Just recently, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, called on the Nigerian civil servants to register as members of political parties of their choice.
Ekweremadu hinged his call on the 2003 ruling of the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in which the learned justices held that preventing civil servants from belonging to political parties entails denial of their rights and freedom of association as contained in the 1999 constitution. I shall waste no time in stating that both the Deputy Senate President’s call and the Supreme Court’s ruling, populist and revolutionary as they may sound, are dangerous calls that may harm our democracy if hearkened to.
In academics, reinventing the wheel, is a term we use to describe a research that purports to discover what had already been discovered and possibly built upon by other researchers. It is a mark of a researcher’s laziness once it is proven that he or she has reinvented the wheel. To avoid the embarrassment associated with reinventing the wheel, literature review, whereby one traces the progress and development of one’s research interest, is inserted as a major step in research.
Neither the Deputy Senate President nor the Supreme Court seemed to have undertaken enough study before making their prescriptions; otherwise one will be at a great loss to explain how they ended up reinventing a problem. A call for a partisan civil service is a return to the dark days of the spoil system where civil service positions were construed as booty for winning political parties after elections.
The practice was such that triumphant political parties could sack all civil servants and appoint party members, supporters, families, friends and associates. The United States of America in a well-thought out reform of 1883 called the Pendleton Act, nailed the coffin of the spoil system and inaugurated the merit based system of civil service which guaranteed professionalism and job permanence for the civil servant. It also weaned him of all affiliations to political parties ensuring that the civil servant’s allegiance is to his country and not to any political party.
In Nigeria where the civil servant is pulled by tribal and religious forces, a third force which political party membership represents will put the final nail on the coffin of civil service. It means that henceforth, partisan bureaucrats will only look out to party members for employment, promotion, training and other rewards. As far as the current system goes, all these are merit based and it accounts for the faith which Nigerians still repose on the civil service in spite of all the allegations of corruption being levelled against it.
A partisan civil service system will create trust issues between elected/appointed officials and civil servants. Thus, instead of operating as partners in progress, the relationship pattern between them may metamorphose into that of mutual mistrust. The civil servant who is working with an elected official of a party other than his, may be viewed more as a spy intent on digging out scums against the non-party member officials. Thus, time needed for productive ventures will be deployed in witch-hunting in order to gain undue advantage for one’s party as allegiance to one’s political party will make nonsense of the oath of secrecy which civil servants swear.
There is also the problem of unbridled favouritism which a partisan civil service will be liable to. This can be demonstrated with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Imagine an INEC peopled by card carrying members of political parties. Imagine also that members of one political party emerged so powerful that they become more populous and occupy more strategic positions in INEC. Whenever this scenario becomes possible, it is ‘bye bye’ to multiparty democracy.
Thus, there is great wisdom in the electoral provisions of our nation which forbid civil servants from being members of political parties. Even the civil servants themselves see through this wisdom and it explains their reluctance in embracing the Supreme Court judgement fifteen clear years after it was delivered. Senator Ekweremadu and his colleagues in the Senate should be told the type of electoral reform which the civil servants wants as it affects them. They want an electoral system that does not force them to resign from their duty posts if they want to contest an election. They want one that grants them leave of absence and assimilates them at the end of the contest if they are unsuccessful or at the end of their tenure if they are successful at the polls.