Reforms that Changed Nothing

Bukar Goni Ayi, head of civil service

In spite of several reforms designed to bring about sanity, Nigeria’s civil services still stink with corruption and associated vices

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Jul. 8, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

NIGERIAN civil service is a shadow of itself. The attitude of the civil servants to work, the state of infrastructure, corruption and the unending presence of ghost workers in the country’s civil services have impacted negatively on the economic growth of the country. These, unarguably, have made the reform agenda of successive governments since independence fruitless.

Over the years, many committees and panels have been set up to study and make recommendations for reforming of the civil service without meaningful results. For instance, the civil service witnessed two reforms in 1985 and 1988 under General Ibrahim Babangida, former military president.

Some of the highlights of the 1985 civil service reform by the Babangida regime were that the post of permanent secretary was no longer permanent. The holder of that position was therefore re-designated as director-general. He was to leave office with the administration that appointed him. That was not all. The director-general was no more the chief executive officer of his ministry. Although, he still remained the chief accounting officer of the ministry, the political headship had become the responsibility of the minister or commissioner as the case may be.


Expectedly, the 1985 reform produced a lot of unintended consequences in the civil service and prompted the 1988 reform which restored the designation of permanent secretary to the civil service. It is regrettable that despite the series of reforms, the civil service has continued to stink with corruption, indiscipline, inefficiency and other vices.

A visit to any of the state or federal ministry or parastatal will readily reveal the level of irresponsibility amongst the civil servants. Recently, a Realnews reporter visited the ministry of agriculture in Enugu State on invitation by the permanent secretary. He got to the ministry around 10 am but the offices were empty. He spent more than an hour before the secretaries and office assistants started coming one after the other.

A civil servant, who pleaded not to be identified, said that over 50 per cent of them come very late to office every day. “Over 50 per cent of civil servants come to the office by 10.30 am and leave by 2.30 pm. I am not saying that we are not going to work at all. But you will agree with me that whenever the boss leaves office for a meeting, some of us will start going home,” the source said.

Matthias Chibueze, deputy director, Global Agenda for Total Emancipation, GATE, said the decay in the civil service was a true reflection of the decay in the nation’s society, stressing that the civil service does not operate outside its larger society. According to him, stability and integrity, the vital ingredients the civil service requires to be able to discharge its responsibilities are totally absent today. He said what the service requires is qualitative leadership that would usher in professionalism and efficiency.

“I can tell you confidently that the decay in the larger society is far more compared to what people scream at. The major problem with most institutions in the country is that of leadership. Our leaders can only succeed if they lead their followers by example. The major problem with most institutions is the issue of leadership, if you want to lead an institution to succeed, you have to lead by examples. Leading by example means, for instance, coming to office as early as 8am; let me add by saying that you will only have the moral right to rebuke somebody when you don’t do what you don’t expect him to do,” he said.

The state of infrastructure in most of the ministries is nothing to write home about. In most of them, there are rickety and non-functional equipment like ceiling fans, air conditioners, computers and broken down furniture items. What is difficult to explain, however, is why the broken down items are not refurbished or replaced despite the provision made for them in the respective annual budgets.


Apart from poor infrastructure, the ghost workers phenomenon which is one of the oldest forms of fraud in the civil service, seems to have survived every measure to stop it.  Annually, millions of naira is expended by the government on monthly salaries to fictitious pensioners, under-aged persons and dead civil servants. This organised fraud and other forms of corruption, wastages and bureaucratic bottlenecks have conspired to increase cost of governance in Nigeria at the expense of capital development.

Yerima Ngama, minister of state for finance, was recently reported as saying that a total of 45,000 ghost workers who earned over N100 billion had been uncovered from about 251 MDAs through the application of Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System. At the state level, the story is the same. In Kogi State, it was reported that over 2000 ghosts workers’ names were found in the payrolls one of which had the name of a month-old baby who was earning N24, 000 a month.

While addressing the press on the 2013 federal budget on March 7, 2013, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance, said that the federal government was at sea regarding an efficient solution to the ghost workers’ syndrome which has defied all the strategies so far put in place to stop it.  The minister opined that although ghost workers were traced to ministries, departments and agencies, there was great difficulty in pin-pointing the persons responsible for the inclusion of the ghosts in the payroll.

The minister’s admission of the helplessness of the federal government in determining the source of the fictitious names flooding the payrolls as well as government’s inability to devise an efficient solution to the problem is embarrassing. Implied in the admission is that the country will indefinitely continue to waste its limited resources on the salaries of ghost workers.

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