Problems of the Civil Service in Nigeria

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Problems of the Civil Service in Nigeria

Problems of the Civil Service in Nigeria
Problems of the Civil Service in Nigeria

The civil service is a body or department in the executive arm of government. It has the duty of assisting the executive in the planning and implementation of government policies.

The civil service is divided into departments called ministries. For example, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Finance, etc.

The political head and chief executive of a ministry is either a minister or a commissioner. The Director-General (Permanent Secretary) is the administrative head and the Accounting Officer of a ministry.

The civil service is different from the public service in terms of condition of service. A worker in the civil service is called a civil servant. The change from Permanent Secretary to Director-General effected in Ibrahim Babangida’s administration was reverted back to Permanent Secretary in Abacha’s administration.

There are state civil service as well as federal civil service.


Problems of the Nigerian Civil Service

The problems of the civil service center primarily around the structure of the service and the attitude of civil servants to work. The following are some of the major problems facing the civil service in a modern state.

  1. Bureaucratization
  2. Lack of Initiative
  3. Monopolistic in Nature
  4. Displacement of Objectives
  5. Poor Conditions of Service
  6. Self-Perpetuation and Empire Building
  7. Uneconomic Charges
  8. Uniform Conditions of Service
  9. Wasteful and Extravagant Service
  10. Negative Attitude of Workers
  11. Negative Attitude of Workers
  12. Corruption
  13. Political Instability
  14. Subservience to Minority Class Interests
  15. Political Influence
  16. Poor Maintenance Culture

Below is a simple explanation on how Civil Servants are been controlled and influenced by the government.

  • Displacement of Objectives

In the civil service, the officials sometimes pursue their personal or departmental objectives instead of those of the whole organization. That is, the goals, which they actually pursue, sometimes differ markedly from those they publicly claim to be pursuing.

The actions of civil servants are dietated more by veiled sectional interests than considerations for the common good.

  • Bureaucratization

Bireaucratisation is one of the most serious problems of the civil service. Bureaucratization is defined as the premature and/or unwarranted expansion of the role of government into areas of economic life, which are normally reserved for the private sector.

This is illustrated by the involvement of senior civil servants in the management of public enterprises either as chairmen or board members. For example, up Allison Ayida, permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance in the Yakubu Gowon Administration was a member of over fifty boards.

  • Lack of Initiative

In the words of Max Weber, the rules, procedures and division of tasks in the civil service provide everyone with an “iron cage” (that is, a hiding place). In order to protect themselves, civil servants hide behind the laws or regulations but they are quick to bend the rule when it is against their individual or group interests.

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On the other hand, the superior officers issue instructions and directives in triplicate (or more) and invent ponderous filing systems. In short, civil servants exaggerate the importance of procedure to the extent of ritualizing the routine.

In a government research organization in Lagos, for example, several re-agents and research materials worth millions of Naira were destroyed because money was riot released in good time for the purchase of diesel to run the generating plant after several days of power outage. Lack of initiative was responsible for the loss of the valuable materials.

  • Self-Perpetuation and Empire Building

According to Max Weber, Once it is fully established, bureaucracy is among those social structures which are hardest to destroy. Civil servants tend to believe that holding an office gives them personal ownership of it and its privileges.

They constantly request for more staff because prestige and pay in the civil service are often determined by the number of one’s subordinates. They can use their expertise to maintain or increase their power and they make themselves virtually irreplaceable.

There are cases of senior civil servants who refuse to go on leave for years in spite of the civil service rules which prohibit the accumulation of deferment of leave. Many others change their dates of birth as frequently as possible and some who are 70 years old would claim to be 50.

  • Uneconomic Charges

The major function of the civil service is to provide service to the community, but the fees that public institutions charge do not necessarily represent the money equivalent of the services which they offer to the public.

For example, the courts charge fees that can hardly defray their expenses, but if the charges are too high, many people will not get justice. All these have adverse effects on efficiency in the service.

  • Monopolistic in Nature

The civil service is monopolistic in nature. It is run like a monopoly as it has no rivals in the field. Competition is not therefore a feature of the civil service and its members too do not feel the sharp stimulus of competition.

This is particularly common in the diplomatic service where diplomats, especially from developing countries like Nigeria, sometimes treat their compatriots residing in their country of posting with disdain or contempt.

  • Poor Conditions of Service

Civil servants are poorly paid partly because there is little external competition to force salaries up, and partly because the legislature and the public are jealous of paying generous salaries to civil servants.

