BusinessDay
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Neglect of automation in civil service leaves states exposed to coronavirus

As Nigerian states plan for weeks of economic and social upheaval ahead, those like Ekiti, Lagos, Kogi, Kaduna, and Kwara asking civil servants to work from home face a significant drop in productivity at a time when the lives of millions depend on their efficient delivery.

This could be the result of many years of failure to take serious steps in addressing the automation of the job of civil servants.

Following the confirmation of 6 new cases in Lagos on Sunday, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor asked all public officers from levels 1 to 12 (about 70 percent of the workforce) to stay at home for the next 2 weeks as a precaution against the spread of Coronavirus.

Kwara State followed Lagos lead almost immediately, asking all civil servants – except those in the Ministry of Health, to work from home.

This comes at a time when workers in the private sector are being asked to work remotely with their organisations relying on advanced technological equipment to monitor progress while at home ensuring that productivity does not suffer.

The spread of coronavirus globally has necessitated drastic measures to contain it. On Monday the federal government of Nigeria said it has confirmed 40 cases of people affected with the virus. Lagos has 28 cases, Abuja 7, Ogun 2, Ekiti 1, Edo 1 and Oyo 1.

As both the federal and state governments take measures including the ban of public gatherings, schools, and closure of all airports, they are likely to think triple hard before sending their workers home. This is basically for lack of technology tools that will aid their productivity and keep the states running while the workers are at home.

It is not just a public sector problem. According to a Hootsuite report in 2018, only 23 percent of Nigeria’s adult population make use of a desktop computer or a laptop while 9 percent own a tablet computer.

However while companies in the private sector are making frantic efforts to digitise their workforce, the state workers drag their feet.

Hence, rather than send their workers home, most states are merely providing preventive materials to staff like sanitizers while those who are sick or vulnerable are advised to stay away from work.

Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board, Nureni Adeniran, had distributed over 1,500 hand sanitizers to staff members and guests at the board.

“The truth is with the civil service I don’t think work can be done from home because there is still a lot of paperwork and they can’t move. Someone has to move them… maybe the service will have to be digital,” said a Lagos resident and creative designer who identifies himself simply as Sulyman.

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Ekiti which has recorded only one case of the coronavirus was the first state in the country to ask a part of its workforce to work from home. Kayode Fayemi, the state governor listed the non-essential workers in private and public sectors who should work from home to include civil and public servants from level 12 and below; except essential services like health workers, caregivers, social welfare officers, fire service officers, emergency response officers, and security guards and watchmen in public institutions.

But some commentators said the move could be counterproductive given that the majority of the civil servants lack basic computer skills and equipment to make working from home efficient.

“I served there (Ekiti state), sometimes I’m the only one in the office. After the first 2 months, I started going there once a week. Even once a week, I still come to work more than half the Secretariat,” said a former NYSC member who served in the state secretariat.

Ireke Samuel, CEO of Lawnigeria.com told BusinessDay that from visiting some of the federal civil services in recent times, the productivity levels are at an all-time low due to lack of investment in technology.

“The majority of them have no desktop to work with, much less a laptop at home,” he said.

Beyond laptops, the lack of a database in many of the states also means that the whereabouts of the civil servants are not accounted for. In some states, workers have log books where they write their names every morning they come to work. The records are kept in files locked up in rooms that have accumulated dust from lack of use.

The federal government has in recent times made efforts to automate the service by kicking off the 2017-2020 Federal Civil Service Strategy and Implementation Plan aimed at addressing the challenges and improving productivity, professionalism for efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery. The plan has yet to yield any significant fruits. The government has had to face opposition with its payroll imitative IPPIS.

Although it has taken other measures to contain the virus, the federal government was forced to declare homework on Monday. But how prepared is the government to the drop in productivity it is about to experience following the declaration?

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