By Sir Sunday U. Akpan
Despite some significant strides recorded during the past 23 years of unbroken democracy practice in Nigeria, certain mind-blowing signals relating to the conducts of managers of critical institutions for driving effective public service delivery and good governance call for serious examination with a view to stemming the total demise of treasury mindset and public service ethics. The mind-blowing developments included the arrest of an accountant-general of the Federation by the EFCC in connection with an alleged N80 billion fraud and the revelation that a Central Bank Governor was involved in bidding for the job of the President of Nigeria while still sitting tight on the sensitive position reserved exclusively for non-partisan professionals.
Without doubt, apart from the aforementioned cases emanating from public treasury custodian institutions, there had been, perhaps, other equally heart-breaking reported conducts in our body politic. For example, there had been reports of serving ministers affording N100 million to buy party presidential primary forms while labour unions under their watch were on strike over poor funding, persistent cases of insecurity, failed education, health and power systems, high unemployment, mass poverty, youth restiveness and so on. But we are intentionally focusing on the phenomenon of signals pointing to the demise of treasury mindset and public service ethics, because of the prominent role power over money and the treasury plays in governance.
We are intentionally doing so because the demise of the treasury mindset which extols the ethics of integrity, due process, trust, honesty and faithfulness in the conduct of those charged with responsibility for custodian and administering public treasuries more than any other factor destroys the foundations for good governance and public service delivery. For instance, corrupt tendencies threaten public institution everywhere, but in environments where treasury operators are guided by the mindset of high ethical values of due process, integrity, confidence and commitment to respecting public trust and where their office and powers are protected from unwholesome political influences, such corrupt tendencies are usually held in check.
On the other hand, in environments where treasury custodian institutions are exposed to unhealthy political manipulations, public trust and confidence naturally depart from them. This explains why the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, announced recently that INEC was withdrawing the custody of sensitive election materials from the CBN following the involvement of the CBN Governor in partisan political adventures.
This demonstration by INEC, of a lack of confidence in an institution which was established to be an apex point of reference for public trust, should be seen as a final wake-up call for our policymakers to have a re-think on how to rescue treasury and similar public service institutions from unwholesome political influences.
In the past, public servants occupying sensitive positions such that involves custody and disbursement of funds from public treasuries were carefully identified, trained and tested before being assigned such duties. Moreover, they enjoyed protected tenures and conditions of service safeguarded by statutory commissions. Thus, permanent secretaries/accountants-general entrusted with authorization of voted expenditures were expected to be apolitical and non-partisan in conduct.
However, with the introduction of the presidential form of government in Nigeria, elected/appointed political executives decided to incorporate a “spoils system” into the public service and permitted political appointees to play the role of fund managers/vote controllers. The excuse given was that the innovation would make the service more responsive to the needs of the electorates. In actual fact, that innovation has so far exposed the system to such a high level of unwholesome partisan political pressures and parochial ethnic and nepotictendencies, that tend to destroy the traditional respect for public service ethics, due process and treasury mindset. In many instances, the spoils system has promoted anyhow governance and impunity towards the sanctity of public trust and respect for public treasuries. Thus, the mind-blowing negative signals highlighted at the beginning of this analysis might well be a tip of the ice-beg of the demise of public service we used to respect.
At this juncture, and having had the experiences of Nigeria being ruled by two presidents popularly perceived by many Nigerians to be “strong leaders” (namely His Excellency President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) and His Excellency President Mohammadu Buhari (2015-2023) supported by powerful anti-graft agencies including the EFCC, ICPC, among others. It is expedient to come to terms that what really promotes good governance and public service delivery is the institution of a good public administration system, anchored on respect for treasury discipline and commitment to compliance with due process, and not necessarily on strong leaders acting with impunity. In this connection, our policymakers may have a rethink of the “Spoils System” with a view to instituting a more accountable and result-oriented system focused on safeguarding public trust.