My Continuing Search For New Productivity Paradigm And The National Merit Award
The idea of national productivity stands as the very core of Nigeria’s contemporary challenge as a nation. Without achieving an enviable global productivity profile similar to or near that of the OECD countries, we can say with a certain level of certainty that no other development index will fall in place in Nigeria. The challenge is as serious as that. This is because national productivity is the sole consequence of democratic governance; it is with a full-throttled productivity efficiency that any government managing change at this crucial junction in the nation’s history, can ever hope to proclaim a measure of success in good governance that embraces its entire citizenry and gives them a modicum of confidence to proclaim themselves as champions of true national change and progress.
The new PMB administration was inaugurated around an agenda of change. I dare to say here that the very centre of that change paradigm is the need to reactivate our commitment to a paradigmatic shift in our productivity framework in a manner that is urgent and committed.
Productivity cannot wait; it is essentially what defines national development and progress everywhere. A nation that puts little value on efficiency in the management of its national wealth; allows its best talents to walk the street and make do with third best in critical positions; lacks maintenance culture; lacks nationally acknowledged benchmarks in service delivery, work culture and labour standards; gives scant regards to erosion of the value foundation of national institutions in the dynamics of high politics; glorifies a culture of ‘something for nothing’ in wealth acquisition; etc don’t understand what development is all about.
I had reason to have wondered in an earlier essay titled ‘Generational Capital in the Nigerian Project’ in these words: To institute a new national productivity paradigm requires a gargantuan effort to surmount some ingrained sociological realities as: destructive individualism which emphasizes consumption at the expense of production; material success at the expense of social responsibility; lack of a reading and reflective culture; religiosity bereft of spirituality; an instrumental perception of success in the short-term rather than the long-term; pervasive national culture of waste that superintends unbridled desire to show-off and celebrate everything—funerals, birthdays, admissions, graduation, new houses, travels, marriages, promotions, everything.
There are more: An irrational yearning for certificates without the accompanying learning and character; craze for titles; inordinate opportunism propelled by a spirit of “something for nothing”; denigration of critical sacrifices for national progress embedded in virtues of deferred gratification in a preference for instant gratification; the culture of impunity; a democracy that is more of a mechanism for getting people to power rather than a political culture with morality; and many more moral and cultural deficits that combine inexorably to condition the perpetual short-circuiting of any serious concerted effort towards the evolution of Nigeria of our dreams.
The need for change to institute a paradigm shift in our national productivity profile specifically through public service reform has essentially defined my reform concern, efforts and struggles through research, practice and advocacy. In the course of my research and practice, I essentially studied a system that was dragging its feet in deep systemic bureaucratic dysfunction. I saw a civil service that was making valiant effort to connect with national goals and objectives, but was barely making progress. This institutional challenge had continually aroused my curiosity as a researcher. The bureaucratic predicament challenged my desire to know and get to the bottom of what is problematic.
Thus, I got steeped in empirical observations of the operational effectiveness of the Nigerian civil service. My research revealed the dynamics that articulate the structural specifics underlying the needed reconstruction. This structural requirement is three-fold:
The first level is the material/infrastructural level, which include the system of production, distribution, consumption and exchange;
The second level comprises of the institutional dimension involving the system of institutions, organisations, the procedural mechanisms underlying democracy and so on; and finally.
The third, superstructural level involving social relations, culture, values, beliefs and attitudinal orientation of the people.
My research outputs have been critical attempts to unravel the complexities of these structural requirements within an optimistic and effective reform framework that will bring them together to move, specifically, the civil service forward into a solid world class institutions that will—and this is very significant—contribute tremendously to ensuring that Nigerians begin to see their nation as a caring one to which they ought to commit their loyalties.
Unfortunately, I came out with a depressing outcome about the Federal Civil Service: there are too many people doing nothing, too many doing too little and too few people doing too much. This seems like a beautiful play with words, but its productivity undertones should be immediately clear—even though the civil service is adequately staffed in terms of numerical strength, in qualitative terms, we are not achieving the much required our productivity objectives. The unfortunate truth, however, is that the thesis is still significant within the context of the unfolding of the NCS today as it was when I commenced my research in 1993. I managed to have reworked this doctoral finding into a larger framework with new empirical observations in Public Administration and Civil Service Reforms in Nigeria. The third edition of the book, in 2012, attests to the continuing relevance of that hypothesis.
My doctoral thesis however, did more than give me a catchy phrase about the essential problem of the civil service in Nigeria. It also enabled me to put into proper perspectives how to begin a rethinking of the challenge as well as the pathway to a productivity paradigm shift, especially with a critical focus on the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The fundamental questions I consider significant before we can even begin to think of a solution are:
What kind of public service is appropriate for us at this level of our development?
How can we get MDAs operations to be restructured to deliver results and outcomes?
How can the MDAs’ skills deficit be corrected in a manner that would be through a mix of re-skilling, regulated injection of fresh new skills and some measure of rightsizing or redundancies declaration if unavoidable?
