Northernization

For too long now there has existed an unholy nexus between Nigerian politicians and their bureaucrats leading to favouritism, cronyism, vendetta and a “revolving door bureaucracy” syndrome. Feudal-minded politicians in Nigeria are known to prefer loyalty and servility over merit and professionalism, while many unscrupulous bureaucrats and police officers are known to lobby politicians for collaborative gains.

In many states, the bureaucracy is vertically split between key political parties while a section of honest and public service-minded bureaucrats are finding themselves silenced or shunted to the sidelines. It has thus become a norm for almost every incoming state government to replace senior bureaucrats and police officers with those who are perceived to be pliable. Transfers are a punishment for those who do not fit into the politicians’ scheme of things. The recent mass transfer of scores of reshuffled officers by this government is one such example. Some past governors even Obasanjo are not innocent of the game; the difference is only of the scale.

It may turn out to be a massive task, but Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua’s mid-way government will be making a good start if it can begin shaking up the usually lethargic and indifferent (northernized) administrative structure. There is welcome news that the government as a first step is readying legislation that will not only ensure fixed-tenure postings for senior bureaucrats thereby safeguarding them from whimsical postings and transfers, but also protect them from political interference in their daily functioning. Along with this is the comforting thought, which forms part of the soon-to-be-tabled Civil Services Bill, 2009, that performance will guide postings and promotions of theses officials to begin with.

Nigerians want a change in the profile and method of recruiting civil servants to provide for a lateral entry on earmarked posts, identify specialists and have accountability. It also rules out assured promotions, besides having a civil services authority to administer the services. Given the practicalities of the problem we identify an appropriate regional balance ratio of 10 percentages (one for each region). Then we split the applicants into 10 groups. For each group, we select its percentage of applicants according to a meritocratic protocol. Note that this procedure is appropriate only as long as regional imbalance exists.

The choice must always be biased towards regions of greater imbalance. This means that regions of greater imbalance must have higher ratios. This applies to both national and regional selections. For regional selections, the ratios must be biased towards the region in which the selection is made (this is the region in which the career activity is to be pursued), if that region suffers an imbalance. And the amount of bias should reflect the amount of the imbalance in that region.

Regional balance is only critical to government-related selections and appointments. Here fairness of meritocracy and fairness of regional involvement are critical to the success of a nation. Regional balance is only desirable for private businesses, it is not critical. A private business can succeed without implementing regional balance. But if it fails because of this (say it is so tribalistic that it employs incompetent people just because they originate from the owner’s tribe) then this will be just one business failure.

The situation must be monitored continually. As soon as regional imbalance disappears to insignificant levels, we must return to the desirable formula of applying ruthless meritocracy in selecting applicants. Meritocracy then becomes the sole consideration and the foundation stone for building a thriving nation, regardless of regions, ethnic origins, etc. Now…The oversimplified solution provided by Mr. President in which he bloated the number of selected applicants to unexpected levels is unsatisfactory. He has simply replaced one problem with another.

The last one is aimed at de-politicizing the ethnic ruling majority, who gets plum postings on sheer closeness to a politician and on the basis of annual confidential reports. This will be backed by a Civil Service Bill to lay down rules. The commission also wants the code of ethics to be redrawn besides simplification of the procedure for punishing an erring bureaucrat or an official.

In a major sop to minority ethnic southerners as well as north-west demanding more rights, Nigerian Government should double the quota evenly for all the zones(regions) in this country’s civil service from 3.5 per cent to seven per cent. As we see it, such failures boil down to individual deficiencies of the civil servants. A good civil servant is known by commitment, merit and adequate training. Commitment stems from patriotism, which, in turn, comes from proper orientation that good education may provide. However, if a civil servant lacks merit, no matter how committed he is and how much training he gets, he or she will hardly deliver.

If in Nigerian every civil servant would appear to remain one particular ethnic group signifying the way they talk, smile, and admire each other – one can then wonder the Nigeria we chastise to remain ONE. These are the greatest issues that establish rivals and cause Nigerians to fight all their life against one another. Can this government take the ruling North, the middle-belt, the West, the aggrieved south-east or the agitating south-south to contemporary new Nigeria without sacrificing poor farmers?

