Reflections on Nigerian public service: Way forward for good governance (A practitioner's perspective)

Tue, Mar 5, 2024
By editor


By Timiebi Koripapo-Agary

TASKING me to give a “Practitioners Perspective ” after the Keynote Speaker, Dr Bukar Usman, is quite daunting. Dr Usman is highly respected for his stellar career in the public service. But outside of that, he is a renowned brilliant commentator on the public space and has made a name for himself as an incredibly fecund scholar and Author. I consider him one of the best products of Nigeria’s Public Service and we couldn’t have made a better choice than him to speak on this most engaging theme. 

Dr Usman, as expected, has done justice to the topic and simplified my task.  I shall therefore, focus on some of the areas he highlighted, particularly those aspects that taint and project an undesirable image of the Service.

The first issue that has greatly impacted the Federal Civil Service is how the requirement for Merit Based Recruitment has been treated over the years, particularly in the area of Direct Hires.

The PSR 020102 clearly states that the “ FCSC shall make appointments to GL 12 – 17. Such appointments shall be made as the need arises into available vacancies after advertisement.” And for Transfers the same section states “ Officers intending to transfer their services shall take part in the annual PS EXAMINATION FOR POSTS 07-10. Section 020102 (iv) underscores this point. “There shall be an annual competitive Civil Service Entry Examination for posts GL 07-10 for new entrants and serving Officers wishing to transfer from other scheduled services”.

These provisions were faithfully implemented until the advent of Decree 43 of 1988 which introduced patronage into every sensitive area of the Service and created the problems that the Public Sector continues to grapple with till present. It is common knowledge that when Decree 43 abolished the OHCSF, and transferred most of the FCSC’s functions to Ministries and MDAs, there was an unregulated influx of officers which swelled up the system. While some extremely good officers were brought into the Service, the majority of officers that came with that flood had little or no experience and training and they were foisted on Grade Levels way above their knowledge, training, experience and capabilities. What was so demoralizing was how they attained positions that gave them advantage over officers who joined the Federal Civil Service at the entry level of their Cadres. There is no doubt that the Service is still grappling with this practice which is unjust and causing bitterness in the minds of officers who joined the Service at entry level.  We have witnessed in the recent past a large  number of Officers joining the Service, especially those brought in as SAs and PAs by the Political class and who are given positions  in supercession to serving Officers. This is a source of constant angst, frustration and depression for serving Officers. May we go back to at least complying with the  provisions of the PSR if a direct hire is inevitable.  Of course, for positions above GL 10, there used to be public advertisement for such vacancies. Recruitment was done on the basis of need, qualification and cognate experience. In 2004, when I was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour, I had to seek approval and received same for recruitment of Labour and Factory Inspectors. The approval came with some names, one of which was a Catering Officer. I went to the Commissioner and showed him what Inspectors do. Of course, he substituted with a person with the relevant qualifications.

There is need to interrogate how direct hires are made, but even moreso the kind of career path we have placed for officers that joined the Service at entry level who now spend their entire careers doing promotion exams only to attain Director level with two years to retirement, while officers that come through direct hire and transfers become Directors with fifteen years to retirement, and become Permanent Secretaries to serve for ten years. Ignoring these festering issues will continue to affect the public image, respect and integrity of the Service while breeding discontent, bitterness and loss of morale among the critical mass of diligent officers in the system.

The embargo on employment of graduates from 1993 to 2005 created a huge problem in the Public Service; but the non-promotion of officers between 1995 and 2000 as well as the elongation of the promotion path of officers was a primary cause of the decline in the morale of Civil Servants. In recent years, the low morale in the system has been exacerbated by the unjustifiable disparity in salaries between Civil Servants and other public sector workers. I consider this a most undeserving injustice that should be dealt with once and for all. 

Another issue we must interrogate with all honesty and in the interest of our country is the manner the Federal Character principle is applied at the higher levels of the Service when we need to harvest our best minds and brains to captain the ship of State. It is my considered opinion that the principle of Federal Character should apply only at the point of ENTRY, after which the persons recruited should compete in performance, productivity and character. We made every effort to have this implemented during my time in Service. However, over time, it would seem that this provision has been largely ignored in favour of picking officers to represent every State in competitive situations, even when it leads to dropping brilliant officers in order to accommodate the least performing ones in satisfaction of Federal Character. Do we have a right to complain when such officers hold highly visible positions of responsibility and are clearly not capable of discharging such satisfactorily? 


