By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta
As the Senate concludes the screening of Ministerial nominees, those interacting with Federal civil servants would have noticed that the morale of the civil servants has been boosted by the pronouncements and actions of President Muhammadu Buhari, which gave credence to the relevance and importance of the civil service as a key instrument in public sector governance.
It may be recalled that the President had told a French Television Station in an interview during his visit to Paris on September 16th, 2015, that Nigerian civil servants are there, working to ensure continuity in governance despite the delay in appointing Ministers, the political heads and Chief Executives of government Ministries.
The context was that the television anchor wanted to know from the President whether the delay in appointing Ministers to assist him in running the affairs of the country had negative impact on governance. The President explained that: “… The civil service provides the continuity; the technocrats are the ones that do most of the work. The work is being done by the technocrats. They are there; they have to provide the continuity, dig into the records and then guide us, [those of us] who are just coming in.”
“They have been there, some of them for 15 years, some for 20 years,” the President said in a clear allusion to the importance of experience and the inherent preservation of institutional memory for which the bureaucracy is known.
The morale-boosting Presidential comments came at a crucial time when civil servants were inundated with chilling, but unfounded, rumours of a possible retrenchment or rationalization of the service in line with the envisaged reduction in the number of federal Ministries and the supposition that the service is bloated and incapable of implementing the changes promised to Nigerians by the Buhari Administration.
A newspaper report had claimed, of course falsely, that the Administration has directed the retirement of officers who have less than two years to have spent 35 years in the service or to attain the fixed retirement age of 60. The story was found to be false and the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation issued a statement debunking the news report thus: “The said story is false and not true. At no time has the office issued the said memo or gave a directive to that effect. The report is baseless and lacks credibility as it contradicts Public Service rules of engagement.”
Soon after the strong morale-boosting presidential remarks during the television interview in France and the dismissal of the early-retirement rumours by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, President Muhammadu Buhari issued a directive for the payment of all outstanding salary arrears and allowances due to federal civil servants without delay. This measure further lifted the spirit of the civil servants, who for once jubilated loudly in public, thus getting heard, in addition to being visible, as a happy lot.
It can be recalled that some weeks earlier, millions of civil servants in 27 states of the Federation who were owed salaries and allowances by their employers, in some cases running into many months, celebrated the announcement of a financial bailout facilitated by the Federal Government for the purpose of paying them. Through the arrangement, the states concerned are accessing a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) facility worth N388 billion for offsetting the backlog of workers’ salaries and allowances.
The bailout was key to ending unhappy periods of pro-longed strikes by teachers, health workers and other government employees, thus causing public discomfort as services rendered by the workers were no longer available to meet the needs of the populace.
The pronouncement and action of the President had equally resulted in less number of staff reporting to work late or closing early. This was reinforced by the just-concluded early-morning surprise visits to Ministries by the immediate former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Danladi Kifasi, who emphasized that civil servants must be on their duty posts by 8.00 am each working day.
It is also clearly evident that staff confidence and self-esteem have risen; they are highly motivated to work harder, the gain being improvement in commitment and service delivery by the Ministries, Extra-Ministerial Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
As for other institutions such as the Military, Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the praises and clear guidance and directives the President issued to them have served as a jab that reinvigorated them, with visible greater effectiveness in their operations.
Nigerian military in particular, which is getting the highest-level political support and the requisite logistics backing from the Administration, are doing what is expected of them – the repelling and decimation of insurgents that in the past seemed hard to defeat.
It is also certain that the government’s desire to attain some measure of self-reliance in the acquisition of weapons and other hardware for the armed forces by proposing to establish a modest domestic military industrial complex, has renewed and deepened the sense of pride in our uniformed compatriots.
Similarly, the steps taken by the Administration to ensure the welfare of officers and soldiers in the theatres of battle against Boko Haram and other armed groups, have contributed in the battle-field success against the Boko Haram insurgents, other militants and cattle rustlers.
There is no doubt that the presidential expression of confidence in the civil service of the federation and other institutions such as the Military and the Nigerian Customs Service among others, has the positive impact of rekindling the inherent patriotism of the staff of those institutions.
The incoming Ministers will soon come on board to work with institutions and personnel that are ready to support them in the implementation of policies and projects with dedication for the Administration to meet the legitimate high expectations of Nigerians for social and economic change which will improve their wellbeing.
Salisu Na’inna Dambatta is a Federal Director of Information.