboyega Ademola of the Western State Court of Appeal, Mr. Justice Olu Ayoola, Mr. Justice Adewale Thompson, Mr. Justice S. A. Abina, Mr. Justice F. B. Wickliffe and Mr. Justice O. Odumosu. We confronted Colonel Jemibewon on that day on why the six judges were retired. The Governor could not give any cogent reason for the retirement of the Judges.
The premature retirement of Justice Ebenezer Olufemi Ayoola astounded me because I covered his court as a reporter in THE NIGERIAN TRIBUNE in 1972 before joining THE NIGERIAN HERALD.
In those days your first assignment as a reporter was to cover the court. And my then news editor, Mr. Fola Oredoyin assigned me to the court at Iyanganku in Ibadan. I found Justice Ayoola to be radiant and effulgent.
After his retirement, Justice Ayoola from Ilesha became Chairman of Nigerian Monthly Law Report between 1975 to 1979. I do not know the criteria adopted by the military in retiring him. The same applied to others.
One of the judges retired, Justice Adewale Thompson became the Commissioner of Justice and Attorney-General of Oyo State in 1979.
On September 18, 1975, the Secretary to the National Electric Power Authority, Alhaji Adamu Atta (October 18, 1927 – May 1, 2014) retired along with 58 others.
Four years later, Alhaji Adamu Atta was elected the governor of Kwara state. On August 19, 1975, the then Chief Justice of the federation, Dr. Taslim Olawale Elias (11 November 1914 – 14 August 1991) was retired and a non-Nigerian, Sir Justice Darnley Alexander (28 June 1920-10 February 1989) born in Saint Lucia in the West Indies was appointed as Chief Justice of the Federation. The same Justice Elias was elected as the President of the World Court at the Hague in the Netherlands in 1982. On September 12, 1975, five Federal Permanent Secretaries retired. They were Chief Phillip Chikwuedu Asiodu(88), Alhaji Tatari Alli, Alhaji Ibrahim Damcida (1933 – 2012), Chief J.A. Adeyeye and Mr. F.M.C. Obi.
On August 2, 1997, the same federal Military Government defrosted the bank accounts of Chief Asiodu and Alhaji Damcida. Four years later, the same Alhaji Abubakar Tatari Ali (1929 – 28 May 1993) was elected the Governor of Bauchi state. On September 22, 1975, the Governor of Central Bank, Dr. Clement Isong (20 April 1920 – 29 May 2000) was retired and replaced by Alhaji Adamu Ciroma (20 November 1934 – 5 July 2018).
Four years later in 1979, the same Dr. Isong was elected the governor of Cross River state. In January 1993, the same Chief Phillip Asioudu was appointed the Minister of Petroleum Resources by Chief Earnest Shonekan, GCFR and in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, appointed Chief Phillip Asiodu as the Chief Economic Adviser.
One could see that the retirement exercise was not carried out in good faith. The exercise of 1975 institutionalised corruption in the system. Civil servants became jittery at that time about their future. They started looking inwards at how they and their families could survive. Suddenly they realized that their jobs could no longer be permanent. Since then we have not left that stage. Whereas if the procedure had been followed and the Federal Civil Service Commission has been involved, the guilty ones in service could have been penalized without disrupting the total system of government.
Take a cue from our colonial masters — The British and even India, China and Australia — none of them has tampered with the Civil Service System. There is a common saying that says “soldiers go, soldiers come, barracks remain”. In developed countries of the world, politicians come, politicians go but the civil service remains.
The purge of 1975 destroyed the careers of many public servants. It even affected their families. Some recovered while some carried the scars of the wound of retirement to their graves. There was hardly any home in this country that was not affected. As often mentioned let me refer to one example.
According to Wikipedia, Sir Samuel Layinka Ayodeji Manuwa, CMG, OBE, M.D. (1903–1976) was a pioneering Nigerian surgeon, Inspector General of Medical Services and former Chief Medical Adviser to the Federal Government of Nigeria. He was the first Nigerian to pass the FRCS and he obtained the postgraduate Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1934. In 1966, he was elected president of the World Federation for Mental Health.
As Inspector General of Medical Services, he contributed immensely to the establishment of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, the first medical school in Nigeria. He later became a pro-chancellor and chairman of the governing council at the University of Ibadan. Throughout his career, he sought and worked for the improvement of basic health services in the rural areas of Nigeria.
He returned to Nigeria in 1927 after finishing his studies in tropical medicine and joined the colonial medical services as a medical officer. He subsequently became a surgeon specialist and senior specialist in the service, where he gained acclaim as a skilled surgeon. Though he received various offers for administrative positions early on, he continued his surgical work for more than 18 years. While practicing as a surgeon, he invented an excision knife to treat tropical ulcers.
