“Public institutions in Nigeria have increased enormously over the years, but the quality of services they provide have declined. Duplication of statutory functions between public institutions with no added value contributes significantly to the expansion of public institutions. Government often attempts to cover all areas of development programmes to move with the increasing expectations of the people, but compounding issues is the fact that Nigeria’s public service is largely faced with continual capacity constraints. These constraints hinder the delivery of complementary services to the emerging private sector and achievement of national development agenda. In this article I shared my thoughts on the current capacity of public service in Nigeria and areas human resource management can increase performance of public service.
It is popular in Nigeria that public service is dysfunctional. This has been attributed to long years of reform deficit and neglect. As a former British colony, Nigeria inherited a public service from the colonial service. With the historical British foundation of independent, non-partisan and meritocratic administrative mechanisms that were evident in the root and branch of colonial administrative system, it would be improbable to allude Nigeria’s dysfunctional public service and the structure that feeds venal mandarins to the bequeathment of colonial service.
The military regimes were rather slack about keeping to meritocracy, excellence and high performance in the public service. It is a popular view that the failure of merit and excellence in Nigeria’s public service is attributable to Murtala-Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida regimes- for example, Murtala-Obasanjo compulsory retirement of public servants in the mid-1970s, and Ibrahim Babangida’s Civil Service Reform Decree No. 43 of 1988. Also, the Structural Adjustment Programme in the late 1980s was part of this story- it killed motivation, skills and spirits of public servants with its deteriorating effects on pay and fringe benefits relative to the cost of living. As Nigeria transited to democracy the capacity of public service remained an old wine in a new bottle.
However, public servants cannot be exonerated from the decay of public service. It is easier for public servants to reproach their political leaders for the failures than to take responsibilities. The inability of public servants to embrace the right attitude to work, or update themselves with the job skills, know-how and technology contributes to the messy state of affairs in the public service. Public servants have imbibed a stove-piping bureaucratic mentality that forestalls efforts of any high-flying mandarin. This mentality yields a short-run vision, egocentric policy formulation and weak programme implementation. Thus public institutions are better prepared to pursue individual interests than to align themselves with the nation’s development objectives and systems that sustain them.
Though steps had been taken in the past to reform the public service, those reforms had deformities, particularly in the human resource functions, with attendant consequences.
Human resources are lifeblood of public service. The capacity of public service is critical for the achievement and sustainability of Nigeria’s development agenda. High performance of public servants is imperative, but human resource management is sacrosanct. The question now is how can the public service perform high through human resource management?
Firstly, as human resource management is all encompassing, ranging from personnel administration to human resource strategy development and leadership, it should be streamlined into the structure of public sector institutions and aligned with the transformation agenda, particularly in decision-making processes. This will improve the public service as human resources are bequeathed with discretionary power of decision-making and as such possess a competitive advantage over the other resources like capital, technology, etc.
Secondly, as human resource management deals with the management of issues and concerns of the people within the public service, it should be taken as a key management function and tool for discovering and utilizing untapped human potentials in the public service; hence placing public servants at vantage positions as value creators and change agents.
Thirdly, as human resource management is concerned with the development of policies and systems for performing wide-ranging functions, ranging from providing benefits and compensation to other personnel services, it should be linked with the strategic management process of public service. This will give room to attract highly talented and motivated individuals, and retain high-fliers who would have exited due to frustration”. Chukwuma Okonkwo-Abuja, Nigeria