The Bill had to provide for equitable opportunities of employment in the civil services, keeping in view its complex socio-economical, geographical, topographical, and linguistic and security concerns. The government had done away with the system of confining the district cadre posts to the candidates of the district concerned soliciting applications from candidates of the entire state. The government cannot force the members to withhold the Bill. But I request the Chair that the joint select committee shall be given the powers to add or subtract provisions that will come up when it meets

In the present-day world, we live in a globalize system where civil servants are required almost every day to engage in state-to-state, state-to-funding agencies, state-to-international financial institution negotiations. Needless to say, how a country fares in these negotiations depends on the civil servants’ commitment, grasp of national and international issues, negotiating skills, etc. Regrettably, in recent years, our civil servants have failed to display the desired level of competence in national assignment.

The system of recruitment to the civil service, in our view, is a major impediment, as it does not give adequate emphasis on merit. Less than 50 per cent of the recruitment is based on merit and the rest on different quota requirements. Such a discrimination against merit, if you like, will neither serve the country’s interest nor help the nation become a strong state. Therefore, the students’ movement should be viewed as not just stemming from their need for employment but a principled position on discrimination against merit.

We must, however, point out that two specific quotas – namely for northern and southern Nigerian ethnic groups – should be retained as part of the state’s affirmative action or positive discrimination for the backward sections of the citizenry. The constitution ordains the state to make ‘special provision in favour of any backward section of citizens for the purpose of securing their adequate representation in the service of the Republic’. Women in Nigeria, despite constituting some 50 per cent of the population, has less than 10 per cent share in civil service jobs. Their presence in the decision-making process is also not up to the desired level. Needless to say, a decidedly patriarchal system has held the women back. Therefore, the quota for women in the civil service sh

ould continue until the day when an equitable democratic system is established in the country wherein women and men work hand in hand at every sphere of the state and society.

There is also no denying that the ethnic groups have been marginalized because of overzealous Nigeria’s godfather chauvinism and need affirmative action from the state for ‘adequate representation in the service of the Republic. The high cost of election campaigns is a significant barrier against non-northern Nigeria’s full, equal representation and participation in politics. Non-northern Nigerian does not have access to resources to finance their campaigns and wealthy individuals and corporate contributors would rather give to men who are generally leaders of political parties. Related to the high-cost of campaigns is the problem of vote buying and the ensuing corruption that often go with the use of private money to finance public office campaigns. Unless the system and culture of “money politics” is changed, non-northern Nigerian will continue to be marginalized in political and public life. This brief examines how regulating campaign spending through campaign finance reform, including public financing of campaigns, can make a difference for non-northern Nigeria citizens.

Non-northern Nigeria candidates are often placed in a disadvantaged position. Because ‘money politics’ is often a sad reality, women are discouraged to enter politics because of the price or amount involved. Many non-northern Nigerians who decide to join elections are forced by the prevailing political culture to spend huge amounts to compete with northern Nigerian candidates who in most cases have access to funds. Campaign financiers (individual or big private organizations) are more willing to support northern Nigeria politicians. Since politics is still seen as a ‘northern world’, it is not surprising that most private companies and individuals give their support to northern Nigerian as they are generally believed to have greater chances of winning.

We are aware of the sentimentalism surrounding the quota for the offspring of Ijaw ethnic agitators which has the same case reference from the Nigerian civil war. However, we should all keep in mind that the Niger Delta militants took up arms against the occupation forces because they believed in the ideals of equity and equality. They envisaged a strong nation-state wherein merit will prevail at every sphere of the state and society. Institution of a merit-based recruitment system for civil service and other government jobs will, therefore, by no means undermine their contribution but, in fact, be in line with the ideals for which they have made supreme sacrifices.

With the Bill proposing to ensure fixed tenures at senior levels, there is hope for improvement in efficiency and decision-making. Politicians will no longer be able to play favourities. Given the government is in a position to get the Bill through in national Assembly; it will have to make some effort to take the secretary to the government of the federation along. They are going to resist the reform of a system that has benefited them.

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