Thinking about the current story about the Police Service Commission in Nigeria, wherein the Chairman, a former Inspector General of Police, Senator Mike Okiro, is being accused, on the back of revelations by an insider, concerning different kinds of manipulation of their training vote, I think this is an opportune moment to tackle an issue which has become a major impediment to the progress of Nigeria; and an issue which needs to be tackled immediately if we are to enjoy any measure of CHANGE in our polity.
The matter is still in the realm of accusation, but before ‘big lawyering’ steps in to obliterate the truth – as they often do – let us acknowledge a number of things:
- Such practices do occur in the Nigeria public service
- For some reasons, the training and capacity development vote in each MDA is treated like a slush fund, to be spent at will on other sundry whims.
- Training and capacity development is looked down upon as being irrelevant.
- At each occasion when government speaks about cutting down on expenditure, the first port of call is training and human capacity development.
These questions throws up pertinent concerns too, namely;
- Is training and capacity development still relevant in the affairs of government especially, and human beings in general? Have we attained a level in our affairs, such that we can now stop learning?
- Will Nigeria experience the much-awaited change if genuine and honest attention is not paid to the need to train and retrain government staff – and even beyond – in the best practices obtainable around the world (especially public service and management of resources)?
- Have we been allocating overbloated figures to the training subhead in our budgets across MDAs for too long, thus seeing that line of budget as money to be spent as the top executives deem fit?
- How can we ensure that what is optimal is budgeted, and what is budget is spent for purpose?
Perhaps some details of the Okiro saga will be handy here. The whistleblower did not bother to hide his name. He is a certain Mr Kaase, who is a staff of the PSC. He revealed to the EFCC how N275milion was embezzled by Okiro especially, and a few of his cohorts. Actually, as Nigerian budgets go, this is chickenfeed. But there are many more of such situations where people are keeping mute for now. When some of us agonise that things are not progressing as rapidly as we hoped, this is what we have in mind. The Nigerian civil service is indeed a cesspit of some of the dirtiest deals and indeed, many of the perpetrators were very apprehensive when Buhari won the elections. They expect to be purged, as they deserve to be. And many people within the system have information and documents about the kinds of deals, embezzlements, outright stealing that have gone on, especially in the last 6 years of total un-control! But now they are getting more confortable and actually insinuating that nothing will change!
We urge that Mr Kaase be protected by government, and that President Buhari please take notice of what is going on, if only for its symbolism for other MDAs. We hear that many MDAs are in the habit of receiving supplies of sundry goods worth hundreds of millions, and aggregating nationally into hundreds of billions of Naira, in the morning, only for the goods to disappear in the evening when the supplier comes to collect them back – after they have been recorded by the store officer (who is also in the know), and the cash has been shared out to the big guys by the contractor. I hope Baba knows the limits Nigeria has sunk since he left, but many people are out there, ready to spill the beans and reveal some of these sordid transactions – backed by documents. He should please take note of them, and whereas he will not do the prosecution or audit himself, a few symbolic statements around the issues – to show that he knows and is highly unhappy about it – will greatly help us in this country.
These are what Kaase listed as charges against Okiro and co:
- N275million out of the N350million obtained from the Office of the National Security Adviser for training of staff, was simply embezzled
- Claiming of several millions for overseas training which were never attended
- Claims to want to train 900 staff when their full staff strength is below 400
- Shoddy arrangement of some trainings just to show they did something.
As someone who runs a Human Capital Development and training company, I can tell upfront what we go through. Ordinarily, there is a huge knowledge gap in the public sector – especially the ministries – but rather than actively close that gap, what has set in is a deep lethargy. Training of staff has become a joke, looked down upon by those put in charge of such funds. In other instances, people seek for favours – sexual or otherwise – to add staff to a training list. Even in parastatals – some set up or headed by people with private sector experience, the same lackadaisical attitude took over in recent times. Our people just couldn’t be bothered. The country needs to find how these trainings will be impactful, coordinated and standardized going forward.
