The old system of giving Permanent Secretaries and Directors in the Federal Civil Service unlimited tenure appeared to take the term: â€œPermanent Secretaryâ€ literally.
It gave rise to so many abuses that the federal civil service became the engine room of corruption, ethnic domination, sectional cabalism and the nurturing of super-powerful public officers who were used by narrow, entrenched interest groups and external political forces to subvert the Service itself and the spirit of national unity as a whole.
Once a privileged officer was appointed a permanent secretary or director, he or she became the proverbial stool that blocks the gates of heaven for others. Those immediately below him or her nursed little or no hope of reaching this zenith in the civil service, and they in turn made it impossible for those immediately below them to aspire to the position of directors.
Entrenched powerful interests resorted to naming carefully selected junior officers, sometimes from state civil services to occupy these lucrative federal positions where they survived for decades. It has turned out that invariably, those who are given the benefit of this abuse are from a section of the country: the North.
This clearly accounted for the fact that when the Presidency ordered the Head of Service, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, to introduce tenured regime for permanent-secretaries and directors in the federal civil service, all the nine permanent secretaries who were forced to resign for being of retirement age or having served more than eight years in office were northerners, and the measure to introduce the tenure was termed: â€œanti-northâ€, as if the Service is meant to advance the interests of only a section of the country to the detriment of the others.
A petition circulated in Abuja over the weekend by a group that termed itself Forum of Federal Civil Servants in Defence of the New Civil Service Reform illustrated this point thus: â€œthe truth is that virtually all the officers from the north, on joining the Service, were catapulted to posts much higher than they deserved, at relatively younger age and with much less the required years of experience for the posts. This regrettable scenario is even more glaring in the case of the affected directors from the region (North).
â€œFor instance, in 1992, an indigene of Kaduna State was catapulted from the post of a senior personnel officer on Grade Level (GL 10) to that of a director on GL 17.
Thus by a stroke of the pen, he jumped seven grade levels which some now claim the officer has earned. He has now been a director for 16 years and still had about eight more years before retirement if not for the new policyâ€¦â€
All manner of strategies (including threatening Oronsaye, lobbying members of the National Assembly from the North and pleading that their lives and health would be endangered) have been employed by these ethnic federal permanent secretaries and directors in their efforts to get the federal government to reverse this progressive reform.
We are urging the federal government to proceed with the reform and be firm in ensuring that the overall interests of the nation will not be subverted by sectional saboteurs.
The federal civil service must be made to once again represent national aspirations and to resume its place as a prime centre of national integration. The only way to make this possible is to press home the eight years maximum tenure for permanent secretaries and directors.
This new measure will give more people the opportunity to serve their country at the top of their careers and thereby reinvigorate the Service.
There should be no going back.