By Adetolu Ademujimi
I WRITE in honour of two distinguished Nigerian bureaucrats of Ondo State origin: Pastor Niran Adeyemo, Head of Service of Ondo State, who gloriously retires from service today August 2, 2022after a remarkable tenure; andMr. Dare Aragbaye, his immediate predecessor,who as at today is theSpecial Adviser to Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu on Labour Unions Matters and Special Duties. Mr. Aragbaye commendably initiated the Ondo Service Improvement Programme, ODSIP, while he was HoS and Pastor Adeyemo laudably perpetuated this public service reform agenda during his tenure all in a bid to stimulate in every civil servant of the State, a burning desire to live up to ODSIP’s mantra – “to give my best to better the society”.
Profusely, I thank my teachers at Kings College, Lagos, who taught me, among other things, never to leave the various little things undone while in pursuit of the very large stuffs. While canvassing for a reform of our governance structure, the public service must not be spared a concurrent rebirth because political office holders do not solely administer the public service. In doing so however, it is imperative to avoid setting up grandiloquent reform initiatives that parade bulky guidelines with plenty grammatical constructions that are pleasing to the cameras. It is important to avoid pumping millions of naira down the drain in the name of reforms without little or no improvement in public service delivery to show for it.
In my considered opinion, two shenanigans prompt this call for urgent low-hanging remodeling of the country’s public service to achieve tangible results. Firstly, a former state governor once privately aired his observation that the public service (perhaps in his state or the Nigerian Federation generally) was (and still appears) a mere welfarist platform for mass job-creation. His opinion insinuates that the relevant authorities consider the public service system as an employment machine for civil servants and not a needed efficient machinery. Although this employment strategy may mean well to drastically reduce the unemployment rate in Nigeria, it has created multiple institutional challenges for the public service that we contend with daily. Secondly, the educational philosophy of Nigeria is as though the sole aim of schooling is not to ‘educate’ but to only just produce persons who can just read, write and flaunt academic qualifications to guarantee them eight-to-four jobs in the public service and private sector. Trust the private sector however to drill job applicants beyond their academic profile before onboarding them. On the other hand, the government sector is majorly (or only) interested in ‘certificates’ at the point of entry, especially for middle level and high cadre civil servants.
Unfortunately, a public service that places greater premium on the recruitment of civil servants based on their polytechnic and university degrees or Masters and Ph.D qualifications than skills (problem-solving, ICT, creative-thinking/reasoning, tact, strategy, personal effectiveness and efficiency) for enhanced productivity will keep Nigeria’s social service sector in the dark. Who suffers this backwardness? All of us!
Yet, the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms sometime in June 2022 revealed that about 720,000 public servants were on the monthly payroll of the Federal Government. Reports have it that the Federal Government has a 2022 budget of N3.88 trillion (that’s a monthly average of over N300 billion) to service the salary needs of this humongous human resource profile. All the 36 states, Federal Capital Territory, FCT; and 774 Local Government Area Council Secretariats have a combined civil servants’ strength of about three million that the governors and LGA chairmen struggle to pay their salaries and other emoluments. These humongous monies shouldn’t be thrown away as salaries with unacceptably little results as returns on investment.
Consequently, my appointment as one of the ‘Change Ambassadors’(each representing a Ministry, Extra-ministerial Department and Agency – MEDA) under ODSIP as managed by the Department of Public Service Reform and Development, DPSR&D, places a reformer’s burden on my shoulder to which my pen and paper are ever willing to respond. This dispassionate response is to positively impact the entire country’s public service machinery. The truth is that Information and Communication Technology, ICT, skills are the most needed 21st century competences for a revitalised public service. As a practical step forward, I therefore posit that low-hanging reforms would be seen to have been done if at the Federal, state and local levels of government, all government-owned primary, secondary and tertiary schools, hospitals, MEDAs, etc., could implement the following 15 tangible operational re-engineering actions in record time:
i.Inclusion of ICT skill in the eligibility criteria for intake of new civil servants on Grade level 8 and above- Basic Proficiency of Microsoft Office Package (Word, Powerpoint, Excel) that is physically demonstrable during the recruitment process.
ii. Prompt and compulsory week-long (first five working days) orientation programme for all new civil servants– Civil Service rules; Office/School/Hospital practices (depending on your MEDA); MEDA’s mandate, clients, strategies and routine programmes; proposal writing;memo drafting; email etiquette etc. should be comprehensively explored.
iii. Written Job description for every new civil servant – To clearly state departmental role, unit responsibility and individual duty.