Some of what we experience in the market include:
- The usual kickback syndrome. Sometimes it gets as high as 60% of the gross. Take it, or leave it. If you leave it, be sure that someone is around the corner to grab it. Even for less. The country is terribly tough and many are finding it difficult to survive. Some just ask you for a receipt and certificate for a few bucks, sometimes as low as N5,000 per head. Many ‘training firms’ just go for it without scruples. The banned international training nets millions in benefits for staff of MDAs while service providers struggle to survive, having been hemmed into a corner by demands.
- Employment of unqualified training/HCD companies, based on cronyism, tribalism, nepotism or other considerations. Local training companies were asked to accredit themselves with the CMD – Centre for Management Development (which itself is a training firm). Many did, at great expense, setting up structures and investing in equipments. The DG of CMD himself visits all such training firms that apply, and either grants or withholds accreditation. Part of the requirement for accreditation is that you send your staff for some of their (CMD’s) training. After being obtained, the accreditations were summarily ignored by executives of MDAs, and business as usual – or worse – continues. Under GEJ it became worse as unqualified people brought in letters from everywhere, with which they obtained jobs. Some of the ‘trainers’, themselves needed basic training.
- Apart from everyone becoming a trainer, many without basic qualifications, just because their ‘brother’ is sitting in the position where jobs are obtained, officers in charge of the jobs sometimes themselves set up companies and award jobs to themselves. What is more common though is where, at year end, these powerful officers and directors, give training jobs to girlfriends and concubines just to put a few millions in their pockets and continue to have whatever illicit access they’ve been having. Professional companies are left high and dry.
- The training business is perhaps the most bastardised and looked-down-upon in Nigeria. Abroad and elsewhere, you need to show pedigree but here, it’s an all-comers’ affair. It used to be that we looked up to companies like Agusto, Phillips Consulting and co but all sorts of charlatans are crowding out even these ones (a handful of supersmart young turks are around too though). Goodwill counts for little. Past record is nothing. What matters – on many occasions even though there are exceptions that must be commended – are money, connections and illicit affairs. Yes, training officers and some executives take delight in asking for sex from female staff of training companies before awarding jobs. They are living the life! They get the sex, and also get a cut! Wow! And we aren’t bankers.
It goes without saying that a lot needs reform especially in the nation’s public sector human capital departments. Nigerians need to know that nothing beats knowledge. But instead, as the case of the ongoing N8.5billion dirty cash scandal shows, the focus of almost our entire civil service is on money money and more money.
Until the day we prioritise knowledge properly, organize the sector that disseminates knowledge, reward them properly, protect them from being beat down by chancers who just happen to be in big position, and show those that are serious about their work some respect, most of our public sector reforms will come to naught. How can a public ‘servant’ perform optimally when he doesn’t know what to do, or doesn’t know what global best practices are? How can such a person perform his/her role in a reform environment when the internal structures ensure they don’t get the real stuff?
A colleague, based in the UK saw me last week and agonized about this subject matter. Said we should come together and form a body. There are associations of trainers, and of management consultants, but their impact has not been felt lately. But coming together as a group is the right thing to do. For too long we have played the selfish game, and got burnt for it.
Cooperation will amount to nothing without making the government itself see what the civil service has become. And there is no better time than now, at the threshold of a new era, to make this plain. This is because, the ease with which operatives ignore laid down rules and regulations, brings down the barriers to entry in what should otherwise be a regulated market for those with some claim to intellectualism or exposure.
This is part of why we are waiting with bated breath for Buhari to commence work by unearthing the terrible practices in this sector, and encouraging more Kaases in different MDAs to step forward and say what they know. This is part of why we are impatient.
As for Okiro, if indeed he dips his hands into training funds and prefers that staff in his Agency continue to be ignorant, he gets what he deserves. He has access to big SANs, but I just hope we will not destroy this country totally on the altar of legalism, bureaucracy and other confusion. The truth, is the truth.
Very few of Nigeria’s MDAs have retained any degree of professionalism. Those who are struggling to do so, know themselves. Most of the Ministries have since gone bonkers. They deliberately spend Nigeria’s money in the wrong direction. We hope a day will arrive – soon – when the emphasis on intellectualism and knowledge, will return. My company is ready to assist in that regard. (Sorry for the advertisement. It’s not too much to ask given that MOST people will not dare write what I’ve written. But I’m certain that this is the right thing to do, and that I’ll emerge the better for it).