What would be the contingent changes to personnel policies, pay structure and operational cost ratios that is most cost effective and consistent with the optimal productivity level of the national economy?
How would the service be more sensitive to the political objectives of government and be at once accountable to stakeholder under SERVICOM compact without its independence and professionalism being undermined?
Are MDAs delivering significant outputs that, when measured, will meet their set policy targets?
If MDAs are indeed falling short of expectation and therefore underperforming (when measured), what is our game plan to make up for observed performance gaps?
It is within the dynamics of these critical questions that I eventually formed the trajectory of my career as a change agent and a reform enthusiast who is concerned with how the civil service system can become an effective and efficient component in Nigeria’s development effort. I have since been involved with researching and reforming the Nigerian civil service for many years. But reform is a terrible business. This is because it is an attempt to insert functional objectives and dynamics into a system that has been compromised by many administrative, political and historical factors. There has been the constant threat of losing focus of what is at stake and the impediment to be removed.
How have I kept myself from been distracted? It was helpful when it became obvious to me early that my reform philosophy is actually centred on the need for the evolution of a ‘productivity paradigm’ designed to generate a dynamic thinking process to resolve the productivity crisis. Over time, I discovered that the productivity paradigm shift requires a workforce that is professional, confident, accountable and productive and a reform that effects critical structural and behavioural changes that motivates the redefinition of the Federal Civil Service in the pursuit of performance and innovation at all levels. The essence of the paradigm shift in productivity is therefore to redress the fundamental gaps—policy, capacity, performance, process and resource—which hinder an efficient and functional productivity profile in Nigeria.
The challenge, which had then become the focus of my many years of researches and practical inquiry, is simple but not straightforward: Reengineering the MDAs management system into performance-oriented, technology-enabled and social compact or accountable business model. This is actually where the evolution of the Nigerian civil service, since its inauguration in 1954, as well as its many reform objectives, has been headed, albeit without significant success so far. To arrive at this productivity objective for me, requires committing ourselves to several tasks:
Changing performance metrics and incentives by focusing on the service’s performance evaluation system and specific individual requirements to the strategy implementation;
Building new capability with pilot projects managed by multidisciplinary task forces to give staff opportunities to experiment with new tools, technologies and work processes to confront identified performance problems;
Bringing in new people with specialist but unique expertise to dilute current work culture, enable skills transfer and create new horizons of possibilities for learning and orientation;
Strengthening learning infrastructure using benchmarking tools; and
Creating avenues to brainstorm on ideas for performance improvement and envisioning new approaches to doing things that have proven reliable and need to be institutionalised.
Going forward and within the framework of the government change agenda, convincing leadership by example of our President and transformative leadership model that is unfolding, the following are proposed for government to consider for implementation: a) getting the critical sectors of the economy to articulate their productivity plans based on agreed national benchmark; b) strategic integration of the various productivity plans and targets into the national plan by the National Planning Commission; c) launch of productivity metrics and tools to be deployed to enable employers and employees to begin to sign on to productivity bargaining and gain sharing contracts, to institutionalise a new performance-driven compensation system and skills-based workforce pricing in a broad sense; d) value system reorientation in the wings of a national integrity system that the Presidential Anti-Corruption Expert Committee will institute; e) national waste reduction strategy that is linked to a new national maintenance management policy and a new asset efficiency scheme around redefined guiding principles for the management of national infrastructure and assets; f) a new national qualification framework aligned to education, training, certification and skills pricing policies; g) input structure including capital-overhead-personnel benchmarks and local content policy; h) SME expansion programme and new regional industrial benefits policy; i) research, development and innovation; j) wage concessions be henceforth based on negotiated productivity agreements, etc.
It is within the realisation of these defining responsibilities that I have dedicated my intellect and energies, and have been labouring for the past twenty-seven years. And I do not as yet see that my job is anywhere done. I am not even sure I am halfway through it yet. The productivity challenge is both an end and a process. In other words, even after we have arrived at a convenient point where we have been able to reboot the productivity engine into full and effective function, we must immediately be committed to ensuring that the engine does not stall or relapse back into disuse.
Once again, let me express the profound gratitude of my fellow Awardees and myself to His Excellency for approving our nomination and to the National Productivity Order of Merit Award Committee for considering us deserving of this Award. At a personal level and like I said in Accra while accepting a previous Award in 2012, this Award, like the others, has become a motivational burden. I graciously accept it. I will pick it up, take it home and place it in a conspicuous corner where it will constantly remind me of the commitments that I have made in the open to continue toiling (in service or in retirement) in the reform framework until Nigeria arrives at a convenient point where its citizens are assured of a good governance dynamics instigated by a civil service machinery motivated to do what it is originally meant for.
Full Text Of Acceptance Speech Delivered By Dr. Tunji Olaopa, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry Of Communication Technology National Productivity Order Of Merit (Npom) Award Conferred By His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, At The 15th National Productivity Day & Conferment Ceremony On Thursday, 20th August, 2015 In Abuja