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Custodians Of Cherished Public Service Values -By Tunji Olaopa

The onerous task of protection and preservation of the brand civil service that the Adebos of this world laboured to build is therefore on your shoulders. My prayer is that you will not fail the civil service, Oyo State and Nigeria. Hearty congratulations, God bless and thank you all for your kind attention.

I like to on behalf of the Nigerian civil service corps, express deep appreciation to the Executive Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, for the support he has continuously extended to the civil service, a gesture that is given vent by critical evidence, the celebration of our icon, Chief Theophilus Akinyele, when he passed on, this most symbolic 2021 Public Service Productivity and Merit Award Day lecture event, and many more. I also heartily celebrate the Oyo State civil service through my sister and colleague, the Head of Service, Mrs. Amidat Agboola. It is remarkable that you have given the celebration of Productivity and Merit Award priority enough to organise a seminal event to celebrate it. And you have gone the extra mile to invite a remarkable though silent achiever, a professor of political science, and my dear colleague at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies whose brilliant contributions to political science scholarship speak for itself, as a guest speaker.

It is therefore my distinct pleasure to welcome Prof. Fatai Aremu to Agodi, Ibadan, the seat of the prestigious pacesetter-civil service in Nigeria, pioneered by the legendary Chief Simeon Adebo. I am confident that our guest speaker will certainly do justice to the topic for our reflection at this event. I sure will not in a bit pre-empt our guest speaker even as the topic of the lecture for the day is one that I have keen seminal interest in. My substantive and brief reflection rather, would be on the significance of the Merit and Productivity Award for the civil service.

Suffice it to say at this juncture that the choice of the notions of ‘partisan politics and professionalism’ as variables in the topic for reflection today is highly commendable. It is a testament to the resolute determination of the Makinde administration to make the reward of excellence and performance among civil servants in the state a core priority.

Unarguably, the meritocratic civil service that pioneers such as Chief Adebo built had been undermined and distorted by a range of problems including diversity management practices in the guise of the federal character policy, politicisation of the governance of the civil service, nepotism, and deep-seated bureaucratic corruption. With such a veritable platform as this annual productivity and merit award seminar moments, the civil service has a significant opportunity to keep reflecting, as a basis for action, on the core founding principles and values of our profession.

Through such problem-solving focused pragmatic reflections, we should be in a position to articulate programmes of sustained and systematic culture change to reinvent the philosophical underpinnings of our vocation and calling. This is, of course, most desirable and critical as we navigate and transition the information and knowledge age unto the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution managerially disruptive era.

Hence the need to keep bringing back to memory those attributes of public service values that made the Adebo generation the glorious era of the Nigerian civil service which include: One, an incorruptible civil service commission that facilitated gatekeeping of the profession by signposting merit and foreclosing entry of charlatans and mediocre the civil service. Second, the resilient organisation and method internal management control mechanism which enabled treasury control of the size of establishment underpinned by a competency-based human resource practice and a competitive wage structure and condition of service.

Third is the town and gown synergy which enabled engagement and collaboration of the civil service, academics and other professions as basis for harnessing national intellectual capital to strengthen policy intelligence and evidence-based political leadership, and lastly, a solid legacy of political neutrality that insulated Chief Adebo and the core of service from partisan politics, thus ensuring unreserved loyalty to any government in power. This being the secret of the global acclaim of the Awolowo-Adebo governance model that worked infrastructural wonders in the Western Region.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I do not hesitate to make the point that meritocracy and excellence in service which requires re-professionalisation to build a new generation of bureaucrats for Nigeria, is core-critical to the future of the public administration profession in the knowledge age. This, more so, as we move into the potentially managerially disruptive Fourth Industrial Revolution that will surely reshape our profession beyond the new normal threshold that Covid-19 pandemic had taken it to.

Beyond this, and given the rate at which our country exits and re-enters into economic recession on account of growing globally diminishing market for fossil oil, the level of national indebtedness and poor strategic policy intelligence, we bureaucrats as policy workers should be discerning enough to see that, except radical transformational salvage policy measures are taken in the next 18 months thereabouts, Nigeria might enter irredeemably into deep bankruptcy.

And in spite of the spirited protective commitment of the labour unions to defend the interest of the public sector workforce as the dynamics unfold, Nigeria must deal with the burdensome cost of governance trap that keeps draining the nation’s scarce resources in institutional and structural redundancies. And for me, the implementation of the Steve Oronsaye report will not be enough to stave the impending crisis. Consequently, and beyond the Steve Oronsaye report recommendations, governments at the different levels of our fledging federation will be required to undertake deep-seated unbundling of the national expenditure structure through rigorous audit, to restructure the capital-recurrent budget fixture, and hence free up resources for real development funding. This will entail implementation of a national productivity paradigm shift that must be grounded on:

A national waste reduction strategy, a productivity-indexed wage structure, setting of productivity target for MDAs within framework of long-term sector productivity plans, reprofiling of public-private partnerships through acceleration along its three-levels maturity curve, and new national project management practices with reprofiled maintenance protocols, etc. It is clear that the 36 + 1 bureaucratic cost centres resulting from the redundancies created by our unitary overcentralised federal system will continue to fragment developmental and policy efforts making political restructuring all the more a pre-condition for Nigeria’s economic prosperity. It is within a restructured federation that the nation will be in a position to leverage the comparative advantages of the sub-nationals as a source of sustainable development, while the cost of governance is automatically downsized to finance real development programs and projects. In closing, and with great pride of being a National Productivity Order of Merit awardee myself, let me end my address with hearty congratulations to our proud award winners whose celebration is the reason we are here today. And to say that you all have received a badge of honour that has upgraded you to the statuses of role models, mentors and the change agents. It is therefore your charge forthwith, to be champions of the cherished public service values and to live true, in spirit and in truth, to their tenets.

The onerous task of protection and preservation of the brand civil service that the Adebos of this world laboured to build is therefore on your shoulders. My prayer is that you will not fail the civil service, Oyo State and Nigeria. Hearty congratulations, God bless and thank you all for your kind attention.



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