By Our Correspondent
At the inauguration of Bukar Aji as the Head of Service March 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan delivered a rare acknowledgement of the rot that has tarnished Nigeria’s civil service for years, and challenged the new boss to cleanse the system.
“The civil service was historically acknowledged as the citadel of excellence where the best brains, equipment and strategies are engaged,” the president told Aji stressing that “under your leadership, you must all work hard to bring back that type of civil service in the interest of our nation.”
He pressed the new chief bureaucrat to “enhance discipline and curtail corruption in the service. If that directive yielded gains 16 months later, it failed to show on a service that has grown notoriously corrupt and inept, despite reform programmes that have gulped billions of naira.
Now, as Mr. Aji sets to quit office this August, Mr. Jonathan appears to have jettisoned his own call for reforms and cleansing of the system. In an intensifying hunt for a new Head of Service, the president is conducting largely the same search that produced Aji and many of his predecessors, one that factors political interests ahead of excellence, administration officials told this medium.
The calculation this time is that the successful candidate must come from Nigeria’s North-east geo-political zone, the same region that produced Aji and his immediate predecessor, Bello Sali, those briefed of the process say. Put simply, even where more competent hands exists elsewhere, they stand no chance.
“If Civil Service, the engine room of government is rooted in politics, corruption and impunity, then Nigeria is finished,” said Auwal Rafsanjani of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC. The plan conforms to a pre-set zoning formula in place since Mr. Jonathan’s election in 2011.
The selection process also reflects a constitutionally-stipulated federal character by taking into consideration the regions that produced past Heads of Service, and the occupants of other key offices such as the Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF. But analysts accuse the government – and past administrations – of exploiting those arrangements for political gains.
For a start, the holder of the office now is expected to provide quality electoral value from a troubled North-east beset by a deadly Boko Haram insurgency, for Mr. Jonathan’s all, but certain re-election bid in 2015. Mr. Rafsanjani said the government, and its predecessors will chose a candidate it can “manipulate”; one that must bear party loyalty and have the ability to help “siphon public funds for the next elections”.
“In all the years we have monitored the process of appointing the Head of the Civil Service, politics, not merit has always been the rule,” said Mr. Rafsanjani. “This is very sad.” The outgoing Head of Service, Aji, and at least 80 percent of past 16 heads of the bureaucracy, now regarded as the faces behind a ruined civil service, emerged through a similar process.
For a service that has faced growing calls for radical changes, its equally growing politicisation has angered those who advocate reforms. They argue that the dire measures are needed for change. “It is not supposed to be a political civil service, but an independent institution based on merit and not politics,” said Eze Onyekpere, the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, CSJ. “Once the bureaucracy is led into politics, then the country would run into serious crisis it can hardly find a way out of. What Nigerians want is a merit-based, apolitical civil service,” Mr. Onyekpere said. Political Intrigues
Indications that the president may not be prepared to dump a “political civil service” came in recent months. The race for the seat began in the dawn of 2014 when it became clear Mr. Aji, the incumbent, was set to retire. From Yobe State, Mr. Aji took over from Isa Sali, an Adamawa State indigene, on March 21, 2013. A year and five months later, Mr. Aji is set to step down this August after a career that began August 18, 1979.