Timothy (not his real name) is an assistant director in one of the federal ministries in Abuja. He recently got promoted. Promotion in Nigeria’s civil service is not usually based on merit but on vacancies to be filled on federal character basis.
Timothy heads an office of his ministry in a state in one of the regions in the country. He was posted there more than five years ago, but he has neither lived there nor worked there.
At the end of every month, his account is credited with his salary. He attends courses and receives training and travel allowances. He told BusinessDay that nothing happens in his office.
“I was posted there five years ago to head the place. The truth is nothing is happening there. The money to run the office doesn’t come at all. It is budgeted for, but I never see it. As a matter of fact, we have offices in each region and none of us who head the six offices ever get to receive our running grants.
So, we all stay in our houses in Abuja as we cannot be seen or heard in our ministry. Our permanent secretary and directors know that we are in Abuja. We only go to our regions when there is an audit visit or when the state commissioners we liaise with want to see us. Even then, we have to use our money to go,” he said.
Timothy identifies himself more as a businessman than as a civil servant. He spends most of his time supplying consumables to clients. His case is not unique in Nigeria’s civil service. A lot of civil servants do not bother to come to work in Nigeria.
Aliyu (not real name) is a civil servant who is a grade level-10 officer in one of the federal ministries. He was employed nine years ago but has spent more than seven years working with one of the federal parastatals based in the capital city.
He wasn’t seconded there; he got employed in the parastatal.
Aliyu admits that he has two government jobs and collects salaries and emoluments from both employers. “My ministry does not officially know, of course, and the parastatal where I work does not also know that I am employed by a ministry.
Some of my colleagues in the ministry know but are quiet about it because they also spend their time doing other things.
Working in the civil service makes you idle as there is nothing for you to do until you become a director or at least a deputy director,” he told BusinessDay.
In early August, Nigeria’s 36 governors counselled the federal government to offer federal civil servants who are older than 50 years a one-off retirement package to exit the service, as part of coordinated efforts to instill fiscal discipline and prevent the nation from imminent economic collapse.
They had also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to begin the implementation of the updated Stephen Oronsaye Report, which recommended the merger and shutdown of agencies and parastatals with duplicated or contested functions as a way to address bureaucratic inefficiency and reduce the cost of governance.
Nigeria’s civil service is neither working nor fit for purpose at the moment and its deficiencies are harming the effective delivery of policy.
Yet, the federal civil service employs nearly 90,000 people most of whom are under-utilised, and the government will spend about N4.1 trillion on personnel costs this year out of the N17 trillion budget for the entire country.
For a country that is on the verge of bankruptcy, cleaning up its troubled finances must start with cleaning up its over-bloated and underperforming civil service.