The routine of conducting promotions only when there are vacancies has become vexatious due to shrinking vacancies caused again by indiscriminate transfers into the Service at the mid-career and directorate levels. Let it be known that so long as these practices continue, it will have adverse consequences on staff morale, productivity and commitment to the Service. 


During my time in the Service, every pool officer understood that after a prescribed number of years, one could be posted. It was usually after their annual leave. It was not a problem at all. Officers collected their Last Pay Certificates and moved on. Not anymore. Officers now refuse postings or report at their new place and work their way back. How did we get to this state of indiscipline? It is alleged that responsible officers are financially induced/compromised to allow this. Yet there are no sanctions. And at the PS level, one now hears/reads about Permanent Secretaries refusing postings or complaining about the Ministry they are deployed to. Like Dr Usman stated in his paper, “ it is quite perceptible in the Nigerian Public Service that the spectre of “private interests” looms large to the detriment of public interest.” This calls for restraint and reorientation of all involved in the leadership of the Public Service. We really need to pull the reins at this point. As the Administrative Heads of MDA, we need to define our primary objective which is to lead our Teams to deliver on Government policies, programmes and projects. We must continually stay informed and equipped with administrative and managerial skills to deliver on our sectoral mandates. It is my hope that with the KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS identified, every Public Servant at all levels will be fully engaged to play their part in contributing to the success of Government. 

 Capacity and Capacity Building 

Civil Servants constantly require re-skilling and updating of knowledge through training to discharge their responsibilities effectively and efficiently. For starters, the minimum should be for recruitments at entry level to be based on the prescribed qualification for each cadre. Since training is the pathway for equipping and expanding the knowledge and skills of Officers as they ascend the career ladder in the Service, it must be structured and mandatorily available to all officers at every new progression in their career. Training at the Public Service Institute of Nigeria, Administrative Staff College of Nigeria ( ASCON), Centre for Management Development (CMD) and such other Government Institutions should be mandatory for all levels and cadres of officers.  Management must also encourage officers to develop themselves independent of what the work place offers, by encouraging post graduate studies for those inclined to acquire such training and degrees. 

 Harnessing Technology to resolve Bureaucratic Bottlenecks

Bureaucratic inefficiencies often result in delays and frustration for both citizens and public servants. It is gratifying that several public sector agencies have streamlined their administrative processes and regulatory interfaces through the use of technology which has significantly improved their efficiency. For example, online platforms have been introduced for various services such as passport application,  tax payments, business registrations, or permit applications among others. These have reduced paperwork, processing time and in-person visits to public sector establishments. This should be upscaled to every Ministry, Department and Agency, in addition to establishing functional Customer Service telephone lines.  Additionally, adopting digital tools for decision-making will enhance transparency and reduce the use of files and minimize paper work and all its associated costs. I have recently read about the circular that mandates electronic communication with the OHCSF. It is my earnest hope that there is infrastructure to support this, especially as the nation is still battling with the inadequacy of power supply, while the cost of diesel has become prohibitive. Be that as it may, we should march forward and every MDA should invest in computer hard and software, internet service and also make provision for solar power to drive the new digital platforms. 


It is disheartening to read in the media on a daily basis about mindboggling cases of corruption in the Public Service, most of them emanating from the procurement processes. Something needs to be done about this if we are serious about repositioning the Public Sector. The political class is using this as a rallying point against the Public Service. And indeed I am aware of instances where the system has been abused by the same politicians railing against Public Servants. But has it always been like this? Perhaps we need to remind the officers in Service of what used to be, and the system we handed over to those who took over from us. In Dr Usman’s paper, he referenced 2 Ministers as political heads who “dutifully and routinely retired their estacodes from overseas official engagements and they paid back into government coffers any unspent amounts.” Of course, this was expected of Public Servants as well for local and foreign travels. I recall the Federal Auditors requested one’s passport to determine when one stamped out and in. And any unused days were paid back. For local travels, personal advances were properly retired with receipts. Mercifully, DTA hotel accommodation receipts are no longer retired. But now, it is the norm for Heads of MDAs to collect DTA for non-official travels. It is also normal for officers to collect and pocket allowances for travels not made, for officers going to Kogi State from Abuja to be given money for air ticket, as was reported recently. 

