Thursday, 7 August 2014

Excerpts From the book - 'THE CHALLENGES OF TRANSFORMING THE CIVIL SERVICE' ; reforms of Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji. - PART 1

This is an unusual book. It is neither a biography nor an autobiography, although it is impossible to divorce the individual from the subject matter. It is not intended to be a praise-singing effort, although it
is impossible not to give credit where credit is due. It is not the handover notes of one Head of Service to another, as that is often not published as a book, although it is impossible not to touch on areas that require focus and attention in the coming years.

Having said what the book is not, it is important to say what it intends to be. This book is simply an attempt to set out, in writing, the main reform activities that have been undertaken in the 15 months during which Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji, O.O.N., has been Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. It will describe the situation necessitating the reforms, the actions that were taken, why they were taken and where things got to by August 2014 when Alhaji Aji retired from the service of the federation. This is important for the Bureau of Public Service Reforms for a number of reasons. Firstly, this provides a public record of the reform efforts in one of the most important parts of the Nigerian Public Service. Secondly, it explains why some actions were taken and the difficulties, challenges and consequences that taking those decisions inevitably encountered. Thirdly, it sets out where things have got to and suggests next step actions, without attempting to tie the hands of successors. Finally, it documents the achievements of a truly remarkable Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.

I first met Alhaji Bukar Goni in April 2013 at a seminar at the Transcorp Hilton. Working for a donor organisation at the time, I informed him that I had written a letter to him as an ordinary Nigerian to a newly appointed Head of Service. I asked him a not-so-simple question: “Sir, are you going to try and do the right things as Head of Service? You are not allowed to say that it depends, because that it is the problem with this country – everything depends!” Rather than get upset at my impudence, he smiled and said: “Doctor, I am going to disappoint you and say that it depends. I will say that because this is my first week and I don’t know yet what I am going to meet. Ask me the question again in 3 months’ time and I will give you a firm answer.” I didn’t see or speak with him again until August 2014 when he called me to inform me that Mr President had approved my appointment as Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms. 15 months from that first encounter, the question that I asked him in April 2013 has been answered with a resounding “Yes”!

Because this is neither a biography nor autobiography, the process of compiling the book was also unusual. We started with a desk review of publications, reports and policy documents. Next, we interviewed the Head of Service himself and asked him some direct questions about the causes and effects of his key actions. We then triangulated what he told us by interviewing a number of Permanent Secretaries and Directors that have worked closely with him and were deeply involved in, and knowledgeable about, the reforms that took place under his leadership. Given that that effort of writing this book only started a few weeks before Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji was due to retire, it was not possible to speak with everyone that we would have liked to. We however hope that the contents of the book represent a fair and balanced account of the reforms undertaken by the Head of Service.

In putting together this book, my gratitude goes first to Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji, OON, for graciously accepting that the book should be written. Next, I am indebted to all the Permanent Secretaries in the Federal Public Service. What quickly became apparent as we compiled this book was that many of the reform decisions were taken by consensus by the body of Permanent Secretaries. That meant that there was remarkable consistency in the accounts of all the Permanent Secretaries that we spoke with. We are particularly grateful to Dr Ezekiel Oyemomi, Dr Tunji Olaopa and Dr Habiba Lawal for their insights. Dr Christiana Famro and Mrs Eniola Olagbami of the DFID FEPAR programme were particularly helpful with gathering information and supporting the interviews that were conducted. Together with Mrs Olagbami, my Technical Assistant, Mr Inyang Anyang, contributed significantly to the writing of this book. I am also grateful to Mr Onajomo Orere for working night and day for four straight days to edit the book. Mr Bamidele Olawoye and Mr Festus Oyaide, both of BPSR, helped with logistics.
We hope that this little effort will help in the ongoing efforts to transform the civil service into a world-class service. Any credit for the work belongs to Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji, the Federal Permanent Secretaries and the staff of the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. Any inadequacies are those of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms and its Director General.

Dr Joe Abah
Director General
Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Abuja.
August 2014. 

