Every Nigerian has a sordid story to tell about our public institutions.
In 2005, a friend of mine who was on his way to Okada to drop his cousin off at Igbinedion University stopped over in Benin to check on me. Since I was bored at home, I decided to go along with them to check out the institution.
On our way back, we saw a lady frantically waving at us to stop and give her lift to Benin. We obliged her.
At a point, my friend and I were so engrossed in our conversation that we forgot that someone else was in the car with us until he glanced through the rear-view and drew our attention back to the lady. We introduced ourselves and the lady did the same. I can’t remember now what the lady said her name was, but the moment she mentioned she was a staff of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), my friend stepped on the brake and parked the car.
The following hilarious drama ensued:
“Madam, please, get down! What! A JAMB official in my car!”
Perplexed and slightly embarrassed, I asked my friend the reason for his sudden reaction.
“Because of JAMB, I missed a year. They cancelled the results at our center. It was not funny. Do you know the sorrow they visit on students every year?”
“But I’m just a staff in the PRO section in Benin. We don’t deal with result issue,” the startled woman tried to explain.
“Madam, it does not matter. JAMB frustrates lots of students. You are a staff of JAMB, period.”
It took serious pleading from the lady before my friend had a change of heart and we continued on our way to Benin.
When I got home and narrated the incident to another friend, he declared that if the lady had been a staff of WAEC, there was nothing on earth that would have made him change his mind. He would have thrown her out the car.
The above to some extent portrays the average Nigerian’s reaction to the public service institutions.
Every citizen has a sordid story to tell about these institutions. Some institutions have become so notorious that the mere mention of them attracts instant negative reaction from the hearer.
A good example is the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, which Nigerians still stubbornly call NEPA. No matter the name it bears, PHCN will always attract vilification due to the unbearable pain it has caused Nigerians via promotion of darkness and excessive bills.
The Water Board or Corporation have long ceased to exist in some states and the irony is that we have a Ministry of Water Resources.
The Nigeria Police Force takes the Oscar when it comes to the most hated public Institution in Nigeria today. Nigerians regard the Institution as the epitome of corruption. Even policemen themselves share that perception. Years ago, I went with some clients to Zone 9 of the Force at Umuahia to settle a case. On our way back, somewhere in Imo State, we came across a police checkpoint. When we informed the policemen there that we were coming from Zone 9, one of them said “Na crusade ground una go be dat, carry go.”
I asked one of my clients to explain what the officer said. He informed me that the officer just expressed his sympathy as crusade referred to the money we must have expended at Zone 9.
The recent visit of the President to Ikeja Police College further reinforces our poor perception of the police. One wonders how the authorities allowed such decadence in their midst. The dilapidated buildings went to show the true extent of the decay in the force.
All over the world, the public service or civil service is the visible evidence of the existence of government. The citizens’ perception of the public service and its institutions directly relates to their perception of the government. Thus, when the citizen sees efficient institutions in the promotion of the overall health of the State, his perception of the Government is usually positive.
Unfortunately, today the whole gamut of the civil service is usually perceived as the citadel of corruption. The ongoing trial of some civil servants over the pension scam further strengthens this.
How can a “clerk” be so emboldened without a conscientious thought as to steal billions? How can a Director amass so much as to be able to acquire “thirty-two” houses! To imagine that these acquisitions were at the expense of poor pensioners, further galls a righteous soul.
Today, there is the need for re-organisation, re-orientation, and rebirth of the ethos of service in the civil service and public institutions. There is need to implement Steve Oronsaye’s report on the reform of Civil Service. The system must be flushed of the unwholesome elements embedded in it. A new public enlightenment crusade needs to be carried out. The time for efficient civil or public institutions with quality service is now.
Ehis Roberts-Omoighe is lawyer currently living in Lagos. He is also a poet, writer and public commentator.