Should civil servants participate in partisan politics?

I personally was never aware that there are rulings which permit civil servants to be members of , to declare their interest to contest for political positions and are only required to resign, if they secure the nomination of their respective parties, thirty days before the election date.

I was a civil servant in the First Republic and I served in the Military Governments that ruled the country from 1966 to 1978 when I retired.

I also recall that in the negotiations that led to the granting of independence to our country, one of the main points of emphasis was the entrenchment in our laws of an independent, impartial and neutral Civil Service for .

It was so important that our Founding Fathers, solemnly signed an undertaking to ensure an impartial, professional and independent Civil Service. In order to protect the civil service from political influences, an Independent Civil Service Commission was established and the Prime Minister became the Head of the Civil Service.

Civil Service appointments, discipline, progression and all other matters related thereto were the sole of the Civil Service Commissions. The only exception was that of the selection of people for the post of Permanent Secretary which would be in consultation between the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and the Head of the Civil Service on the one part; and on the other, the Head of Government from a selection of eligible serving members of the senior civil servants, usually of Permanent Secretary Grade and recommended by the Civil Service Commission in consultation with the Head of Service. The appointment, however, is made by the Head of Government, not the Civil Commission.

Those of us who served in the period of transition and the immediate post-independence civil service that succeeded the departing Colonial Civil Servants, believed that while we had the right to hold political views and to vote for of our choice; we did not believe that we were entitled to join and publicly express political partisanship.

We believed that in the exercise of our duties and in the observance of the Oaths of Office and, particularly the part of the Oath of Secrecy, to which we subscribed, our total and absolute loyalty is entirely at the service of the Government, for the time being in power. I believe that for the most part, the civil services of the country honorably discharged those duties and were loyal to the governments under which they served.

Because they were able to be politically neutral, they were able to discharge their responsibilities honorably not only to the Governments they served but to the opposition and to the general public. This was never in doubt.

It is these principles of independence and impartiality of the service system that served the country well in the First Republic and sustained the Military Regimes that governed the country during its worst crisis.

The destruction of the Civil Service system in the post Gowon Era and subsequent abuse of the system by succeeding military and civilian governments is largely to blame for our present state of affairs, particularly the impunity, the absence of due process and total lack of respect for leadership, especially government leadership.

The general provision of our Constitutions, that give the right to Nigerian Citizens the freedom of association, freedom to hold political views, to vote and to be voted for, would seem to give everyone the right to form associations or to belong to any society and to propagate any doctrine. This, in my view, does not mean that there are, circumstances in which these rights may be abridged in the national interest and good governance. Every right must come with the making of a sacrifice. This is one such instance, which we must observe.

Any person seeking appointment into the civil service should be required to accept and to sign a pledge that he or she will not, while in service, be a member of any political party.

I cannot imagine any circumstance that would permit the Nigerian Military or Police, or even the Chairman of , the Chief of , the Army chief of Staff or the Inspector General of Police to be active members of .

This is an unfortunate situation into which we have, without taking notice of it, slipped. That is the situation where every succeeding Government begins with the removal of all the top Heads of the Professional Services and replacing them with amenable sectional party loyalties and prejudices, thereby leading to loss of sense of duty, professional loyalty and esprit de corp.  This is most dangerous especially in the military, the police and the public service systems.

I think that we should take this issue seriously in the interest of good governance; independence in making judgments and of rendering impartial and loyal advice to the constituted authorities for the time in power.

I think that this issue is so crucial to our good governance that the Executive and Legislature should give their most urgent attention to the consideration, if necessary, to a Constitutional Amendment or necessary legal provision to preserve the independence and impartiality of some of critical constitutionally entrenched bodies of country.

Joda is an elder statesman and retired federal permanent secretary.

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