Opinion: Gov Bello and The Challenges of Civil Service Reform in Kogi

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Since the return of democracy, Kogi’s past leaders have sought to increase the capacity and legitimacy of the state in part via civil service reform. Given the central role played by the civil service in all Nigeria’s states political system, attempts to improve governance have appropriately focused on reform of the bureaucracy.  “Good” governance requires a strong civil service that is accountable to the political executive, operates within the ambit of the law, open and transparent, and encourages the participation of everyone. An efficient and effective civil service is also critical for high capacity and legitimate government, which “good governance” also seeks to achieve. Bids to perk up governance in Kogi by increasing accountability, transparency, participation, and efficiency and effectiveness in civil service to make the bureaucracy more meritocratic always hit brick walls.

The first major workers screening in Kogi State was the 8 months 2008 salitiboth screening. The 2008 screening exercise would have been good if it had not lost its credibility, genuiness, and transparency. Ghost workers screened out of the payroll found themselves back into the chequebook of the state fraudulently using political party and stakeholders influences. While there has not been formal recruitment into the state civil service since 2008, before the 2016 workers verification and screening exercise, State, ministries and agencies have Twenty Five Thousand, Six Hundred and Forty Two staff on payroll with wage bill rising astronomically to a gargantuan figure of Two Billion, Two Hundred and Thirty Six Million, One Hundred and Seventy Two Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty Eight Naira, Forty Nine Kobo at a time allocation from federation to the state is around One point something billion naira. This wage bill does not include over Seven Hundred Million naira spent monthly on salary payment to staff of state Judiciary, House of Assembly, Staff of Kogi State University, Kogi State Polytechnic, Specialist Hospital, College of Education Ankpa, College of Education Technical, Kabba, and School of nursing Obangede. Endemic nature of ghost worker and corruption are naked at the local government level. According to screening report, there were Forty Nine Thousand, One Hundred and Ninety Two staffers across the 21 local government areas’ departments and education with wage bill of Three Billion, Five Hundred and Eighty Four Million, Two Hundred and Sixty Eight Thousand, Six Hundred and Twenty Naira, and Forty Eight Kobo. In all, a state that cannot boast of two billion naira monthly from both IGR and monthly allocation from the federation has a wage bill of over three billion naira to service less than eighty thousand workforces.  Kogi state has an estimated population of over three million people with workers and pensioners of around Eighty thousand (both state and local governments) consuming everything that belongs to the state, leaving over three million kogites with nothing. If there was no money to provide critical infrastructure such as pipe borne water, good healthcare delivery system, feeders and access roads, housing, quality education and so on which everyone could benefit then, a reasonable government must reverse the ugly trend of kogi being a civil service state to a more entrepreneurial and income dependent state through sincere civil service reform and creation of conducive market environment.  Over bloated wage bill was the last straw that broke the back of Gov Bello’s predecessor, capt Idris Wada whose last option in 2014 was the introduction of percentage salary payment structure. Even on percentage level, and after unsuccessful screening exercises under Wada’s administration, the state could not meet up its responsibility of salary payment toward the last quarter of Wada’s administration as a result of paucity of fund occasioned by the decrease in allocation from the federation account and poor internally generated revenue. This baton of governing an ineffective and corruption ridden state was passed on to the incumbent governor Yahaya Bello on the 28th of January, 2016 with salary arrears of four months.  The major cause of over bloated wage bill was indiscriminate and illegitimate engagement of persons in the civil service mostly by the appointees of the former governments, political party stakeholders, relatives, friends and cronies of the government where appointment were only done by presentation of complement cards of this groups of persons before heads of the MDAs. This process became institutionalised for over a decade under a particular political party. Today, a new Sheriff is in town, price of crude has dropped to its lowest in over 14 years, allocation has become paltry, population is increasing and government’s coffer is drying, government needs to avoid wastage, cutting cost, and to ensure a productive civil service system, hence the need for this government to embark on workers verification/screening and auditing exercise in the state.

Devoid of any form of partisan rancour and political polarisation, there is no gainsaying the fact that the ongoing workers screening in the state has its own pains in the life of the workers, subjecting them to rigorous exercise and financial lost as workers have had to travel some kilometres to screening centres, printing and photocopying of relevant documents, feeding and so on but these are not prices too much to pay to have an effective public personnel system characterised by a relatively high degree of institutionalisation which will ensure predictability; laying down  a selection system that is able to attract “the best and brightest” in the state and to utilise talent appropriately; a performance management system that is able to motivate, reward and retain talented people and that effectively manages under-performers, eliminate corruption, minimise governmental wastages and improve the state’s earning. The battle to bequeath such civil service system in Kogi State is like that of Armageddon.

To make the screening exercise as transparent as possible and to avoid victimisation of any form, the government set up screening back up committee to look at the modality in which the screening was carried out, the audit committee to analyse and audit the report of the screening committee, and the screening complain committee to ensure no genuine worker is victimised or maltreated.  During the screening, and according to the audit report which was presented to the public on live telecast, it was reported that 18,211 ghost workers or unintended beneficiaries were discovered, drawing the sum of N16.6b annually from government coffer as salary for work they never did.  Through this screening, five top civil servants have been apprehended for diverting pension fund to the ton of N230M. An aide to the former governor was arrested for drawing salary from 40 different sources i.e., from the 21 local government areas and MDAs, a top civil servant has equally been arrested and has returned the sum of N20m to the state government according to the state’s Auditor-General who doubled as Chairman of the audit and screening complain committee, Hon Okala Yusuf. Hundreds of ghost workers/unintended beneficiaries have been arrested and interrogated almost on weekly basis while thousands, for fear of apprehension never turned up for screening. All tribes and religion in Kogi state are represented in this criminality that is putting genuine workers through rigorous screening exercise; therefore, the notion that the exercise is targeting at a particular ethnicity is untrue and should be discarded.

As a matter of policy in driving the NewDirection agenda of his government and owing to the fact that Human resource management policies and practices for building capacity emphasise performance, flexibility, and the appropriate utilisation of talent in achieving more efficient and effective governance system, governor Yahaya Bello organised a retreat for all his appointees; Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff, Commissioners, Local Government Areas administrators and all other appointees where renowned scholars like Prof Sam Egwu, Prof Pius Adesanmi were part of the resource persons for the training. Major discussion at the retreat was on critical issues in the resource management, performance management, motivation, and discipline and corruption. Unlike the usual practice of the state governors where such retreats are held outside their states, the retreat was conducted in Lokoja the state capital, saving the state millions of naira in accommodation and transportation.

Since the creation of kogi 25 years ago, the advertisement and recruitment of persons to fill vacancies in state’s Board of Internal Revenue which was done through the internet under the leadership of gov Yahaya Bello was widely praised as the most transparent and open method of job recruitments in history. But because of our political and tribal differences, hardline ethnic jingoist and self-centred politicians will not acknowledge the importance and unprecedented steps that Gov Yahaya Bello’s  administration has taken in fulfilment of his promise to lead the most transparent, efficient and corrupt-free Lugard House in history. Under Gov Bello, state judiciary and the local government system have been reformed, operating with full autonomy.

Bello’s challenge in leading the fight for government transparency through civil service reform means confronting politicians who face intense political pressure on narrow, short-term interests and pressing them to prioritize transparency, too, even when it’s politically inconvenient. Effective advocacy means giving credit where it is due. Gov Bello’s government transparency effort deserves commendation and support from all kogites who mean well for the state.

– Onogwu Isah Muhammed

Lokongoma Phase II Estate, Lokoja.

@onogwuMuha


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