Below are excerpts from the book; 'THE CHALLENGES OF TRANSFORMING THE CIVIL SERVICE' ; the reforms of Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji..

11 Things About Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji, Head Of Service.

Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji is a humble and self-effacing man who prefers to give all the credit for his achievement to others. However, beneath that humble mien lies a steely determination, uncommon courage and fiery patriotism. We managed to drag some things out of him:
1. “When I came 15 months ago, I promised to fast-track processes. I didn’t really do anything new. I only accelerated things that other people has designed.”
2. “I felt that it was important the Service should have institutional memory. I therefore decided to completely revamp the Federal Records Centre in Karu.”
3. “In the Office of the Head of Service, I wanted a leaner structure that would reduce the cost of governance.”
4. “With the take-off of PTAD, I no longer have pensioners with placards sleeping outside my office.”
5. “We managed to achieve 100% release from the Budget Office of the Federation for the Federal Government Staff Housing Loan Board. This gives soft loans at 2% interest and has attracted more than 100,000 applications for the 5 estates that we have commissioned.”
6. “I am pleased that we were able to convince the President to approve 30 forty-two-seater buses for staff. I am particularly proud that the buses are made in Nigeria.”
7. “There was a lot of opposition to the policy to domesticate training in Nigeria. However, as a result of the policy, the money provided for training now goes much further than it did in the past and can now train more people.”
8. “Early in my career, I started working with politicians. This gave me the ability to balance the fact that politicians instant results in order to fulfil their campaign promises and civil servants look at extant rules and regulations and tell the politicians to ‘wait’, to the politicians’ discomfiture.”
9. “I seem to be fortunate to be able to read the body language of political leaders correctly. This makes it easier for me to relate well them. That way, I get a lot of things done without friction and suspicion.”
10. “My biggest challenges were as follows: Mobilisation and advocacy to tell the public service that a lot is expected of us; Incessant demands and requests from government; The current size of the civil service, which we cannot currently do anything about, given the unemployment situation in the country at the moment.”
11. “We must aggressively pursue the professionalisation of the Service and bring the psyche of public servants in tune with current national and international realities. The past is the past. We must face the future with courage, professionalism and patriotism.”

The Problems with the Nigerian civil service.
As earlier stated, Nigeria operated a Westminster model of public management under the British colonial administration, prior to independence in 1960. At independence, the Service was in transition from a colonial administration to an indigenous one managed by Nigerians. For the first time, Nigerians were able to hold senior positions in government, including the positions of Permanent Secretary, Chief Executive and Director. These were previously reserved for colonialists and Nigerians had a limit beyond which they could not advance. 

At the turn of independence in 1960, the Nigerian public service was widely regarded to be one of the best in the Commonwealth. The former Premier of Western Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is famously reputed to have said:

Our civil service is exceedingly efficient, absolutely incorruptible in its upper stratum, and utterly devoted and unstinting in the discharge of its many and onerous duties.
However, events such as the Nigerian Civil War between 1967 and 1970, military dictatorships, and endemic corruption, eroded the capacity and competence of the civil service to fulfil the role for which it was originally designed. Successive military dictatorships entrenched a norm of bypassing rules, due process and accountability in favour of arbitrariness, unpredictability, self-interest, ethnicity and lack of respect for the rule of law. Corruption became a way of life, and recruitment into the public service a form of patronage and reward for political jobbers and government sympathisers. The very ethos and core values of the Civil Service had been systematically destroyed and its impartial and apolitical disposition torn out of its chest.

The practices from the military era and the processes, legislations and rules (formal and informal) that have developed over the years evolved into a powerful ‘culture of underperformance’ which was understood, entrenched and fiercely protected by some. It brought any new initiative, no matter how well-conceived, to its knees, and was affectionately known as the ‘Nigerian Factor.’ The so-called ‘Nigerian Factor’ suggests that the country is jinxed and that simple things that work in every other country will somehow not to work. Of course, hidden behind the grand mystery of the ‘Nigerian Factor, lies corruption and self-interest. These are the two main reasons why things that should normally work simply don’t. Other factors include a lack of patriotism, inadequate diligence, a disdain for planning and a lack of a culture of applying sanctions for underperformance and wrong-doing.