 Political Will and Leadership 

 Effective governance reforms based on strong political will and leadership commitment must begin with the Public Sector.  For the Public Service that supports the political leadership, we must prioritize public interest over personal or partisan agendas and promote the values of service, honesty, integrity, and efficiency. The Public Service has always supported consensus building across political divides because they work for any government in power. This must be emphasized. PUBLIC SERVANTS VOTE IN ELECTIONS BUT ONCE A GOVERNMENT IS IN PLACE, NOTHING ELSE SHOULD MATTER. Their undivided loyalty and commitment should be to the Government in power. 

  Engagement with Labour and  Civil Society.         

  I totally agree with Dr Usman that the Public Service “requires the involvement and contributions  of other stakeholders and these stakeholders must be seriously cultivated and continually engaged.”  He listed the “academia, LABOUR, the organized private sector, the media, professional societies, traditional and religious institutions as the critical stakeholders. Consultations with Labour and civil society organizations foster trust, inclusivity and enriches policy formulation, implementation and monitoring. This promotes transparency and accountability. This could be achieved through  structured mechanisms for dialogue, such as advisory committees eg NLAC or public Town Hall meetings, to ensure that diverse perspectives are considered in decision-making processes.

Decentralization and Devolution of some Powers 

There are National Sectoral Councils eg, Establishment, Health, Agriculture, Water Resources, Finance, Environment etc, which can improve service delivery and promote  participation in governance at the State level. It is my view that the States through the National Council of Establishment, to which the FCSC belongs, should 

play supportive roles in the recruitment of ENTRY LEVEL OFFICERS and transfers into the Federal Public Service, with a mandate to harvest the brightest and the best from each State. This hopefully would ensure that the Federal Public Service is populated with the best in class from all the States and the FCT and thus have the capacity it needs to support governance. 

Pensions, Rewards and Motivation!

The Pension Reform Act of 2004, amended in 2014, has been good for the Service. But some of the PFAs need to review their policy and methods. And the Government through the PENCOM should constantly monitor what is being paid to workers. Unless and until this is done and workers feel secure to live above the poverty line, we may not be able to eradicate the pervasive corruption Public Servants are being accused of. 

Housing and Transportation 

With the sale of Government quarters, one of the key perks of public office was removed. Most officers are living in very poor and inadequate accommodation. The cost of personal means of transportation has gone beyond the reach of any honest Public Servant. Since these and other fringe benefits have been monetized, it would help if there are massive housing schemes for workers on owner occupier basis to help ameliorate this challenge. And of course, efficient and affordable public transportation to support workers and the general public. It is noteworthy that Mr President has proposed the commencement of a credit scheme in Nigeria. That is what is obtainable in advanced countries. It is the imperative for now and Public Officers should be given priority to pull from the credit scheme to buy cars and build houses. 

The Public Servants who are deployed to man offices in the States need to be motivated. How often do Abuja based Ministries, Departments and Agencies remember that their officers in the States exist or are even entitled to some social and financial benefits. We need to always include them when we plan for training and staff welfare. Organize opportunities for them to visit Abuja. Let them see Aso Rock, the National Assembly and meet their Management whom they read or hear about. Include them in foreign trips, particularly those who are almost at the end of their Public Service. You cannot imagine what joy it is to hear their prayers. 

Let me conclude by strongly endorsing and aligning myself with Dr Usman’s concluding remarks which aptly captures the reality of the times “…………….. Unfortunately, at the moment, more negative than positive responses are coming from the populace. This should be a source of serious concern to all public servants”. 

Thank you all for your attention.  

***Reflections on Nigerian public service: Way forward for good governance (A practitioner’s perspective)  a paper presented Dr Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, OON (RTD 2008) at the 



-March 05, 2024 @ 16:16 GMT|