Secretary to Kaduna State Government Malam BALARABE ABBAS LAWAL is a political appointee with a solid civil service background, having worked in various government agencies, before joining the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), from where he joined the Malam Nasir El-Rufai administration in 2015. In this interview, he spoke on how the administration has transformed the Kaduna Civil Service in six years.
By Kamal Aliagan |
In 2015, when the Malam Nasir El-Rufai administration came to office, you embarked on a series of verification exercises, where some workers were retrenched, ghost workers were identified and the payroll was cleaned up. Why is it necessary for you to undertake this exercise again, six years down the line?
It is good for me to start from the genesis of this process. When we assumed office in 2015, we met a payroll and staff list that had a lot of discrepancies. In the sense that we found out that there were a number of ghost workers both on the state and local government lists. So, at the very beginning, we decided to do a verification exercise. But the most important component then was the biometrics, so that we can capture the personnel in service. We used banks for the process, Zenith Bank and United Bank for Africa. We moved around the zones, from zone one to zone two and zone three and civil servants were verified in Zaria, Kaduna and Kafanchan towns respectively. But while we are conducting the exercise, other issues emerged and the exercise dragged on for a while. Afterwards, we discovered that there were a lot of issues that were yet to be resolved and since 2015, we have been doing that and other people are coming in from various sources. So, we had to look at the staff list again.
But what we are doing now is slightly different from what we did earlier, because now we are looking at the issue of qualification. Kaduna State Government had agreed, after the reform, that there is minimum qualification requirement that must be met before an individual can be employed into the civil service; that minimum requirement is a National Diploma. And also, a number of cadres and officers were phased out based of the fact that either the service they render is not needed anymore or their qualifications do not support where they are. So, for the current process, it is not the verification only; we also included reforms to the service and cleaned it up, so that we will have a service that is more robust and dynamic.
So, what we are doing now is not exactly like what we did in 2015; this time around, we are looking at the issue of those that should not be in service but who are still in service, based on their qualification. Some people shouldn’t be in the service like those who possess only secondary school certificates. The new minimum qualification to be in service after the 2015 reform is a National Diploma and the civil service cadre starts from level 6. There are quite a few cases where we allow personnel who have secondary school certificates, like hospital attendants and security personnel in secondary schools, but most of these jobs have been out-sourced. What we have done earlier has achieved its purpose and what we are doing now is to see whether the reform we have done is actually being adhered to.
Part of the reform is for the state government to have a lean, efficient and reformed civil service. Is the administration beaming its spotlight on training civil servants to make them 21st century compliant?
Part of what is going to come up which has been approved by the state government, is to increase the amount of money for training. We intend to modify the type of training that civil servants embark on; this training is not like the one they used to do before now. This training is geared towards looking at what the staff are doing and how we can improve on workers’ delivery. The training is more comprehensive that what was done before. In the past, sending workers for training used to be a sort of favour extended to some personnel. At that time, the selection process was done sentimentally. Favoured civil servants were selected to go on training and the heads of department didn’t care whether they go for the training or not. This time around, we are having a holistic view of the service itself and training will be geared towards achieving our set goals and objectives. Training plays an important role in Malam Nasir El-Rufai’s administration and that’s why we have given a percentage of our entire revenue for training workers and this is a feat that has never been done before.
Is there a template to assess Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government? Or do you just allow the Chief Executive Officers to operate based on what you give them as guidelines?
This is what the governor is doing in his second tenure. He constituted the various Policy Councils, which are saddled with the responsibility of coordinating the affairs of ministries and ensure they are operating according to their mandates. In addition, the Policy Councils ensure that there are less overlaps and less conflicts between the ministries. My council particularly, the Institutional Development Council, when we came, we tried to look at the capacity and performance gaps in the system. And we have now completely changed the performance evaluation of staff. We are doing this for staff and ministries too, that’s why we are having briefings with Ministries, Agencies and Departments to find out what they have done, their problems and evaluate their capacity and performance gaps. During the briefing, we will find out if they have shortage of staff or they are over staffed. In some cases, some are over staffed, with several people doing the same thing and that creates a problem. So, there are templates to assess capacity gaps and also templates to assess the performance of Ministries, Agencies and Departments of government and we have done the assessments. We have new templates now that are being introduced since we started as a council.
