As Oborevwori ‘resurrects’ SERVICOM in Delta – By Pius Mordi

By Pius Mordi

When late Gen. Murtala Mohammed was done with his indiscriminate and sweeping purge of the civil service carried out after overthrowing the regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the service lost its air of stability and, to a large extent, professionalism that had been the hallmark. The principles of merit and seniority bequeathed by the British colonial system were contaminated with extraneous factors that killed professionalism, independence and impartially becameentrenched.

The politicisation of the service redefined the country’s developmental trajectory and affected its perception by the public. Vices associated that undermined the ethics and processes for accountability in administration became not just acceptable but the norm. As in other countries, the civil service is made up of permanent officials, unlike the government which changes periodically. Programme implementation, advice, policy formulation, programme planning, drafting of bills, budget preparation and quasi-judicial function took flight.

Rather than uphold and insist on protecting the rules of the service that checked the inclination of public office holders to circumvent processes that upheld public trust and prevented illegal disbursement of funds, civil servants are now known to show public officers holders the path to circumventing extant rules on expenditure.

The story was told of the experience of General Hassan Katsina as Governorof the old Northern Region. He had applied for a plot of land but was denied by his Permanent Secretary. He was told that as Governor, by law, he was the custodian of the lands in the state and was supposed to manage all lands for the benefit of the collective, for everyone in the state.

The permanent secretary advised that he could apply for land when he was no longer Governor of Northern Nigeria. And unknown to him, after his exchange with the ministry, the permanent secretary instructed that a piece of land appropriate for his status be identified for him. The Certificate of Occupancy was prepared and placed in a file, to be given to him the day he ceased being Governor of Northern Nigeria. And that was what happened to Gen. Katsina. He got his C of O signed by his successor. It was considered a contradiction for him to have signed the document allocating the land to himself.

Gen. Katsina was a military governor without a legislature arm that could curb his powers which were limitless. The civil service rules which guided governance was sacrosanct at the time and the Governor was too disciplined to armtwist the permanent secretary.

Let’s not border talking about what governors, military and civilian, that came after him could have done to that permanent secretary. So willing and ready is today’s civil service to exploit the system that some people out of personal experience rechristened then evil servants.

In 2004, Olusegun Obasanjo as the first Fourth Republic president launched an initiative to change the narrative in the civil service. It was not a wholesale and comprehensive review of the service, but an exercise designed to make all government agencies render quick and satisfactory service to all Nigerians. It was premised on the imperative to give orientation to Nigerians to demand impeccable service as their right and aimed at inculcating in all Nigerians that those denying service in one window will meet the same treatment in another window and to instill the ‘golden rule’ where giving service is concerned.

Obasanjo said it is a social contract between the Federal Government and its people and called it Service Compact with all Nigerians with the acronym, SERVICOM. All the 36 state bought into the initiative. But as with most policy issues, its implementation waned and eventually died when Obasanjo left office while the SERVICOM units set up in Ministries, Departments and Agencies became mere window dressing.

In Delta State, the programme was incorporated into the activities of all the MDAs with units set up to monitor its implementation. The checklist remain enobling today as the did then.

While unfolding his MORE Agenda, Governor of Delta State, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, has decided to resurrect the SERVICOM initiative. He thrust the assignment on the table of Rt. Hon. Funkekeme Solomon, a veteran in two of the arms of government. An erstwhile Deputy Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Solomon also manned the Works portfolio as Commissioner in his eventful career as a public servant. Oborevwori had appointed him as his Senior Policy Adviser, a position that enables him to deploy his vast experience in nurturing the cabinet.

The relaunch of SERVICOM is being undertaken in individual MDAs and over 70 MDAs have been visited by Solomon and his team with many still on the cards.

“The idea is that the public should know where they can obtain the service they desire without having to seek such in the wrong offices”, Solomon said of the renewed initiative. All Commissioners and heads of agencies, he said, should ensure that policies and resource proposals presented for approval to the State Executive Council are based on evidence of the needs of the population.

“They will also demonstrate evidence of the involvement of stakeholders in the development of policy and feedback of performance”, the Senior Policy Adviser who also supervises the Department of Labour Relations and SERVICOM said.

He said all MDAs should set the entitlements of citizens clearly and in ways they can easily understand; list fees payable, if any, and prohibit the asking for and making of any additional payments as well as commit to the provision of services within realistic timeliness.

However, the reform of the civil service will remain a subject that will dominate conversations on making governance more response and responsible to the task of nation building. With the poor purchasing power of the people and the decimation of the middle class, there will still be a lot of thinking to do.


The anti-climax on students loan

After the stuttering jerks of its birthing, the Student Loan Scheme finally took off but in a manner that dampened the initial optimism that was elicited. Only students in federal tertiary institutions are qualified to apply for the loan, the federal government ruled. A a nation where virtually all the 36 states now have their own universities, some with more than one, its discriminatory reach and application was dispiriting to the younger generation. All the federal universities combined have very limited space for those desiring higher education.

This led the states to fill the gap by setting up their own universities to create more room for indigent students. While there are 43 federal universities at the end of 2023, states have 48. Even then, the inadequate in take of the public universities have made private universities still viable with about 79 of them operational at the last count with more still in the pipeline.

The discriminatory application of the loan facility is the inevitable outcome of the priority of the President Bola Tinubu-led administration in the allocation of limited resources. When N90 billion is spent to subsidise religious pilgrimage and over N66 billion for renovation of the Vice President’s residence, the Senate building and car park within the precincts of the National Assembly, that is the fate befalls education.

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