Roundtable On Developing Appropriate Work Ethics For The Nigerian Public Servant 29th September, 2011


The Nigerian Civil Service is the machinery through which the government of Nigeria, at all levels, implements its policies, designed to meet political aims and provide social services. The performance of the Nigerian Civil Service is critical to the socio-economic and political development  of  Nigeria  given  the  dominance  of  Government  in  Nigeria.  Civil  Servants regardless of seniority, translate visions, policies, etc established by the political leadership into concrete actions that impact on all of us.

The  Fundamental   Objectives   and  Directive   Principles   of  State  Policy   of  the  1999  Nigerian Constitution as amended, though not justifiable, were intended to play significant role in the ethical direction  of  the  Nigerian  State.  Specifically,  section  23  provides:  “The  national  ethics  shall  be Discipline,  Integrity,  Dignity  of  Labour,  Social  Justice,  Religious  Tolerance,  Self-reliance  and Patrotism”. This is complemented  and reinforced by other provisions of the Constitution  as well as other national institutions whose mandates have profound implications for the national ethical drive. In order to instil discipline and integrity as fundamental ethics for public service the Constitution has also provided  in the Fifth  Schedule,  the Code  of Conduct  for Public  Officers.    The Code  of Conduct Tribunal is set up to adjudicate on matters bordering on the breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.  Both  the  Independent  Corrupt  Practices  and  other  Related  Commission  (ICPC)  and  the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) are also

Strangely, it was the military that institutionalized the national ethical drive with the establishment of Mass  Mobilization  for  Social  and  Economic  Recovery  (MAMSER).  Before  then,  War  against Indiscipline (WAI) with its WAI Brigade, which was short lived.  Since May 29, 1999 after decades of military rule the Civil Service has been undergoing gradual and systematic reforms and restructuring. However, the Civil Service is still considered stagnant and inefficient, and the attempts made in the past by panels have had little effect.

It is therefore not difficult to have a consensus that the current work ethics of the public servant is less than satisfactory and has led to underperformance of the government sector in practically all phase of engagement. Competition and sharp practices have become common occurrence and responses from appropriate authority and agencies have been weak, delayed or even absent.

In realization of the need for a persistent and consistent ethical drive to reposition Nigeria as a most populous Black nation in the world, the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, in performing its leadership role in charting the right course for good governance and policy formulation in the country, held a one day Roundtable  on Developing  Appropriate  Work  Ethics  For The Nigerian  Public Servant to discuss these issues with a view to finding solutions that will strengthen our democracy. Perspectives for the Roundtable include:
•   Leadership, Social Contract and Work Ethics;
•   The Challenge of Enthroning Proper Work Ethics in Public Service;
•   Fixing the Disconnect Between the People and Public Service;
•   Reward System and Work Ethics;
•   Revising the Philosophy of “Na My Papa Job;

•   The Concept of Wage Earning and Work Ethics;
•   Punctuality and Discipline in Public Service;
•   Work Ethics: The Private Sector Experience;
•   Work Ethics in Public SERVICE: a Comparative Analysis;
•   Work Ethics, the New Generation and Prospects of Change.

The Roundtable made the following observations:

1.   The Nigerian Civil Service consists of employees in Nigerian government agencies other than the military”. Hence, it is composed of:

•   Federal Civil Service– Ministries, Departments,
•   The 36 autonomous States’ Civil Services,
•   The unified Local Government Service,
•    The   several   Federal   and   State   government   Agencies,   including   parastatals   and corporations;
•   Government Universities, Schools, Hospitals et cetera.
•   Includes the Police Force, Customs, Immigrations and other uniformed services.

2.   Ethics refer to principles by which behavior is evaluated as right or wrong, good or bad. It is a well based standards of right and wrong, and prescribe what humans ought to do. Ethics are continuous efforts of striving to ensure that people, and the institutions they shape, live up to the standards that are reasonable and solidly based. Work ethics include not only how one feels about his or her job but also how he or she handles the allocated responsibilities.  It involves attitude, behavior,  respect,  communication,  and interaction;  how one gets along with others. Work ethics demonstrate many things about whom and how a person is.

