Time to Improve

If the many issues and concerns that have been highlighted and reiterated…are well considered, comprehensively engaged and tackled, both at the institutional level and that of the political leadership that motivates its processes, I have no doubt that the Nigerian Civil Service is still uniquely positioned to deliver on and deepen a culture of public service delivery…


The Context of Civil Service In Nigeria

The Nigerian Civil Service has its roots in the colonial public service institutions that existed in the territories that later came to be known as Nigeria, from the earlier Colony of Lagos, to the Northern and Southern Protectorates. The amalgamation of these vast swathes of territory, first of the Colony of Lagos into the Southern Protectorate in 1906, and the subsequent unification of the two protectorates of the North and South led to the formation of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.

The colonial public service was essentially a service structure devoted to the functioning and preservation of law and order in the then imperial outpost, whilst serving enabling the (largely exploitative) economic activities of the British Empire during one of its high seasons of commerce and trade in areas that became ultimately drawn into the administrative compact of nationhood.

The establishment of a government and service structure was an imperative for the British in the aftermath of the establishment of the Colony of Lagos in 1862. The British set up their governing structure in two cadres: a management cadre including a governor, chief magistrate, colonial secretary, and military functionaries. Subordinate positions such as those of a private secretary, auditors, accounts clerks, collector of customs, registrar, judge and jailer, etc., supported the management cadre.

By 1906, the setting up of institutions for the maintenance of law and order compelled the creation of divisions, including those of the judiciary, police, prisons, works, ports and telegraph, and customs, etc. These attracted different levels of personnel as officials of the Crown, before the founding of a more deliberate structure coming with the 1914 merger of the Northern and Southern Protectorates.

With roots in the workings of Empire, the earlier structure operated the colonial logic of seeking and protecting trade, through its routes and personnel, between the hinterlands and departure points for goods in the coastal cities, while deriving revenues for the running of the local British administration in the process. This necessitated the founding of an official hierarchy comprising the Governor-General, who reported to the Colonial Secretary in London, who, in turn, was accountable to the British Cabinet and Parliament.

The public service delivery culture of the period had the Governor-General working through the Chief Secretary, who was the actual head of the civil service, overseeing the departmental and political administrative divisions, which were run by district commissioners, residents and other field officers. The technical and professional level included departments such as education, health, public works, agriculture, forestry, treasury, audit, etc.

Driven basically by the colonial rationale of setting up administrative convenience for its activities, it has been generally observed across much of the scholarship on early public administration that the British, rather unfortunately, imposed a unified civil service structure on the vastly nuanced territories of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria, with scant regard for local acceptability or durability. And this was equally without much consideration for the idiosyncrasies and differences across the fairly complex customary systems, values and authority structures of traditional societies.

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Observed transitions in the service delivery mandate of the Civil Service in the periods preceding Independence reflected disharmony, motivated to a significant degree by prevailing political ferment, the groundswell of anti-colonial sentiments, internecine struggles among a local elite eager to take on the reins of leadership and the widespread movement towards decolonisation that ensued.

The Transition to a Citizen-Centred Service Delivery Culture

As a formal organisation with a transformed notion of identity, the Nigerian Civil Service could be said to have come into existence around 1954, as a culmination of efforts geared towards the redefinition of the purpose of the Service, in line with the need to deliver public service to and cater to the welfare of Nigerians.

According to Olaopa (2014), between 1934 and 1954, about seven commissions and committees deliberated on the necessity of a transition in the mandate of the civil service, from the Hunt Committee of 1934, the Bridges Committee of 1942, and the Tudor-Davies Commission (1945), to the Harragin Commission (1946). There were also the Smaller Commission of 1946, the Foot Commission (1948), and the Phillipson-Adebo Commission (1953).

Crucial to the demands for a shift in the delivery orientation was the advent of the Nigerianisation policy, seeking to make the Civil Service more responsive to serving the interests and needs of Nigerians in a primary and wholesome manner. The service was located at the core of the Nigerianisation policy, “Nigerianisation of the Civil Service implying the reduction and ultimately the ending of expatriate predominance in the higher levels of the Civil Service” (Skewat, 2002).

