Nigeria News

NIGERIA: Civil Servants Beat Politicians at the Game of Graft

When it comes to robbing the common purse, civil servants are light years ahead of politicians. And one of their trade secrets is being adept at not getting caught even with the omnipresent CCTV device. As a part of the strategy for evading detection, the concept of a “poor civil servant” has caught on. But, make no mistake about it. Civil servants are no longer poor. They are rich and stinking of Other People’s Money. But no one looks at their direction when the subject is corruption.

Politicians are the usual suspect and the whipping children in the entire anti-graft crusade. Civil servants are the ultimate termites eating deep into the commonwealth and getting away with it every day. They nibble and nibble and nibble. And the wonder of it is that everyone appears to condone it and even accept it as normal, while politicians get all the knocks.

Commentators don’t even bother about that sector, treating the matter with kid gloves. Yet, more than half of the financial leakages in the polity are from that sphere of our national life. We lose billions annually to ghost workers salaries, contract racketeering; employment scam and all the various ways the caterpillars eat away at the pillars. As I write this, an interesting EFCC drama is playing out at the Nigeria Prison Service, where a certain big woman paid a tithe of N60million to her church.

A tithe is the tenth part of any income most Christians get and they pay that into the church coffers. By the way, that is how some men of God are kept in private jets. So, this particular woman, a civil servant paid that kind of tithe? Investigations are ongoing but she may escape justice. Civil servants are good at their game. Catch them if you can! Now, I don’t know of any political office holder, who would be able to pay that type of money as tithe. Civil servants (or evil masters) are all part of the growing crisis of credibility and accountability in the country. Yet no one is talking about it.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk about it in the Situation Room today. Let’s have a national debate on this matter because I feel it is about time we called civil servants to order. Apart from graft, I’m yet to be convinced that the civil service is even serving the purposes it was meant to serve. The entire contraption is now bogging the nation down like some dead weight hampering growth.

And the men and women, who see themselves essentially as “government pikins”, are starting to kill us all. They are killing us with their greed; their lethargy; their indifference and their proclivity to just slow down the whole system.

I know, of course, that we need the civil service as it is the engine room of the daily grind of administrations. It is also a huge employer of labour and the biggest actually. In virtually all the 36 states of the federation, the civil service accounts for about eighty percent of employment and this, dear readers, is both a blessing and a curse rolled in one.

It is a blessing because without the employment provided by it, a dangerous problem would have been created. But the downside is that states now spend their entire subvention paying all sorts of crazy salary bills (ghost workers showing up on pay day more than the actual workers in offices).

A state that collects say about three billion naira as its monthly cut from the central oil loot, may end up spending close to two-third of that on salaries. Beyond this, the top guns have to make provision for their pockets and all the other stuff that we are all too familiar with. At the end, little or nothing is left for actual development. And as soon as idle civil servants collect their monthly salaries, unscrupulous account officers lick their fingers, get down to draw up yet another ridiculous payment sheet and the beat goes on.

It is a civil servants world. And they are the luckiest lot in the country. For doing nothing, they get much. All that most civil servants do is show up for work each day of the week, do little or no work, put up a great show of being busy and plot all sorts of scheme to rob the treasury. The service is also the bastion of wickedness as some of them are skillful in the science of hiding files, delaying promotions, engaging in fetish diabolism, falsifying documents, writing unending petitions and getting the political class enmesh in all sorts of scandals.

That was how a former aviation minister, Stella Oduah, was fooled into making a “needful” error. Before her, another female minister was once misled by the civil force she worked with. And while Oduah, for instance, bears the public odium after the scandal, you won’t hear of any civil servant facing any inquiry. Thus, between the politicians and the civil servant, who was better at doing the needful? Question!

But civil servants are smart, always covering their track in the most ingenious way possible and leaving the neophyte appointee holding the shorter end of the stick. The permanent secretaries are essentially the kingpins as they have become the ultimate dinosaurs in ministries. And their wahala is equally permanent.

They are impervious to new ideas, hostile to the political appointee, and versed in all the crude laws of native survival. They are the custodians of sow-eared files and memorandum that have only retarded the nation and have made the civil service a burden.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when the civil service was the bride of all. And I’ve met some civil servants, who recall with longing nostalgia, the days of glory when they joined the civil service out of patriotism. Back then it was the joy of all joys to get into the service.

Hierarchy was respected, procedures held sacrosanct and graft was unheard of. Promotion, discipline and rewards were all part of the service then. That was before the end came and today, we are somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Who is corrupting who – the civil servant or the politician? Let the debate begin…

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