‘Nigerian Leaders Should Build Institutions That Will Outlast Them’


THE Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, Dr Tunji Olaopa has urged Nigerian leaders to build strong institutions which they will be remembered for.

  Speaking during a presentation of his book ‘The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future: A Prospective Analysis’ ((published by Bookcraft of Ibadan in 2014), organized by Nextier Network in Abuja recently, Olaopa said:

 “Good leaders should build institutions that will outlast them. I think that is the mark of a leader.  That is the only legacy that you can keep”. 

   According to him, virtually everybody in the civil service has less than 10 years to go except those that are newly recruited.  “You don’t lose much because a lot of us have less than five years. So we can afford to do a whole range of change programming towards the future. You can change the employment policy and create a template that can bring in a couple of people under different employment arrangements. There are so many innovations we can do that can create the required IQ in the system without necessarily going to the extreme of sacking civil servants.

   “But you train them in a vocation and make them have access to facilities. You will discover that a large number will be exiting seamlessly. So what am I saying is that the constitution is not constraining us.  The only problem that we have had and since Alhaji Yayale left, is that even if the Head of Services wanted to do reform before they even start to understand what to do, they have expired  and retired. Again, it means that the political leadership has to also recognize the place of the civil service, sit down and plan well.”

  He disclosed that he is one of those people who cannot succeed in the private sector. “My calling is the public service. I knew from age five that I wanted to read Political Science because I wanted to understand how Nigeria could be redeemed. The first book I read back to back in my secondary school was Plato’s Republic because it made meaning to me why you needed to rebuild your nation.”

   Olaopa said that those that have made history recognized what it means to leave a legacy. “I have never seen anyone that is a hero and didn’t build institutions, that didn’t change government. If a smart leader attempts to build institutions, half of his achievements have been achieved and so that is why that is critical”. 

    He said it takes wisdom to carry out reforms and the way to do so is to conceptualize the change one wants to do. “To feel the temperature properly which is the whole discipline of change management and then do a sequencing. First of all, you start with a reform that everybody is excited about, then you build on it.” 

    According to him, the government cannot appoint a person as Head of Service for 10 months and expect the person to change the complex system. 

   “Civil service is where we need a strong man. The question I always ask myself is ‘is there a conspiracy among the political class not to appoint someone that can effect changes in the public service?’

 He said a Permanent Secretary can create a good working environment but he cannot do much to change the system. “He can deploy project management to change the way programmes are implemented. The most unfortunate thing is that we have a situation where there is immunity in relationship between ministries which are supposed to be supervising parastatals.” 

    Olaopa revealed that virtually all the parastatals have their own boards and the boards are headed by people who can remove the Permanent Secretary. 

    “As to whether the private sector must help, sincerely, the public service is a space for everybody and when it’s time to get it right, there must be a percentage of operators in the public service who the private sector people will organize to plant there to go and do the change. 

   “Nigeria belongs to everybody. It is an undoing to the public service to be a closed system. What I’m saying is that our job evaluation should do a job structuring that will be more focused on jobs rather than people such that the competence that should do the job if it’s not available in the public service, should be sourced from outside under some flexible remuneration package. And it’s happening not just in Nigeria but everywhere. 

      “We do not have a policy on under what conditions a parastatal and agency should be set up and the parameters by which a parastatal should be set up. What we have now is that people use their own influence to sustain institutions that are no longer relevant and they are weighing on the budget. Those are issues that we should look at.” 

   He said that there is nothing that says one should not do political hiring, but it has to be right. “And one way of doing the political hiring is doing background checks.  If we do that or even institute simple mechanisms for the recruitment practice, if we have a daily practice, people are more likely to keep to that.” 


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