Nigeria’s Bureaucracy And The Change Agenda

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Anyone who has related with civil servants in the country would readily admit that efficient and timely service delivery is not one of their attributes. The average Nigerian civil servant, perhaps, with a few exceptions, is a reluctant service provider when he chooses to serve. They are at their best, courtesy and all, when a client has greased their palms or offered a promise. Ask a government contractor to tell you his experience.
If you are seeking some useful information from any of our Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and you assume you’ll get it on their website or when you visit the office, you will more likely than not get a shock. The website may either not be functional or it may not contain any useful information. A greater shock even awaits you if you choose to visit the ministry or agency.
You are more likely to be told to write a formal letter of request for information, sometimes in a way that would make you feel the person was saying you must be stupid to think you’ll just walk into his office and get what you want. And when you stomach all that and come back with a letter, you are told that the office will respond to your request after a few days.
But you will never get a reply if you don’t follow up the letter. And even with the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 2014, it could take a minimum of one month before your reply comes. Sometimes you could be on it for months until you give up.
This is the bureaucracy the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, inherited and is seeking to change. Since her appointment in 2015, she has left no one in doubt that the civil service needed some urgent reforms, especially in the areas of service delivery and financial accountability.
Oyo-Ita came into office with a vision to change the attitude of the Nigerian bureaucracy and make it more responsive to the needs of the country. Her vision was crystalised into a 3-year reform plan named the “2017-2018 Strategic Plan”to be executed through a Public Private Partnership.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to formalise the execution of the strategy was signed on April 4 by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation and the African Initiative for Governance.  It is aimed at improving the current state of the service across a number of critical areas including culture and capacity building, technology, entrepreneurship, and welfare administration.
In the words of Oyo-Ita, the OHCSF 2017-2019 Strategic Plan aims to create an efficient, productive, incorruptible and citizen-centred (EPIC) civil service, and thereby, immensely improve the performance of the service.
She described the MoU signing as a historic event.  “This is a momentous milestone in the decades’ long existence of the Federal Civil Service of Nigeria. There has never been a partnership of this kind from within the shores of our great country, Nigeria, to render both technical and financial support of this quantum towards the implementation of the Strategy of the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. It is indeed a new vista and change has begun in the Nigerian Federal Civil Service,” she said in a tone laced with self-satisfaction.
If carried through as she had promised, there is no doubt that it would not only be a landmark but also the beginning of true change in the civil service. It would also complement and sharpen the reforms that she kick-started on assumption of office.
As soon as she was appointed in October 2015 she immediately prioritised the commencement of a more holistic reform of the civil service. She envisioned an effective service delivery bureaucracy that would serve the government and people of Nigeria well. Among the reforms she itemised to be carried out, include, but not limited to achieving financial accountability, value for money through capacity building, and structured training programmes to equip the civil servants with relevant skills to do their work diligently and efficiently.
She instituted a personnel structure and Performance Management System (PMS), where there would be reward for hard work and effective service delivery, and possible sanctions for poor performance. She has just concluded tours in some of the training institutions like Centre for Management Development (CMD) as part of her drive to see first-hand the institution’s challenges and how best to tackle them.
Oyo-Ita brought to the office of the HoS full integrity and a disdain for financial wastages and leakages. Thus when the federal government established the Efficiency Unit at the Federal Ministry of Finance, she quickly embraced it and became one of its chief promoters. She has since appropriated the unit as part of government’s effort to block leakages in the public service procurement processes.
The HoS has also started the digitalisation of the civil service to make for efficiency and safety of public records. She deplored a situation where staff records and other important service information were still kept in files. “The system whereby records of civil servants are kept just anyhow in piles of files in registries which could get eaten up by rodents cannot continue,” she had told a gathering of civil servants in 2015, promising that by 2016 records and document management of the Federal Civil Service would be fully automated. Oyo-Ita is working hard to keep that promise.
The service was already working with the National Record Centre to ensure the full automation of records in the service. A programme on the electronic management system had already been rolled out, and an archival system and a software for it is also being developed.

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