Civil Service Reform Trajectory for Nigeria: From Conception to Action

13 Jan 2013

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Anyim Pius Anyim

By Tunji Olaopa
This would be the last and concluding part of the public education series on the reform of the civil service. I am compelled to go this extra length, on the demand of some members of our network of regulars, who send in professional comments whenever I take the liberty to write, to enable seminal learning and sharing.

The three earlier series that we have dedicated to the transformation of the Nigerian civil service and its reform template stem from the abiding belief that, like the Nigerian project of which it is an invaluable part, the civil service is a work in progress; a project that is yet to attain its zenith. As such, it demands the full attention of all and sundry in the task of harnessing its latent potentials through political and administrative collective action.

The first two pieces adopted a historical methodology in outlining the responsibility of the founding administrators and intellectuals in moulding the trajectory of the civil service bequeathed to the Nigerian state. In the third part, we moved from historical analysis of the efforts of the pioneers to an extrapolation of some of the critical issues that were responsible for the failures of the many reform efforts that had been contributed to the Nigerian civil service from independence till date. We especially made the point that for a successful reform to take off, a reform trajectory must seek to undermine the bureau-pathology and ‘trained incapacity’ of the civil service by concentrating on getting four basics right in reform conception and management. These critical components include: (a) getting the MDAs into capability readiness to implement government development agenda as ultimate goal; (b) transforming the business model of the civil service; (c) reinventing institutional values through robust culture change and rationalisation in collaboration with the various unions; and (d) deployment of good, smart and best practices and benchmarking to enable projected transformation.

In this last piece, we supply the last strategic wedge in the reform agenda that would serve as a stimulant to any programme of consistent reform action that can catapult the civil service to world renown. One is reminded at this point of the motivating words of Marie Curie, the energetic French physicist: “One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.” So much has been done about the reform and capacity issues and gaps confronting the Nigerian civil service. Yet, so much still remains to be done.

The civil service that is envisioned must be one that possesses several features which make any civil service a force to be reckoned with in today’s global world. For instance, first, it must be a CS that is adaptive and possesses a self-adjustment capability in the face of changes. Second, such system must be ready to function like task force networks operated by multidisciplinary team of managers with diverse backgrounds and skills, organised around problems to be solved rather than programmed expectations or functions. Third, its employees are evaluated not according to rank, status or seniority, but flexibility according to competence and worth to the organization. Fourth, its organization charts will consist of project teams rather than stratified functional groups. And lastly, it will be a service that will stimulate what Alvin Toffler called an organisation made up of ad-hoc structures, a “fast-moving, information-rich,kinetic organisation of the future filled with transient cells and extremely mobile individuals”.

It is in this sense that successive governments in Nigeria recognise the need to make the civil service a world-class service institution that would make the responsiveness and responsibilities of the government concretely visible to the Nigerian masses. The Phillips Reform of 1988 is significant in this regard because it was strategically placed to revisit the persisting issue of managerialism that underscored the salient contributions of the Adebo and Udoji aborted reforms. Added to this managerial salience is the attempt of that reform to facilitate a shift to an administrative system that could backstop presidentialism. Critically, the Phillips reform placed a deserving emphasis on professionalization and specialisation as the core of any performing civil service. The reform also desired to see responsibility matched with appropriate authority by investing in the ministers the capacities of accounting officers and chief executives. On the contrary, however, while these moves were sound in theory, they failed practically to bridge the conception-reality gap in many senses. For instance, the reform promoted a strange idea of professionalism deriving from an officer’s location within the service rather than a function of the accumulated body of knowledge the officer possesses. The 1988 reform even went further by attempting to make a “professional” of everybody in the service without acknowledging the need for other non-professionals.

By the time the Ayida reform of 1995 was completed, the civil service was already mired in a deep morass. By recommending a return to the pre-1988 administrative tradition that the Phillip reform sought to transcend, the Ayida reform unwittingly left the service to oscillate between the Westminster and the presidential traditions, thus making it difficult to delineate boundaries of authority between different organs of government, especially between the ministries and their agencies. Operating the new managerial system within the framework of the old British administrative tradition also created a measure of discordance that reinforced the virtual breakdown of democratic governance motivated by an institutionalized military tradition of command and control competing with the necessity of good governance that is already becoming a regional concern facilitated by APRM and the African Public Service Charter.

These previous reforms and their limitations set the pace for the current efforts beginning with the Obasanjo renewal programme, the Oronsaye’s Tenure Policy and culminating in the present transformation agenda. The Obasanjo administration was confronted with the need to address not only the crisis in public management, but also the deteriorating quality of governance and the need to build a capable state through the reinvigoration of the service delivery capacity of the Nigerian civil service. The subsequent recognition of the relationship of a capable, efficient and corruption-free civil service to the transformation of the Nigerian state gave birth to a clear vision and mission statement culminating in what is now known as the National Strategy for Public Service Reform (NSPSR). This blueprint constitutes an irreducible framework, in the history of civil service reform in Nigeria, for getting grip on implementation action.

