The Nigerian Civil Service: Reforming the Unreformable

I am usually scathing in my remarks about the Nigerian civil service. In addition to the service being overly bloated, most of its staff have absolutely no manners and are unapologetically corrupt. Reforming the civil service will be a tall order, but I would like to think about reform in this piece.

I think the civil service is designed to have too much interaction with the public and this is a huge contributor to the gargantuan corruption in the system. Anyone who wants a regulatory approval needs to go to three separate departments, in each of which five people fastidiously check documentary compliance and the absence of any whom can delay one’s application indefinitely. Then, periodically, the head honcho (in what is usually no more than a “golden parachute” arrangement) decides to revamp the entire system, requiring everyone who ever obtained a permit in the history of the government ministry to “revalidate” his or her permit for a “token fee” plus stress, frustration and hardship.

Each government office one visits has a big notice discouraging Nigerians from patronising touts. However, the system is yet to be designed that is easier than using touts. Who are the touts anyway, if not staff of the ministry or their agents?

Then, there’s supposed to be a customer service initiative called SERVICOM. There are SERVICOM posters at all government departments, telling you that you have the right to be served courteously. Those posters are just as effective as the ones at police stations that tell you that bail is free.

Let’s accept that the Nigerian Labour Congress will never permit the downsizing required to make the civil service a leaner, meaner, more efficient machine. No problem. Here are a few suggestions for reform (if anyone is listening, or cares):

  1. Reduce the number of steps required in getting a permit or approval – typically, an applicant should be able to (a) pay the administrative fee; (b) submit all his documents at one desk; and (c) collect the permit or approval, without fail, on a pre-announced date. As the Palm Pilot in Special Agent Oso sings, “Three special steps, that’s all you need; three special steps and you’ll succeed.
  2. Automate processes – many government departments now accept online payments but they’re not cutting turnaround times. Paying the official fee for a permit is usually the easiest part of the process, to be frank. It’s the paper-checking and paper-pushing components of the process that come with all sorts of kinks and extra tollgates. If there was a system to check when an application is submitted and whose responsibility it is to approve within a given timeframe, the process might speed up a bit. But this is our civil service we’re talking about – this would require a permanent secretary or director that isn’t a product of the cankerous system to enforce.
  3. Ban Religiosity – the greatest problem religion in the workplace – the greatest paradox of the filthily corrupt civil service – has brought, is that no one is afraid of earthly sanctions anymore. We leave everything to God, because God is control and everyone’s reward, whether good or bad, is in the metaphysical. We need physical, immediate consequences for dithering and slothfulness – it will be too late to change the civil service when we reach the afterlife.
  4. Outsource to the private sector – even with as many actual foot soldiers as there are in the public service, it is safe to assume that efficiently performing some tasks will always be beyond them. The best contemporary example of this is the Federal Road Safety Corps’ inability to arrange timely data capture for the incoming revised drivers’ licences. Nigerians are generally happy to pay a little extra when they see the value for what they’ve paid. Own the software, control access to it, licence it to third party private sector companies, and simply send the licences by courier to the owners once pictures and fingerprints have been taken. The integrity in the process is maintained and there’s “something for the boys” on the back end.

This is 2013, only 7 years before we pretend to be disappointed when we don’t enter the elite league of the 20 most developed economies in the world. We cannot be a top 20 economy with a bottom 20 civil service – who do we think is supposed to drive and institutionalise the quantum leaps we need to make on this journey to the big league?

I truly apologise for the cynicism in this piece but we all know our country. This piece won’t even be a footnote in anyone’s consciousness in a week’s time.

3 thoughts on “The Nigerian Civil Service: Reforming the Unreformable

  1. Pingback: The Nigerian Civil Service: Reforming the Unreformable | YNaija OPINION

  2. I don’t think the issue is the size of the civil service tbh – there are a million non essential federal staff in the US for example. We have staff employed to do useless jobs and none in the roles that we need doing so the immigration office in ikoyi employs 6 people to stamp your form (at my last visit) but only two to take biometrics. System failure is built into the system. I agree that bringing in a more coherent contracting system for the private sector to deliver should help matters but the private sector in Nigeria sometimes is only marginally better than the public sector. Let me stop before my negative cynism gets worse 😦


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