The Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HoCSF) is currently conducting a hiring process to fill at least 12 positions for federal permanent secretaries. However, several stakeholders have expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency in the process.
The recruitment process for new permanent secretaries commenced on October 9, 2023, according to a circular dated September 25, 2023, released by the OHoCSF.
During the process, 65 of the initial 85 directors invited to sit for promotion and appointment exams for the vacant permanent secretary posts were said to have failed to progress in the exercise.
The successful ones were invited to participate in the final stage of oral interview slated for penultimate Friday after scaling the ICT test and other procedures.
According to a circular with reference number HCSF/PS/CMO/178/VOL.11/85, dated November 7, 2023, those who passed the written exam were invited for a proficiency test on Wednesday, November 8 at the Muhammadu Buhari Centre, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Asokoro Abuja.
The circular shows that of the 85 directors cleared to sit for the written exam, 61 failed to meet the minimum mark of 50 per cent, 20 of them passed, while the other four candidates were absent.
However, another circular dated November 8 said only 18 of the directors were invited for the oral interview, which is the final stage of the exercise and those who scaled through would be recommended to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for appointment to the positions of permanent secretaries to fill vacant spaces in their respective states.
According to the circular, two candidates failed the ICT proficiency test.
Before this development, media reports that the HoCSF, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, allegedly extorted N23 million from 92 applicants aspiring to become permanent secretaries.
It was alleged that all the applicants were compelled to pay N250,000 each for a one-week training programme from October 23 to 28, 2023.
Officials, who would not want to be named, were quoted as saying that the money, estimated to be N23 million, was not remitted to the Treasure Single Account (TSA) amid plans to also manipulate the posting of the permanent secretaries and give ‘juicy ministries’ to the HoCSF’s inner circle and close allies.
She, however, denied such extortion.
A statement by the Director, Communications, Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF), Mallam Mohammed Ahmed, in Abuja, said the N250,000 demanded from the 92 applicants was for a one-week training programme commencing at the Public Service Institute of Nigeria (PSIN), Abuja.
“It is imperative to state that the course fee was not determined by the OHCSF nor is it paid into the office‘s account. Training and retraining of civil servants is the core mandate of PSIN and the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) and as such, monies for such are paid directly into the aforementioned training institutions’ NUBAN account, linked to the Federal Government’s Treasury Single Account (TSA),” Ahmed said.
He also said the training is the fifth in the series since its inception and, most importantly, optional.
“As such, it is the prerogative of the prospective candidate to pay and participate or not. It is aimed at refreshing, as well as sharpening their skills and competencies. There is no penalty for non-participation.
“For the avoidance of doubt and the records, the process for the selection of federal permanent secretaries is segmented, rigorous and transparent.”
Backlash on process
The controversies generated by the exercise have led to some senior federal civil servants expressing displeasure over the portrayal of directors as incompetent after the recent release of examination results.
The senior civil servants criticised a comment attributed to Dr Yemi-Esan that only 20 directors out of 85 initially invited to sit for promotion exam to the rank of permanent secretary scaled through the exercise.
Dr Yemi-Esan reportedly said there was the need to emphasise meritocracy and integrity in the selection process for permanent secretaries.
“It should not be about the number of successful candidates but the quality of the candidates,” she had argued.
A top senior civil servant said the posture of Yemi-Esan did not do justice to the directors’ invaluable experience garnered over the decades.
“It is distasteful, disgraceful, dishonourable and dishonest for Dr Yemi-Esan, who also rose through the public service, to denigrate our directors over a discredited examination that has been questioned for favouring cronies.
“Unfortunately, while the position of a permanent secretary is a political appointment that should reflect federal character principle, some states including Bauchi and Ebonyi do not have a representation as they claimed that their directors failed the exams.
“We wish to, therefore, urge President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to cancel the exam and use his discretion to appoint permanent secretaries through a transparent and judicious process that emphasises seniority, experience, and qualification among other credible criteria used in the past,” the top official said.
In another protest, Oluwatobi Johnson, coordinator of the Centre for Public Accountability (CPA), urged President Tinubu to look into the matter amid allegations of bias.
“There is no doubt, that the civil service remains a pillar upon which the success of any government stands. This controversy, over the promotion examination, conducted by the Office of the Head of Service, currently headed by Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan has attracted the attention of many stakeholders and concerned citizens that the recent examination for the promotion of directors to the prestigious position of permanent secretaries has been marred by allegations of bias and manipulations.
“The controversy surrounding these promotions has raised eyebrows and cast a shadow over the credibility of the process. The allegations point directly to the Head of Service to the Federation, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, whose office was responsible for conducting the examination.
“Stakeholders, including senior civil servants, have called on President Bola Tinubu to, as a matter of urgency, order the cancellation of the examination and instead use his constitutional powers in Section 17(1)(2) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria to directly appoint permanent secretaries as has been done in appointment of ambassadors and SGF, or approve that an independent body conducts the exam through a transparent and judicious process that places emphasis on seniority, experience and qualification among other credible criteria,” he said.
HoCSF defends action
Responding, the Director of Communication at the Office of the Head of Federal Civil Service, Mallam Mohammed Ahmed, denied the allegation of nepotism and irregularities in the process.
He said, “You should be aware that various levels of assessment to test the candidates’ competence were undertaken including verification and screening of credentials which involved security and anti-corruption agencies.
“Similarly, other stages are written examination on public service and policy issues, information and communications technology proficiency and oral interviews which were conducted in the most transparent manner.
“As the Head of Service had said, the emphasis is on meritocracy and integrity of the selection process and the quality of the candidates.”
He also said that the selection process was rigorous and involved many highly placed individuals and organisations from the beginning to the end.
He said the civil service, being the engine room of any government, must always select the best candidates to formulate and implement government policies.
He dismissed allegations that the Head of Service was planning on installing her stooges, saying that 85 federal directors were initially cleared and that after the final screening, only 20 passed the examination and participated in the ICT proficiency test, of which 18 passed.
He said, “The oral interview was conducted by a body of permanent secretaries with the Head of the Civil Service Commission as a member.”
He reportedly explained that the selection process had three fronts.
“Firstly, the Department of State Services (DSS) conducts security clearance, while the Independent Corrupt Practices (ICPC) and Other Related Offences Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) conduct financial clearance.
“Secondly, the DSS conducts physical screening and issues examination numbers to candidates. Finally, candidates must score a minimum of 50 per cent in the examination to participate in the ICT proficiency test. Successful candidates then attend the oral interview, which is the final stage of the selection process,” the director of communication stated.