Second Republic Vice-President, Alex Ekwueme
Since the rebirth of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the military which ruled the country for about three decades, has become the ready-made scapegoat for the nation’s woes, writes Olawale Olaleye
In what presents an irony of situation, about 30 years of military incursion into the nation’s political life still provides ready-made excuses for politicians’ inability to effectively deliver on their promises. Even in obvious cases when such issues have no direct or indirect bearing with “legacies” of the military, the institution is often blamed for the nation’s near standstill. This culture has been particularly pronounced in the last 13 years when the nation returned to democracy.
Although, the effect of military incursion for that long a period as it relates to the socio-political life of the country cannot be over-emphasised given the military’s habitual dominance, however, they cannot continue to serve as reasons the nation has remained what it is today or handy excuses for inept leadership.
Last week, Second Republic Vice-President Alex Ekwueme and a former permanent secretary, Chief Philip Asiodu, went back that road when they both blamed former military leaders for the rot in the public service. Ekwueme and Asiodu traced the failure of Nigeria’s public service to the mass purge of 1975 and the creation of states in 1967, both carried out by defunct military regimes of the late Gen Murtala Muhammed and Gen Yakubu Gowon, respectively.
Both eminent Nigerians, spoke separately at the Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais Public Service Award, organised by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in collaboration with Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja.
For Ekwueme, the massive purge in the civil service, which swept out about 10,000 officials in 1975 during the Murtala regime, destroyed security of tenure of civil servants and subsequently made them edgy about their future well-being. The former VP said from that period, public servants who were not sure of their job security “started making arrangements for their future.”
“Despite the weakening of public service by those measures taken by the military, public service remains an instrument of administrative stability and shock absorber in the governance system of the country. The problems of the Nigerian public service can equally be traced to the creation of 12 states by the military administration of General Gowon, because the measure resulted in the proliferation of public service positions as in the process, many civil servants were promoted beyond their capacities and educational qualifications,” he stated.
Ekwueme further hinged his position on the fact that an efficient and transparent public service system was one of the best legacies left by the British colonialists before quitting the Nigerian stage in 1960. He recalled that the colonial public service was anchored on performance, experience, transparency and hard work.
Asiodu who delivered a paper entitled: “The Public Service and the Transformation Agenda: Redefining the Rules of Engagement,” criticised the massive purge of 1975 as traumatic and lacking in due process. According to him, 10,000 officials from the rank of permanent secretary to messenger were summarily retired or dismissed over a period of two months.
“The victims of the purge included obvious leaders and role models some of whom were not availed any terminal benefits or pensions. The sweeping exercise destroyed the professional, non-partisan, fearless, prestigious, merit-driven civil service and public service inherited from the British colonial administration.
“The suffering, including the premature death of scores of officials affected by the purge fuelled the resort to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ an obvious euphemism for corruption which now threatens the future of the country,” Asiodu said, obviously buttressing Ekwueme’s position.
Ironically, between 1975 and now is a difference of 37 years still being identified as responsible for the woes in public service which in turn, accentuated the corruption level in 21st Century Nigeria.
Ekwueme said because some of the civil servants were laid off without benefits, those left in service “started making arrangements for their future.” This, of course, was a decent language for corruption. In the same vein, Asiodu but in a rather different language said others left in the service thought of the need to “make hay while the sun shines,” yet, another euphemism for corruption.
Whilst arguments on the impact of military incursion may not completely go away from political discourse, observers contend that the military cannot continue to be blamed for the laxity of the civilian rule. For instance, observers believe that the corruption level witnessed in the country since 1999 when power changed hands has been more than the ones perpetrated under the military for their about 30 years on the political stage.
Even more alarming is the tide of corruption in the last few years. From corruption allegations in the power sector, to the capital market, subsidy probe and even the cost of running the government, these are developments observers say cannot be blamed on the military. Instead, the present crop of leadership is advised to look inward and correct the prevalent anomalies and not blame its obvious ineptitude on the military incursion.
The military, observers say, had come and left many years ago and should not continue to absorb punches emanating from the maladministration of the present system, in what many see as not having anything whatsoever to do with the military. It is, perhaps, a failure of leadership as an observer put it, to shift responsibilities, especially in cases where they are purely that of incompetence or lack of understanding of what the Nigerian problems are.
It is no wonder, therefore, that many Nigerians are already canvassing for a parliamentary system of government as against the presidential system, which is believed to encourage corruption and not suitable for the peculiarity of the Nigerian situation. As a result, observers believe it is no longer fashionable to blame the military for the woes of this age, when indeed, the affairs of the nation had long been conceded to the civilians while the military had also faced its constitutional responsibilities.
Thus, in the Nigeria of 2012, the ill-conceived ideas of military rule some 37 years ago cannot be the reason staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) are stealing money and stashing same in funny accounts, both foreign and local. That cannot be the reason government overpaid subsidy claims as against the estimated and appropriated amount. It certainly cannot be the reason the regulators and their operators alike in the capital market are engaged in sharp practices. It cannot form the basis why the banking system is said to encourage corruption and support fraud as experience has shown in recent time. Of course, it cannot be the reason government officials relish in such profligacy and corruption without fears of a backlash from the civil society and the electorate.
The mantra of shifting the blame to the military, observers say, is no longer in vogue and can no longer sell before the discerning public because the facts before them say otherwise. It is clearly one of greed, incompetence, lack of understanding of the Nigerian problems and lack of a resounding vision to project accurately into the future like their counterparts in civilised climes.