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Tenure policy restoration in the federal service: Matters arising

By Tunji A. Olaopa
16 February 2022   |   2:44 am
The news has now circulated sufficiently that the Federal Government has reversed itself on the crucial issue of tenure policy in the federal civil service.

Head of Service (HOS) of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi Esan

The news has now circulated sufficiently that the Federal Government has reversed itself on the crucial issue of tenure policy in the federal civil service.

The FG deserves applause on this reversal because it implies that it has seen the light with regard to the significance of the policy in getting the civil service system back on its feet. It takes not just a credible reform policy to achieve the transformation of the civil service but also the political will to get that policy implemented and functional. And the tenure policy is just one such policy that has the potential to salvage the credibility and performance profile of the service.

The worry, however, and the reason for this intervention, has to do with the long gestation period that it takes for the service and the government to wade through the mechanics of implementation and evaluation. In most cases, the implementation does not even happen, or at best, haphazard or far-between. There is therefore the constant need for expert intervention that fills the knowledge and advocacy gap in the hope that the government and other stakeholders can be stimulated into the salvation that Nigeria needs.

On August 18, 2011, the Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalization of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies was put in place by the Federal Government, and headed by the former head of the civil service of the federation, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye. The burden that led to the constitution of the committee is the enormous cost of governance that drains the precious scarce resources of running government businesses and achieving infrastructural development and efficient service delivery for Nigerians. The Committee submitted its report on April 16, 2012. And then the report went through an unfortunate white paper analysis in 2014. And that was where the policy was stopped dead on its track. The political will to get it optimally implemented fizzled out.

The tenure policy is a significant reform policy targeted at restoring the eroded confidence in the capacity readiness of the service to achieve efficient service delivery to Nigerians. Two reasons are fundamental to the significance of the policy. The first has to do with the intent to arrest the declining professionalism of the service due to the blatant politicization of the human resource functions of hiring, transfers and promotion.

Stagnation in the system has been induced largely by two correlated determinants—the incessant lateral transfers and promotional blocks. The dubious promotional practice at the state civil services enables young, inexperienced and, at best, half-baked officers, into the federal civil service who then become directors and permanent secretaries at a tender age that allows them to hold such offices forever without retiring. This dislocates the chances of the core federal professionally inducted officers who had progressed steadily from GL. 8 from reaching the peak of their career.

The inevitable consequence of these practices is that these genuine officers are essentially demotivated in a way that undermines performance and productivity. The administrative leadership has been insensitive to this anomaly for far too long as many of those in that strategic policy making cadre are beneficiaries of the wanton politicization of service. The second reason for the tenure policy has to do with an urgent need to address the need for the institutionalization of performance management and accountability in the civil service. The Nigerian public service operates the traditional “I-am-directed” Weberian administrative system, which most states across the globe have jettisoned for healthier and most efficient managerial alternatives.

Since the 1974 Udoji Reform Commission, Nigeria has been struggling with instituting a performance management system backstopped by a mix of project management practices, professionalized HR function and meritocratic procedures as the basis for administrative leadership pipelining and career progression. The tenure policy was meant to be Nigeria’s acceptance of Peter Drucker’s axiomatic rule that what is not measured cannot be managed.

One plausible reason for the reversal of the government’s stance on the tenure policy is most definitely the national fiscal crisis occasioned by the increasing cost of governance burden. This is due to the multiplicity of redundancies that permeate both the state and federal civil services, as well as the overloading of the workforce that allows so many people to be doing so little. And from the press release, the HCSF is also ob
viously worried about the state of capacity readiness of the service to deliver on the significant mandate, especially that of service delivery to Nigerians.

For her, what obtains now is not commensurate with what is expected. And something needed to be done. Of course, I am one of those who can truly appreciate the unenviable position of the HCSF. She supervises a system that has all the potential to become a world-class institution. However, and on a positive note, this reversal provides the system with the opportunity to make the first most significant move in tackling the cost of governance problematic that will set the service on the path of instituting performance management metrics.

Thus, reversing the tenure policy comes with some fundamental reform moves we must assume the Federal Government is ready to make or has already initiated. One recurring question that must underlie the government’s willingness to step into the breach of the reform effort is: Can civil service by itself possibly deliver on the needed reforms to engineer the deep-seated systemic shifts to sustainably achieve efficient service delivery? An affirmative answer is precluded by the bureaucratic culture of any public service across the world. Britain’s response to that question, through PM Margaret Thatcher, was the enlisting of the leadership of the Chairman and CEO of Marks and Spencer, Lord Derek George Rayner, Baron Rayner.

One fundamental first step for Nigeria in resolving that question is the need to empower one or a set of central agencies—Ministry of National Planning, Office of the Secretary to the Government of Nigeria (OSGF), Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF), Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR), or any other—that will be saddled with the task of providing technical expertise and back-up on behalf of the Presidency.

And the objective for these central agencies will be to get, first, the ministers and their permanent secretaries sign on to a performance agreement or performance contract determined by carefully negotiated key performance indicators linked to the SERVICOM-type social compact and service charter signed with stakeholders. This will then cascade down to the MDAs that must themselves sign up to ministerial scorecards of performance.

This makes it mandatory, as a matter of course, for the MDAs to articulate their sector strategies activated by an annual business planning process and performance budgeting matrix. In other words, backend managerial software such as activity-based costed budgets and accrual accounting has already revised the known incremental line-item budgeting and accounting reporting format that the MDAs can work with.

The challenge facing the agencies monitoring the reforms however would be the need to guard against a pure technicist understanding of reform which suggest, falsely, that the public service can be insulated against larger governance reengineering that frees up the service delivery spaces across the whole national economy. A very instructive case is that of post-World War II Japan. Japan first understood that the government by itself cannot facilitate economic recovery. Japan’s strategy of capacitation was three-pronged: strict regulation bordering on protectionism, trade expansion and the stimulation of private sector growth. For instance, Japan deployed the Keiretsu principle that brought the organized private sector—manufacturers, suppliers, bankers, industries and so on—around a unique dynamic of economic cooperation, further strengthened by the introduction of experts with a deep understanding of the relationship between economic growth, development, productivity and performance.

Next online, I see the urgent need for remodeling of a new framework of OHCSF-FCSC-MDAs engagement and partnership that aligns with the emerging performance management model that Nigeria is installing. This is important because the reform of the public service is anchored also on a reformed HR function that connects performance to productivity. And the responsibility will be to first recognize and deal with the generalist template of the traditional HR function that underlies the old personnel administration system that stands diametrically opposed to the new and emerging performance managerial culture.

With the latter system, the Nigerian public service can activate a decentralised HR function that involves line managers more in the recruitment, performance assessment and capacity development of their staff. As an irreducible minimum, this makes it possible to tap into a meritocratic dynamic that not only addresses and manages diversity through the federal character policy but also encourages career progression. This meritocracy can only be achieved through a re-professionalization process, which brings the public servants back in tune with both the essence of her profession as well as capacitating her with competencies and skills suitable for managing a twenty-first-century public service.

When all is said and done, the reversal of the tenure policy by the Federal Government puts Nigeria once again at the threshold of a possible transformation of her public service system. This transformation has been long overdue, especially since 1974 when the Udoji Commission provided the first significant opportunity for tapping into the managerial revolution. We missed that great opportunity then. It is my fervent hope that we can carry this moment forward.

Olaopa, is a Retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor of public administration, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos tolaopa2003@gmail.com