Head of the Civil Service of the Federation harps on the need to reverse the current perception of the Service as being inefficient, corrupt and insensitive, to the needs of the public, writes CHESA CHESA.
The Nigerian Civil Service has been many things to many people. While some are of the opinion that it has over the years assisted successive governments to implement their respective policies and programmes, many others believe that it has turned out to be more of a clog than a cog in the wheel of governance.
Against this background, series of conferences and seminars have been held where problems and challenges facing the Service were put on the front burner and solutions for them provided.
Nevertheless, it would seem that those solutions advanced during such conferences were left to rot away in the shelf.
The consensus, however, is that the Nigerian people must continue to discuss on how to bring sanity to the Service, more so following the country’s transition from military to civilian democracy in 1999.
And going by his change mantra, It is not unexpected that the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, will come up with plans to get the wind of change blow through the Civil Service too.
It was probably against this backdrop that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, initiated a quarterly public lecture series aimed at reminding civil servants of the roles expected of them in this change era.
The first of these lectures was held at the Banquet Hall, Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja where Mrs. Oyo-Ita set the ball rolling with her lecture titled: “The role of Civil Service in a Change Environment: The change is Now.”
Addressing an audience mostly made up of senior civil servants, and top political appointees, Mrs. Oyo-Ita said that the old ways of serving the Nigerian state and its citizens have collapsed, and new approaches evolving under President Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration.
It was on this score that she advocated for fresh ideas to help the federal government tackle the challenges of socioeconomic and infrastructural development in the country.
“The Federal Public Service needs to change its narrative when interacting with Nigerians who are demanding more accountability at all levels of government especially as regards the quality of public service delivery.
“Trust in government by the people is enhanced by closing the widening gap with the citizenry. It is a fact that improvements in public service and delivery capabilities have direct effect on the living standards of citizens and the competitiveness of the private sector.”
Oyo-Ita noted that although the civil service is structurally independent - a non-political machinery for implementing government policies and programmes, it is an indispensable sub-division of the executive arm of government which provides political leaders with the technical know-how to implement policies they were elected on, and seamlessly ensure stability and continuity between governments,” said the head of the civil service of the federation.
According to her, the civil service determines to a great extent how rich or poor a country becomes, and how well most vulnerable citizens fare.
She said: “there is evidence that countries with independent, meritocratic bureaucracies do a better job of vaccinating children, protecting the most vulnerable members of society, reducing child mortality, and curbing environmental degradation.
“Countries with a meritocratic civil service also tend to have lower levels of corruption.”
While she acknowledged the less than satisfactory rating of the Nigerian Civil Service at present, she reminded her audience that President Buhari remarked that “it is not the poverty of ideas and capacity on the part of the civil service that is responsible for the assumed decline of the service, but the inability to clearly articulate a vision.”
She, therefore, underscored a new vista for the civil service, saying that Nigeria has much to learn from current globally acclaimed bureaucracies such as Australia, Singapore, United Kingdom, USA, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, and the State of Georgia which have common denominator as the embrace of innovation in public service.
“There is no better time than now… 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,” Oyo-Ita declared.
She announced that the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation is charting a new course for the service under her leadership in order to improve on the current state of the service.
The new course according to her would include and not limited to unveiling the ethos of an efficient, productive, incorruptible and citizen-centred culture in the service in order to improve on the current state of the service.
She said that in order to develop entrepreneurial culture and commercial orientation in the civil service, the service must be a facilitating partner to the economy and diversification drive of government, adding that the goal is aimed at transforming the civil service from being perceived as cost centers to revenue earners.
The civil service boss regretted that many ideas from the civil service and MDA’s remain on the shelf and are not commercialized, saying however that henceforth, the civil service and MDA’s would be ideas generation power houses, thus complementing the private sector in creating business opportunities for government and citizens.
She said the current economic reality in the country might not allow for the review of salaries of civil servants to the extent desired, but, however said other welfare packages such as housing/accommodation are in the works.
“It is important to have a civil service that has housing support-base built on stakeholder collaboration, pooling of resources, access to facilities and availability of low, single digit mortgage loan.
“This we have developed under the Federal Integrated Staff Housing (FISH) programme. Under this programme, there shall be general upgrade in housing standards and affordability for civil servants, thus improving staff loyalty, integrity and productivity”, she explained.
Nonetheless, she disclosed that a review of the conditions of service of civil servants would be addressed “once the economy improves with sufficient recovery to enable government fund such commitments.”
According to her, a tripartite committee made up of the three key players in pension administration – OHCSF, PenCom and PTAD - has been set up “to aggressively pursue the multitudinous complaints from pensioners who invested their youthful vigour for service to their fatherland.
She was, however, quite mindful to solicit the support of the public, private and civil society sectors for a successful implementation of her goals.
She declared: “Change has come. Change is here to stay. The Civil Service is changing. The change is now.”