Our Civil Service at the Sill of the Future

Our Civil Service at the Sill of the Future, By Tunji Olaopa, February 13, 2014 – Premium Times

Nigeria, undoubtedly, is in the threshold of history. There are commendable development strides in the governance space which, if deepened and accelerated, will soon redefine Nigeria’s global reckoning. But the key words are ‘deepening and acceleration’ which entail balancing ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘doing it right’. Deepening means doing things differently, doing some magic of a sort and here disciplined execution is key.

My concern here is to extend discourse on political leadership into the realm of institutional reengineering is resolving the whole issue of ‘execution trap’ through getting the government implementation machinery, the civil service, capability ready in the assumption that sufficient transformational leadership commitment and passion drives the development process.

The world today only recognises those states which are distinguished by their economic competitiveness and their democratic governance profile. This explains the many global instruments that track economic growth and development worldwide. For instance, the Global Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum, assesses the competitive strength of over 150 states, spanning the MINT and the BRICS, the Arab world, Latin America and the Caribbean, the European Union, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The objective of the Report is to benchmark those factors that hinder or aid national economic competitiveness. Competitiveness is defined as ‘the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country.’ And so, in mapping competitiveness, the Report outlines twelve pillars that are crucial for any state which wants to achieve sustainable growth: institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication and innovation from technological and non-technological knowledge.

In the ranking for 2013-2014, Nigeria is ranked 120 out of 148 on the Index, with a score of 3.57 out of 7. The 120 ranking is a drop from 117 in the 2012-2013 ranking. South Africa is the first African country that made a strong appearance at number 53 with a score of 4.37. In terms of the strength of institutions, Nigeria is ranked a dismal 129 out of 148.

The emphasis of the World Economic Forum on institutions as a critical component of the basic requirements for growth and development brings home cogently the nexus between leadership effectiveness and the crisis of institutions in Nigeria. In those series, we submitted that it is the strength of the institutions that determine the quality of leadership, and leadership itself sets the template for the evolution of such strong institutions in the first place. It is therefore the synergy between the strong leader and the strong institutions that guarantees competitiveness and growth.

A nation’s productivity profile becomes the first point at which the development process begins to hurt a state’s governance template. However, increasing the productivity level involves rethinking a country’s institutional capacity to address multifarious issues arising from internal and external dynamics.

Institutional capacity speaks to the urgent need for a capable developmental state that would serve as the focal framework for enacting and implementing good governance policies. States that overcome their developmental problems are usually developmental states. And developmental state automatically also assumes the existence of a leadership arrowhead that gives direction to a common national agenda and processes.

However, no state can ever hope to become developmental except it can rely on an efficient and effective civil service system that would facilitate the smooth transformation of government policies into a fast and democratic service delivery that will impact positively on the lives of the citizens. Thus, a developmental state is itself made capable by a development oriented civil service that channels inputs into deliverable outputs.

The last centenary of the evolution of the Nigerian civil service demonstrates that this institution requires a huge dose of rejuvenation that would not only redeem it from its amalgamated logic, but, much more significant, would also strengthen it as the solid institutional link between the past and the future. When the Nigerian civil service began its evolutionary journey in 1954, it came into a host of problems which are the consequences of attempting to adapt a foreign structure on local realities.

The evolving institution therefore had to undergo series of reform, mediated by several commissions and committees, to panel-beat the civil service system into shape for the task of post-independence reconstruction in Nigeria.

In our recent series on the centenary of the Nigerian civil service, we highlighted the most significant of these reforms. We outline the fact that the civil service was given birth to with the tentative hope that it would, through the many reforms, acquire the capacities and competences needed to drive the engine of socio-economic growth in postcolonial Nigeria.

However, we eventually came to the conclusion that in spite of the valiant, century-long efforts made on behalf of the civil service system, the institution is still some steps away from delivering capacities, competences and public goods; it is still struggling to attain the status of a world class institution. The reason, essentially, is that within a century, we missed two transformatory moments which the historical dynamics of our evolvement compelled us to confront and utilise.

The first is the historic lesson, within the context of the development of the regional civil services, which points at the benefits of a synergy between the political and the administrative leadership as the foundation of a thriving civil service. The successes of the Awolowo-Adebo model of administration, however, have not been translated into the core of our reform efforts.

The second transformation moment that was lost was the failure by the military leadership to heed the warning of the Udoji Commission Report on the need for a managerial transformation of the civil service system. If that warning had been heeded, the Nigerian civil service would have successfully installed a performance management system that would bring the institution to a delivery mode required to transform policies to demonstrable developmental outcomes.

The Nigerian civil service is now confronted with the prospect of another century, and therefore the urgent need to rethink its historical dynamics, institutional readiness and transformatory potentials.

I have attempted to do all these within the context of a forthcoming book titled: The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future. This eighteen-chapter book is an intellectual effort to retrieve the two transformatory moments within the historical dynamics of the evolution of the Nigerian civil service.

The book projects an optimistic and demonstrable theoretical and practical trajectory of how the past of this institution can become a foothold of strength from which to launch the achievements of the next centenary. The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future is meant to serve as a reform blueprint for jumpstarting the debate about institutional renewal and democratic consolidation of the civil service.

More than ever before, the Nigerian civil service must prepare for its own future. And that future, according to Walter Mosley, is what we make of it. It would consist of the optimism with which we prepare, the alacrity with which we redouble our efforts, the foresight we bring into our prognosis, the determination with which we rethink our administrative and historical dynamics, and the boldness of our decisions.

The forthcoming book roadmaps several issues, landmines and detours, stretching from the past in 1954 to the present—represented by the reform efforts from 1999 to the present Transformation Agenda of the current administration. These issues, landmines and detours constitute the core of the administrative arsenal by which we can take informed steps and decisions into a future already mapped by the lessons of where the rain began to beat us.