NSPSR envisions a world-class public service that delivers government policies and programmes with professionalism, excellence and passion, in the long-term. The new public service will be accountable and will operate collaboratively and transparently with other stakeholders. The emphasis here will be critical institutional changes to install the elements of basic modern management system in MDAs, while restoring professionalism, merit and client focus, thus moving towards the emergence of value-based institution in the long-term.

There is no doubt that there has been series of serious reform steps from the Obasanjo renewal reform leading up to the NSPSR. Thus, we can proudly, as a nation, speak of commendable initiatives like monetisation policy (2003-2005), pension reform, incorporating the Contributory Pension Scheme (2004), budget and financial management reform (2004-2007), rightsizing and staff severance (2006-2007), computerisation of payroll in the civil service through the on-going Integrate Personnel and Payroll Information System (2006 till date). However, for the NSPSR to take these existing reform initiatives to an outstanding level of achievement that would sustain the vision of a world class civil service, there are still ways to go.

There are several gaps in reform management that ought to be filled to arrive at the vision. The most significant, for me, is that most of the existing reform initiatives needed to be updated to the level of a fundamental rejigging of the organisational system and especially its capacity to perform. And a crucial dimension of that updating is the calibration of leadership and managerial roles. Stephen Covey, the American educator, graphically illustrates this link: “Management is efficiency in the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall”. A very important element in the success of the reform blueprint represented by the NSPSR is the capacitation of the MDA as the powerhouse unit of the civil service in Nigeria. This therefore requires a deep focus on a reform to build high-performing MDAs that are learning and efficient structures, always constantly improving their management systems, a dynamics which alone will drive employee behaviour and a new work culture.

What does it take therefore to build innovating and evolving civil service with efficient MDAs at the core? We simply recommend a strategic repositioning over a timeline of getting the basics right. At a general level, we have five pillars of institutional renewal: (a) professionalization of central agencies, and clarification of their roles and responsibilities for better governance of the civil service; (b) building smarter MDAs with more effective management systems and processes for enhanced service delivery; (c) restoring meritocracy even in diversity management a la Federal Character that is administered with clear guidelines, extensive professionalization of cadres through re-skilling and the institution of performance-oriented operations matched with improved pay and incentives; (d) changing work culture to restore values by strengthening the demands side of accountability and enforcing code of ethics; and (e) investing heavily in capacity development reinforced with controlled injection of high-level skills to change service IQ in terms of strategic, tactical and operational intelligence aligned to the capacity needs of the 21st century public service.
At a specific level, there is the need to backstop the general reform framework with straight to point MDA-specific action plan targeted at their capacity readiness for service delivery. This reform scheme will include:

• Institutional assessment and the strengthening of central agencies that will lead service-wide systemic changes;

• Capability reviews to identify proxies of structural weaknesses in service operations in MDAs including an understanding of performance enhancing factors like competence, rewards, culture, leadership, tools and technology, processes and controls;

• Alignment of national policy strategy/vision with MDAs’ operations through their medium-term sector strategy (MTSS) and annual business plans;

• Deployment of performance-oriented system to MDAs to help public managers improve their policy intelligence, service quality and focus on accountability for results;
Undertake workforce study to profile available skills and competencies and to adapt the skills mix to changes in mission and technology while implementing a capacity enhancement plan, calibrating a succession trajectory and determining the optimal size of each MDA and therefore the entire public service;

Developing a skills matrix or competency grid that enables the service to compare skills needed to make up for identified gaps in existing workforce stock with those required for MDAs capability readiness to become high-performing with national vision as benchmark;
Undertake Retreats and Seminars to develop the competencies of Ministers/Commissioners, PSs, CEOs of parastatals and other top public servants;

Getting a handle on pay and incentive structure that reward the right performance/behaviour and attracts scarce skills required to re-skill the service and re-professionalise it thus restoring government as employer of choice; and
Address the physical environment, where dysfunctional, facility management and layout to ensure that they drive performance.

Whereas this contribution is conceived with basic assumptions that are rooted in the reality of the Federal service, the action framework can be adapted, mutatis mutandis, to any public administration system in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria requires a push of the utmost urgency in terms of the reform of the civil service to get the best in service delivery. Transforming the civil service therefore implies grasping the bull of reform by its very horn and bending it to the task of plowing the fallow ground of administrative inertia in a process of renewal and regeneration. This is indeed a task that must be done to advance the greatness of a great country.

• Dr. Olaopa, Federal Permanent Secretary Abuja, can be reached on

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, Civil Service

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