3.   A good work ethics also involves the following characteristics: Honesty, Accountability, Doing a Good Job, Being Part of the Greater Vision, Humility, Valuing What One Does, Hard Work, Fairness, Punctuality, Following Process, Dependability, Efficiency, Positive Work Habits, Initiative, Positive Attitude and Teamwork.

4.   At  independence,  the  British  Colonial  Government  did  hand  over  to  Nigeria  a  competent, capable and highly motivated civil service. It is out of these corps that the much admired super permanent secretaries and civil service leaders emerged.

5.   Following   the  unfortunate   incursion   of  the  military   into  governance   in  1966,   Nigeria commenced  the  path  towards  the  degradation  of  Public  Service.  The  government  of  Gen. Yakubu  Gowon  substantially  maintained  the  civil  service  infrastructures  inherited  from  the British  colonial  government  at  both  Federal  and  State  levels  up  until  1975  when  it  was overthrown by the Gen. Murtala Mohammed/Obasanjo administration.

6.   The unprecedented and massive purge in the civil service particularly at the top carried out in
1975 had a negative effect on the Nigerian Public Service and introduced significant elements of insecurity, poor work ethics, indiscipline, and diminished loyalty.   A generation of Permanent Secretaries often referred to as Super Permanent Secretaries and their very well trained subordinates were summarily thrown into retirement most of them less than 45 years old then.

7.   The Nigerian Public Service has not recovered  from the trauma generated  by this action 36 years later. Subsequent military administrations did not help matters as it would appear that a competent  and motivated  Public  Service  was perceived  as threatening  to the agenda  of the political leadership.

8.   Until the 1988 reforms, following the British tradition, the Civil Service was characterized by permanence, anonymity and neutrality;
•    Permanence– As career officers civil servants are ordinarily expected to remain in the service for their entire working lives while governments come and go. This permanence ensures continuity.
•    Anonymity- Civil servants are expected to work behind the scenes; they place their skills  and energies  at the disposal  of their  political  masters,  who  make  the final decisions and who receive applause for good work and jeers for bad work
•    Neutrality-Civil  servants are prohibited from having political affiliations; they are expected faithfully and impartially to serve any government in power.

9.   Highlights of the 1988 reforms include:

a)   Merging of ministerial responsibilities  and administrative  controls and their investment in the Minister as Chief Executive and Accounting Officers;
b)  Replacement  of the designation  of Permanent  Secretary  with  “Director-General”,  whose tenure will terminate with the Government  that appointed him/her and who will serve as Deputy Minister;
c)   Greater ministerial responsibility in the appointment, promotion, training and discipline of staff;
d)  Vertical and horizontal restructuring of ministries to “ensure overall management efficiency and effectiveness …”
e)   Permanency  of appointment,  as  every  officer,  is to  make  his/her  career  entirely  in  one
f)    Abolition of the Office of the Head of Civil Service; and g)  Abolition of the pool system.

10. In reality, however, the 1988 Civil Service Reforms led to the:
(a) Conscious and deliberate politicization of the civil service;
(b) Misuse and abuse of power by Ministers and Directors-Generals who saw their
Ministries as a separate entity and run them as personal properties; (c) Increase in the cost of running the civil service due to:
(i) the imposition of uniform structures on ministries;
(ii) the proliferation of parastatals;
(iii) increase in human personnel without a corresponding  increase in productivity;
(d) Absence of a coherent and systematic training policy throughout the Civil Service; (e) Glaring shortage of skilled manpower, especially in the technical and professional cadres in virtually all the ministries;

11. It is of great concern that after 12 years of democratic governance, the very important job of rebuilding the competence of the public sector is yet to commence in earnest.
12. Some other problems of the Civil Service are:
•   Corruption,
•   Uncooperative behaviour among civil servants,
•   Ineptitude,

•   Tardiness,
•   Lack of motivation,
•   Lack of Passion for the job,
•   Nepotism,
•   Low productivity and delays,
•   Moon Lighting and Divided Attention
•   Inefficiency Bordering on Laziness, etc.
13.       Other factors that led to the current poor work ethics include:
a.   Lack  of  will  by  the  political  leadership  to  maintain  and  sustain  a  competent  and motivated public service
b.   Job security
c.   General decline in the Nigerian Economy
d.   Lack of objectivity in recruitment, rewards and terminations
e.   Poor  compensation  that  did not keep  pace  with  performance  in other  sectors  of the economy, etc.

