The good civil servants

2016-04-23 11:30

Citizens all over Africa complain about officials who line their pockets rather than render a service. But some public servants swim upstream and try their best to do a good job. An investigation by the African Investigative Publishing Collective, highlights some civil servant heroes. 


Ndidi Okafor

Just into a new job at the Nigerian elections commission, Inec, Okafor had to fight a ghost. In “her” ward in the Ekiti state elections in 2009, a Mrs Alamu was appointed as elections monitor. But Okafor knew that Mrs Alamu was dead.

Raising the matter with her boss didn’t help, at first; Okafor was told not to ask so many questions. She insisted and, in the end, a live supervisor was appointed. But then the voter register disappeared.

Just manage the situation, her boss said. Baffled, she asked how one could “manage” elections without a voter register. Once again her insistence paid off and a manual voter register was produced.

By now it was clear that someone didn’t want real election results from that ward in Ekiti.

On voting day, April 25 2009, the presiding officer and the poll clerk were briefly kidnapped by thugs, who also carried away the ballot papers.

Voting was impossible.

Nevertheless, Okafor’s bosses asked her to “write out” its elections results. When she refused, she was told that “Commissioner Chukwani” (the head of the legal and personnel department at Inec’s head office in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja) “was not going to be happy with you”. Telephonic threats ensued and Okafor had to be escorted to and from her office by police for a few days.

Then came the last straw. Expecting the election results from the state capital, Ado-Ekiti, she was told that “the votes had been destroyed in a fire” and that she should “generate fresh ones”.

Okafor openly stated that she “would never falsify election results”.

Besides the impossibility of “generating fresh results”, there had not been a fire in the Ado-Ekiti voting station, and everybody knew it.

Okafor was transferred to the rural Plateau State for her “disloyalty”, only to find that there was rigging there too. After refusing a $15 000 (R218 000) bribe to remove a certain ethnic group from the voters’ roll – “these are not our people”, the bribe-offering senator said – her car was shot at.

Finally, and thankfully, a new superior officer at Inec, Professor Attahiru Jega, was appointed in 2011.

He instituted an inquiry and promoted Okafor to deputy director. Elections management improved, even more so after President Muhammadu Buhari was elected last year.

Elections in Nigeria are now undertaken with technological help (voter cards and fingerprint systems) to make them more reliable.

A new recruitment policy focuses on attracting not just people with diplomas, but those with the right values and dedication. In short, the system is now looking out for the Ndidi Okafors.

Professor James Omole


Professor Omole had an interesting reputation at the University of Abuja, where he taught English literature: he would simply not entertain any offers of sex made to him by female students.

Obtaining a degree by sleeping with your professor was
very common: not just in Abuja but at many universities throughout Nigeria.

But Omole and a few of his colleagues felt that this practice was spreading rot not just in academic life but all over Nigeria.

“Such students know nothing, but they are unleashed on society as graduates,” he used to say.

Omole, supported by his like-minded colleagues, took the matter up with the university’s senate in 2011. His letter went unanswered for a year.

Like in many other areas of Nigerian life, every promotion, graduation or perk depended on “payments” to the person who had the power to dish out the favours. The vice-chancellor at the time was notorious for presiding over such a system.

After a year, Omole wrote a formal complaint, accusing the senate of remaining “complicitly silent on an academic controversy of a criminal nature”.

The senate was forced to call a meeting and Omole was attacked for “challenging the moral and administrative authority of the vice-chancellor”.

One of his supporters ran up to Omole to physically assault him.

The man was stopped – but still nothing was done about the issue for years.

Change, again, came with a new appointment.

Vice-chancellor Michael Adikwu, who has headed the university since mid-2014, has “drummed it into the ears of lecturers that he will not entertain corruption”, said Omole, “and everybody is falling in line”.

Omole believes that the election of President Buhari last year, and a general anti-corruption awareness in the country, also added to the changes.

“It’s not just us,” he said.

The administrations of seven universities are being looked into and lecturers are being dragged to courts over corrupt practices. Lecturers who sleep with students are being shamed on social media.

“All this gives us the feeling that corruption in the system will not continue for too long.”

Allen Catherine Kagina. Picture: The insider Uganda


By the time Kagina left the Uganda Revenue Agency in 2014, public regard for her performance was so high that she joined a small group of public servants formally honoured by Parliament.

The woman, called Ugandan President Yoweri “Museveni’s
golden girl” had transformed the tax service from “a den of thieves” (Museveni’s words), plagued by smuggling, undervaluation and underdeclaration of income, to a sleek, efficient organisation.

Revenue more than doubled during her 10-year tenure and Uganda’s dependence on donor funding for its national budget shrank from about 50% to 35%.

Just why long-serving President Museveni had thought it fit to oversee, through his personal deployee Kagina, the transformation of tax collection in the country, is up for dispute. Cynics and the opposition say he simply needed more tax money, not necessarily to do good things with. They point out that corruption in the state machinery is still endemic.

Museveni’s supporters, on the other hand, say that the president was serious about a more efficient public service. They find proof for this in the fact that he has also appointed other close associates, all with a record of good management, to other departments.

Whatever the reason, Kagina did a marvellous job.

Inviting public scrutiny from the media throughout, she regularly visited places such as education institutions and road and energy projects where tax money was being put to good use.

“Let’s invest in roads and power, not in consumption,” she famously said in a reference to government salaries.

She was not afraid to make enemies: she denounced the fact that earlier corruption inquiries had got nowhere in court, and, crucially, she did away with the “signatures” system, whereby individuals at the top of the tax agency approved certain actions.

A few visits to tax offices suggest that their performance has remained good even after Kagina retired and was succeeded by another “Museveni girl”, Doris Akol.

But a year is not long and things might still go haywire again if not sustained by structural efforts, says economist Ibrahim Mike Okumu of Uganda’s Makerere University.

He agrees that Museveni’s deployments of “silver bullets” have had an effect, but “what happens when Museveni goes? We must develop a capable workforce without depending on individuals.” 

This cross-border investigation into crime-ridden state structures and the “good civil servants” who fight corruption from within, was conducted by the African Investigative Publishing Collective ( in partnership with ZAM (

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March 29 2020