• Thursday, April 25, 2024
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We are making Odigie-Oyegun Academy Africa’s centre for public service knowledge- Ajoonu

Edo: Our plan is to make JOOPSA learning destination for public sector- DG

Precious Imuwahen Ajoonu is the pioneer managing director of the John Odigie-Oyegun Public Service Academy, a brainchild of Governor Godwin Obaseki to boost the skills of workers in the Edo state civil and public service. In this interview with Churchill Okoro, she speaks about the journey so far since inception of the Academy in 2022, factors confronting the capacity of public service institutions to deliver better outputs, among others key issues. Excerpts:

What is the John Odigie-Oyegun Public Service Academy (JOOPSA) about?

We were set up as a source of training for the civil and public service in Edo State. Godwin Obaseki, the Edo State governor, recognises the civil and public service as the engine room of government. For example, if you want to drive a car and the engine is not working, it is impossible for the car to run.

For the governor, it is about how to strengthen the civil and public service institutions. How do we ensure we go back to the days where we had people who their peers called super permanent secretaries. How do we go back to the days where the service attracted some of the best talents globally? So, all that thinking formed the setting up of this institution to be the human capacity and intellectual resource arm of government.

In designing this academy, we considered what should be our niche. In thinking about our niche, we had to think about the problem we are trying to solve. Our focus is to strengthen public service institutions through capacity building. We want to be the skills agency for the government. However, we also recognise that certificates are useful, so what we have done is partner with some existing institutions and then link with certificate awarding bodies. An example is the project management institute that will soon be in Edo, to offer training and certification through the John Odigie-Oyegun Public Service Academy.

At the academy, our focus is on upskilling, making sure that our people have the required skills to be able to deliver value to the government and citizens at large.

Why does the public service in Nigeria consistently perform below the private sector?

There are so many different reasons. I am lucky to have worked with the private sector and I have now joined the public sector. Coming from the private sector, where every three months, there is a performance-driven culture; every three months I knew that I would be appraised and I would get a bonus whenever I outperform. It meant there was something to look forward to.

Then I also know that if I don’t work optimally, the company is at liberty to terminate my employment. So, those checks and balances, specifically building a high performance culture in the private sector, helps.

But, in the public sector, over time, there seems to be some sort of neglect, especially by our political class. In public service, a young person will be thinking how much he will be earning if he moves there. What are the wages? What opportunities are exposed to him or her? Who will be his peers? The advantage that the private sector workforce has over the public sector is skills, and those are some of the things we want to change with this academy.

The advantage that the private sector workforce has over the public sector is skills, and those are some of the things we want to change with this academy

Why does the public service struggle to attract more talented young Nigerians?

Young people, by default, are aspirational. They have dreams and hopes that must be met. The first question you will ask as a young person is, are the wages you are paid as a public sector worker enough to manage your aspirations?

The other thing is, what kind of opportunities will I have on this job, am I going to be trained? Am I going to be static after two to three years? Most people think the private sector is not worth leaving to work in the public sector where they might not even grow. The thought of not seeing themselves owning a home by the time they retire is another factor. These are important things young people put into consideration.

Why does the public service fail to propel workers’ development?

Getting the relevant skill sets required to do the job is a crucial factor. There is so much capacity decline that has happened over the years due to neglect. Training is so important. We live in very exciting times; we had COVID-19 pandemic disruptions, we are living in a world of uncertainty where agile thinking is required. So, if you are not upskilling and retooling the civil and public service like we are doing at the moment, there will be some challenges.

Is the Nigerian public service fit for purpose?

The Nigerian civil service is responsible for policy formulation whilst the public service focuses on the implementation of those policies and programmes of government.

The public service institution in Nigeria today is not fit for purpose. Over the years, from the military era to civil rule, there has been interference by various leaders that has compromised the institution. From skills gaps to poor recruitment practices, the engine room of government, like Governor Obaseki calls it, has been grossly ineffective in organizing itself or advising political leaders.

Can you give an example of a country that has the right model for attracting good talents and sustaining high performance ?

I think the Singapore and Australia models work. If you look at these countries, you would see that they are doing a lot of things right as regards their public service and it shows how they govern their people and how much peace and prosperity they enjoy.

