Opinion

Public servants and the need for synergy

By Ikeogu Oke 

WHILE swearing in a former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP), former President Goodluck Jonathan noted that his predecessors – a former Chairman and Secretary of the task force – spent much of their tenure fighting each other.

As a former staff of the task force, I knew the former President’s observation was true. I also wondered why he did not seem to see the need to act quickly and end the wasteful friction between the two public servants he had appointed to the two topmost positions in one of the defining agencies of his administration set up to fast-track its all-important power reform.

And then I wondered if the former President was aware of how debilitating the frosty relationship between the two appointees was to the task force. That, barring a few uncompromising professionals in the task force, it foisted divided loyalty between both appointees on task force, depending on which of them the loyalist owed their engagement by the task force.

And that this created an example of the proverbial house divided against itself which, though it stood in the rare case of the task force, would have functioned more efficiently and productively if those two topmost bosses and their partisan loyalists worked amicably and in synergy, subsuming their egos and personal interests in the nation’s interest.

But this situation is by no means  restricted to the PTFP of that era preceding the swearing in of the said Chairman. And I mean the divisiveness of our public service arising from the inharmonious relationships of some of our public servants, especially those at the heads of MDAs, which their subordinates typically subscribe to, and which usually impacts negatively on the efficiency and productivity of the MDAs and by extension the country’s public service.

It is a pervasive phenomenon. The trend is that no sooner are Nigerian public servants appointed to office than they identify some other public servant – usually as a “rival” or in a “rival” MDA – against whom they contend in the discharge of their duties, creating a conflict between themselves and the MDAs they control, which inevitably undermines the efficiency of their service and those of their MDAs to the nation. So it is not unusual to hear that a certain public servant heading a certain MDA “does not see eye to eye” with some other public servant heading another MDA, which leaves one to wonder if they are not serving the same government or country; or if they are not rearing cattle for the same Alhaji, as one of my associates would rather put it.

Such antagonism may well owe its origin to paranoia. Yet its negative impacts can be profound, since the feuding parties virtually turn the public service into a divided house with predictable consequences for its stability and its smooth and efficient operation. In the worst case scenario, each tries to frustrate the other’s every effort, with the system bearing the brunt of the resultant hitches.

Surely, this attitude would need to change if the public service must realise its full potential. And it is in this context that I consider the recent visit of the Acting Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Dr. Vincent Onome Akpotaire, to the Director- General the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Mr. Aminu Diko, as a paradigm shift in the behaviour of our newly appointed public servants, and which deserves more than a passing interest, especially as he used the visit to solicit for closer ties between the two agencies of government in the service of our nation’s economy.

During the visit, which took place on March 1, 2016, the new BPE helmsman also stated that though both agencies have clearly defined roles, it was necessary for them to synergise and cooperate for the benefit of the infrastructure development programme and reforms of the federal government. And he went on to emphasise the need for both agencies to keep to the terms of their engagement in the interest of Nigerians.

What is more, he was reported to have decried the impression among some MDAs of a strained relationship between the agencies which has impacted negatively on their operations, noting that some MDAs have taken advantage of such imaginary friction to frustrate real effort at synergy, thereby undermining the nation’s infrastructural development and  economic growth.

Having also urged both agencies to collaborate in privatising all the enterprises listed in the BPE Act and called for every obstacle against the realisation of this goal to be dismantled, the new BPE helmsman stressed the need for both agencies to forge a strong bond, nurture communication, and remove the impression of a frosty relationship between them. He also called for both agencies to form Joint Project Advisory Teams (JPATs) and define the responsibilities of agencies that interface with them.

Now, it is apparent that what transpired between the heads of these two agencies was a public service equivalent of a diplomatic visit meant to foster improved working relations following the recent appointment of one of them.

The overture implied here is particularly significant given that both agencies could have overlapping interests and responsibilities, as suggested even by their names, and so their heads might be inclined to consider themselves as rivals like typical heads of such agencies in similar situations. But these two do not, but have shown preference for working as partners in progress, with Mr. Diko recognising the BPE as the main driver of the federal government’s reforms and privatisation programme whose activities have produced many agencies including the ICRC. And as he hinted while pledging his agency’s cooperation with the BPE, such synergy is likely to change the destiny of Nigeria rather than individuals.

•Oke writes from Lagos.

 

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