The news that 9,000 government officials who took the Federal Government Service Commission’s 2022 promotion exam and failed stunned Nigerians to their core.

According to the report, the Federal Civil Service Commission listed the employees’ performance.

Zingtie discovered that almost 9000 out of the 13,000 federal servants who took the exam—administered in approximately 69 computer-based test centers nationwide—failed, with only roughly 4,000 candidates passing.

According to the report, the candidates were selected from the Nigeria Police and other paramilitary and specialized organizations that are part of the core civil service.

According to the article, the Federal Civil Service Commission delivered a letter listing successful civil workers on November 30, 2023.

Sani Bello, the Director of Promotions, signed the letter tagged “FC.6241/S.35/Vol.xi/T12/268” and sent it to the Federation’s Office of the Head of Civil Service.

A short glance at the list revealed that only 3,851 of the roughly 13,000 federal servants who took the promotion exam passed; the remaining civil servants did not.

Nigerians have been responding to the report since it became public, with many stating that the lack of competent and intelligent civil personnel is the most significant issue the nation is currently facing.

Proponents of this school of thinking have steadfastly maintained that any nation’s civil service serves as the administrative backbone of that nation’s government.

Livinus Eze, a mechanical engineer, is at the forefront of this debate. He lamented that Nigeria’s civil service recruitment is now determined by “connections” rather than competence.

He told Zingtie: “I remember in those days, when civil servants were held in high esteem because they were believed to be highly cerebral.

“Those days, when you hear that somebody is a permanent secretary, you would know that such a person is an embodiment of experience, competence and intelligence.

“But, what do we have today? We have a bunch of mediocre people, parading themselves as civil servants.”

How did the country descend into such low ebb?

He said: “The problem started with the introduction of a quota system in the recruitment process. The quota system made it possible that those who were not qualified got jobs in the civil service because of where they came from.

“For me, there is nothing wrong in quota system because it will ensure that one section of the country does not dominate other section, but where a section of the country or a state fails to provide qualified persons for particular vacancies, the proper thing to do is to fill the vacancy with competent and qualified people from outside such area.

“But, in Nigeria, so long as you are from a state or region that must fill certain vacancies, whether you are competent and qualified or not, you will be given the job. And that is the bane of our civil service.

“How can you explain what has happened; that out of 13,000 civil servants, who sat for ordinary promotion exams, which I am sure were based on their job specifications, not up to 4000 passed? And over 9000 failed?

“So, what are they doing receiving fat salaries at the end of every month? No nation can make progress this way; it is quite unfortunate,” he stated.

Others maintain that the promotion exam results only highlight the extent of corruption inside the nation’s civil service.

Business administrator Chidiebere Eze is among those making this point.

He maintained that the civil service was the breeding ground for corruption, nearly undermining the entire fabric of the nation.

“You don’t need to search far to know why Nigeria is classified as the global poverty capital. When you have people who don’t know anything but only to go to work and receive salaries at the end of the month, how can such a country be productive?

“Poverty will inevitably be the lot of such a nation. Everything our politicians know about corruption was learnt from the civil service.

“They were the ones that introduced the famous ‘five percent’ of the 1960s that brought about the first military coup in Nigeria.

“The rot in the civil service is just too much and needs an urgent intervention. And it is good that this kind of exam was conducted and its result made public so that Nigerians can see where their problems are coming from and know what to do to tackle it headlong,” he told Zingtie.

Dr. Pogu Bitrus, the Chairman of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), also commented that the big failure was significant since it demonstrated the incompetence of the civil service.

He emphasized to Zingtie that it implied low productivity because no man can provide what he does not possess.

“The implication is that unqualified people are occupying positions in the civil service, meaning that productivity will be very low. Memos will not be up to the standards they ought to be. And of course, performance in the civil service will be declining.

“But that is not a new thing because the unnecessary bureaucracy, which the civil service shows clearly is a function of this kind of performance.

“When incompetent people are occupying positions, of course, their performance will be below standard, and rather than doing things correctly, unnecessary bureaucracy comes in and the whole system suffers as a result,” he said.

He emphasized that civil servants urgently need to be trained and retrained to move forward.