iv. Institutional front desks manned by trained officers – Like the landing/reception space for potential clients within the MEDA’s physical structure from where they can be appropriately directed to relevant offices/service points. It only requires a chair, table and a few ICT gadgets. Front desk officers trained, appropriately dressed and equipped with cognate skills for official and yet cordial communication with MEDAs’ clients via phone calls, e-mails and physical contacts should be engaged.
v. Institutional websites – Each MEDA should have a functional and regularly updated website. Today, it costs less than N100,000 to host one. However, all MEDAs’ websites should be linked to a central government web page.
vi. Institutional front desk e-mail addresses – This mustn’t be the personal handle of the Minister, Commissioner, Permanent Secretary, Director or the desk officer. It is an official email address for the MEDA.
vii. Personalised institutional e-mails for each civil servant on Grade level 8 and above – For example, a statistician at Federal Ministry of Agriculture can have email@example.com. Ditto for a Nurse employed by the State Hospitals Management Board, HMB, but posted to General Hospital, Abakaliki in Ebonyi State having firstname.lastname@example.org.
viii. Institutional front desk phone numbers – It should be borne by a permanently registered SIM, table phone box or mobile phone that may be switched off at close of business and switched on at official opening hours daily. This mustn’t be the personal phone number of the political heads or accounting officers.
ix. Development of electronic& physical directory of the institutional e-mails and phone numbers – The physical directory containing the institutional phone numbers and email addresses of all MEDAs (at Federal, State or LGA levels) should be placed beside each MEDA’s official phone gadgets while the electronic copy should be published on the government’s website.
x. Digital clock-in and clock-out devices in all MEDAs – For real-time monitoring of early resumption or lateness to work, absenteeism and indiscriminate exit before closing hours.
xi. Electronic Human Resource Management platforms (linked to personalized institutional email addresses) – For leave application, training notification, promotion communication etc. by each civil servant.
xii. A new Performance Appraisal system – Like the Ondo Service Improvement Programmehas consistently noted in recent times, the old and globally non-conforming Annual Performance Evaluation Report (APER) form has outlived its usefulness. A more digitally-driven Performance Appraisal system like that introduced by the Federal Government for Federal civil servants is needed across all States and LGAs.
xiii. Statutory annual Performance-Based Incentives for high-performing civil servants per sector– Set clear indicators (based on each sector’s expected yearly outputs) and make provisions for incentives to high-performing civil servants such as 2-week holiday/certification trips abroad, cars, houses etc. For instance, State governments can innovatively cluster their respective State’s public service into 5 sectors for this sectoral performance incentives.
xiv. Virtual meetings& supervisions instead of physical travels – With the exception of indispensable instances, the world has moved beyond compulsory physical supervisory visits & meetings. The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced this strategy. It saves cost, travel time, travel risks etc.
xv. Incorporating community service activities into public service Day or May Day celebrations – All MDAs should statutorily set aside a day every month forenvironmental clean-up exercises. Furthermore, before going to gather at the Stadium (or similar venues) for Governors’ speeches and Labour leaders’ talks on 1st of May and public service days, civil servants, led by the Head of Service, should go out to clear blocked drains, clean a market or motor park, cut overgrown trees on a major road etc. within the city or community. It will remind us, annually, that the public is our client base for whom the public service was established.
Finally, some multilateral organizations and corporate bodies have severally noted that they find it more comfortable and attractive to conduct government business with MEDAs that have institutional websites and email addresses for staff because it shows a strong corporate outlook. To stand as referee for many young Nigerians seeking to relocate and work abroad, most global organizations would only recognize your institutional e-mail. So, picture an angel investor in real estate sector surfing the internet and grabbing the institutional email address & phone number of a State’s equivalent of the Ministry of Housing& Urban Development to open up an investment case in that State. If every primary & secondary school, Primary health facilities, General hospitals and MEDAs had permanent & functional institutional phone numbers and e-mails, will our public service sector remain the same? Isn’t it faster, cheaper and logical to use phone calls or e-mails to obtain daily & non-restricted information from MEDAs than to write memos & letters and wait for physical dispatch across the length and breadth of a State? That public service authorities, especially at State and LGA levels, still issue official instructions such as “copy your MEDA’s information on Compact Discs (CDs) and ask your officer to bring the CD” from one LGA or community, via a 2-hour road trip, to the State capital or LGA headquarters is an ominous sign of suspicious and deliberate refusal to innovate in the year 2022. This is a simple task that an email will resolve within seconds. Come to think of it, are these practical and low-hanging public service initiatives difficult to put in place within a short space?
Dr.Ademujimi, an ODSIP Change Ambassador, a medical doctor, author, reformer, coach and public policy expert, wrote from Akure