In that period, the process of repurposing the Service was geared towards making it an institution vital to policy formulation and implementation, with the objective of improving the lot and ultimately creating life-enhancing benefits for the generality of the Nigerian people. It was strongly considered a vehicle for driving development, and having the Nigerian at the centre of its operations, to enable social and economic progress, and the growth of infrastructure that caters to the needs of the people of the country.

As such, the development of local capacity was critical for an effective transfer of responsibilities from the colonists to Nigerians, and the Foot Commission of 1948 sought systemic trainings, through the inauguration of scholarships, to facilitate the building of capabilities needed for the Nigerian take-over of senior posts in the Service. This was alongside advocating that, thereafter, non-Nigerians should not be considered for positions for which locals were likewise qualified.

Equally, the Phillipson-Adebo Commission of 1952 – in its report published in 1954, due to delays occasioned by the 1953 Constitutional Conference in Lagos – also recommended that non-Nigerians were not to be appointed into pensionable posts and contracts, if suitably qualified Nigerians were available, etc.

While the Nigerianisation policy mainstreamed the basis for a service delivery culture that could be considered as citizen-centred into the Civil Service, as a marked departure from the colonial logic of serving the needs of the British Empire, it soon ran into problems, triggering a host of reform efforts that have ensued through the decades.

Sekwat (2002), citing Owulu, Otobo and Otokoni (1997), reports that “By the time the commission submitted its report two years later, the 1954 constitution had declared Nigeria as a federation, thus shifting attention from issues and concerns about Nigerianisation to regionalisation of the country’s civil service.” Hence, rather than building an institution that would respond to a national framework of needs and expectations, the seeds of fragmentation were sown as the service appeared to pander to the pull of local identity politics, framed in terms of a drift towards regionalisation.

Following the Phillipson and Adebo Commission, the coming of the Gorsuch Commission of 1955 took the reform of the civil service a notch further by setting in motion the process of dismantling the hierarchical basis of differentiation between the ‘generalists’ and the ‘professionals’ in the Service, as this had fossilised from the early colonial times. As such, the Gorsuch Commission is credited with erecting the foundation for the professionalisation of the Civil Service.

With the reform process of the Newns Commission of 1959, a Westminster model of organisation was established, having a ministerial structure that integrated all the various departments into a newer form of arrangement. From this also evolved the position of the minister as the overall political head, and the post of the permanent secretary, who ran the bureaucracy on a day-to-day basis. The minister led the policy formulation efforts and relied on the permanent secretary – and his team – for execution, alongside serving as a solutions provider to the ministry.

In order to resolve the challenges to a citizen-centred service delivery practice, several reform attempts were made to the Civil Service, across almost all the post-independence governments, which attempted one form of transformation or the other to enhance the skills and integrity of civil servants, while boosting the overall performance of the service.

Among a host of endeavours in this regard, the major reform efforts comprised the Elwood Grading Team of 1966, the Adebo Commission of 1970, the Public Service Review Commission of 1974 (otherwise well-known as the Udoji Commission), and the Allison Ayida Commission of 1994. While many of these undertakings shared the objective of creating “an accountable, transparent and responsive civil service” in which the efficiency, effectiveness and capacity of civil servants were top notch and tuned to high quality public service delivery, they did not succeed largely due to a number of reasons. Key among these was the lack of political will and commitment among the various governments to the full implementation of the recommendations of the different panels.

…it is crucial to note that beyond the political leadership, the civil service – as the engine room of government in its different iterations – is the institution with the most significant and direct impact on the life of the Nigerian citizen, and the promotion of his or her welfare, or lack thereof.


Whilst the Udoji Commission is possibly regarded as the most renowned of these efforts and the boldest in terms of initiatives, the government implemented only a fraction of its recommendations, mainly in terms of wage increases, which is at the heart of its popularity among civil servants in the early 1970s. Other aspects, including the aspiration towards new public management techniques, such as Management By Objectives (MBO) and Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS), etc., were either ignored or only partially executed.