In fact, in setting up the John Odigie-Oyegun Public Service Academy, some of the things we looked at are the things they are doing in Australia and Singapore. These are proper payment of public servants; giving them enough incentives to make them stay, upskilling, retooling them and making sure they have cutting-edge technology required to get the job done.

How can Nigeria change the narrative of the civil service?

Just like the governor says, the first thing is to recognise the civil and public service as the engine room of government. We all know that it is the civil and public service that remains through all the government transitions. So, if you have weak civil or public service institutions, you will find that the country will struggle.

We need to go back to the days where we had permanent secretaries who understood policy making, strategic thinking and could advise government and politicians. One of the ways to do that is through capacity building but there is a lot more to it. You will need to look at the employee value propositions. What is our image and what are we selling? How do we get young ones to buy into it ? So, we need to have the right value prepositions in terms of wages, work culture, technology and upskilling our workforce.

It is the civil and public service that remains through all the government transitions. So, if you have weak civil or public service institutions, you will find that the country will struggle

Read also: How lubricant business of Nigeria’s biggest downstream firms fared in 2022

How has Edo fared so far?

Last year, we trained over 1,000 workers; from permanent secretaries to different grade levels. We took courses around critical thinking, effective communication and memo writing. We are very focused on public service fundamentals. We want to close the skill gaps by going back to the basis, teaching people things like government as a service. In the past one year, we have done quite well.

Since the inception of this academy, what has changed in the public service space?

The idea that we can use technology to change a lot of things. For example in Edo, we have what we call E-governance, where all memos and minutes will go through an electronic portal and our turnaround time is 48 hours. So, it means you should not have any file on your table in Edo for more than 48 hours.

That is the new behavior we are bringing. Last year, we also held some digital tests for some intending judges in Edo State.

One of the things we decided after that assessment is that we are going to set up digital labs in John Odigie-Oyegun Public Service Academy, where people can come during their break time and learn how to use the computer. We still have people in our workforce who are not computer literate, so the whole idea is to change the behavior.

When you introduce the digital system, it makes government transparent, it makes government more accessible to the people and we have already seen that transition from being analogue to digital governance which is the future and where we are headed.

We started training in July, last year and, this year, we have a mandate to train 10,000 civil and public servants. We will be training them in public service fundamentals, introduction to public policy, policy development, negotiation skills, presentation skills, storytelling and digital skills.

Can you give an estimate of the amount so far spent to train civil, public servants since the Academy came on board?

It is public record. Last year, we had a budget of N20 million to be able to do what we did. I don’t know if this year’s own has been made public but if it has, it is there and you will see what we will use to train 10,000 people.

What is your target over the next decade?

As a pioneer managing director, the first thing I want to see happen is to have a law establishing this academy. We have a draft bill towards the law and we expect by the next quarter, around April, it should have gone through the governor to cabinet members and then the house of assembly.

Another thing is capacity. If you look at our size, at full capacity, we can only handle 1,000 people taking training at the same time. We have a workforce of over 30,000 people, and it means that we are already space constrained. So, we want to be able to expand in five years so that we can cater to more people and other sub-nationals. We want people to come from elsewhere tolearn in Edo.

We want to be the center for public service knowledge. So, whether you are in the public or private sector and you are looking to learn about government, your thinking should be to come to this academy from anywhere in Africa.

We are going to leverage technology and we hope that in five years time, we will have a learning management system where you can log on from anywhere. This is very important to us, especially when it comes to boosting inclusion because we do realise that we are in Benin City physically but we have workers across all local government areas. So that when I am in Igueben or Ekpoma I should be able to log on to my class without necessarily coming to Benin City. It reduces cost for governance and it is more efficient.

Before we set up our learning management system, we already have a one year subscription for zoom and, starting next week, we are going to be piloting zoom classes where you log on to learn from resource persons teaching and facilitating as part of our adjunct faculty. We want to be able to not just have the best content, we want to attract the best faculty. So, our adjunct faculty will be made up of some of the best public service professionals from across the world but specifically Nigeria. People who are working with us to ensure that we are taking the engine room of the government from where it is now to where it can accelerate and then move full throttle.