In the next part of this series, we will make effort to highlight and outline the structure and basic arguments and practical guides which form the basis of the forthcoming book. Suffice to say, in conclusion, that the future of the Nigerian civil service is not a joking matter; the political and the administrative leadership cannot therefore be caught taking it lightly. Our next centenary depends on it.

Part Two

As readers will notice, above, I have examined the global imperative which raises economic competitiveness to the forefront of democratic governance. In other words, for any country to achieve its objective of good government that will better the lives of its citizens, such a country must need create the institutional context that enables it to translate policies into governance and development outcomes in the form of public goods and services.

Within the framework of global economic competitiveness outlined by the Global Economic Forum, it would seem that Nigeria, as well as many other African countries, is still struggling to achieve the necessary foothold that would launch it on the desirable path of good governance. And the number one challenge to that aspiration is the establishment and consolidation of relevant institutions.

We equally argued that the overarching framework for assessing the dynamics of institutions is the existence of a capable developmental state that would channel reform efforts into the execution of a common national agenda.

What makes a state developmental in orientation is the state’s ability to facilitate the emergence of an efficient and effective civil service system made up of capable and competent professionals saddled with the responsibility of transforming policies of government to smooth service delivery dynamics. In spite of the many valiant reform efforts injected into the operational framework of the Nigerian civil service, we are still some steps away from arriving at optimal operation that would deliver qualitative governance and improve Nigeria’s rating in global competitiveness.

For a century now, the civil service system in Nigeria has evolved to a transformatory juncture where we can begin a process of reconstituting its essence and administrative capabilities through a thorough attention to the historical dynamics that gave birth to it, its reform trajectory and its future prospect as the engine of national development.

The basic objective of The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future is to serve as a reform blueprint that supports the intention to transform the Nigerian civil service into a world class institution. It attempts this through an outline, in eighteen chapters, of the historical and administrative issues and problems which attended the establishment of this institution, the present logjam which has inhibited its capability readiness and the future prospect the service faces.

There is therefore a deft blend of the empirical and the prescriptive arising from an insider’s perception of how the civil service has worked over time and how we can best move it beyond its present predicament. If a metaphor is permitted, then we can say that the book is an extended manual for jumpstarting the stalled engine of the Nigeria civil service.

The book takes history serious as a veritable framework from which to come to term with those significant issues which have been unwittingly left behind in the rush for progress. As a first step, therefore, the book takes a broad and panoramic view of administrative history in Nigeria from 1954 till date. This view refreshes our memory as to those issues which have resisted the best of efforts in administrative reforms.

These issues include the pay and compensation structure of the service, industrial relations dynamics, the design and execution of reforms, bureaucratic corruption, human resource management, the operational logic of the Federal Civil Service Commission as well as the core institutional framework of the civil service. The combustible mix of these issues in the present administrative set up, the book argues, raises the spectre of a productivity challenge around which economic competitiveness can be enhanced.

In a deep sense, therefore, we can say that The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future is a call for an institutional renewal, guarded by a specific reform model, around which Nigeria can achieve a new productivity paradigm. Such a reform model is tasked with the responsibility of reconnecting the civil service system with a productivity trajectory that will raise the bar for the Nigerian development profile.

Apart from the historical excursus, the book then outlines a systematic reform dynamics whose eventual objective is to surmount the challenge of capacitating the institution for its service delivery task. We argued that reform requires a critical mass of individuals, those I have called ‘the new professionals’, who will not only be public servants in the real sense of service, but will also be willing and capacitated enough to take on the daunting task from a sense of patriotism and professionalism.

These new professional public servants would then be required to facilitate the basics of reformcraft. The overall framework for directing the reform of the Nigerian civil service has already been provided by the National Strategy for Public Service Reform (NSPSR). This document constitutes an irreducible blueprint that articulates the trajectory of reform management in Nigeria.

However, translating its objectives and goals to reality requires some first level conditions which, in The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future, we call ‘getting the basics right.’ These basics are woven around what I called a five-point agenda, a personal administrative vision of how reformers can overcome the complexity of administrative reform.

The strategy for undermining this complexity is to begin reforms at the level of the operational dynamics and institutional arrangement of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) which form the specific administrative manifestations of what we need to reform. It is these MDAs whose operational and institutional frameworks we need to catalyse to achieve a balanced organisational structure that delivers the good as efficiently and effectively as possible.

And the five-point agenda for rethinking the reform of the MDAs include: (a) creating a new generation of public managers committed to the agenda of a new productivity paradigm; (b) reengineering the MDAs management system into performance-oriented, technology-enabled and social compact or accountable business model; (c) strengthening and leveraging Public-Private Partnership to facilitate and deepen effective and efficient service delivery; (d) reorienting the public service into a rebranded profession; and (e) instituting a leadership development scheme that would enable permanent secretaries to raise and answer hard questions about reform and policy designs and programmes implementation.

The essence of the five-point agenda underlying the forthcoming book is to provide a strategic thrust for re-capacitating the performance management dynamics and business model of the MDAs for more productivity outputs.

The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future is the result of a shared vision. It is a vision that was inaugurated as far back as the early years of the evolution of the civil service system, when the administrative pioneers were labouring within the trenches of an institution on whose shoulders would rest the future of Nigeria.

It is also a shared vision because it is meant as an operational manual by which present and prospective reformers can approach the business of reform. ‘Shared vision,’ for Peter Senge, ‘is vital for the learning organization because it provides the focus and energy for learning.’ This is the whole essence of the book.

Dr. Olaopa is a former Permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology in Abuja. Kindly give him feedback via tolaopa2003@gmail.com

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