The Civil Service the world over is known to be the engine room of growth and development. All government programmes, policies and actions both domestic and foreign are domiciled in various Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
While public and political office holders conceive and drive public policies with inputs from the citizenry particularly the civil society and the Intelligentsia, the responsibility for implementing, monitoring and evaluating such policies lie with the Civil Servants who as custodians of institutional memory, possess the requisite competence to carry out such task.
It is instructive to note that a career in the civil service in the past comes with certain privileges and perquisites of office hitherto enjoyed by civil servants. Such privileges include well-furnished government quarters, free health care, car/bicycle loan, domestic servants, drivers, mortgage and affordable public education enjoyed by their children. Alas! All these privileges and appurtenances of office were monetized under the Obasanjo Public Service Reforms and Monetization policy amidst poor remuneration and degradation of social services.
Most of those Civil Servants who benefitted from the Federal government Sales of Government Houses had to take mortgage from Public mortgage Institutions which they are still paying at prohibitive costs. The less fortunate ones are left at the mercy of shylock landlords while those who dipped their hands into public Till acquire choice properties in high-brow areas.
In the past, Civil Servants enjoyed interest-free car and bicycle loans, official cars and pool vehicles as well as affordable staff bus service. The withdrawal of car/bicycle loans and the absence of an efficient and effective public transportation system has forced most of them to daily throng the bus stations to catch rickety old buses and cabs to the office. The “fortunate” ones who sometimes cut corners acquire Tokunbo cars and sometimes brand new ones to commute daily to their offices.
The decay in public schools has also forced many civil servants who can afford to send their wards to private schools which fees are quite exorbitant. It is worth noting that the collapse of infrastructure and basic social services and the flamboyant lifestyle of public and political office holders have rubbed on the values of integrity, honesty and dedication which hitherto characterize the civil service.
While the fortunes of the civil servants in the Ministries continue to nosedive as a result of poor remuneration, their counterparts in select Departments and Agencies enjoy a life of opulence as a result of adequate remuneration and conducive conditions of service in form of a well-packaged rent allowance and 13th Month. In addition, they travel local and abroad on official assignment and conferences. While civil servants no longer have official vehicles, their counterparts in public service even at lower levels drive exotic cars as personal and official vehicles. Now the question to ask is, Is the Monetisation Policy only applicable to civil servants and Political Office Holders?
Otherwise why would Executive Directors, and other Officers in NNPC, DPR, CBN, NDIC, PITAD, PENCOM, NCC, NIMASA, FIRS who enjoy fat DTA, Leave Grant, guaranteed training, rapid promotion, end of year bonuses and dressing allowance yet collect humongous salaries far above what their seniors collect in their respective supervising Ministries? It would be recalled that Winifred Oyo-Ita, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, once commented on the disparity of salaries of public/civil servants when she observed that in the public service what an average public servant on level 16 for example earns is two and a half times what the director in the ministry earns, and that director is meant to be supervising the parastatal or agency under his ministry.
It needs to be pointed out also that recruitment into the mainstream civil service and other departments and agencies follow the same criteria yet varied conditions of service. Why should there be discrepancies in salaries and allowances of civil and public servants when both are Nigerians who graduated from the same universities and go to the same market. Is it not this kind of dichotomy that makes the mainstream service a dumping ground for graduates from poor and less privilege backgrounds who could not secure plum jobs in those agencies that pay higher? It is the same scenario that breeds corruption in the civil service. Supporting the above, Oyo-Ita argues that a salary raise would boost efficiency and productivity in the civil service as well as make workers incorruptible.
It is instructive to note that out of the more than 12 different salary structures in the public service that of the core Civil Service remains the lowest even though the bulk of the government work is carried out by them. So what is to be done to bridge this wide gap in salaries and emoluments especially in the face of dwindling resources, inflation and threat of downsizing and labour unrest? Government must do the needful by beefing up the salaries of core civil servants to be at par with that of other segments of the Public Service, as there must be equal pay for job of equal value since the employees concerned have similar or the same qualifications.
It is gratifying to note that the Federal Government has taken the bull by the horns to address the anomaly. The President, Muhammadu Buhari had while inaugurating Technical Advisory Committee on the implementation of a national minimum wage observed that the salaries of workers earning above the new minimum wage must be renegotiated. President Buhari, who stated this at the inauguration of the technical committee at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa Abuja, said after the new minimum wage had been passed into law, government will go into negotiations for salary review for all the workers already earning above the new minimum wage. He said it was important to properly prepare the minds of those involved so that they will not be taken unawares when the time comes.
Bridging the gap between public/civil servants’ salaries will surely restore workers’ confidence and trust in government just as it will enhance productivity and fast-track national development. Corruption will be reduced to the barest minimum and the constant agitation for a wage increase by workers will cease for a long while.
Mohammed writes from Abuja