Zulumnomics, the Civil Service and Nigeria’s Economic Revival, By Dakuku Peterside 

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…Zulum pointed to two essential things needed to foster new economic growth and social stability – productivity and efficiency in the civil service. It is time we listened to reason and fundamental truths about improving every Nigeria’s live and putting in place the structures and systems that will make Nigeria work.

Nigeria is a country in which there is a chasm between the leaders and the led. The distrust of political office holders by the ordinary Nigerian is such that most of the people celebrate when their leaders encounter tragic situations. If the governors take ill in some states, substantial proportions of the electorates would wish death on their States’ chief executives.

The primary reason for this is that some Nigerians see their leaders as unconscionable tyrants who are pillaging their states’ resources to the detriment of ordinary citizens, who suffer in poverty and destitution. Many of the led do not understand how a governor cannot pay workers their wages while living in luxury and moving around in a convoy of exquisite SUVs and is guarded by a coterie of security operatives.

So, when nature or fate strikes in the form of illness, accident or death or other tragedies, the masses who feel like the proverbial cow without a tail that relies largely on its gods to get rid of pestering fleas, rejoice over the tragedy of their leaders.

Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, who is the incumbent in Borno State, is still a first-term governor and is different. The overall impact and import of his superintendence over Borno State’s affairs can be best measured when he finally exits the governor’s seat in Maiduguri. However, there appears to be a consensus that the governor is one of the shining lights of governance in Nigeria today. His performance during the relatively short time he has spent at the helm of affairs in Borno, perhaps the State most ravaged by the unending Boko Haram insurgency in the country, has been nothing short of remarkable. Little wonder his people love and support him.

In his presentation at a lecture to commemorate my 50th birthday and the public presentation of my book, Strategic Turnaround: The Story of a Government Agency, the governor shared his thoughts on Nigeria’s national economic revival. What was striking about Professor Zulum’s lecture was how he connected the economy and security at both the country and personal levels, respectively. While he did not lay claim to being an economist, yet he got his economic fundamentals right. His message that if we increase productivity at all levels, then more citizens will gain employment and criminality would reduce, is succinct.

Tackling the problem of Nigeria’s almost total dependence on crude oil as a means of foreign exchange earning, Zulum argued that a litre of orange juice and other fruit juices cost more than a litre of fuel. He then wondered why Nigeria would rather not produce significant quantities of these products and sell them to the world to earn foreign exchange. His appeal to these examples is symbolic, and if we look inward, there are many products that, which if Nigeria focussed on producing and exporting to the world, would create more revenue than crude oil.

To illustrate this, a small country like Denmark makes a fortune from dairy products and eggs. Revenue in the dairy products and eggs segment of their national produce is estimated to amount to US$2,437 million in 2021. The market is expected to grow annually by 2.16 per cent (CAGR 2021-2025). In relation to the total population figures, a per capita revenue of US$419.16 is the estimate of what can be generated in 2021. In the dairy products and eggs segment mentioned, the volume is expected to rise to 751.7mkg by 2025. This segment is expected to attain a volume growth of 0.6 per cent in 2022. The average volume per person in the dairy products and eggs segment is expected to amount to 120.3 kilogrammes in 2021.

Just imagine such per capita revenue from a product line in Nigeria (palm oil, dairy, rice, cocoa or any other product) is US$419.16, which means that the total revenue from that product or products will be US$83,832m in one year. This alone is about a fifth of Nigeria’s 2020 GDP. The impact of this on the lives of Nigerian citizens and the multiplier effect would be too significant to ignore. Then think of other products that Nigeria has comparative advantage in producing.

Zulum further argued that the production of these products would create millions of jobs more than crude oil extraction, which has low job creation potential. With a higher income from productivity comes infrastructure development, social re-engineering,  an improved quality of life, reduction in crime, and peaceful coexistence of different ethnic nationalities.

…the civil service currently appears antiquated and contributes little to the attainment of national objectives. Its present state of disarray has impacted negatively on governance in the country. Many Nigerians regard the civil service as a theatre of sharing the proverbial national cake among the country’s major ethnic and sub-ethnic groups…

Besides, he advocated for reducing the cost of governance by focusing on priorities, supporting the civil service so that they become more professional and more productive, and concentrate on education and putting in place infrastructure that will drive growth. The governor’s mention of an effective civil service as imperative for national development brings to the fore a system that has been the bane of Nigeria’s development.

The civil service is one of the primary agents of growth in any nation. The transformation of any society or system depends mainly on the effectiveness and efficiency of its civil service, particularly in developing countries. The civil service is probably the most critical institution of a state that affects the lives of citizens due to the roles it plays.