Does the assessment of the Institutional Development Council also extend to political appointees or it is just limited to civil servants?
It cuts across, because who is a political appointee? Political appointees are Commissioners, Secretary to the State Government, Head of service, Permanent Secretaries, Heads of agencies, Directors General and Executive Secretaries. Our assessment template covers every political appointee and the civil service with zero exception.
Talking about overlap, is there no overlap between the Civil Service Commission, Office of the Head of Service and Secretary to the State Government?
There is no overlap. The Civil Service Commission is a creation of the constitution and it is an independent body that has been created to make sure that there is transparency and coordination in the recruitment of staff into the service without the interference of the executive body. The Head of Service handles the aftermath of the recruitment done by the Civil Service Commission. The Head of Service is in charge of deploying staff to their various beats based on their capacities. When it comes to the issue of discipline, the designated department will conduct an investigation that will be sent back to the Civil Service Board for proper sanctions. On recruitment process, the Civil Service Commission is in charge, however members get inputs and advisories from the Head of Service.
The Secretary to the Government deals mainly with the political appointees, the office has nothing to do with the civil service generally or even the parastatals at the lower level. At any point in time, when the governor approves the appointment of a Chief Executive of any parastatal, the Secretary to the Government will then issue the letter of appointment. So, we deal mainly with political appointees, the Head of Service deals with civil servants but the Civil Service Commission deals with appointment and discipline. So, you can see that there is no overlap of functions.
To what extend has the phasing out of the Executive Officer cadre, cooks and stewards, enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Kaduna State Civil Service?
Looking closely, you find out that those cadres that were phased out are cadres that were colonial creations. They were created mainly to make colonial rulers comfortable; workers like cooks, stewards and the rest of them. We don’t require such services anymore and the numbers of such workers were quite high. Most of the services they rendered can now be outsourced. When you fill up your service with such cadres, at the end of the day, you have to start thinking of their allowances, gratuities, pensions and many other benefits. But once such service is outsourced, all that is needed is to agree on a price for rendering the service and it is cheaper and affordable.
We have forms that we inherited as part of the instrument of government in running this administration. We had like 178 forms in the Civil Service Commission alone, we are currently working on how to phase out a lot of these forms because some of them have been in use since 1922 and some have been in use for the past 30 to 40 years. The service used to subject workers to fill a lot of forms. Many staff are redundant and they don’t do anything at all, like the staff in charge of stables in the Government House. There are so many cadres that have to be phased out because people took things for granted. For a long time, people just come into service but they don’t take their time to look at the details and as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.
So right now, we are looking at the details to achieve what we planned and also achieve a slimmer government because we have a large number of redundancies. There are people who are in service who do nothing; they just come to work, sit down and go back home. And to me personally, this is not good for the individual himself because he is being destroyed and that’s why, what we are trying to do to make this civil service slim, is to disengage these redundant people. This will enable those whose cadres have been phased out to look at other areas of employment. There are so many areas where people can get employment but people tend to hang on to the service. In my view, what we are doing is for the benefit of the people because it avails them the opportunity to try their hands on something different.
Talking of restructuring of forms, will Kaduna state civil service retain the good old Annual Performance Evaluation Report (APER) form in its assessment of personnel?
We are now in the process of transforming it completely, the APER is just there as a form that you give to people and score them with good grades to get them promoted and keep them in service. We are trying to change this completely. Our evaluation criteria will be completely different in the sense that the person that is doing evaluation is also assessing himself. So, you just don’t sit down and score people ‘As’. By doing that, you are assessing yourself also. By the time we see that form, we will see who you really are. The form you are going to fill for your subordinates will reveal who you are too. So, we are going to use that forms to assess you too. So, assessment is not going to be like a father Christmas kind of thing or ‘let my people go’; it will cease to be that way henceforth.
Does the government have a cap on the number of political appointees that it can employ?
