Once again, Governor Nasiru Ahmed El-Rufai of Kaduna State has hit the nail on the head when he recently attributed governance failure to widespread incompetence among public servants. He made the remarks last week at a plenary session of the Nigerian Economic Summit. Although El-Rufai, like every other human being, could sometimes be wrong in some of his judgments or opinions, this writer finds him aptly right on this matter. Yes, he could also occasionally sound controversial; yet, you cannot deny the fact that he’s a brilliant, industrious and firm character who would not just give away his convictions because of some overt intimidations, sophisms or conspiracies that may be advanced by others to thwart his arguments. This is what actually makes him a leader who ‘walks his talk’.
The ‘accidental public servant’ must have spoken out of the practical experience he probably had from working with civil servants at the Bureau for Public Enterprise or as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. It’s not unlikely that the same experience is again playing out as he manages Kaduna State as its Governor. El-Rufai said “We need competent people in political and public service, but this is not the case in Nigeria and things will not work. Unless the best and brightest hands are in the political system, the outcome will be suboptimal and terrible”. He also affirmed seeing “a level of disconnect between the political and economic elite; saying. “We discovered that those in the economic class just want to do their business, make their money and live at Banana Island. But however strong your business is, without a functional political system and competent public service, that business will collapse.”
- Painful tales from Bida college that produced IBB, Abdulsalam, Vatsa, Sani Sami, others
- NIGERIA DAILY: Anambra decides
Now, let us discuss El-Rufai’s assertion further. Those who saw Nigeria’s old good days would recall that from the days of the native authority, provinces and regional governments up to the end of two decades after Nigeria’s independence, the public service at all the tiers of governance was reasonably organised, responsive, professional, less corrupt and impactful. Today, the story has completely changed. The public service is now full of workers who lack basic administrative skills needed to bring governance closer to people. How did we come to have such inefficient and unproductive workforce that is ‘infested’ with incompetent civil servants? How did this happen?
Shameless self-centredness, lack of patriotism, corruption, and collective irresponsibility all combined to account for the poor quality of public service; and by extension the failures we also see today in governance. Job racketeering, a common employment trend particularly in the public sector, is one strong infraction that has, in recent years, produced incompetent hands in the public service. While qualified candidates are hardly considered for the job they received its training even when they are lucky to be invited for interview, others who are neither qualified nor trained for the job get it, most often, without even appearing before any interview or screening panels. Recruitment process has completely been bastardised. Why, then, would the public service not become a home for incompetent workers? This unfortunate situation is unlikely to change if only ‘the connected’ instead of the competent would continue to get the jobs that are made for the most eligible and most qualified. The existing workforce in today’s public service in Nigeria is simply the case of round pegs in square holes.
Without mincing words, Nigeria shall continue to have incompetent workforce when notes from the ‘Ogas at the top’ do not cease from flying across recruitment panels in MDAs. This explains why you find a graduate of B. Sc. Accounting teaching mathematics in a secondary school while a graduate of B. Ed. Mathematics who was trained to teach the subject in schools is doing the work of an accountant at the Central Bank of Nigeria. This is also how you find a graduate of B. Sc. Petroleum Engineering teaching chemistry in a junior secondary school because he had no God-father to give him a note to find the job for which he was trained at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Similarly, a graduate of B. Ed. Physics who should be in the classroom teaching the subject had gone to fill the vacancy made for a Petroleum or Chemical Engineer at the NNPC because he/she had a note from the powers that be. In a country where getting employed in choice MDAs and public corporations are made to be the exclusive preserve of the children or wards of senators and Reps, ministers, commissioners, permanent secretaries, political party bigwigs and other VIPs; its workforce is bound to be incompetent, inefficient, indolent, and non-productive.
Another factor responsible for gross incompetence among workers today is that career progression is no longer earned. A worker in many MDAs get promoted to the next rank not by merit or by possessing higher professional skills but rather by the extent to which they can serve or protect the interest of their bosses. This means, a civil servant may fail to get promoted if he/she refuses to do the bidding of the ‘Ogas at the top’. On the other hand, incompetent hands who are prepared to remain ‘loyal’ to their superiors (even when such ‘loyalty’ contradicts extant civil service rules) would steadily rise to executive or management level of the public service without probably knowing, for instance, how to write a memo or even take minutes. This is what obtains today in many government establishments.
A situation where a worker would spend 10 or 15 years without going for any training does not support the building of an efficient workforce. The situation is further compounded by the poor quality of graduates many of whom, these days, are half-baked or even ‘quarter-baked’ if such an expression exists.
Governor El-Rufai already mentioned how incompetent workforce affects the country’s economy and indeed other aspects of nation-building including governance. Incompetent workforce means indecision or low-quality decisions, non-productivity, due-process subversion, administrative aberrations, mismanagement of human and material resources. It’s also a short-cut to liquidity of businesses and indeed governance failure.
To overcome the challenge of incompetent workforce, all the existing flaws in the public service as highlighted in the last few paragraphs must be sincerely addressed. We either do that or forget about building a prosperous nation. May Allah guide us to do that which will be for the common good of our country, amin.