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What Winifred Oyo-Ita Symbolises

Shuaib Shuaib writes that the HoS, Winifred Oyo-Ita’s recent resignation speaks volume of President Muhammadu Buhari’s resolve to tackle corruption in the Nigeria civil service.

Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita / Photo credit: guardian.ng
Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita / Photo credit: guardian.ng

On May 29. 2019 President Muhammadu Buhari caught the attention of millions of Nigerians, for all of the things he did not say and the speech he did not give.

Since then, a number of actions his government has taken are directly related to commitments he made on a different inaugural day, one in which he made a speech.

There could be different reasons why it has taken the president this long to act on some of those promises and only after securing a second term in office.

For one, his government might have been crippled or sabotaged from within had he chosen to take on the civil service.

He also might as well have kissed a second term in office good bye if it had been state governors he chose to take a stand against.

But now he appears to be doing both, confronting the rot in the civil service and hitting governors where it hurts most.

In a sense, Winifred Oyo-Ita represents the president’s success in bringing out the best in civil servants during his first term.

But with recent revelations, she suddenly also represents his inability to carry out promises made.

Exactly four years earlier at Eagle Square, it was praise that he won for his inaugural speech.

What delighted most people was when he said that he belonged to everybody and belonged to nobody.

Many Nigerians believe he hasn’t lived up to that promise and have, therefore, consistently accused the president of favouring his region of the country.

In that speech, Buhari openly declared, to the relief of many observers that there would be no paying back of old scores.
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he fact is that operation of the joint account has come at the expense of development in local councils with governors diverting as much money as possible to major cities or on white elephant projects

And if there was ever a right time to settle scores with old adversaries, it would be after securing a second and final term in office.

But so far, it is all peace on that front. In fact, the president has been reported to have made huge concessions to the business interests of some of his political rivals.

It wasn’t until May 6, 2019 when the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit issued guidelines that restricted the use of Joint Local Government Accounts.

The guidelines came roughly two months after Buhari was declared winner of the presidential election for a second term in office.

There is no doubt he needed the governors who collectively could have denied him a second term. And for four years, he did nothing to antagonise them.

Announcement of the guidelines, with the June 1, 2019 was also three weeks short to the inauguration speech four years ago when Buhari said this; “Constitutionally there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers of government but that should not mean the federal government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments. Not least, the Local Government Joint Account.”

The fact is that operation of the joint account has come at the expense of development in local councils with governors diverting as much money as possible to major cities or on white elephant projects.

Of course, implementation of the guidelines has exposed loopholes and challenges that can only be resolved politically.

Yet, the governors would rather let these problems fester to justify why they need to take back control of local government funds.

But here’s the thing, there is a direct correlation between the rising insecurity in every part of the country and the dysfunction, absence of governance at the local councils.

In 1960, 85 per cent of Nigeria’s population lived in rural areas. Today, it is roughly half and in another 50 years, most of the 774 local governments could become ghost towns if the authorities don’t start investing in local governments

While everyone is focusing on the rising level of unemployment as a ticking time bomb, a more imminent danger is the rate of rural migration to urban areas.

Whether it is Jos, Gusau, Osogbo, Asaba or Abakaliki, virtually every major city in the country is witnessing an influx of migrants leaving rural areas in search of jobs and better opportunities at an unprecedented rate.

In 1960, 85 per cent of Nigeria’s population lived in rural areas.

Today, it is roughly half and in another 50 years, most of the 774 local governments could become ghost towns if the authorities don’t start investing in local governments.

In Borno and other northeast states, the rural population are being driven out mostly by Boko Haram insurgency.

Most of those displaced by the violence today live in camps for Internally Displaced People and others have gone as far as Niger Republic and Cameroon as refugees.

But elsewhere in the country, it is the lack basic amenities, schools, hospitals, roads and job opportunities. Nobody wants to live in darkness.

No one should have to travel 200 kilometres to reach the nearest hospital or even walk two kilometres daily to get to school.

Maybe that was acceptable three decades ago, it shouldn’t be in the 21st century.

Along with the exodus, farmlands are being abandoned, which could doom the Buhari’s government push to attain self-sufficiency in food production.

And that is exactly what will happen if governors get their way and the federal government loses the right to set financial guidelines in court.

Added to that will be the burden placed on already overstretched facilities and policing capabilities in major cities.

For a few rural dwellers seeking a better life, when those opportunities don’t materialise in the cities, there is nothing else to turn to but a life of crime.

For four years, President Buhari restricted the fight against corruption to politicians and security agencies. Even at that, indictments were mostly of government officials who had left the system.

Included among them are former governors, ministers and former security chiefs.

The exception was the cases of former SGF Babachir Lawal and the former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke who were still in office.

What her difficulties symbolise, is the willingness of the Buhari government to finally tackle corruption within the civil service and also start looking beyond the PDP years as the source of all corruption in government

And in those cases, the president’s hand was forced by public pressure to act on scandals that had come out in the open.

Again, no genuine attempt was made to prosecute either of them.

Apart from the tango between the EFCC and British officials over the possible extradition and prosecution of Alison- Madueke, who served as minister of petroleum in the previous government, the Buhari administration also did not lift a finger to fight corruption within the oil industry or the wider civil service.

But all that appears to be changing.

Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, was meant to speak on civil service reforms at the ministerial retreat held for incoming cabinet ministers at the presidential villa.

She failed to show up.

Media reports say she was rattled by an investigation by EFCC linking her to N3bn contract fraud while she was a permanent secretary.

She was permanent secretary in a different time, a different era and government. As has become the norm with the APC government, the president had given her the benefit of the doubt until the investigation is been concluded.

The thought alone, that the head of service is under investigation is bound to cause reverberations across the entire civil service.

But what her difficulties symbolise, is the willingness of the Buhari government to finally tackle corruption within the civil service and also start looking beyond the PDP years as the source of all corruption in government.

Okoi Obono-Obla, the chairman of the Special Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property has also been suspended over forgery and corruption investigation by ICPC.

Beyond the need for reforms, what has bogged down the civil service and its capacity for service delivery has been corruption

Even though the presidency has denied Babatunde Fowler, chairman of FIRS is under investigation after querying him on missed revenue target, there have been recent reports of EFCC questioning a number of officials from his office.

But the paper Oyo-Ita failed to deliver at the ministerial retreat denied Nigerians the opportunity to learn about the nature and scope of civil service reforms planned by the government.

In the 2015 speech, President Buhari said, “We shall rebuild and reform the public service to become more effective and more serviceable.”

The government has done very little by way of reforming public service in the country.

Beyond the need for reforms, what has bogged down the civil service and its capacity for service delivery has been corruption.

Even without the reforms, and even without being able to reduce the cost of maintaining civil servants and service delivery to Nigerians by cutting recurrent expenditure, the Buhari government has definitely positioned the civil service to better serve the country.

A point can be made on how former SGF, Babachir Lawal spent hundreds of millions on grass cutting that never really took place.

Still today, 90 per cent of Nigeria’s budget isn’t ending up in the pockets of civil servants. It is no longer so common for money budgeted for a project to be spent on paper with no project on ground to show.

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