Of course, there is a cap, because before we came in, each local government had a Commissioner. Some even had two or three but we decided not to appoint Commissioners based on local governments but based on their competency, because the whole essence of the presidential system of government is to build competence by bringing in people who can do the job. That’s what we have done in the first and second terms; we didn’t just approve the appointment of Commissioners anyhow. Before we assumed office, there were Commissioners for Special Duties, Youth Engagement and so on and they were doing nothing because most of them reported to the office of the SSG. We had a Permanent Secretary who didn’t know what she ought to be doing. I asked her what her duties were and she didn’t know. Some of the Commissioners were just there, they sat down in their offices and did nothing.
So, we then decided to appoint Commissioners for ministries that are functional and we slimmed it down from 20 to 30 commissioners to the 14 that we have now. We also reduced the number of Permanent Secretaries. When I came in as the SSG, I had five Permanent Secretaries attached to my office. At first, we pruned the number down to three and now we have two. So, that is how we have been slimming down the government’s work force; Commissioners have been reduced and Permanent Secretaries have also been reduced. Before, we use to have Permanent Secretary in Local Government Service Commission apart from the fact that we had an Executive Chairman and Permanent Commissioners of Local Government Service Commission, before we changed it to a Board. Due to these clusters, there will always be conflicts, because a Permanent Secretary runs a ministry and but we had a situation where a Permanent Secretary was reporting to another Permanent Secretary. All these redundant Permanent Secretaries have been gradually eased out and now we are getting slimmer. We are now going to recommend to the government the rationalization of some agencies. We have 88 agencies of government and they are too many; so we have been meeting with them gradually and we have like 10 to eight of them that can either be merged or expunged. We can make them departments in other agencies.
Kaduna state is unique, whereby Commissioners and Permanent Secretaries are political appointees. Where did you borrow this arrangement from? Is it constitutional?
What we did is quite constitutional but many people do not know, that’s why they tend to think that it is Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai that started it. This issue of Permanent Secretaries being political appointees was initiated by Alhaji Balarabe Musa as governor of Kaduna state in 1979, when he appointed people like Richard Umaru and some of them who were in their late 20s, as Permanent Secretaries. They were appointed outside the civil service. Balarabe was trying to show that the 1979 constitution clearly stated that the Permanent Secretaries are political appointees, there is a schedule in the 1979 and 1999 constitutions which provides for Secretary to the Government, Head of service and then Permanent Secretaries. They are under the same schedule and they are political appointees. The only slight difference is that the Permanent Secretaries will remain after the government goes and will continue in office at the discretion of the incoming government. They remain because of the issue of continuity.
In an earlier interview, I recalled the attempted reform by the Babangida administration which was sabotaged but part of it was adopted. In the reform, Permanent Secretaries became political appointees because at that time, Babangida wanted to change them to Directors General rather than Permanent Secretaries and that reform created what we have now. Like I said, some civil servants decided to fight against the office of the Director General but accepted to be Directors. If you are a Permanent Secretary, what is the flow and how do you become a Permanent Secretary? Back in the days, you found out that you are employed as Assistant Secretary 1 and then you follow the promotional chain till you get to Permanent Secretary. So, you operate as a Secretary all the way up. But now you get employed as an officer, then you progress up to an Assistant Director, Deputy Director and Director and then you become a Permanent Secretary instead of becoming a Director General. Normally, once you get to a Director, the normal procedure required is to aim to be a Director General, which is like a Director of Directors. But now from a Director, you suddenly become a Permanent Secretary. So, like I said, the civil servants wanted to have their cake and eat it; they wanted to be to be Directors but not Directors General when they reach the peak of their service. Instead, they want to be Permanent Secretaries; they were obsessed with the word ‘’permanent’’.
1] In 2015, the Malam Nasir El-Rufai administration conducted a verification exercise to clean up the civil service payroll when it assumed office;
2] The government reformed the civil service, whereby some cadres were abolished;
3] The minimum requirement to become a civil servant in Kaduna state is a National Diploma;
4] Services of drivers, cooks and sundry other auxiliary staff have been out sourced;
5] The government also put a cap on political appointees by reducing the number of Ministries and Commissioners to 14;
6] The number of Permanent Secretaries was also reduced;
7] The administration has embarked on another round of verification to ensure that the civil service reform is being complied with;
8] The reform entails a new approach to evaluating civil servants and not just using the Annual Performance Evaluation Report (APER) form;
9] There is a template to also evaluate Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government;
10] Some agencies will be merged in a bid to ensure a lean and more efficient civil service.