The acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has said a situation where privileged civil servants subvert the system for personal gains at the expense of the poor is the greatest tragedy that a nation could experience.
Osinbajo spoke at the inaugural Quarterly Civil Service Lecture Series with the theme, “Civil Service in a Change Environment: The Change is Now”, held at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Tuesday.
He said the nation was faced with what he called a monumental tragedy when civil servants used the opportunity of the position they hold for self enrichment.
He said, “The power to do good or evil lies with a few people who form what we refer to as our civil service.
“When some of such elite see the opportunity as one for self enrichment by corrupt practices, then the nation faces a monumental tragedy.
“There is no excuse anywhere in a nation where the majority are still poor and are struggling to make a living that anyone who has the benefit of good education and good fortune of a job in the civil service should subvert that service for personal gains.
“I think it is the greatest tragedy that a nation can experience.”
Osinbajo told the civil servants that they were sometimes being referred to as “evil servants.”
He, however, urged them to take heart, saying the best professions were usually the most criticised.
“Despite the criticisms that civil servants are subjected to, I am sure that you know that sometimes civil servants are described as evil servants, but you must take heart, the best profession are usually the most criticised.
“But I must say that the wholesome privilege of public service is very easily abused or taken for granted.
“The public service elite represent, as we have seen, the most important factor in mass development,” he added.
Osinbajo regretted that the system, which had firmly stood against injustices and high-handedness that characterised the military era, when leadership was mainly by promulgation of decrees, suddenly came crashing when civil servants began to see their functions as means to achieve personal aggrandisement, rather than the common good of the Nigerian state.
He noted that more often than not, civil servants used their positions to further their personal gains and left the masses impoverished.
The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo Ita, in her lecture, said the time had come for Nigerians to stop lamenting over the foregone glorious days of the civil service.
She said the service was possibly a victim of the overall malaise bedeviling the entire Nigerian society.
She blamed the inability to clearly articulate its vision as being responsible for the decline of the service.
Also on Tuesday, while inaugurating the Private Sector Advisory Group for the Sustainable Development Goals at the Presidential Villa, in Abuja, Osinbajo said so much corruption was prevalent among the nation’s political, religious and private sector elite because of the high premium placed on wealth in the country.
He said the elite had decided to view wealth as a measure of worth, hence the large scale corruption in the system.
He said some nations were doing better than nations who attach importance to wealth because such nations decided that the value of human beings was in their contribution to the society.
Osinbajo said, “We have decided as an elite in this country that wealth is a measure of worth. It is a decision we made consciously or unconsciously. The political elite have decided that wealth is a measure of worth and that is why you find so much corruption among the political elite. Even the religious elite believe that it is a blessing of God.
“There are some societies that have decided that the value of human beings is in their contributions to the society. Those societies, of course, have done better than those who have decided that wealth, no matter how it was obtained, is a measure of worth.
“I think it is important if our elite decide that dealing with poverty is worth the while and that it will measure whether or not we are serious about our society.”
The Acting President said there was enormous responsibility placed upon the elite to do something about the millions of the extremely poor in their midst.
The responsibility, he said, should not be taken lightly since that was how they would be measured at the end of their lives.
“At the end of our lives, the question that will be asked is, what is the impact that we make on people’s lives? Nobody will be measured by how much money we made or the positions we held.
“A lot of our people in this country hang their hopes on us. They look up to us and believe we can do it and despite all the failures and the false starts, our people especially the poor and the vulnerable still believe that these elite will and can deliver.
“Let us therefore take this as a personal responsibility to our people to do something profound that will make a huge difference in the lives of our people.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, described the inauguration of the PSAG as a landmark event, saying Nigeria was the first United Nation member-state to do so.