Sustaining public sector effectiveness and enhancing the morale of public servants during economic crisis could be a very daunting task for many leaders in Africa. Faced with competing demands for resources, governments often haveto perform a delicate balancing act in resource allocation among the various sectors.
The dilemma that arises in choosing whether to fund infrastructure and other visible deliverables or allocate resources to public service training is well known to our budget managers in government. But the centrality of public sector workers in the implementation of government policies and programmes is never in doubt. Some Nigerians have also recognized that civil servants must receive the required trainings, exposure, and skills upgrade to operate at optimum level. One of those Nigerians is Aigboje Aig-Imoukhude, who together with his wife, Ofovwe, established a Foundation, which amongst other activities, provides training for senior public servants, preparing them for higher responsibilities.
The Aig-Imoukhuede Foundation is a public sector-focused philanthropic organisation that seeks to improve the lives of Africans through transformed public-service delivery and improved access to quality primary healthcare. The Foundation’s programmes and initiatives are focused on supporting the development of a more effective public sector.
As Mr Aig-Imoukhuede has said, leadership transformation lies at the heart of broader public sector transformation, and so the Foundation is focused on offering programmes that build the capacity of civil servants and other public sector officials. In addition to offering scholarships to public servants to undertake a master’s degree in Public Policy at the University of Oxford, the foundation has created its flagship executive education programme, the AIG Public Leaders Programme (AIG PLP), also delivered in partnership with the University of Oxford, that develops transformative public sector leaders who can drive change in the institutions they lead.
The AIG PLP is a unique executive programme that affords high-potential Nigerian public servants an opportunity to strengthen the skills they need to build cultures of excellence, effectiveness and integrity throughout the institutions they lead. The programme aims to broaden participant’s public leadership skills and provide them with conceptual and practical tools needed to meet the challenges of leading in the public service in an increasingly complex and changing world.
After a rigorous multistage selection process, the inaugural class (Class of 2021) of the programme commenced in September 2021, with 49 participants from across the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, working in different government ministries, departments, and agencies. The programme curriculum is set around six core themes that are mapped out to significantly harness the skills of its participants. They are: Governing in times of challenge and change; Integrity; The pitfalls in decision making; Strengthening organisations; Harnessing technology and Leadership.
Aftercompleting five weeks of intense classroom work, participants were required to develop projects, ideas or initiatives that would have transformational impact in their workplaces in particular and the public service in general. All the 49 programme participants successfully developed and implemented projects in their institutions, with long ranging implications for improved productivity, effectiveness, and service delivery across the public sector. It is amazing how these ideas and initiatives, developed from what they learned in the classroom, have created so much impacts in the various departments where they work. Each participant’s project defined the problems in their workplace; the initiative or intervention expected to address the problems steps taken to tackle the challenges and the results achieved. Take the case of Abdullahi Ali Buhari, a deputy director in the Human Resources Dept of NDIC. After attending the programme, he designed and implemented an automated short message service for employee payroll payment notification. This serviceenhances effective payroll payment system communication through which employees are advised of their compensation and benefits entitlements at every point of payment before it gets to the bank.
Poor internal communication is a major problem in the public service, and it’s a challenge Ada Phil-Ugochukwu is veryfamiliar with. After attending the course, Ada led a team that designed measures to address systemic weakness in internal communication in her organization. Her initiatives include creation of a shared online corporate activity calendar; distribution of post event communiqué to staffs; bi-annual staff pulse check to obtain feedback, etc. To mitigate and overcome bias against management, corporate decisions are made collectively, communicated timely and clearly to the right persons and through the right channels.
Improving technical competencies of his team was Adedayo Adereti’s major goal before he was admitted for the programme. A Chemical Engineer at Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, Adereti returned to Lagos empowered to address his concerns. He conducted capacity needs assessment of his staff and training opportunities were identified. He also collaborated with the Ministry of Establishment & Training and relevant training organizations to generate adequate funding for his team.
Other impactful ideas generated by the participants centred on improving work habits of public servants through extrinsic and intrinsic motivation; unsuitable manual filing of accounts; improving organizational effectiveness through digitization and application of auditable performance appraisal system to enhance workplace productivity. I am particularly fascinated by Chinenye Ekwealor’s initiative on Improvement of evidence-based decision-making through implementation of an improved KPI monitoring process at her department at NAFDAC. Monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) in her department was inefficient because it only monitored a portion of the laboratory’s overall testing process. furthermore, heads of various lab units confirmed their inability to use the KPI monitoring procedure to accurately assess their units’ overall performance. But Chinenye was able to apply the theory she learned at the AIG PL Programme to improve the laboratory’s KPI monitoring, reporting and review process through the development of a new protocol and KPI dashboard, allowing for a faster, visual and more accurate assessment of the lab’s performance against specified performance targets.
Clearly, the impacts of the various projects undertaken by these 49 participants of the programme have been felt at the various organizations they work for. The compound benefits of the programme will come over time as more and more civil servants pass through the programme. The graduates are returning to their work with enhanced problem-solving skills and job satisfaction and improved self esteem that comes with it. My expectation is that with consistent implementation of this programme over the next several years, a critical mass of public service icons would have emerged to drive the change we all need. I should also suggest that this programme be extended to our politicians, especially those who are occupying leadership positions. Most of them just don’t have the requisite exposure and skills for the positions they occupy.
The Foundation is currently receiving applications for the next cycle and will welcome applications from public servants across the different African countries who want to strengthen the skills they require to be effective in their roles and to enhance their career.
* Etim, a journalist and retired banker, lives in Abuja