The fight against corruption must sweep through all cadres of the civil service. Rather than embark on such a needless superfluous show of jejune ingenuity, the labour unions should embark on a massive and aggressive reorientation of civil servants for a more honest and productive labour force that would be a check on political office holders rather than a willing and abetting accomplice in addition to being actual perpetrators of brazen corrupt practices.
The recent rally of labour unions nationwide against corruption, as led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), was an idea meant to support the fight against corruption as being championed by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. At least, that was what it was termed and that was what Nigerians were made to believe. But beyond the fanfare and generous media coverage the nationwide rally received, there seems, to the discerning mind, a ploy by the labour leaders to distract Nigerians from focusing on the real and most guilty perpetrators of corruption.
In other sincerer climes, labour unions are a catalyst and partners with government in moving a nation’s economy forward. Civil servants are usually the vehicle through which governments achieve their set objectives. No matter how good a government’s policies are, if they do not have the cooperation of civil servants, the implementation of such policies would suffer or would even be dead on arrival. That is how important labour is to any nation.
Furthermore, labour has played very critical roles in the history of our nation, sometimes leading nationwide protests against draconian and anti-people government policies, like the several arbitrary hikes in the prices of petroleum products. Even in the darkest days of military dictatorship when most activists compromised their stance and abandoned the struggle, Labour stood by the people especially during the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Abacha era when labour unions like the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) stood by the people against some of the most brutal conditions we have ever experienced in this country.
However, the same cannot be said of Labour when it comes to service delivery and integrity. It is no longer a hidden fact that our civil service stinks. Even President Buhari stated this much recently at the inauguration of a capacity building programme for public servants when he declared that “Nigeria’s civil service has a reputation for inefficiency, low productivity and corruption”.
This declaration coming from the president himself with his avowed determination to kill corruption, no matter who is involved, could have put the labour unions in panic mode, hence, the hurriedly arranged nationwide rally against corruption was embarked upon to make them look innocent and probably escape the searchlight of Mr. President. In fact, if President Buhari wants to be successful in the fight against corruption, he would need to beam his searchlight intensely and immensely on the civil service just as much as the politicians. Concentrating on politicians alone in this fight would amount to just scratching the problem on its surface. The real corruption goes on in the civil service and among civil servants. It is an open secret that without the active participation of civil servants, no political office holder would be able to draw on government funds for purposes other than they are meant for.
It is also widely believed that civil servants are even the ones who introduce political office holders to ways funds can be embezzled without being tracked. Most times, these politicians who are mostly ministers are new to the system but the civil servants are always the ones who prod and encourage them to be corrupt as they would always have their “cut” from whatever “deal” is done.
We have “super rich” civil servants, with properties worth hundreds of millions of naira both at home and abroad? Those who do not allow allocations to federal government colleges to get to them but share them among themselves are the civil servants. Those who do not allow the funds allocated to our hospitals to get there after being approved by the ministers/president are civil servants. Those who arrange ghost workers and ripped off our nation of a staggering N160bn in a short period leading to 2013 were civil servants. But thanks to the introduction of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) introduced by the Jonathan administration, the ugly trend would have continued till today. The same thing applies to the pension system. What about the agricultural sector? Before the introduction of reforms during the Jonathan administration, several billions of naira were carted away by some civil servants, especially through the distribution of fertiliser. It is the civil servants who threaten our sports men and women with dropping them from contingents to international tournaments if they do not agree to sharing some of their allowances with ministry or commission officials. We might not need to talk about the several dirty deals that go on in the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) amounting to humongous amounts running into billions of naira and other areas too numerous to mention here.
It is, therefore, most surprising that NLC and TUC are marching against corruption. In as much as that march is laudable the intention is laughable. President Buhari must not be distracted by it. The fight against corruption must sweep through all cadres of the civil service. Rather than embark on such a needless superfluous show of jejune ingenuity, the labour unions should embark on a massive and aggressive reorientation of civil servants for a more honest and productive labour force that would be a check on political office holders rather than a willing and abetting accomplice in addition to being actual perpetrators of brazen corrupt practices.
Until this is done, millions of such rallies as recently embarked upon by NLC and TUC would continue to be an attempt at hoodwinking unsuspecting Nigerians; it would be seen, and rightly so, too, by discerning minds, as an attempt to shield civil servants, throw a decoy at anti-corruption agencies, while the real perpetrators keep smiling to the bank with loot from our commonwealth. This is why that nationwide rally is nothing but the puerile invention of a perfect alibi to escape from the looming clampdown on corrupt persons.
Jude Ndukwe writes from Abuja; Jrndukwe@yahoo.co.uk, Twitter: @stjudendukwe.