[OPINION] El-Rufai’s ‘strongmanism’ and the over-bloated civil service problem – Caleb Onyeabor

Newsie Events:#Opinion

Anyone with an in-depth understanding of public administration in Nigeria will agree that the civil service in the 36 states of the Federation including the Federal civil service is over-bloated. Coupled with the unproductive and lackadaisical attitude that is typical of government staff in this country, we have a twin problem of an overstaffed and unproductive civil service system in the country. There are government offices you will go to that has more number of persons needed, doing nothing and earning salaries at the end of the month.

There are government offices you go to that are never open or the officers are never on the seat. In some of these offices, grasses have grown to the height of trees. The Civil servants responsible for these offices only show up during salary week and ghost off for the rest of the month and yet earn salaries.

These are some of the issues that would have been addressed if the government heeded to warnings and calls for a comprehensive civil service reform that experts have been iterating and reiterating for several years. It is a very good thing that this El-Rufai showdown with labour has brought this issue of an over-bloated and unproductive civil service back to the front burner of national discussion. This system is unsustainable. If the state governments and federal government decide to shy away from this problem, like fuel subsidy, it is only a matter of time, it will catch up with the nation and states in future and with more severe woes than it is inflicting on the machinery of government today.

Yes, El-Rufai is right. The civil service in every state of the Federation including the federal civil service needs to be right-sized but outright sacking is a wrong approach of workers especially without a plan to resettle them into the society. The right motive with a wrong approach always brings wrong results. Innovation is a forbidden quality Nigerian leaders swore never to have.

Government is a machine and the civil service is its engine. While an over-bloated and unproductive civil service is an unsustainable financial burden to the government, mass sacking without appropriate arrangements is tantamount to creating a problem while trying to solve a problem. Unemployment and poverty rates will go up when these salary earners lose their jobs. What about their families? What about their children in school? What about others are dependent on these salary earners? For a state with one of the worse levels of crime and insecurity, this is no good policy at all.

While committed to its goals of rightsizing the civil service, concrete measures should be made to help the workers that will be let go to resettle and reintegrate into society. This would be a win-win solution.

  1. Some of these staff are unproductive because they are poorly trained. What happened to training and retraining of staff in the art and science and demands of modern civil service so they could be useful again?
  2. If the government is really serious about cutting cost of public administration, what happened to leadership by example? Governors can start by cutting down their kitchen cabinet and their over-bloated and reckless allocation to running statehouses. Imagine a governor coming out to declare that he is taking a pay cut and doing away with lots of frivolous and bogus allowances?
  3. Workers can be let go in batches or the relieving of workers can be done in phases and when this is done, there should be appropriate programmes to help these persons that they let go resettle and not feel the brunt of their dismissal from work. Some of these civil servants have side small businesses. What happened to setting up a Small Business Grant scheme for workers who have small businesses to return, invest and build their businesses?
  4. What about a state government facilitated loan scheme to provide loans for some of the dismissed workers to set up new businesses of their choice or even paying them off in substantial amounts that will serve this purpose?
  5. State capitalism as a viable economic ideology is really underrated in this part of the world. A situation where government identifies and facilitates economic opportunities is a model government can explore. Eg. Kaduna can be a net exporter of cotton and other cash crops. In partnership with the private sector, several state government-supported farms dedicated to the production of cotton to be exported by the state government can be set up and workers that ought to be dismissed can be transferred to these economic establishments where they can be productive. Government can identify other economic activities where it needs people and find a way to channel the energies of the previously unproductive civil servants. In another instance, the Kaduna state government can be a big exporter of maize, it can set up a scheme where it provides funds and support for these dismissed workers to go into commercial maize farming. Every person funded and supported by the government can be given the least possible quota and after harvest, the state government buys produce from them for exportation to other countries or for sale to companies that need the products as raw materials. In so doing, the government has built an indirect workforce from which it earns revenue. Other productive activities can be identified and in partnership with the private sector, government can help set new industrial or business ventures that are capable of absorbing some of these workers.
  6. What happened to identifying economic opportunities and setting up new state-owned companies base on the comparative advantage the state possesses?
  7. Some of these workers can be trained in state-sponsored skill programmes. Government can identify certain technical and vocational skills that the state needs and channel the energies of some of these workers to that cause.

There are so many ways the government if committed can ensure a win-win for everyone. The points above are just rough sketches. A critical look can bring up even more and brighter ideas. Most of these civil servants are not even enjoying working in the civil service. Most of them are not really happy with their unproductivity but are still hanging there because they need the salary to survive. When you put up innovative approaches like these, some of them can voluntarily resign and join these new initiatives.

In so doing, government can rightsize the civil service, promote economic activities, create new jobs and earn more revenue. It will be a win-win situation for everyone.

Lastly, In a democracy, governance, and decision-making should be inclusive and base on consensus not on the stone-willed desire of one man and his cabinet. This is no autocracy, this is no dictatorship. Applying a dictatorial approach in a democratic setting is a terrible combination that doesn’t end well. The civil society should ensure El-Rufai does not have his way the way he wants. The consequences of El-Rufai’s “strongmanism” in a supposedly democratic setting are sure to come if not checked and made to fail. It may not be now but surely, it shall come and when it comes, it won’t be good for governance and development.

Caleb Onyeabor is a Nigerian intellectual, an avid advocate for political justice, social justice, and economic justice. Author of Diary of a Messed Up country. Follow him on Twitter via twitter.com/caleb_onyeabor

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