14. Matters of ethical drive are not limited to the Constitution  and other laws only, but there are also strong  complementary  role  played  by  religious  organizations,  civil  society  organizations  and  the various communities. Both the Church and Mosque drive their ethical disposition with a lot of passion, believing  that  conformity  is  sine  qua  non  for  eternity.  Civil  Society  organizations  are  equally passionate about decent and disciplined society that offers hope for progress and development.

15. For the corporate and harmonious existence of the society, communities have developed appropriate norms  and  values.  These  norms  and  values  comprise  some  core  ethical  values,  below  which  no member  of  the  community  is  expected  to  descend.  Such  anti-social  behaviour  will  be  met  with reprobation of varying measure and proportion.

16. Poor work ethics is not a monopoly of the public sector, as the private sector also encounter the same issues. The aim of the private corporation  or business  is, in general, to make money, whereas the public sector is meant to perform functions for the society as a whole The major difference is that in the private sector, issues relating to poor work ethic and employee performance are usually dealt with summarily. Similarly, issues related to good performance are rewarded appropriately.

17.    Another  difference  between  private  and  public  sector  is  that  the  private  sector  is  not  usually constrained  by  often  mis-applied  policies/considerations  relating  to  party  affiliations,  zoning,  quota systems, etc.

18.    Furthermore, unlike the public sector that is funded from national resources (oil & gas revenues, taxations, etc), the private sector only survive on the basis of delivering competent services and goods to the market place.  This pressure to perform or perish compels the private sector to be more objective in dealing with the issues listed above.

19. Reform attempts in the public service include:
a.   The  Adebo  Commission  (1970)  and  the  Udoji  Commission  (1972)  -reviewed  the structure and orientations of the civil service to make it more efficient. Although these commissions recommended ways of rationalizing the civil service, the greatest problems of the service remained inefficiency and red tape.

b.   In 1976, the then Head of State undertook a purge of the civil service, retiring several top ranking and other  civil servants – the effect of which further decimated the civil service and the ‘espirit de corps’.
c.   In 1985, a study group headed by Dotun Phillips looked into the problems. It was
believed that the reforms of 1988 were based on this report and resulted in the 1988
Civil Service Reorganization Decree promulgated by General Ibrahim Babangida.
d.   The later report of the Ayida Panel made recommendations to reverse some of the past innovations and to return to the more efficient Civil Service of earlier years.
20. Since the advent of democratic rule from May 29, 1999 the Government has adopted some measures, including the following, to restore the dignity and glory of the Civil Service:
a.   de-militarization of the Civil Service by:
(i)        ensuring that the system is guided by the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the
Public Service Rules, the Financial Regulations and Circulars;
(ii)       Revising the Rules, Regulations and Procedures in the Civil Service  to underscore the concern of Government for discipline as well as proper conduct and practices by public officers.
b.   Correction of the various distortions introduced by the 1988 Reforms and
implementation of most of the recommendations of the AYIDA Review Panel on the
Civil Service Reforms with qualitative improvements.
c.   Setting up the Service Compact (SERVICOM) initiative.  Former President Obasanjo’s administration conceived that the SERVICOM Desk Office was to be set up in every Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies with a Desk Officer to receive complaints and ensure good service delivery.
d.   The restoration of the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation; which has the positive impact of:

• maintaining the Civil Service political neutrality and cohesiveness;
• promoting high morale and esprit-de-corps amongst civil servants;
• coordinating training policies and programmes;
• improving staff welfare and development;
• managing common establishment matters;
• fostering professionalism; and
• promoting cordial and mutual relationship between the political officers and civil servants.

