There are so many negative comments about Nigerian civil servants that, as one of them, I felt I should make some contributions. I’ve heard that a lot of civil servants are lazy, corrupt, unprofessional and unproductive. I’m not debating these. In fact, to a large extent, these assertions are true. But I don’t think there’s anybody became a government paid worker so he could be unproductive – at least to the best of my knowledge. Please, I’m not here to make excuses for civil servants, I just want to relay what I have observed and felt is wrong with the system so proper adjustments could be made by the government and the workers.
I joined the Nigerian Civil Service after hustling for more than ten years in the private sector. I came in with the same spirit as seen in the private sector and was frustrated with the slow motion in the public sector (even though things are considered fast in the academic sector). It took me time to understand and adjust to the system (though I’m still adjusting). So, I’ll list some of the problems I observed – both as an outsider and as an insider.
a. Low Salary: An average Nigerian civil servant cannot afford good housing, good meal, good education for the children, good means of transportation, and so on. No matter how we look at it, the truth is that it hurts when you, with all your certificates and expertise, cannot afford to live in a decent neighbourhood, rent a good apartment, or even build your own house(despite the National Housing Fund monthly deductions). It hurts when you are going to work in the morning and you have to struggle for keke (commercial tricycle) or bus, while your counterparts in the private sector move around in their cars. It hurts that before your salary comes, it has finished (those in the system will understand). I know that some people in the private sector earn the same thing civil servants do (or even less) and they still work hard and are very productive. Maybe when we look at other factors we will understand better. By the way, civil servants are prohibited from having side hustles. The reason isn’t clear to me because I was just told not to do it (that’s part of the problems we have – information underload).
b. Promotion Scheme: While in the private sector, I realized that promotions and assignment of special duties and positions are based on values added to the company – people are promoted based on their performances and portfolios are assigned based on who can deliver. In Nigerian civil service scheme, people are due for promotion after spending a certain number of years in one level – usually three or four years. Though promotion exam is given (publications and academic qualifications are considered in some), output and impact of workers are not really tested. So, most civil servants are not ready to go the extra mile when they know that it won’t count in their appraisals. So what most do is to relax and wait for when they will get to the top so they can create an impact. What they don’t know is that by the time they continue with the bad habit of not being productive, that habit will not be easy to break when they get there. So, the old story continues.
c. Victimization: This is a part of the civil service no one hears of until they find themselves inside. Generally, civil servants are afraid of doing what may lead to stepping on the toes that belong to the feet of someone that may kick their behind sooner or later. It doesn’t matter who the toe belongs to – whether junior or senior colleague – once the owner has the right “connection” … well, so many things could go wrong. Ways of victimizing people in the civil service range from a missing file (which could deny the worker a lot of things, including promotions), transfer to remote and unsafe area, denial of training, and so many other things. And, unlike in private sector where the victimizer could leave the job voluntarily or involuntarily, the victimizer in civil service will continue this wicked act until retirement or when the victimized was able to get a godfather that could rescue him. Now you understand why some civil servants will tell you, “Please leave me to be collecting my salary. Let them continue. Only God will judge them.”
d. Bottlenecks: The bottleneck in the civil service is the major reason things don’t move fast in the system. Something that would take the private sector an hour to treat will take the public service one month or more to handle. Flow of information isn’t fast in the civil service. You can’t send a document to the top without passing through several offices (even complaints and petitions against junior and senior colleagues). And when the matter has been treated by the director, the document will start crawling back down till it reaches the last office that may have to raise a memo regarding your document. When this memo has finally been raised, it will start crawling around the offices until it finally gets to you. If perchance, the person where the document got to is not available, everything about that matter will be put on hold until the person in charge comes back to attend to it (unless there are formal instructions that someone else should handle it). Hope this also explains why documents sent to MDAs are hard to trace.
e. Undermining Staff Opinions: In private sector, everybody has a voice. Nobody’s opinion is undermined. This is not so in the public sector. In fact, during staff meetings or briefings, unless a junior staff was called upon to explain something, he dare not talk (if not he will be considered not respectful). Even if he gives his suggestions, it will not be considered. Like some will say, “You can’t do that in the civil service. That’s not the way we do it here”. Only the opinions of the management team are important. Now think of the sayings about using the same unworkable solutions to solve the same problems.
Ok, so we have seen a little bit of what Nigerian civil service is like. But the system shouldn’t continue like this, if you ask me. Changes need to be made. I have been toying with some ideas for some time now, I don’t know if they are applicable. Here they are:
a. Nobody should be employed into the civil service unless they have worked in the private sector for a minimum of five years. This is because they will come in with the spirit of the private sector.
b. Promotion of officers should be the same way it is done in the private sector – performance based, not duration based. This method will bring a radical change in the civil service. The civil servants will find different ways of being professionals in their fields. This method is already in use in the academic and health sector but there is still need for improvement.
c. All MDAs should have a working website and the staff members, emails. This way, dissemination of information will be easy. Besides, this will encourage civil servants to be computer literate.
d. Platforms should be created, where civil servants can freely air their views, ideas and opinions towards the system. Presently, civil servants don’t have a voice except when agitating for salary increase (lol).
e. Civil servants should be encouraged to have side hustles so long as it does not affect their primary job. The government should release a list of secondary jobs civil servants should not engage in, which it believes might compromise their main job. If civil servants are allowed to have side hustles, they will create jobs, think like entrepreneurs and will not constantly agitate for salary increase.
There is hope for Nigerian Civil Service if necessary adjustments are made.