Who Cares About The Public Service?

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by Nnenna

I have had cause to express the view that our people do not understand the concept of public service. That explains why it is called oru bekee in local parlance. Our fore-bears who were introduced to this mode of work by the colonial masters obviously could not come to terms with this manner of work, so they branded it the white man’s work.
The only attraction it held was that it was a means of getting the white man’s goodies. Since the strange white men called it work, so be it. Even with our advancement in education and civilization we seem to be just as ignorant as our forebears on this issue of public service. We are still interested in the flow of goodies that come in effortlessly and do not give a hoot about productivity.
We think of productivity when we engage in the activities we recognize as work such as farming, hunting, fishing, dress-making etc. But when we think of government office, we think of free, easy-flowing cash. The whole idea of public service as we know it does not just fit into what we know as work, and I daresay that the people in power do not understand it any better. They seem not to see the essence and relevance of the public service. This can easily be deduced from their negative attitudes that have kept the service in a sorry state over the years. A man can only give what he has. A situation where a man who has never been in the public service and has never taken interest in understanding how it works is put in control of state apparatus will surely leave the public service in a pitiable condition.
A culture can only thrive when there are people who are committed to its preservation. I believe that the comatose state of the public service of today is the direct consequence of the dearth of seasoned and purpose-driven technocrats who understand the nature and relevance of the public service, and are willing to stick out their necks to see that the right thing is done. What we have in abundance are self-serving leaders who are actively involved in undermining the system with a view to filling their pockets with filthy gains at the expense of the system.
The result of this is unmitigated anarchy. Since there is no one to show the way, everyone defines his job the way he likes, and executes it to suit his whims. Where there is no knowledge, errors abound and when errors find their feet, they become a culture. This is what has happened to the public service in Nigeria, and especially, in our own beloved Imo State.
Shameful practices, embarrassing ineptitude and inexcusable laxity have become the hallmark of the public service in this state. Falsehood is a major tool that every public servant is expected to possess and use to great advantage daily. It is now abnormal to find one public servant who will not tell lies on the time register, falsify his age or forge receipts for various purposes. Kick-backs, kick-fronts and long-legism are now so deeply entrenched in the system that anyone who refuses to engage in them is victimized by the system. We all know that the list of the evils that plague the public service is endless, but that is not the kernel of this write-up. My worry is that nobody is bothered about the rot in the public service. Nobody cares to straighten things out. Nobody even cares to enlighten the public servants about the essence of their work. Most importantly, no one seems interested in reviving the public service and injecting new life into the system.
Unfortunately, the kind of civilization we are trying to build is just not possible without a vibrant and efficient public service.
Of course we have people who occupy all kinds of offices and who pretend to be addressing these issues and others, but we all know that no meaningful thing is being done. It is sad to state that the chaos in the public service is all-encompassing. Insincerity and greed flow from the head like rotten palm oil, drench the neck and shoulders, trickle down to the waist and settle on the feet.
Who Is To Blame?
The blame game is very interesting. It is very easy for onlookers to take a perfunctory glance and decide that the public servants are guilty as charged: a bunch of rotten fruits fit only for the refuse bin. When one considers the subterfuge, avarice, arrogance and crass indiscipline and negligence of duty exhibited by this crop of corporate miscreants, one is tempted to agree that the whole blame should be laid at the feet of the public servants. But good judgment demands that one should take a deeper and closer look at the ailment in order to arrive at a more accurate diagnosis.
The politician rides on the people’s mandate and finds himself in possession of power. Typically, he has never had anything to do with government employment. He is not among the lot who will line up for the monthly hand-outs called salary. He has no idea how government works, but because he is now in charge, he has to manage the public service. He becomes the law, the final authority on all issues pertaining to government employees. He checks everybody and everything but nothing and nobody checks him.
In our experience so far, the story has been a sad one. This political god-head usually does not take time to properly settle into his schedule before he begins to joggle with the fate of the public servants. He begins to terrorize the workforce using all kinds of instruments. His major tool of torture is hunger. He knows that the salary is the worker’s only means of livelihood, and he holds unto it and watches them cry, squirm and starve. He wields absolute power over them and nothing can persuade him to let go until he pleases. The feeble attempts by hungry and corruption-infested labour leaders to check him are laughable as he ends up using them to further worsen the workers’ plight. Endless and often aimless screening exercises are used as excuses to delay salaries and sometimes deny legitimate workers of their entitlements. The process of payment is made so cumbersome that at times, the simple task of paying salaries to a few hundred staff takes as much as or more than two weeks.
The level of hardship the average worker is subjected to is unimaginable. He is human, and in the human family, survival is paramount. Will this public servant fold his hands and watch his children die because his employer has failed to understand that he too is human and has needs that must be met? The answer is obvious. He goes out to find an alternative source of livelihood for himself, while using the government service as an appendage. Thus, the non-committal attitude of government towards the welfare of the workers is the most pronounced enemy of productivity in the public service. Gradually, over the years, and under the watch of various supervisory agencies of government, all entitlements that should be paid to public servants have become articles of merchandise. Salaries, allowances and other fringe benefits are determined arbitrarily and subject to negotiation at various levels. The public servant watches these anomalies helplessly and waits endlessly for the government in power to take the right action. The wait is fruitless. One administration after another pays lip service to the issue of sanitizing the public service. Since no one comes in to correct these anomalies, the onlookers among the public servants naturally join the fray. Everything goes from bad to worse.
Another administration has been inaugurated in the state. The history makers are now in the arena acting out their scripts. The history writers are ready with their pens. We all wonder what the verdict will be, but I believe that when the time comes, not only Rochas, the governor, but we all will be judged for our actions and inactions that contributed to the state of our beloved state.


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