He said: “We cannot say that people should be sacked, but we are saying that there is the need for training and retraining.

“It is not enough to have a degree, diploma or some certificates, people have to be trained and trained to be able to live up to their potential within the civil service.

“So, there is a need to overhaul the civil service. There is need for retraining of the civil servants and there is need for reorientation in the civil service, so that they will know the exact thing to do as civil servants.

“Then, of course, the world is going digital; we are no longer analogue. Some of the civil servants are still analogue.

“There is a need for training and retraining to bring the civil servants up to the standard of modern civil service, so that their performance can be better.”

In response to the claim that such a poor performance cannot be separated from the hiring process, which is heavily reliant on quotas and federal character principles, he acknowledged that the hiring process “the recruitment process has a big problem; it is faulty and that is as a result of quota system and federal character principle.

“People are recruited based on where they come from, the language they speak and the religion they profess, rather than their competence.

“Of course, it has a direct bearing on the quality of their output because competence and performance are together; when you are competent, you perform better.

“We are not saying that the quota system should be abolished because there are some disadvantaged communities, but what we are saying is that we should not sacrifice competence on the altar of quota system or federal character principle.”

Alhaji Yerima Shettima, the president of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), praised the Commission for holding the promotion exam in order to evaluate the civil officials’ abilities.

But he lamented the result, calling it depressing and a sign that the majority of them weren’t even competent to have been employed.

He said: “First, it is good that the Federal Civil Service Commission conducted the promotion exam, at least to assess the capacity of the civil servants they wanted to promote.

“However, what the outcome of the exam implies is that most of the civil servants were not even qualified to have been employed in the first place; but because we have a system that encourages corruption, so many of them found themselves there.

“That is why the civil servants are even more corrupt than the politicians, and you don’t see them being productive like their counterparts in other parts of the world.

“It is unfortunate that most of them were not qualified from the outset, but they still found their way there.

“So, what we must do in this circumstance is that we must encourage competence and promote it above the man-know-man approach or what some may like to call ‘connection’ in the recruitment process.

“There is nothing bad in organising a promotion exam for them. Generally, the result is a clear indication that the government must look inward to find people who are competent and productive enough to deliver.

“What this also means is that over time, we never realised that the crop of the civil servants are this dumb but at the end of the day, we have seen what the civil service is made of.

“So, I encourage the government to do more by looking at people based on their competence and bringing them on board to get better results.”

Seigha Manager, a Niger Delta activist, has an alternative perspective on the situation, though.

According to him, the fact that more than 9,000 people failed the promotion exam does not imply that they lack qualifications or competence.

He pointed out that the people with the best grades to fill the open post were presumed to have passed and received promotions.

Stated differently, he clarified that several individuals may have achieved scores well over the passing criterion, but they were unable to advance because there were insufficient open positions to accommodate them all.

Using an example from his time in the military, he explained what he meant when he said, “For example, when we were writing for our directorship position, nine people wrote the exam and there were only two vacancies.

“Ordinarily, the pass mark would have been 49 percent, but because we were nine and only two people were needed for the two vacancies, the stake was raised.

“The person with the highest mark scored 72 percent. I was the second person with 62 percent. So, it was just the two of us that were promoted to fill the two vacancies.

“There was somebody who scored 61 percent and about three other persons that scored above 55 percent but they could not be promoted because there were only two vacancies.

“I think there were only two people that scored below the pass mark of 49 percent. But, you find out that only two of us passed and got promoted because there were only two vacancies.

“So, invariably, since only two people were promoted, it appeared as if seven others failed, but in actual sense, only two people failed. The other five people could not be promoted because the vacancies were meant for two people that scored the highest marks.

“The pass mark was 49 percent and they scored above that, but they could not be promoted because only two vacancies existed. So, it is the same thing that could have happened in this current case of over 9000 civil servants believed to have failed the recent promotion.

“Not all of them could have failed but because the vacancies that existed were limited, even though they exceeded the pass mark, they could not be promoted.”

“That is exactly what I think could have happened, but that is not to say that every person is intelligent or that nobody failed.

“There were people who could have failed but the majority passed, just that they couldn’t be promoted because the spaces were not enough to accommodate all of them,” he told Zingtie.

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