The Ayida Commission, for its part, attempted to engage with the pervasive discontent and low level of morale in the service in its review, even though its main proposals – including the repeal of military decrees that allowed for the summary dismissal of civil servants without due process, which had been adopted in the government’s white paper released in 1997, were only partly executed.

The Nigerian Citizen and Public Service Delivery

Providing for the Nigerian citizen and ensuring his or her welfare is certainly the fundamental purpose of government and this is a responsibility it bears across all its levels, tiers, organs, institutions, agencies and departments. This obligation to citizens is, more so, primarily enshrined in the document articulating the basis of our social compact as a nation – the Nigerian Constitution, in its past and present renditions.

It is an essence brought into clear focus in Section 14 2(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, where it is proclaimed that, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” This notion of “welfare” referred to in the body of legislation situates the Nigerian as the raison d’être of government, which actions must be fundamentally directed towards the promotion of the wellbeing of the citizen, upon whom its legitimacy rests.

Against this backdrop, it is crucial to note that beyond the political leadership, the civil service – as the engine room of government in its different iterations – is the institution with the most significant and direct impact on the life of the Nigerian citizen, and the promotion of his or her welfare, or lack thereof. It is the institution vested with the primary responsibility for implementing and coordinating the actions and activities of government, in a manner that bears consequence to the Nigerian.

As corollary to the foregoing, it is important to emphasise that the essence of public service delivery is entails the creation of the basis for citizens’ experience of the fruits of governance, in a way that should gratify needs and have positive impact on individuals, in addition to enhancing their wellbeing.

The more positive outcomes individuals experience as a result of public service delivery, the more trust and respect they would repose in the provider. Hence, there is a strong interconnectedness between service delivery, the institutions mandated to execute this (in this case, the Nigerian Civil Service) and the legitimacy consequently conferred on governments by citizens.

While not necessarily bearing the most responsibility for the state of national affairs in which a deep-seated anomie has become attendant to public service delivery in Nigeria, the Civil Service has played a part in bringing about this state of affairs by yielding to and mirroring the society in which it functions. Despite its own systemic conundrums and challenges, the Civil Service is traditionally considered as the ‘deep government’, whose base transcends those of political platforms and actors. It is conceived of as the repository of the skills and competencies that drive society forward and the bulwark delimiting the damage done by politicians.

It seems reasonable to argue that the Nigerian Civil Service cannot be said to have kept faith with the sacred mandate of serving as the deep government, able to proficiently rein in the tide of social dysfunction. Its own issues are legion and well documented, and have inspired some of the reform efforts highlighted in the foregoing, efforts which sought to enhance the Service’s capacity for high-quality public service delivery.

Consistent with the norm in most jurisdictions across the world, the public sector in Nigeria is the largest service provider in the country. Any incremental improvement in the quality of its service will impact vast segments of the population. As such, there is the need for the Civil Service to innovate and implement new models of service delivery – in renewed reform processes, which would be more appropriately citizen-centred. Oosterom [Public Sector Research Centre (PSRC), 2016] aptly puts it thus:

While the public sector does not choose its customers, the fact that it is required to service them and their diverse requirements is another factor driving the need for new service delivery models. (p. 2).

Issues affecting public service delivery, which are compounded by such established concerns relating to the failure of political leadership and corruption, include persistent budgetary constraints as well as changing demographics and customer expectations that have yet to be properly understood. Half-hearted public sector reform programmes (already alluded to), the reversals suffered from discontinuity in policies – usually occasioned by leadership changes, the lack of access to novel planning tools, dearth of adequate data, – these represent other hindrances to effective public service delivery.

Still, the Nigerian Civil Service can improve on its public service delivery mandate through insights from best global practices articulated in terms of a “customer-centric approach” (PSRC, 2016) that leverages on the “customer promise”, which knows who the customer is, and can therefore effectively plan to engage, target expectations, and deliver services to him or her more efficiently.

This approach basically involves a five-tier strategy including (a) knowing and understanding the customer – who is also ‘King’, even in the public sector sphere of service provision; (b) pulling down walls and promoting “connected government”, whereby Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) work in synergy for greater effectiveness, rather than in silos. In addition, there needs to be (c) empowerment through the building of capacity and proficiency; (d) emphasis on delivery on the customer promise; and (e) continuous innovation.

