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Lessons from Lagos Civil Service Reforms

The general notion about the Civil Service in Nigeria is that it is wasteful, inefficient, lazy, inflexible, and unresponsive to the exigencies of these times. The litany of criticisms of the civil service grows by the day. Anyone 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.

Interestingly, all over the world, the civil service is the institution which drives the activities of government. It is the major institution 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 a virile civil service to the progress of a nation is such that 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 development of a nation rests on good politicians and people 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’s approach of re-creating the public service in his country. Unfortunately, despite being endowed with all the human and natural resources required, to become a great African 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 a value-driven organ both at the national and state level. For instance, in Lagos State that I can 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 on May 29, 2015, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, promised to strengthen the Civil Service to respond to the needs of all citizens in the same manner that quality services are rendered in the private sector. He also promised to promote merit and professionalism in the service. Ambode’s conviction in this regard 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, 1,561 officers have been recruited into the state civil service in accordance with the manpower needs in the service. Training and retraining has become a constant feature of the state 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 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 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.

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