Last Tuesday, Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, paid an early morning surprise visit to the state secretariat during which he locked out civil servants who arrived late for work.
As usual, the governor’s media aides eagerly circulated pictures of the latecomers either kneeling or prostrating, pleading with their principal.
Though he earlier threatened to punish the erring civil servants, the governor has mercifully forgiven them but warned that he will continue to pay surprise visits to government offices and schools to catch late comers who will not be spared henceforth.
Generally, civil servants nationwide have been known to be lackadaisical about their work. It is either many of them report late for duties or close before the official closing time.
Even when they report for work, not much is done due to the structure of the system that allows for workers to work at their pace, and the bureaucracy involved in penalising offenders.
Unlike in the private sectors where productivity is the basis for payment of monthly salaries, many civil servants get paid for doing little or nothing. Since government pays the bill, the salaries of the civil servant do not depend on income generated by ministries, department and agencies.
I remember being a holiday staff in a government agency years ago and being told to slow down on assignments given to me. Left to me, the assignment could have been completed in a week, but I had the latitude to stretch it for a month which was the prevailing culture among the permanent staff.
It is against this background that Governor Fayose has good reasons to be angry with the attitude of the civil servants who reported late for work when he called at the state secretariat. With the dwindling funds available to states which make it impossible for some to pay workers, it is necessary to ensure that civil servants take their work more seriously and justify their pay.
But for the fear of backlash from workers unions, governments at all levels will not mind trimming the bloated civil service.
Over the years, employment into the civil service has not always been on merit alone. Many got employed on the basis of who they knew in government even when there was no vacancy to fill.
However, enforcing discipline in the civil service has to be done within the limits of the law and civility.
But for the carryover of the military mentality which makes civilian governors want to behave like military governors, there is no need for Governor Fayose to turn himself into a school principal who needs to catch late comers.
There are penalties for various offences within the civil service, however mild, which can still be enforced by superiors of the erring staff. All the governor need do is to make his position clear on compliance with the civil service regulations and not continue to reinforce the impression that he likes to play to the gallery.
While he might not have forced the latecomers to prostrate or kneel down for him as shown in the pictures of his visit, the negative impression of the treatment the workers were supposedly subjected to is not in the interest of the governor.
His media aides obviously wanted to score cheap publicity by circulating the pictures, but they now know better – the public is not as gullible as they think.