Re-engaging the Target of Civil Service Delivery

From the foregoing, a question that logically arises is: Does the Civil Service actually know the target of its service delivery – the Nigerian?

A set of secondary concerns are raised in unpacking this salient question, including whether the Civil Service fully understands the expectations of citizens in terms of service delivery; has adequate data to profile their needs; and the comprehensive framework to cater for the welfare and deliver benefits to them?

Understanding the Nigerian, his/her needs and expectations where public service and dimensioning these along the lines of the various socio-economic and socio-cultural categories into which Nigerians fall is critical to untangling the immense challenges of service delivery in Nigeria, and activating the “customer-centric” approach earlier mentioned.

During the colonial phase of civil service in Nigeria, there was little contention over the purpose of the British Empire in its economic determination of protecting and enabling the commercial interests of the Crown. However, in spite of the reform process(es) that have sought to Nigerianise the Civil Service as an essential driver of the development of society for the benefit of the Nigerian, there seems to be an enduring disconnect, through the decades, between the intentions of the Civil Service and the quality of service (generally poor) delivered to the people.

A simple illustration of this is evident in the coexistence of a number of National Development Plans as well as a host of other policy developmental policy initiatives with the perennial underperformance of Nigerian on such reputable indicators of developmental conditions such as the Human Development Index, largely in terms of poverty and immiseration.

It is easy to yield to the convenient impulse to point out other assailants of good governance and government, including the failure of political leadership and corruption, etc., as largely responsible for the derailment of national plans and efforts to improve quality of life in areas such as healthcare, education, etc. Nevertheless, such failures offer a perspective to reflect on the deficits of service delivery in Nigeria.

The youth are, undoubtedly, the most valuable resource of a country – and a continent, the foundation on which the future stands, and the means for delivering on the prospects and potentials of the human experience. In Nigeria, they constitute both a huge source of hope and anxiety, in terms of what they represent for the national fortune and the gross inadequacy of the planning presently being made on their behalf.


A quick survey reveals that besides such frameworks as the later Colonial Development Plan of 1958 to 68, more concrete development planning in Nigeria – beyond short-term instruments like the Annual Budget – can be classified into three main eras (Shehu, 2016). These are: the era of fixed term planning; the era of the rolling plans (1990-1998), and the new democratic dispensation (1999 till date).

The first era witnessed the crafting of four major plans – the First National Development Plan (1962-1968), the JORIND Second National Development Plan (1970-1974), the Third National Development Plan (1975-1980), and the Fourth National Development Plan (1981-1985).

Then there were the First National Rolling Plan, between 1990 and 92, the Second National Rolling Plan (1993-95), and the 1994/96 and 1997/99 Rolling Plans. Upon the return to democracy, we witnessed the respective formulations of the National Economic Direction Plan (1999-2003) and the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy – NEEDS (2003 to 2007).

Almost all of these plans had the objective of creating the foundations of a virile and strong economy that supported high levels of growth and human livelihood security, in addition to providing incentives for the production of goods and services, diversifying the base of the economy, tackling unemployment containing the rural to urban drift, etc.

However, and rather unfortunately, in spite of decades of planning, recognised indices of human development do not suggest any positive or sustained sense of progress. This is starkly revealed in the trajectory of the poverty incidence in the country, which when juxtaposed with population growth and demographic shifts reveal the contours of the dire nature of our circumstance.

The Challenge of Service Delivery and Deepening Poverty

A ready analogy for the concerns around civil service delivery is perceptible in the inability of Nigeria’s National Development Plans and instruments to pack punches according to their proclaimed weight, and register noteworthy improvements in the lives of citizens.

The limited impacts of these Plans and the quality of service delivery that they have motivated are evident in the demographic time bomb that has crept up on us, alongside the deepening of poverty and immiseration.

Taken from 1900s, at the dawn of the colonial Civil Service, to 1914 when the service took off in earnest under the Governor-General, Lord Lugard, the population of the Northern and Southern Protectorates had grown minimally from about 16 million (in 1900) to 17.1 million people (in 1914). By 1925, the population was 18.5 million, and in 1950, Nigeria was home to about 37.8 million people (recording about a 100 percent growth in 25 years).

