The Civil Service of any nation is the engine room of the Government because it provides the foot soldiers that translate policy initiatives to reality.
The Civil Service has been a subject of interest from early on in the history of the country, since Independence. This is evident in the attempts to reform it starting with the Morgan Commission of 1963 which focused on “junior” workers in both the public and private sectors.
It investigated anomalies in the grading and other conditions relating to all posts in the Public Service of the Federation, with a view to determining an appropriate grading system and achieving uniformity in the salaries of officers performing identical duties.
Then came the Adebo Commission of 1971which sought to address some of the problems facing the public sector, particularly the envisaged shortage of senior civil servants on account of their abysmally low remuneration package.
In quick succession was the Public Service Review Commission of 1974, popularly known as the Udoji Commission. The highpoint of the Udoji Commission report was, a Unified Grading and Salary Structure (UGSS) which would embrace all posts in the Civil Service from the lowest to the highest (Grade Levels 01 – 17) and provide equal opportunities for officers to advance to the highest post in the Service, irrespective of their discipline, provided they had what it took to get there.
There was the Williams and Williams Commission In 1975, the Onosode Commission of 1981, Justice Fatai Williams Committee of 1990, Longe Commission of 1991, Allison Ayida panel of 1994 and the Oronsaye panel of 2012.
In spite of the abundance of reform initiatives, it is manifestly clear that the Civil Service is in dire need of fundamental restructuring. From being over sized, inadequate or no training at all, inefficiency, poor motivation to unreasonable pay disparity, the challenges are glaring.
The result of these has been constant friction between labour groups and Government and the attendant industrial disharmony, sub optimal productivity and redundancy.
The cost to the economy has been massive not just in financial terms but much more in under-utilization of human capacity.
In her presentation of the 2022-2024 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, the Minister of Finance, Hajya Zainab Ahmed said between January and May this year, one point five trillion naira had been spent for Personnel cost, while nine hundred and seventy three point one billion naira had been released for capital expenditure. This has been the situation for several years now. It requires no special insight to know that development will remain a dream for any society that prioritizes spending on recurrent to the detriment of capital projects.
In seeking reforms that will be beneficial to the all, Government must realize and first, come to terms with the actual cause of the status quo in the Civil Service- the structure of the economy.
The economy is largely Government dictated and dependent. As a result, Government is under so much pressure to provide direct means of livelihood for people. Too much revolves around Government and the effect is unsalutary.
Fundamentally therefore, it is in the interest of the Government and indeed the economy to have a private sector led growth. Policies must as a matter of consciousness be made with the intention to empower the growth of businesses no matter the scale.
While Government calls the shot in terms of regulation, the strongest economies in the world are all powered by the private sector.
To bring the number of the civil service to a productive level, it is suggested that the Government can come up with an incentive to pay in advance a portion of the remaining salaries of civil servants who have for instance five years to retire without prejudice to their retirement benefits. This may be extended to those who have more years to retire and are interested in the initiative.
This will be preceded by one full year of intensive business/entrepreneurhip training in partnership with established business schools. This proposal may be taken to the World Bank or any interested multi-lateral for assistance with its financing as the economic benefits will be enormous.
For those who will remain in service, Government must make their training and retraining a key plank of the reform initiative.
Another area which requires quick attention is the issue of wage discrimination. A situation where people with the same qualification and experience and who perform similar tasks take home different pay-sometimes up to three times more than peers is unjust and demoralizing, not just for the personnel on the wrong side of the pay structure but for the system as a whole.
Professionalism and discipline must be emphasized to ensure that the civil service is capable of attracting the best hands.
These measures can help in building a Civil Service that is competitive and productive rather than one which is merely seen as a social service and a drain on the economy.