Nigeria Civil Ser­vice at 60: A Time for Re­flec­tion

Daily Trust - - VIEWS - By El­der Chike Uzo-Amah

Re­cently, the Federal Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion cel­e­brated its 60th an­niver­sary and it at­tracted the crème de la crème of the civil ser­vice, both serv­ing and re­tired. I trav­elled all the way from Abia State to Abuja just to be part of the his­toric event. I felt as a Nige­rian and as a re­tired civil ser­vant I owe my coun­try the hon­our of cel­e­brat­ing an in­sti­tu­tion that has come a long way and has cre­ated em­ploy­ment for mil­lions and also pro­vides the struc­ture on which the coun­try rests.

My con­cern about the ser­vice while I was an ac­tive civil ser­vant was the per­cep­tion people had about civil ser­vants, the at­ti­tude of civil ser­vants and their style of man­age­ment. Even though I am out of the sys­tem, I can see that the ser­vice still suf­fers from the same is­sues that were there when I was ac­tive in ser­vice.

One of the speak­ers at the cel­e­bra­tion, Prof. Costantino, a Pro­fes­sor of Pub­lic Pol­icy and Eco­nom­ics and the Chair­man, African Union Board on the Con­ven­tion to Pre­vent and Com­bat Cor­rup­tion and Se­nior Pol­icy Ad­viser with the UN in New York, treated par­tic­i­pants to a sub­tle x-ray of the Nige­rian civil ser­vice and its predica­ment. To this end, he prof­fered a po­lit­i­cal econ­omy so­lu­tion. His pre­sen­ta­tion was bril­liant and in­sight­ful, but I am of the opin­ion that ev­ery sit­u­a­tion is unique and to re­ally un­der­stand the Nige­rian sys­tem and its in­her­ent prob­lems, one must have a first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of it. Ap­proach­ing the Nige­rian sit­u­a­tion the­o­ret­i­cally with­out an in-depth un­der­stand­ing of the to­tal­ity of its com­po­nent parts and the at­ten­dant root causes of the prob­lems fac­ing it, will not prof­fer the best so­lu­tions to reengi­neer­ing the sys­tem. Even though he made a good pre­sen­ta­tion, I be­lieve our own serv­ing civil ser­vants could have done bet­ter con­sid­er­ing that he fo­cused his pre­sen­ta­tion on the Im­per­a­tive for Pru­den­tial Com­pe­tence Fruition in the Nige­rian Pub­lic Sec­tor. He spoke on the fac­tors that have hin­dered pub­lic sec­tor ef­fi­ciency, ef­fec­tive­ness, em­pow­er­ment and ac­count­abil­ity. It is easy to talk about all this, but our case in Nigeria is pe­cu­liar and you must grow through the ranks or be within the sys­tem to un­der­stand our chal­lenges and prof­fer ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions.

How­ever, the Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary of the Federal Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nol­ogy, Dr. Tunji Olaopa, who must have been a young man when I re­tired from ser­vice gave a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive to the civil ser­vice, the chal­lenges and so­lu­tions. Lis­ten­ing to him, I could see that this per­son must have taken his time study the sys­tem in which he be­longs hence his abil­ity to speak so in­tel­lec­tu­ally about it from four an­gles that touched me deeply and cap­tured my sense of think­ing.

For in­stance, Dr. Olaopa raised is­sues which I would like to high­light hop­ing the civil ser­vice will learn from it and be­gin to re­con­sider re­struc­tur­ing based on these points. First, he sug­gested that for trans­for­ma­tion to hap­pen in the Federal Civil Ser­vice, the na­tion needs to do the un­usual; it needs a game plan. The game plan that takes de­vel­op­ment man­age­ment be­yond busi­ness as usual by plac­ing the re­build­ing of value-based in­sti­tu­tion as top pri­or­ity.

Sec­ondly, he sug­gested that the sub­sist­ing ‘I am di­rected’ bu­reau­cratic - model needs paradig­matic shift. I to­tally agree with him on this as any at­tempt to re­po­si­tion the ser­vice for it to be­come the en­gine of the ve­hi­cle for na­tional trans­for­ma­tion will amount to tan­gi­ble lit­tle un­less there is a reengi­neer­ing to to­tally over­haul it.

Thirdly, he pointed out that the Civil Ser­vice has a lot of lessons to learn from the 1954 – 1975 Golden Era. I was happy that he em­pha­sized that we must re­store the glory of the pro­fes­sion for the Ade­bos, Udo­jis, Katagum, Ayi­das, Asio­dus, Fikas, Fran­scesca Em­manuels, etc. At their time, civil ser­vice was not just an em­ploy­ment, it was a vo­ca­tion and a call­ing; a spir­i­tual en­deav­our, which en­tailed a daily search for mean­ing by an elite corps with es­prit de corp.

Fi­nally and most im­por­tantly, Dr. Olaopa pointed out that we need to come to a deep un­der­stand­ing of the chal­lenges of to­day’s civil ser­vants. What he sug­gested as a way for­ward is for ev­ery­one to re­think the base fun­da­men­tals of the civil ser­vice as an ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tem and as a pro­fes­sion. He sug­gested that the Civil Ser­vice check the dys­func­tion of the ser­vice hu­man re­source man­age­ment sys­tems, es­pe­cially the re­cruit­ment and ca­reer man­age­ment sys­tem that cre­ated a work­force struc­ture with too many people do­ing noth­ing, too many do­ing too lit­tle and too few do­ing too much, when much of the skills re­quired by the ser­vice are nei­ther built through train­ing of strate­gic sourc­ing.

As some­one who has a first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence in the Civil Ser­vice, Dr. Olaopa’s pre­sen­ta­tion res­onated with me be­cause it cap­tured es­sen­tially the Nige­rian prob­lem and prof­fered so­lu­tions that ef­fec­tively ad­dresses these prob­lems. As a na­tion, we must face the hard truth that our civil ser­vice is in need of se­ri­ous re­forms. Yes the ref­or­ma­tion process has al­ready started, but like Dr. Olaopa pointed out, why would an of­fi­cer strive for the value of ex­cel­lence in a sys­tem where any­thing but com­pe­tence and hard work de­ter­mine re­wards? Or how far can a few go on striv­ing to live by the ideals of ser­vice when no­body notices? We need to bring back the glory days be­cause it is clear that in­tegrity is crit­i­cal if the civil ser­vice is to be com­pe­tent, pro­fes­sional and devel­op­men­tal.

I can­not put ev­ery­thing raised by Dr. Olaopa in this write-up, but I thank God for GSM be­cause I turned mine into a mini-recorder and recorded his pre­sen­ta­tion, which I have lis­tened to so many times since. I hope some­day, some­one within the ser­vice will re­view the is­sues he raised and use it as a tool to im­prove the sys­tem. God bless the Federal Civil Ser­vice of Nigeria. God bless Nigeria.

El­der Chike Uzo-Amah, Arochukwu, Abia state.

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