Elements of Government: The Civil Service


The Civil Service is a branch of government which is independent of the Executive and is responsible for implementing government policy. The Civil Service generally aims to be a non-political body. This means it will act in a neutral way which does not favour any political party or ideology over another. The Civil Service’s job is to implement government policy regardless of the political beliefs of individual civil servants. This allows it to serve the public as well as possible.


The Civil Service is made up of civil servants who are hired based on their  professional merit rather than being appointed or elected. Civil servants are typically career bureaucrats (government workers) who are employed by government departments or government agencies. By focusing on each employee’s individual merit and achievement the Civil Service is able to ensure a high degree of effectiveness.

This article will explain some of the responsibilities of the Civil Service through the example of the Nigerian Civil Service.


The Nigerian Civil Service is made up of all the employees of Nigerian government agencies except the police and military. Like in many other Civil Services, the majority of employees are career civil servants whose career progression is linked to their qualifications, merit and achievements.

The Nigerian Civil Service is primarily arranged around the federal  (central government rather than state government) government ministries (e.g. the Ministry of Finance). Each ministry is overseen by a minister who is appointed by the President of Nigeria and these ministers  make up the Cabinet.

Each ministry has a Permanent Secretary attached to it. This is a senior civil servant who both advises the minister of the department and also manages the day-to-day running of the department.

Following a series of reforms in 2009, Permanent Secretaries were limited to working for a maximum of eight years in office. The Head of the Civil Service at the time, Stephen Osagiede Oronsaye, implemented this reform to try to make the Nigerian Civil Service one of the best managed and organised in the world. However, many still consider the Civil Service to be larger than it needs to be and inefficient and say that not enough has been done in order to ensure efficiency.


The Civil Service is tasked with implementing government policies. It aims to do so whilst acting as a neutral organisation which is not affected by political beliefs. Above all, it aims to serve the public. For this, it is important that the Civil Service is staffed according to merit and achievement as this allows the public to be served as well as possible.



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