RATS ATTACK IN ALAUSA: An Open Memo to Ogunlewe

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By Mustapha Ganiyu

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The recent circular from the Office of the Head of the Lagos State Public Service which, amongst other things, banned civil servants from eating in their offices, has caught many people’s attention and generated a lot of argument.
In the first instance, it drew attention to the fact that rats were being bred in large numbers within the secretariat and were feeding fat on the food remnants left in the offices’ refuse bins, destroying wires, cables, gadgets and official documents. It also says a lot about the poor sanitary condition of the secretariat in general. Besides, it’s a pointer to the fact that the staff canteen, a facility provided by the State Government for its workers to minimize their leaving the confines of the secretariat to eat, is probably not being fully utilized. On a lighter note, it was said to have equally portrayed civil servants as being a rather untidy lot.
But, all these aside, the concern really hasn’t been the filth of the secretariat and its attendant issues, but the practicability of the directive, vis-à-vis the work environment, the available infrastructure, and other aspects such as the work schedule of a typical civil servant, which perhaps the circular may not have taken cognizance of.
One of such aspects is the size of the existing staff canteen which, at most, is said to be capable of seating about 200 workers at a time. It was pointed out that not many officers use this facility, probably because of its distance to their various ministries, or because they do not fancy the menu, or for other reasons best known to them. The fact remains that, majority don’t patronize the canteen. Those who do, and these were said to be mostly junior workers, find it convenient to just buy the food and go back to their offices to eat. Quite a number of officers bring their food to the office from home and use the micro wave oven to warm it up later.
The work environment is also such that there isn’t a definite break time/period per se; hence workers squeeze in meals within work time. Confidential Secretaries, for example, are said to hardly ever leave their seats whilst their bosses are around. So, how else will they eat than in the midst of work? Heads of Departments are not fond of officers who usually ask for breaks as such workers are tagged as unserious, especially when there’s work to be done.
Now, in line with this new directive, let’s imagine a scenario where the entire staff members decide to eat their breakfast or lunch around the same time in the canteen. What happens then? Even in the unlikely event that this happens, let’s imagine that they go in batches, one batch after the other, there is the possibility that some batches will not be able to take their meals by the close of work. A situation where they trickle in one after the other may not be that ideal either as this will give an impression that all civil servants do is eat all day since people may feel like eating at different times of the day.
Let’s not also forget that by virtue of their work schedule, and having to leave home very early to beat the horrific traffic jam Lagos is known for, more and more workers leave home without breakfast and oftentimes snatch a bite here and there to fill their stomachs. Some workers do not even sit down to have a proper meal all through the day due to their busy schedule. One wonders whether this category of officers can find the time to eat in the canteen.
It has crossed the minds of quite a number of people that all Lagos State Officials may be guilty of this offence. For, indeed, one cannot imagine the Commissioner or a special adviser taking his/her meals outside the comfort of his/her office; ditto, a Permanent Secretary and the HOD who is supposed to ensure “strict compliance” of this directive.
It is also common knowledge that some officers actually cook their meals in their offices for some of the reasons earlier stated.
What of Executive Council Meetings, where meals are served due to the very long hours such meetings last? Or the Personnel Management Meetings, Staff meetings, etc? What about the Adeyemi Bero Hall where both official and social events are held and food/snacks are served? Has this directive captured these aspects of the service life?
Certainly not.
Since the Head of Service does not have the plan to ban food at State Executive Council Meetings or the Council of Obas meetings or JAAC meeting or the Ramadhan feasts, he is advised to consider ensuring prompt and efficient disposal of wastes, regular fumigation and the provision of more dinning venues in each block. Remnants of food could then be disposed off neatly at the end of each working day.