The recent move by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to suspend and investigate some key appointees of government who are linked to various acts of reckless abuse of office is a welcome development, and Nigerians are commending and celebrating the decision with pomp and gusto. It is not in doubt that this present administration by its outlook will be a far departure from the one it succeeded, judging by the steps it is taking to return probity and accountability in the civil and public spaces.
The suspension of the former Central Bank Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele and the DG of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulahi Bawa, among others are indicators of the political Will and resilience of Mr President to frontally confront the abuse in government establishments. While BAT is highly applauded on this bold initiative, he is called upon to extend his investigation further down the ranks of Ex Ministers, Heads of Parastatals and most importantly the Permanent Secretaries of Federal Ministries who act as veritable conduits in giving effect to the successful commissioning of high profile frauds linked to the Ministers.
The Permanent Secretaries who are the Accounting Officers are by implication and law directly answerable to the misappropriation of funds occasioning embezzlements and lack of due processes in the ministries. The Ministers depend entirely on their advice and opinions in dealing with all matters relating to finance and administration. They are accessory to each other. By their schedule of duty, any move to introduce sanity in the Ministries which does not bring them to account is not complete because they wield enormous inherent powers to approve or disapprove any memo. While the ongoing move to bring erring Ministers to book endures, President Tinubu must put an eye on the Permanent Secretaries and ensure that those with the requisite background and good work disposition are encouraged and retained while those possesed of orientation and skill below the acceptable attitudinal threshold are dropped.
Because of its importance in the national life, the call for a corrupt free and result oriented public service is fast gaining traction, especially against the backdrop of the recent suspension and investigation of Heads of some key government Agencies, including the probe of the notorious “Nigeria Air” Project of the Aviation Ministry. In this regard the league of Professional Public Servants has called on Mr President to sack, without delay, Permanent Secretaries found wanting in their duties and redeploy others with controversial records in order to give room for clarity on the running of Ministries and Extra Ministerial Agencies before appointment of new Ministers. This call is apt, especially now that the administration is saddled with multidimensional issues of corruption among top appointees of government. In their view, this will eliminate the clear and obvious possibility of the sitting Permanent Secretaries compromising investigations against the Ministries and some affected Ex Ministers. Not complying with this posture will seemingly increase the tendency of the permsecs polluting incoming Ministers.
Having them as chairmen of Ministerial Tenders Board, the weight of maintaining financial discipline is squarely placed on the shoulders of Permanent Secretaries and not the Ministers perse because the latter rely on them for information and actions. It will be right to say that any allegation of Financial impropriety on the Minister leaves a trace to the Permanent Secretary.
During his tenure, the former President Muhammadu Buhari didn’t indulge them. He was swift in redeploying a good number of them. He showed example with the then Permanent secretary of the Niger Delta, Mr Igali and others. He reasoned that keeping them in their positions while their ministries are under probe was to make mockery of the cleansing exercise, knowing that it was not going to achieve the expected results. This paid off immensely as it robbed the Permanent Secretaries the opportunity to obstruct investigations involving their ministries.
This model of action is however without prejudice to the introduction of other strident measures that the present government can take to ensure elimination of corruption in the system.
The ongoing reorganisation to sanitize the service has started well and should not be derailed. The Service is the fulcrum that drives and executes the policies of government and therefore must be closely watched to ensure that powerful interests did not ambush the system to serve selfish ends.
While expectation is high that the end has come for the manipulation of the public Service, it is important to suggest at this point that action should be taken earliest by the government to prevent any tampering with records and documents by the Permsecs whose ministries are under the searchlight. Everybody knows that the powers of the Permanent Secretaries are enormous to manipulate activities in their ministries.
Ministers present memos to FEC for approvals, but their preparations are essentially the responsibility of the Permsecs. It therefore follows that all items in the Ministeries that have to do with finance must compulsorily pass through the permsec’s scrutiny before getting the Minister’s approval or sent to the Federal Executive Council.
They are sine qua non in all contract awards and payments in all Ministries and as such are inextricably complicit in Ministeries that have issues of established fraud allegations.
A case in hand is the Aviation Ministry’s saga. It befuddled Nigerians how the National Carrier project fraudulently, as alleged, passed through the scrutiny of Aviation Ministry including the Permanent secretary who it fell on his desk to use his position to advise appropriately. It was revealed that the last Permanent Secretary that the Minister allegedly removed from the Ministry and posted out refused to compromise on some shady deals including the “Nigeria Air” Project which is now the reference of corruption allegation in the Public Service. Information has it that the Minister hurriedly approached the Head of Service and requested for the posting of the present PS, a Medical Doctor, who was alleged to be his stooge.
Feelers from the aviation stakeholders indicate displeasure over his continued retention as Permanent secretary while his office is under a vague probe. Such feeling is justified, knowing that essential information and records to prove the allegation of fraud in the Ministry are in his immediate possession and is not unlikely to be doctored, removed or destroyed in order to water down evidential proof of complicity.
Nigerians have very strong faith in the ability of this government to nip the excesses of some Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Heads of extra Ministerial Agencies. To achieve this, the government will require a total and comprehensive investigation into the activities of all the Permanent Secretaries, especially that of the Aviation Ministry to unravel the fraud behind the Nigeria Air project and other internal allegations of mismanagement and abuse of office. One of such internal issues relate to allegation that some contracts are awarded but not executed even when payments have been 100% completed. The time to begin this probe is now.
. Essien John writes from