At the end of the Roundtable, the following recommendations were made:

1. An Executive perspective of the ethical standards of the public service must be such that exudes extant commitment. A dedicated and committed public service will certainly enhance desirable work ethics that will assist the Executive in the performance of its functions.

2. The  Executive  is  entrusted  with  the  responsibility  of  ensuring  that  the  public  Service  works efficiently and in accordance of the law. Hence, the Executive must ensure compliance with the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.

3. The Executive also has the responsibility to carefully position the service for effective performance.
In this regard, confidence building mechanism must be put in place.

4.   Public Officers are expected to be diligent, transparent and fair in the conduct of their service. It is in this regard that public officers  must not put themselves  in any situation  that is likely to engender conflict of interest.
5.   The Nigerian  Civil Service  work ethics  must be aligned  with the Organization  for Economic  Co-
operation  and Development  OECD  Council’s  recommendations  on improving  ethics  in the public service adopted in 1989, are that:
a.   Ethical standards for public service should be clear
b.   Ethical standards should be reflected in the legal framework c.   Ethical guidance should be available to public servants
d.   Public servants should know their rights and obligations  when exposing wrongdoing
e.   Political  commitment  to  ethics  should  reinforce  the  ethical  conduct  of public servants
f.   The decision-making process should be transparent and open to scrutiny
g.   There should be clear guidelines  for interaction  between the public and private sectors
h.   Managers should demonstrate and promote ethical conduct i.    Managers should demonstrate and promote ethical conduct
j.    Public  service  conditions  and  management  of  human  resources  should
promote ethical conduct
k.   Adequate accountability mechanisms should be in place within the public service
l.     Appropriate   procedures   and   sanctions   should   exist   to   deal   with misconduct.

6. Government should institute a reward system to encourage and sustain a good work ethic among civil servants and academics. Such reward systems helps shape, bolster and foster an ethical work culture

7. Promotions  should not be handed down periodically  or as long service awards: you apply whenever you think you have met the set criteria; and this could be after two years for some, four or ten for others, or never for some. This brings a sense in which you choose how fast you want to rise; within broad expectations  re the normal time frames. For instance, not every lecturer, research fellow, or professor hired the same day with the same degrees/qualifications should make the same amount of money as salary/compensation after a number of years.

8. Every Ministry Department and Agency must ensure that a SERVICOM desk is set up to receive complaints and act as a link between the public being served and the management.

9. The Public Complaints Commission needs to be strengthened to address the disconnect in the work ethics in the public service.

10. There should be a public service disciplinary Committee in order to reduce the level of impunity and restore integrity in the Civil Service.

11. Workers who fail to exhibit a good work ethic should be regarded as failing to provide fair value for the wage the employer is paying them and should not be promoted or placed in positions of greater responsibility.

12. Civil servants should also:
•    Realize that “Na my papa job and na we pikin hope”
•    Re-orient self with personal vision and mission
•     Lift society  and societal obligations  above self (What is for the common  good and best interest of civil society?)
•    Align their vision and mission with that of the office
•    Be committed to productivity and adding value
•    Be loyal to Nation and Creed
•    Deliver on the civil service contract with society
•     Grade self in communication,  integrity, attitude, behavior,  efficiency/performance  on job and interaction.
•    Focus on achievement and success
•     Workers exhibiting a good work ethic in theory should be selected for better positions, more responsibility and ultimately promotion.

13. For the Government, discipline should include:
•   Putting the welfare of the Civil Servants as a top priority;
•   Helping the CS to develop new skills that will improve their competitive value
•    Effectively  Evaluating  performance,  and  doing  the  best  to  motivate  staff  for  optimal performance

For the Civil Servant, discipline should include:
•   Following Orders
•   Efficiency
•   Punctuality and Promptness
•   Self Respect & Respect for Others
•   Hard Work, Team Work, Organising work
•   Giving a Good Impression to the Public
•   Good Manners
•   Professionalism
•   Working to improve your understanding of the job
•   Always Giving Your Best (100%)

Lagos, Nigeria
29th September, 2011.


Professor Epiphany Azinge, SAN
Director General.