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Unfortunately, many civil servants are so specialized that few, if any opportunities arise outside the service. For example, it will be difficult for a hangman (he hangs those condemned to death by hanging) to get a job outside the service. As a result of the poor conditions of service, the morale of the workers is usually low.

Perhaps, the greatest problem of the civil service in contemporary Nigeria is the non-payment or delayed payment of the gratuities and pensions of retired civil servants.

  • Uniform Conditions of Service

Unlike the practice in the private sector where salaries are performance based, civil servants on the same grade usually enjoy the same conditions of service regardless of the employee’s level of performance. This creates problems of it‘s own.

If a government ministry wishes to recruit or retain a highly competent officer, it finds it difficult to offer him the necessary salary, for either the regulation will be so inelastic that no great changes in salary can be made or the salary which can be offered will be entirely too small to prove attractive.

  • Wasteful and Extravagant Service

The civil service has little interest in economy. As such, the service tends to become wasteful and extravagant in spending public money. The several abandoned and uncompleted projects in parts of Nigeria bear ample testimony to this problem.

  • Negative Attitude of Workers

Another problem has to do with the negative attitude of workers. Many civil servants regard government’s work as nobody’s work. As such, lateness and absenteeism are common among civil servants and there is little commitment to the goals and objectives of government.

  • Corruption

Corruption is an endemic problem of the society especially in developing countries. It takes several forms such as bribery, nepotism, inflation of contracts and collusion with contractors. Being part of the system, the civil service has not been able to act differently from the rest of society.

In Nigeria, for example, it is common to find civil servants who earn less than N50,000 a month living in a rented apartment which costs more than N1 million a year. Some civil servants own several houses in choice places in cities and a fleet of state of the art cars whereas civil servants are generally poorly remunerated.

Nobody seems to care.

  • Political Instability

The frequent, and often unconstitutional changes of government especially in development countries also militate against the efficiency of the civil service. Constant changes of government create instability in the civil service and expose civil servants to political influences.

  • Political Influence

Political influences are very dominant in the areas of recruitment, career progression, posting, promotion and even salary increases. Alluding to the dangers of political interference in the Civil Service, a former Secretary to the Western State Military Government and Head of the Civil Service, Dr. P.T. Odumosu cautioned that:

Once the impression is created that one can get on in the service other than by merit, the civil service runs badly and economic development becomes difficult… Unfortunately, it cannot be said that all those in executive positions in the country have in the past strictly observed rules of the game.
Whilst all have acknowledged the need to uphold integrity and discipline, and preserve the independence of the service, there have been cases where this principle has been sacrificed for political, tribal or other considerations. The effect of all this is to create in public officers a sense of insecurity and frustration”.

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To avoid this, civil service appointments, discipline and promotion are assigned to special commissions, which are insulated from politics, at least in theory.

  • Subservience to Minority Class Interests

Perhaps the greatest problem facing the civil service is the tendency of the institution to serve its narrow corporate interests rather than the larger interests of society. The higher civil service has often exploited its partnership with the ruling elite to further protect its corporate interests or those of its principals.

The result has been the emergence of an inefficient civil service, which has become a master rather than the servant of the people.

In the case of Nigeria, the consequences are no less gloomy today than they were over twenty years ago.

According to an authorOlugbeni, 1984;

The average Nigerian has never had it so bad, with galloping double-digit inflation of the order of 20 to 25 percent in some areas, a low per capita income, scarcity of essential commodities, mounting unemployment, inadequate and grossly inefficient public utilities, pauperisation of the rural sector by uncontrolled rural-urban migration and the relative neglect of agriculture and other rural sector occupations, increasing but dangerous dependence on oil as the main source of public revenue, a food import bill of unprecedented and ridiculous magnitude, and a sharp reversal of the nation’s status from being a net lender to becoming a net borrower in the international money market”.

The picture today does not appear different from that painted by Olugbemi.

The restructuring of the civil service and the introduction of the monetisation policy (though haphazardly implemented) and the proposal to ban overseas medical treatment for higher civil servants, among other things, may compel the service to initiate policies that will work in the overall interest of Nigerians.

  • Poor Maintenance Culture

It would appear as if maintenance culture is not part of the culture of the civil service at least in Nigeria.

The offices are usually in decrepit condition, the elevators are there but they seldom work, vehicles are badly maintained and used for only few years before they are auctioned at ridiculous prices to the officials using them, public roads must collapse before they are repaired and stadia and other sports facilities are either abandoned or badly maintained.


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