Yes, Buhari Will Save the Civil Service

Muhammadu Buhari

Umar Abdullah

A newspaper editorial represents the opinion of a paper. The most authoritative papers write editorials which are showcases of sound reasoning and moral purpose. Such use factual arguments to generate a conclusion which has the force to influence public opinion. But the Punch editorial of July 29 entitled: “Buhari Can Save the Civil Service” fell slightly short of these qualities.

While its moral purpose was unmistakable and infallible, the editorial was ruined by its obvious display of bias. The author committed an editorial faux pas when it passed an unfair judgment President Muhammadu Buhari and the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, right in the first paragraph without any evidence.

In what the paper described as “a rare display of introspection “during a presentation of the “Federal Civil Service Strategy and Implementation Plan (2017-2020): Culture Diagnostic Survey Report,” recently by Oyo-Ita, she admitted the inability of the civil service to deliver quality services. The paper then followed with an illogical stinker: “As usual, neither she nor President Muhammadu Buhari has come up with the needed radical reform programme to transform the service into a driver of development.”

Now, ponder the paradox of that remark. How can someone who made a diagnosis of an illness not be willing to treat it? The paper itself said Oyo-Ita’s admission was a rare example of official self-scrutiny. This is a Government that is not living in denial of the myriads of problems facing the country, including her institutions such as the civil service.

What should be of concern to all, including the media, is what the Administration is doing to overcome the challenges. The Punch editorial conveniently ignored all the laudable programmes that had been initiated by the current administration to set the civil service of the path of efficiency.

It is a well acknowledged fact that every country needs an effective, accountable and responsive institutions to achieve the core functions of government, and that capable state bureaucracies are especially crucial for developing countries like Nigeria.
The Buhari administration, perhaps more than any administration the country has had, realized this and set to work immediately it came to power. The appointment of Oyo-Ita as head of service was a clear demonstration of the intention and determination of the Government to change the narrative. Oyo-Ita was highly recommended for the job and she has not disappointed since coming on board.

As soon as she came into office, she launched the Federal Civil Service Strategy and Implementation Plan (2017-2020). Launched in February 2017 and approved by the Federal Executive Council in July, the FCSSIP is a three-year strategic plan to reposition the Nigerian Federal Civil Service in eight priority areas identified and selected based on their potential for impact in the short-term and their relevance to the economic recovery and growth plan of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

It was the first time since the inception of the civil service decades ago that the service has come up with a clear-cut strategy to drive its transformation. The plan was conceived by Oyo-Ita and her team of experts to turn the federal civil service into a vehicle for national development.

The FCSSIP strategy is focused, among others, to deliver the re-design and re-launch of three core-training modules, including Leadership Enhancement and Development Programme (LEAD-P) as a top talent programme, and to Institutionalize performance management by finalizing the performance management system, piloting tools and introducing non-monetary recognition.

It is also expected to drive innovation in service by establishing public service innovation unit within the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and launching an innovation challenge towards reducing cost of governance and increasing revenue generation.

It took nearly two years to develop the plan and implementation has just recently commenced. The last years had been devoted to the expansion and consolidation of on-going reforms. Full implementation of the plan has now commenced in earnest.

On Wednesday, the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSOF) launched SMAT P, a Structured Mandatory Training Programme where a first batch of 1500 civil Servants would receive over 3 weeks training. Training will cover the entire service in batches of 1,500 and covers all aspects of the Service.

Beginning from January 2021, successful participation in the training would become a prerequisite for promotion exercise as it is done by the Nigerian Military.

Among other capacity building initiatives to re-position the civil service and make it more efficient and innovative is the re-introduction of Induction training for new intakes after several years of abandoning the practice. The re-introduction will undoubtedly enhance motivation and performance of new recruits. President Buhari had been quite supportive of these initiatives and Funds have been approved by the Federal Executive Council for the initiatives.

The OHCSOF has also set machinery in motion to review the Public Service Rules, many of which have become outdated and have become clogs in the wheel of progress for our bureaucracy. In fact, the Buhari administration is working to remodel the civil service so it can more effectively deliver on its mandate.

One of the obstacles to a competent bureaucracy is resistance to reform by the personnel due largely to a negative mindset. Changing that mindset and getting the personnel to embrace change is an intangible achievement that many critics of government underplay. It is not easy to reform an institution where the stakeholders are hostile to change.

One of the salient achievements of Oyo-Ita is the way she has succeeded in changing the work ethos and institutionalized attitudes of civil servants. It is a transformational leadership that is gradually yielding fruits.The personnel of the Civil Service are Nigerians who are naturally a reflection of the wider society. The Civil Service of a country reflects the character of that country.

If we want the operators of our bureaucracy to deliver service efficiently and effectively, Nigerians must also embrace and promote virtues of hard work, integrity and timely service. Nigerian Civil Servants didn’t drop from the sky. They operate within a society that is highly polluted, politicized, corrupt and highly fragmented. How then can they become angels? The process of complete transformation must necessary take some time.

Those who love to quote the Singaporean miracle worker, Lee Kuan Yew, should also point out the sacrifice he demanded from his people. He imposed the virtue of discipline on the Singaporean society. It was not just the Civil Service he whipped into line but the entire nation.
The OHCSOF is doing so much more and it requires the support of all Nigerians to give us the Civil Service that can truly serve the nation. President Buhari is providing that support.

I do know that in this era of hate speech and fake news, some newspapers had let down their guards and allowed their media push unprofessional contents. While few have stood firm, some others are struggling to remain professional. Punch must not compromise its editorial objectivity and forthrightness.

Abdullah wrote in from Kano