In 1948, he lifted his embargo on administrative positions when he became the deputy director of medical services. In 1951, he was made the first Nigerian director of medical services and subsequently the Inspector General of medical services. In 1954, he became fully involved with the Nigerian public service when he was appointed the Chief Medical Adviser to the federal government of Nigeria. He later went on to become a member of the Privy Council of the Federation of Nigeria, President of the Association of Surgeons and Physicians in West Africa and the first Nigerian Commissioner of the Federal Public Service Commission.
As Inspector General of Medical Services, he worked assiduously for the establishment of a University Teaching Hospital in the country. The result was the creation of UCH, Ibadan”.
On September 27, 1975, he retired and was given two weeks’ notice to pack out from the government quarters in Ikoyi allocated to him since 1953. Sir Manuwa had nowhere to go. In the end, he packed some of his things to a house in Surulere, Lagos. The stress and humiliation were too much for him to bear. He died six months after his retirement. There were several examples of public servants who had the same experience as Sir Manuwa. The tragedy of it was that there were no queries issued to these public servants before their retirement.
In short, they were caught unawares. Till today both the military and the civilian governments have indulged in the sudden retirement of public servants.
The assault on the bureaucracy is even more alarming in Federal Civil Service today. The Ministers now control their ministries as if it is their personal empire without regard to Rules and Regulations. There is the case of a female Minister who appointed her daughter as a personal assistant and directed all those connected with the ministry to take instruction from her daughter instead of the Permanent Secretary. Regulations, I am told are no longer followed.
There is a lack of co-ordinations among various organs of government. Today if the Ministers do not humiliate the bureaucrats, it is the members of the National Assembly that constantly humiliate them, also, especially at committee hearings. I read in the media recently, a Minister suspended the Managing Director of a parastatal under him. The Minister got the President’s approval to probe the Parastatal before suspending the managing director. On his own, the Minister constituted the committee to probe the managing director. No one is defending corrupt officers but regulations must be followed and I asked myself in all of these and many instances, where is the Federal Civil Service Commission or the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation or the office of the Head of Service of the Federation?
If any punishment is to be carried out in Federal Public Service, these three must be involved. I remember in the year 2000, the Head of Service, Mr. Abu Obe, circulated revised editions of the financial regulations and public service rules. The regulations and the rules are commandments which public servants must constantly adhere to. Since 1976 when the Financial Regulations were last reviewed and published, the conduct of Government business has undergone many transformations. From the mid-1980s especially, anyone with the slightest idea about how the machinery of good government should work would have noticed that the time-tested ways of conducting Government business have degenerated and fallen apart.
Compliance with the Public Service Rules and Financial Regulations has been jettisoned and instead, regimes of indiscipline, disorder and arbitrariness were established. All the elements that enhance the efficiency, reliability and continuity of the system have been tampered with, resulting in major and severe setbacks for the conduct of Government business.
Government business was operated as if laws and rules no longer existed to govern the way and the manner public funds were expended. Public funds were disbursed illegally without recourse to the Financial Regulations; facilities of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPM) were recklessly abused; and the Contingencies Fund was used without regard to the rules governing its operation. The Public Service Rules and Financial Regulations were comprehensively reviewed in 2006 as part of President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, Public Service Reforms when he appointed Dr. Goke Adegoroye(71) from Akure, as pioneer Director General of the Public Service Reform Bureau.
A substantial number of public officers behave as if there are no rules and regulations that govern their conduct. This attitude has recently been compounded by the seemingly deliberate and sustained acts by the Heads of Governments of military regimes to destroy all systems of proper conduct. Our laws have always been very clear; public affairs must be conducted according to stipulated rules and procedures.
There must be no doubt that these rules apply to all public servants including the President. Accordingly, the attention of all public officers is invited to the very first Rule, which stipulates that: “These Rules apply to all servants except where they conflict with specific terms approved by the Federal Government and written into the contract of employment or letter of appointment.
In so far as the holders of the offices of the President, Vice President and others mentioned in section 84(4) of the Constitution are concerned, the Rules apply only to the extent that they are not inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federation in so far their conditions of service and any other law applicable to these officers are concerned”. Public Service Rules by themselves will not lead to good governance if they are not backed by political will and the preparedness of the government to impose total adherence to these Rules to promote the public good.
I am aware that certain public officers have been accused of corruption and embezzlement, in fact, Alhaji Ahmed Idris, the former Accountant-General of the federation is among those accused. Even his predecessor, Jonah Ogunniyi Otunla is also accused of the same offence.
Recently, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Mr. Clement Iloh was jailed for four years for a similar offence. There are many more also accused of similar charges and whose cases are still pending, they cannot be more than one percent of the entire Civil Service.
But like others who are corrupt, these are cases that could be likened to exceptions and exceptions cannot prove to be the rule.