Driving Buhari’s Change Agenda through the Civil Service

LEON USIGBE reports on the efforts to reposition the Federal Civil Service to effectively power the Change Agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

THE cream of the Federal Civil Service converged at the Conference Centre of the Presidential Villa, Abuja recently for the Quarterly Public Lecture Series to explore ways to drive the “Change Agenda” of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

On hand to launch the strategic action plan was the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. He said that the administration has realised that civil servants are key drivers of a successful change agenda. He also told the gathering of top and middle cadre civil servants that a corrupt-free country was dependent on a corrupt-free civil servant.

He declared that civil servants who were privileged to occupy high offices in the land had no reason to subvert the will of the people in the execution of government policies.

Osinbajo went down memory lane to recall the situation under the military, giving kudos to the civil service for surviving the odds and mistrusts. According to him, the Judiciary was able to stand firm and told the military then that while it could make laws, those laws must still respect the inalienable rights of the people as enshrined in international human right conventions.

“These were individuals without guns, just sitting down on platforms up there in the court who insisted on holding the military responsible,” he said.

He also added that despite the criticisms the civil servants are daily subjected, with some Nigerians tagging them ‘evil servants,’ the service must take heart in the fact that usually the best  professions are usually the most criticised. The Vice President stated that the public service must see itself as representing the most important factor in mass development.

He laid out the administration’s vision of the civil service thus: “The power to do great good or evil lies with a few people who form what we refer to as our civil service. When some in such an elite see the opportunity as one for self-enrichment by corrupt practices then the nation faces a monumental tragedy. There is no excuse anywhere in a nation where the majority is still poor and struggling to make a living that anyone who has the benefit of good education and good fortune of a job in the civil service should subvert that service for personal gains, I think it’s the greatest tragedy that a nation can experience.”

The Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, who delivered the main paper for the event further drove the message home told the civil servants that the Civil Service must move away from its old ways and into a new narrative when interacting with Nigerians who are demanding more accountability at all levels of government especially in terms of the quality of public service delivery.

Speaking on the “The role of Civil Service in a Change Environment: the change is Now,” she stated that trust in government by the people is enhanced by closing the widening gap with the citizenry. She said that it is a fact that improvements in public services and delivery capabilities have direct effect on the living standards of citizens and the competitiveness of the private sector.

Her lecture, which transversed the key segments of civil service and service delivery signposts, also harps on what she called the deriving agenda, which she noted, encapsulates efficiency, effectiveness and integrity in the delivery of services.

According to her, the civil service is at the core of the reform and service expectations and it is a key national platform for actualisation of the aspirations of the nation. She also recalled that over the years, the service has witnessed varieties of reforms to capture the mood of the moment and more importantly, to provide a more lasting trajectory for the progressive development of the country.

The Head of Service said that the advent of the “Change” administration means that much of the structures and values of the national institutions are experiencing internally organised or externally directed reforms. She therefore added that the challenge of socio-economic and infrastructural development in Nigeria has become a matter that requires fresh ideas to tackle.

She further submitted: “The Civil Service is structured as an independent, non-political machinery for implementing government policies and programmes for the greater good of the citizenry and the country, devoid of the politics of its political masters.

“To be efficient in its role, the Nigerian Civil Service must emulate its counterparts abroad helping their countries to achieve higher levels of economic growth.”

Ita also stated that if the Nigerian Civil Service can achieve parity with its counterparts abroad, then, just like them, it would help the country obtain better credit ratings, attract more investments, offer higher quality public services, encourage higher levels of human capital accumulation, put foreign aid resources to better use, accelerate technological innovation and increase the productivity of government.

She outlined the new vision for the Federal Civil Service as captured in the 2017-2019 Strategy of the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation as anchored on  four strategic goals, including: To develop and institutionalise an Efficient, Productive; Incorruptible and Citizen-Centered (EPIC) culture in the Civil Service; Design and Implement an Enterprise Content Management System (ECM); Develop Entrepreneurial Culture and Commercial Orientation in the Civil Service, and Improve Welfare and Benefit Packages for Civil Servants.

The Head of Service thereafter enumerated the deliverables for the Civil Service for year 2017 to 2019 to include a strong Civil Service institution that is Efficient, Productive, Incorruptible and Citizen-Centered (EPIC); motivated, disciplined, skilled and accountable civil servant; structured and mandatory training for civil servants; digitalised work processes for effective implementation of government policies and real time service delivery and full implementation of Integrated Personnel and Pay Roll Information System (IPPIS); Human Resource module.

Other key deliverables as enumerated by the Head of Service include improved revenue generation and wealth creation by the Federal Civil Service through Entrepreneurship Culture and Commercial Orientation for economic diversification; enhanced value-for-money in government expenditures through elimination of leakages and enforcement of internal control mechanism; effective oversight and monitoring of activities of MDAs to eliminate duplication of efforts and promote healthy collaboration among government institutions; affordable housing for federal civil servants under the Federal Integrated Staff Housing (FISH) programme; improved remuneration for civil servants as the economy improves; and improved civil service health, safety and work environment.

She declared: “The critical role of the service therefore is to develop the capacity that can articulate the required vision in sync with the political leadership, the roadmap for its implementation and finally ensure its implementation, being the operational arm of government,”

Already, Ita said that the current administration has effected some reforms in the Nigerian Civil Service system. She said that the current situation presents a positive window for the public service to restore hope and dignity into the service.

She ended on a note of warning thus: “There is no better time than now in this new challenging environment to change the Service for the better by leveraging on the support and political will of the present government.

“This is an opportunity to restore hope and dignity to the Service by reversing the current perceived reputation for inefficiency, low productivity, corruption and insensitivity to the needs of the public.

The Change we need is innovation in Service delivery by improving on what is working and doing away with what is not working. Change is therefore inevitable and if the Service does not reform itself from within, it risks the imposition of one from outside.”

Also speaking at the event former Access Bank Chairman, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede  told the civil Servants that they have a huge task ahead of them. He stated that if the Civil Service of the United States of America, an established democracy, still requires work, Nigerian civil service should also know its needs to work harder.

According to him, Nigerians are not less enterprising and less brilliant but the challenge has always been that the people have never said “enough is enough.”

Chairman House Committee on Civil Service Matters, Hon. Sani Bala, on his part, assured that the House of Representatives was committed to legislation that will enhance the work of the civil service, adding that the House was ready to lift embargo on foreign trips by civil servants.

The first Head of Service in the democratic dispensation Abu Obe, was of the view that in Civil service, the difference between mediocrity and excellence was in painstakingly paying attention to details.

He said: “A man who has taken pains to details will succeed. When assignments are given to civil servants, they gloss over them. The person, who knows it is his time to excel, takes his time and does a good job. Take your time and do your best especially in this era of change and excellence will be achieved. No matter what age or status you have to learn.”

Similarly, former Head of Service, Isa Sali, counseled that it was time to institutionalize leadership, saying that a situation where 15 Heads of Service were appointed between 2007 and 2015 does not encourage anybody with vision to succeed. He, however, appealed to the Federal Government to allow the present Head of Service, who is the youngest to occupant of the position, to complete her tenure alongside the government. This, he believes, is the only way she can complete the vision she has outlined for the service.

Sali’s immediate predecessor in office, Professor Oladipo Afolabi, however disagreed with that suggestion saying it was a suggestion that could breed bad blood in the system.

After the talk shop, the crème-de la-crème of the Civil Service, Permanent Secretaries, Directors and heads of different agencies headed back to their stations, it is hoped that those of them who listened attentively to most of the speakers would translate the visions into practice in their respective offices.