Across the world, countries have embarked on a quest to ensure that they are able to deliver public goods and services to their citizenry. This is at the core of the social contract that foregrounds the relationship between the state and society. Achieving this task is largely dependent on the public and civil service which remain the engine room of the public sector.
In the case of Nigeria, since gaining independence in 1960, the public and civil service has continued to play pertinent roles in ensuring the functionality of the Nigerian state. Plagued with several challenges, such as corruption, red-tapism, bureaucratic bottlenecks, underfunding, and unprofessionalism in some instances, to mention a few, the quality of the public and civil service has declined over the years.
Several attempts have since been made by previous administrations to reposition the public and civil service towards ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in public service delivery. These efforts have mostly focused on the need for reforms, including the re-organisation of public institutions at the federal level, as evidenced through the recommendations of the Oronsaye report, shortly after Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, heralding the commencement of its 4th Republic. However, these efforts tend to neglect the critical drivers of these supposed reforms – Nigeria’s public and civil servants.
The state’s structures and institutions which are required to deliver public goods, do not work outside the purview of individuals who collectively remain vital to their efficacy. This fundamental understanding is at the heart of the AIG Public Leaders Programme (PLP). An initiative run by the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation, in partnership with the Blavatnik School of Government (BSG), University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
Founded by Aigboje and Ofovwe Aig-Imoukhuede, the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation, is a public sector-focused philanthropic organisation with the goal of improving the lives of Africans through transformed public-service delivery and access to quality healthcare. The BSG which remains committed to leadership and public policy education is reputed as a global school with a vision of a world that is better led, better served, and better governed.
Now in its second year, the PLP brings together public and civil servants from across Nigeria to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for two separate intensive residential weeks. Prior to this, participants undergo a competitive screening and selection process.
Part of which includes having at least 7 years of professional experience in the public or civil service and not exceeding 51 years of age. It is pertinent to also note that those selected are not limited to public and civil servants at the federal level but includes those at the state level as well.
Successful applicants are then invited to participate in the programme itself which lasts for a total of six months, beginning with four days of online classes delivered by leading scholars from the BSG, with the support of Teaching Assistants (TAs). Following this, participants embark on a four-week self-paced asynchronous learning journey through an online learning platform.
During this time, the TAs are always available to answer questions in addition to monitoring the progress of the participants. Participants also benefit from the expertise of practitioners who are invited to speak to them during the programme.
This is in addition to acquiring a range of vital leadership skills, conceptual frameworks, and practical tools. Put together, this knowledge and life-transforming experience empowers them to lead their organisations in challenging times, characterised by today’s increasingly complex and dynamic world.
Some of the courses taught include organisational effectiveness, harnessing digital technology, integrity in public life, and decision-making under pressure. As of the time of writing, the call for applications for the third cohort of the PLP is ongoing.
A distinguishing feature of the PLP is the individual capstone projects embarked upon by the participants which draw on either one or a combination of the courses taught during the learning sessions. Participants are given a four-month period to work on their projects during which they are expected to get the buy-in of their immediate supervisors or line managers and by extension the management of their organisations.
It is expected that these projects which address specific issues are implemented within their units or departments with the potential of scaling them up in the future. An example of one such capstone project from the first cohort which sought to address the challenges with the lag in the timely operations and delivery of services across the 33 branches of the National Library of Nigeria through the adoption of technologically driven processes.
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As a result, the purchase of 50 computers and multipurpose printers, scanners and copiers was made by the management and distributed to various relevant departments across these branches. The impact has since been an improvement in operations and delivery of services.
Similarly, the creation of a Dossier Management System (DMS) by a participant in the second cohort has helped to improve the regularity processes of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
During the four-month period, participants also benefit from the regular check-ins of the TAs who offer clarity and guidance where needed. At the second residential week in Abuja, participants in the PLP present among themselves in small groups and then select a project which is presented to a Panel of Judges drawn from the private and public sectors, on behalf of each group. They are also awarded certificates of participation at a graduation ceremony, formally marking their affiliation with the University of Oxford.
As Nigeria prepares to usher in a new administration, following its recently concluded general elections, the public and civil would remain critical engine rooms in public service delivery. The promise of a functional public sector that guarantees shared prosperity for citizens is only made possible through a strengthened public and civil service. Given its remarkable success and impact in such a short time, the PLP is poised to play a central role in helping to achieve this.
Aina is a leadership and international development policy expert who is an alumnus of the University of Oxford where he obtained a second master’s degree in African Studies. He recently completed his doctoral studies in Leadership Studies at the African Leadership Centre, King’s College London