By 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, after more than 30 years of military dictatorships, the civil services at the Federal, State and Local Government levels were fundamentally weak and widely regarded as politicised, corrupt, demoralised and inefficient. The Federal Government acknowledged in 2008 that, in 30 years, the public services had ‘... metamorphosed from a manageable, compact, focused, trained, skilled and highly-motivated body into an over-bloated, lop-sided, ill-
equipped, poorly paid, rudderless institution, lacking in initiative and beset by loss of morale, arbitrariness and corruption.’

The functions of ministries were unclear and many delivered little or no services. The emphasis appeared to be mainly on the award of contracts for capital projects (and the resultant opportunities for rent-seeking), with little interest in maintenance or sustainability. The public service was littered with parallel organisations created by successive governments to perform normal bureaucratic functions. Once the government that created them leaves office, they become operationally redundant but remain on the payroll. This means that the government wage bill is very heavy, put at N1.8 trillion in July 2014.
Any sort of training was mainly just an opportunity to earn generous duty tour allowances to supplement wages, rather than an attempt to learn anything that will usefully be applied in the workplace. Managers had little control over the officers in their organisations and little say in their recruitment, promotion or discipline. 

The human resource management functions were centralised and staff were pooled and posted arbitrarily to different organisations every few years. Therefore, there was little or no professionalism in discrete job functions. Corruption was rife and any attempt at discipline was thwarted by ethnic and religious sentiments. The Federal Character Principle in the Constitution was misinterpreted in order to sacrifice merit at the altar of representation. The Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), the employer of labour responsible for appointments, promotion and discipline, was weak, disorganised and lacking in credibility.

Performance management in any sense of the word was virtually non- existent and what existed was manipulated to ensure that it was virtually impossible to assess performance and seek improvement. In 2008, the Federal Government acknowledged that the Federal Civil Service of Nigeria had no effective performance management system that motivates excellence, result achievement and accountability, whether at corporate or individual levels.

Save for few recent initiatives such as the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), the Service is still largely manual in its operations. Information is stored mostly in files but records management and retrieval are chaotic and inefficient. Although the payroll function of IPPIS is operational, the personnel management function has not been fully activated. Human Resource Management, in the strategic sense of the term, is still in its infancy and it is still possible to access personnel file records for ulterior motives.

Given the low pay of individual civil servants and the limited space for innovation and self-expression, the Service has struggled to attract talent. Even a special recruitment scheme for First Class Degree holders has failed to encourage the brightest and best to join the Service. Many of those eventually recruited through the scheme left the Service as soon as they could find other jobs.
While the forgoing may appear to have painted the Nigerian Civil Service in a bleak light, it is worth pointing out that very many civil servants remain dedicated to serving the country, and did so even during the darkest days of military rule. It would also not be correct to blame all the woes of the civil service on the military. The civil service did not degenerate any faster or any worse than the rest of society. The loss of moral values, and the lack of respect for hard work, honesty and the benefits of a good education were society-wide issues. Although the civil service is seen by some as an elite institution, it would have been very difficult for it to aside from the society that it is meant to serve, particularly when it is literarily staring down the barrel of a gun.

Many civil servants look back with longing to “the good old days.” However, very few actually do anything about it. While the old days may have been good in terms of core values and the impersonality of the service, the civil service of today faces new challenges that civil servants of old did not have to face. These include terrorism, the Internet, globalisation, freedom of information, monetisation, limitation of tenure and stringent budget constraints. Suddenly, citizens are now able to demand explanations from civil servants and even compel them to show them the contents of files. Permanent Secretaries are now expected to submit themselves to ‘Performance Contracts’, Key Performance Indicators and Peer Review. As is often the case with the civil service, the pace of environmental changes is much faster than the ability of the service to adapt. 

..To come in PART 2 -  'Reforming the Nigerian civil service'

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