The Nigerian civil service, since the 1990s, has become a cog in the wheel of the country’s development. This involves some groups of people whose principal function is the implementation of government policies. Civil servants are not policymakers and therefore cannot question government policies. Whenever the government makes a policy, it becomes the duty of civil servants to implement this in the way that the government of the day wants it to be so done.

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In ‘saner climes’, the civil service is a modern institution that revolutionises and maintains an efficient way of organising society, establishments, and institutions. It is supposed to be a complex organisation with seemingly permanent officials appointed to assist members of the executive in the formulation, execution, and implementation of policies in ministries and extra-ministerial departments of government. It plays a crucial role in achieving the economic, social, and developmental objectives of federal and state governments.

Countries look up to the civil service to implement developmental goals and administer policies on a day-to-day basis, while playing significant roles that accelerate social and economic change. Such desired change includes reduced unemployment, increased social products and the more equitable redistribution of income. Their anonymity attribute implies that civil servants should be seen and not heard, while characteristics such as neutrality, impartiality, and permanence enable the civil servant to be effective and productive.

However, the Nigerian experience is different from the foregoing. Here, the civil service currently appears antiquated and contributes little to the attainment of national objectives. Its present state of disarray has impacted negatively on governance in the country. Many Nigerians regard the civil service as a theatre of sharing the proverbial national cake among the country’s major ethnic and sub-ethnic groups, instead of a veritable institution to help achieve national aspirations.

The service suffers from undue politicisation, the lack of accountability, personalisation of governmental affairs, institutionalised corruption, indiscipline, and an ethnic predilection. Bureaucratic bottleneck wrought mainly by the lack of flexibility continues to bedevil the Nigerian civil service.

Most of the problems of the Nigerian civil service are made worse by the civil servants themselves. Take the issue of poor remuneration. Much of the salaries of Nigerian civil servants are still relatively low, which makes many of them resort to sharp and unethical practices for survival. Meanwhile, some civil servants live above their incomes, as many of them demand bribes before performing their regular duties, while also defrauding and embezzling money earmarked by government for developmental purposes.

The Nigerian civil service is more so bloated. Some of our civil servants do not have specific responsibilities. They roam around aimlessly from day to day, and at the end of the month, their truancy is unduly rewarded with a salary for doing virtually nothing.

…in a dynamic, fast-changing, technologically driven world, the Nigerian civil service must imbibe the practice and culture of invention and innovation both in imagination and routine work, and develop appropriate tools for anticipating change and challenges. It must be able to institutionalise change in modern governance and societal development.

There are also the problems of the use of obsolete equipment and lack of training for many in the civil service. In several public institutions in the country, civil servants use outdated equipment suitable only for museums in other countries. Many civil servants in Nigeria cannot operate personal computers, and the impact of multiple trainings organised for them are never felt in terms of their productivity.

To get it right in Nigeria, we need to create a civil service that sees itself as a tool for promoting growth, peace, stability, development, and democracy. The Nigerian civil servant should receive training regularly, and should be assisted in becoming up-to-date in the use of modern equipment, techniques, and methods. This training must be compulsory and geared towards the achievement of specialisation and professionalism in order to improve productivity.

Merit, long sacrificed on the altar of ethnic sentiments, religious considerations, crass favouritism, and sometimes prurient cravings, should be restored to the Nigerian civil service. If we are to meet modern national development challenges, appointments and promotions in the service should be devoid of ethnicity, religion and undue favouritism and needs to be strictly on merit and qualification.

Most importantly, the remuneration and other benefits of civil servants should be realistic and adequate. A situation whereby a graduate cadre civil servant earns a paltry N50,000 every month is unfortunate, as it should be clear to all concerned that without unethical practices, such a person would hardly survive on such salary. Government has to strive to make the civil service attractive in all respects.

Civil servants should be accorded greater recognition and responsibility. They need to be motivated, to stimulate them to put in practical efforts into their work, because their individual productivity depends mainly on their levels of psychological satisfaction. This will increase the levels of commitment, hard work, creativity, and disposition among civil servants.

Finally, in a dynamic, fast-changing, technologically driven world, the Nigerian civil service must imbibe the practice and culture of invention and innovation both in imagination and routine work, and develop appropriate tools for anticipating change and challenges. It must be able to institutionalise change in modern governance and societal development.

Nigerian civil servants must rediscover the cherished tradition of service, loyalty, and excellence that they were hitherto known for and complement these with integrity, credibility, leadership, innovation, and transparency in the performance of their duties and management of scarce resources.

In summary, Zulum pointed to two essential things needed to foster new economic growth and social stability – productivity and efficiency in the civil service. It is time we listened to reason and fundamental truths about improving every Nigeria’s live and putting in place the structures and systems that will make Nigeria work.

Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.

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