By Rasak Musbau
The general notion about the Civil Service in Nigeria is that it is wasteful, inefficient, lazy, inflexible, unthinking, evasive, unresponsive and heartless. The litany of criticism concerning the civil service grows by the day. Your former classmate on knowing that you are a civil servant readily sighs and tells you how much easier your job is, compared to his. Generally, in the eyes of the Nigerian public, the civil service is of no use.
Ironically, the civil service is the institution which drives the activities of government, all over the world. It is the major establishment used by government to implement its policies, programmes and plans. This is why many refer to it as the engine room of governance. Hence, for any government to do well, it must be backed by a virile and visionary public service.
The necessity of virile civil service to the health of a nation is such that and American anthropologist and physician, Dr. Paul Edward, once said: ‘You can’t have public health without working with the public sector. You can’t have public education without working with the public sector in education’’.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the health of a nation rest on good politicians and men and women who constitute the permanent staff of the various departments of government. Indeed, going by the very obvious direct relationship between good governance and a virile and visionary civil service, no government anywhere in the world has ever surmounted the enormous task of turning the fortune of its nation around without resort to fundamental reform of its civil service.
The much talk about Singapore example of transformation, for instance, came about as a result of late Lee Kuan Yee approach of re-creating the public service in his country. Unfortunately, despite being endowed with all the human and natural resources it takes and requires, to become a great Africa and world power, Nigeria is steadily becoming a bankrupt nation apparently due to shortcomings of both its political class and the civil service.
The question is: Is the civil service in Nigeria doing anything to improve its performance? I believe much is being done to make the civil service value-driven organ both at the national and state level. For instance, in Lagos State where I can logically speak for, much has been done in the last seventeen years, in terms of reforms that have impacted positively on its public service.
In his inaugural speech, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, promised to strengthen the Civil Service to respond to the needs of all citizens in the same manner, quality services are rendered in the private sector while equally promising to promote merit and professionalism in the service. Ambode’s conviction in this regard had informed the restructuring and realignment of Ministries, Departments and Government-owned Agencies across the State Public Service at the inception of the present administration.
In the last one year, one thousand five hundred and sixty-one (1,561) officers have been recruited into the state civil service in accordance to the manpower needs in the service. Training and retraining has equally become a feature of the public service. The desire of the Ambode government to ensure that Lagos State remains the Centre of Excellence has also led to a number of reform initiatives, which include the development and adoption of specific service goals and benchmarks generally referred to as Service Charter.
Service Charter is a mechanism for making public officers alive to their responsibilities. It is to provide among other things, the experience a customer can expect and the available information about any of the MDAs they approach, as well as the relationship the customer will have with any particular agency of government. This has helped in correcting the age-long practice of unfulfilled promises characterizing government establishments over the years. To date, 14 MDAs and 14 general hospitals have been chartered.
It should be recalled that Office of Transformation was established as a coordinating agency for reforms in 2009. At the inception of Ambode administration, the Office was rechristened Office of Creativity, Transformation and Innovation, OCTI. As the driver of the on-going reforms in the State, OCTI has the responsibility for assisting the Governor in transformation processes and activities and collaborating with other MDAs, both at the state and federal levels as the change agent. In this regard, the Office has made significant strides in the area of Public Service reforms, among others.
The point to note here is that the state government has been able to change the civil service through education and by putting in place appropriate structure and various systems to change mindsets. The underlying belief is that all civil servants can be taught to change and want to learn to do things better so that the public can benefit from a more responsive civil service. Mindset changes are better achieved through education and intrinsic acceptance rather than through fear of punishment, which produce overt acceptance but covert defiance and resistance. Civil servants in Lagos State now know that they are empowered to make continuous improvement at their level, no matter where they may stand, so that productivity and efficiency can be enhanced.
So far, many of the state initiatives have focused more on responsive service delivery. What people are beginning to see now is government agencies moving from the “informing” mode of operation to a more consultative mode, and then, in the future, to other modes of “involving”, “collaborating with” and “empowering” the public.
Another key civil service initiative of this present government is that of Citizens Relationship Management (CRM).This is an electronic portal that will allow the citizens to interact with the Government electronically thereby minimising the need to physically visit the State Secretariat, Alausa, as presently obtains. This project is at the data gathering stage and on completion, it is expected that citizens would be able to carry out End to End transactions, make general enquiries and provide feedback on service online.
Even with all the aforementioned reforms, no one can say everything is perfect yet about Lagos State Public Service. The message, nevertheless, is that public service can and should serve as catalyst for transforming the country for the good of all be it at the federal, state and local government level. What can be learnt from Lagos example is that with adequate motivation there are grounds for optimism that public service can be reformed and reshaped to fit today’s shifting challenges.
To the hard-working, committed and dedicated civil servants who feel despondent in the face of what they regard as unfair criticism and worry about the impact that this may have on the morale and reputation of the Service, I urge them to grow a thicker skin and to look at the benefits of a more transparent and open society.