Columns

November 29, 2022

Undeserved assault on the bureaucracy (2)

By Eric Teniola

From last week, the piece harps on the mistake made by the military on the country’s bureaucracy which led to the mass purge, arguing that the action led to the decay and rot in the Civil Service.

HOWEVER, initial offers for weapons, ammo and supplies were to be channelled directly to the Service Chiefs and the Director-General of the Armed Forces Medical Services. But there were other angles. The mobilisation of personnel and resources across the country was stepped up at an unprecedented rate. For example, control of monetary and banking policies  to be more tightly controlled by the Federal Executive Council. 

The central government was empowered to purchase, sell, discount and rediscount Treasury Bills and Treasury Certificates in order to increase the borrowing power of the government at war. When the consortium under the Standard Charter of Britain became reluctant to do so (because of wartime risks and export disruptions), the CBN was also directed to finance produce marketing boards. Mr. I.J. Ebong, then Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, chaired the first wartime propaganda committee.

Civil servants even participated in some military operations. When Lagos was threatened by the Biafran invasion of the Midwest and West, initial holding action was achieved by the destruction of the Shasha Bridge on Mile 82 of the Ore Road. However, the subsequent epic battle of Ore on August 29, 1967, at which eastern troops advanced towards Lagos but were decidedly reversed, was conducted with disused old colonial maps of tracks in the area. 

The maps were provided by a surveyor in the civil service, who passed them on to the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the MOD. Such vital intelligence enabled the encirclement and destruction of eastern troops in that sector. 

To limit the utility of internationally exchangeable money allegedly looted by secessionists from the vaults of the central banks in Enugu, Port Harcourt, and Benin, the Federal Government changed the Nigerian currency in 1968. As various localities were recaptured by federal forces, normalcy administration loans were granted to help reactivate local industries. 

Civil servants in the Foreign Service travelled to numerous countries all over the world on diplomatic missions in support of the war effort. 

The civil service helped enforce import control policies to conserve foreign exchange, and all civil servants contributed to what was known as the Compulsory Savings Scheme and Armed Forces Comfort Fund.  Relying on the strategy of deficit financing, the Federal Ministry of Finance made funds available for the prosecution of the war.

Recurrent expenditure for all arms of government except the MOD was restricted. Credit facilities were liberalised. Promissory notes were used more frequently. Treasury certificates were issued, beginning in 1968. The statutory limit on the issuance of Treasury bills was raised again and again. In fact, the funds used for early reconstruction efforts in 1970 came from such sources. 

However, these were the same people on whom the military turned their retirement guns between August 1975 and November 1975, when the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council at the time, Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo, formally signed a statement declaring that the clean-up exercise was complete. In spite of the statement, we are still feeling the ripples of the purge today. It was a dark period. Now let me go personal.

In 1975, I was a senior reporter in The Nigerian Herald under the management of Aremo Olusegun Osoba (83), who took over from Chief Abiodun Aloba alias Ebenezer Williams. I remember being in my office on October 3, 1975, of The Nigerian Herald, owned by the Kwara State government, at Adamasingba area of Ibadan, Oyo State, when Alhaji Raheemi Olajire Aliu, who later became Oyo state Chief Information Officer, then Press Secretary to the Military Governor of Western state, Colonel David Medayese Jemibewon (81), summoned newsmen to the Agodi office of the governor. 

When we got there, we were handed a press release, that contained the retirement of six high court judges from Western states. 

They were Mr. Justice Adegboyega Ademola of the Western State Court of Appeal, Mr. Justice Olu Ayoola, Mr. Justice Adewale Thompson, Mr. Justice S. A. Abina, Mr. Justice F. B. Wickliffe and Mr. Justice O. Odumosu. We confronted Colonel Jemibewon on that day about why the six judges were retired. The governor could not give any cogent reason for the retirement of the judges. 

The premature retirement of Justice Ebenezer Olufemi Ayoola astounded me because I covered his court as a reporter in The Nigerian Tribune in 1972 before joining The Nigerian Herald.  In those days, your first assignment as a reporter was to cover the court. And my then news editor, Mr. Fola Oredoyin assigned me to the court at Iyanganku in Ibadan. I found Justice Ayoola to be radiant and effulgent. 

After his retirement, Justice Ayoola of Ilesha became Chairman of the Nigerian Monthly Law Report between 1975 and 1979. I do not know the criteria adopted by the military in retiring him. The same applied to others. 

To be concluded…