• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Training public servants could bring back glory days of Nigeria’s public service

Training public servants could bring back glory days of Nigeria’s public service

The closing ceremony to honour the AIG Public Leaders Programme Class of 2021 was held on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja with little fanfare. I was honoured to host the event for the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation and observed the excitement of the 49 graduates.

Many shed tears of joy. All of them let out wide grins and clapped with palpable energy that communicated how thrilled they were to receive a transformative world-class leadership education over the previous six months from the University of Oxford, compliments of the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation

Naturally, I was happy for all of them. But as I learnt more about the AIG Public Leaders Programme, I realised that this relatively small event could be a milestone that signifies the transformation of the public sector in Nigeria, especially the Federal Civil Service, a body of government officials that has fallen from its glory years of the 1960s to the mid-1980s.

The AIG Public Leaders Programme is a unique executive training programme for selected Directorate level public servants at federal and state government ministries, agencies and parastatals. Applying synchronous and asynchronous methods, the programme teaches participants a range of leadership skills and practical tools that empower them be more effective leaders in their organisations.

Facilitated by the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, the curriculum addresses change management in the public sector, serving with and institutionalising integrity in public service, unbiased decision making, performance management, harnessing technology, and leadership.

All 49 graduates, comprising employees of federal and state government ministries, departments and agencies, are already applying the knowledge acquired through the programme. Several participants implemented initiatives to improve the performance of employees and the broader organisation.

There’s no doubt that performance and service delivery are among the major weaknesses of many public service institutions in Nigeria. These projects will therefore chip at the culture of poor service delivery in the public sector. Several other projects are efforts to digitise the services or operations of the establishment.

Some other projects are attempts to change the psyche of public servants from one that seeks financial gain to one where workers are intrinsically motivated to serve. It’s exciting to see how Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, a former banker turned philanthropist, is making an incredible impact on the civil service.

I saw further evidence of this impact during my conversation with one of the graduates. Husseni Shaibu, a deputy director and acting head of the dance department at National Troupe of Nigeria. He works for an agency of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. Husseni was so excited to speak about how the programme has transformed his life.

As part of the programme, he created an auditable performance appraisal system that replaced a less objective and ineffective annual appraisal system at his organisation. He was able to identify job promotion as a major motivating factor for performance at the establishment and created a performance tracking framework that captured this motivation.

Using simple and freely available technology such as Google Forms, a free survey administration software, he was able to achieve his goal of improving the performance of the 104 staff at the National Troup of Nigeria. He said the early outcomes of the system include reducing absenteeism and lateness at the organisation.

It was thrilling to hear first-hand how one beneficiary of the programme was already making tangible impact. However, what was more exciting was how he articulated the knowledge he had received from the AIG Public Leaders Programme. I was convinced that, given the opportunity, he could make similar impact by managing other projects in another government agency.

Many have spoken about how, in the glory years, Nigeria’s public servants were motivated to make a difference.

However, years of inadequate training and bad examples had caused a shift in the culture towards one of greed and selfishness. I believe Husseini and other members of his class radiate the type of energy that you hope to see in change agents. He spoke about how they had been taught how to speak truth to power, harness technology and to avoid pitfalls in decision making. He spoke like someone ready to take up a challenge.

Read also: Public office not for wealth accumulation – Osinbajo

I believe that the AIG programme class of 2021 are truly motivated and prepared to make a difference in the public service space. The selection process has successfully identified the people with the character and drive to use the training that they have received to change the organisations they work for.

I believe the next steps to harness the value of the programme should include the formation of partnerships that are ready to support these change agents financially as they set out to transform the organisations they work for.

Considering the limited resources of ministries, departments and agencies, NGOs should work with the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation to identify their needs and provide financial and other support. There should also be a deliberate effort to scale the programme so that more workers in the public service across the Federal, State and Local governments can be enrolled.

Additionally, more philanthropic organisation that seek to make an impact in areas that involve the various tiers of government should consider committing resources to the programme.

At £11,500 per candidate, the programme for the class of 2021 is not cheap but offers greater value in the impact those candidates can make in the turnaround of the institutions they lead now or in the future.

Thankfully, according to the Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation, up to 100 participants are expected to be shortlisted for the programme this year in the ongoing application cycle which closes April 7. The focus of the programme is also expanding to the rest of the African continent to address the training needs of the public sector in other countries.

In conclusion, Nigeria needs the graduates of the AIG Programme Class of 2021 to stay the course to drive change in the public service. If they are able to do so, I am confident that the impact of this programme will begin to shift the narrative about the civil service across Nigeria and the broader African continent.

Famurewa is an business news anchor at CNBC Africa