Africans Must Not Neglect the Essence of the Public Service – Lanre Olagunju

Members of the elite group in Africa seem to be undermining the crucial role of the public and civil service and how it serves as a major backbone to nation building. The government institutions aren’t meant to be neglected or disregarded because they have failed over time. Every democracy that would record sustainable growth needs the active involvement of public institutions for policy formulation, policy realization, and also rule of law which is the basis for building structures for stable development and economic prosperity. Effective institutions should be seen as a pre-requisite for building a functional democracy.

It is sad that Africa has not been able to discover a leadership pattern that will birth its true development. When the Europeans came into Africa many years back, they came with the sole intention of exploring the land for things they could practically get. They were never really interested in the development of Africa or the well being of Africans. So their leadership pattern in every sense shouldn’t have been fully adopted without caution. Today Africa is yet to create a cultural identity that relates to its people and challenges of its territory.

Progressive nations understand the essential role of the public service in fine-tuning the visions of the political class. Unfortunately, the mode of selecting politicians and technocrats are faulty over here. So we keep getting it wrong from the basis. We forget that the public sector should play a leading role in driving a strong structure for change and developmental leadership.

When the British were in Nigeria, they lived in Government Residential Area, probably because they needed such space to think differently from the people they were exploiting, but sadly when they left and Nigerians started governance and administration, they followed suit. They forgot that motive has changed and therefore governance should. They forgot that public service like it sounds should essentially be about public servants who are willing to sacrifice and serve. So why the alienation! There shouldn’t be space between the leaders and the governed, why should public office holders be so far from reach of those they govern. Sadly, African youths are now feeling that the public service is no go area; that the elite group can do better with the private sector.

Unfortunately today, we’ve lost interest in public institutions and more attention has been placed on the political dimension of nation building. We place little or no attention to the quality of people in the public service and we feel that having a vibrant private sector will indeed entirely clean up the foundational and fundamental mess. Ideally people in public service should be people of integrity, character and competence.

The political class should envision a thing and then the civil service is expected to come up with ideas and strategies that should help in the actualisation of those dreams. But sadly, all that happen today in the civil and public service in many African nations is  about money sharing, contract allocation, gross corrupt practices, and of course absence of performance. Why would a Nigerian minister of aviation be so concerned with trivial issues such as the purchase of vehicles, when there are other pressing issues that’d result into better outcomes for the sector?

The public service must be doing well for the private sector to flourish. By saying doing well, I mean right policies must be implemented, disincentives put be in place for those who go against the law and incentives for those who do things right.  The right set of people must work in the right ministries and agencies.

Trying hard to make the private sector function well without a well structured public and civil service is a futile effort. The private sector has its role to play in economic development, but the truth is that even the bastion of capitalism in nations like the United States, got its public service right, which has helped in setting a stage for the development of the private sector.

African youths should get this straight and should start looking for ways to be  part of rebuilding the public service. All that is needed is character, competence and capacity. It is funny how we hope to do well with our private businesses in a country that isn’t doing well and then we complain of bottlenecks. It’s high time we faced some of our issues from their root.

Lanre Olagunju is an hydrologist turned freelance journalist.  An alumnus of the American College of Journalism. Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He is @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter.

Lanre writes on the essential recipes for rebuilding public service