By 1960, the population comprised 45.1 million Nigerians (a further increase of over 20 percent), and in 1975, it was 63.3 million (another 30 percent). Nigeria’s population stood at 122.3 million by the year 2000 and, by 2015, had reached 185.9 million going by UN estimates.

Between Independence and now (about 57 years), the population has grown by over 300 percent, and at the present rate, we are estimated to become the world’s third largest population of about 400 million people in another 25 years or less (UN, 2017). This is population that has, and is, growing faster than available resources and the ability to cater for such phenomenal demographic upsurge, with no concerted effort being put into population control.

On the other hand, the incidence of poverty was put at 28.1 percent in 1980, 46.3 percent in 1985, and 42.7 percent in 1992. Poverty deepened with population growth in 1996 at 65.6 percent, reduced to 54.4 percent in 2004 and then rose again to 69 percent in 2010 (NBS, 2012).

With a consistent deepening of poverty, which has been going south of 70 percent since 2010, and a population that is almost growing in geometric proportions, we are spiralling toward the demographic time bomb faster than we know. Complicating this picture is the fact that the Nigerian population, at over 186 million from the 2016 estimates, is quite top heavy (in the context of the inverted pyramid), with the youth population (from the age of 24 down) constituting almost 65 percent of the total, and a median age of 18. Also, with its growth at an exponential rate of 2.6 percent annually, the civil service definitely has the targets of its next generation service delivery programme cut out for it.

Delivering on Citizens’ Expectations of Government

As noted, the Civil Service is the engine room of government and the institution central to the delivery of the tangible outcomes of the policies of governance. Yet, in terms of an orientation towards citizen-centred service delivery, beyond the imperative of needing to know the Nigerian – as pointed to earlier, how will the Civil Service deliver on the expectations of the Nigerian, which is the most important aspect of cultivating and entrenching a culture of citizen-centred service delivery?

What could be considered as the expectations of Nigerians from government, governance and service delivery? Incidentally, these expectations are fairly well framed in no other document than the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. In Chapter 2 of the Constitution, entitled “The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy”, it is not only stated that, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”, but it is claimed that;

16. (1) The State shall, within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this Constitution:
(a) harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy;
(b) control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity;

Also, it is further stated;

16.2 (d) that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.

As such, it can be said that in line with the expressed provisions of the Constitution, the government is tasked with the mandate of creating an environment that is vital to securing the welfare of the people. This is the statutory underpinning, whether fully understood or not, of the expectations of the people from government, and on which effective citizen-centred service delivery derives its imperative.

The Nigerian Youth

The youth are, undoubtedly, the most valuable resource of a country – and a continent, the foundation on which the future stands, and the means for delivering on the prospects and potentials of the human experience. In Nigeria, they constitute both a huge source of hope and anxiety, in terms of what they represent for the national fortune and the gross inadequacy of the planning presently being made on their behalf.

To buttress the point made in the forgoing about the youthful skew of Nigeria’s population, we highlight the following: 42 percent of Nigeria’s population is under the age of 14, almost 20 percent lies between the ages of 15 and 24. This implies that nearly two-thirds of Nigeria’s population comprises individuals aged 24 or less.

We restate the average annual population growth rate of 2.7 percent, which places Nigeria among the ten fastest growing national populations in the world. It can be confidently guessed given the elaborately sketched youthful skew of the Nigerian population that a huge proportion of the population growth is accounted for by the burgeoning youthful demographic.

As in much of the developing parts of the world, Africa is home to surges in population growth, occurring rather disproportionately to the manners of planning being made for them, and henceforth putting the resources of states under tremendous pressure. This has in part spawned the inevitable fallout of the routine rehearsals and outbreak of conflicts that have largely come to signpost the identity of the continent.


Across international officialdom, slightly disparate notions of what constitutes the youth are recognised. The United Nations system and those of other multilateral agencies regard them as those within the age range of 15-24. For our purposes, we would defer to the delineation made in the National Youth Policy, which classifies youth as those lying within the 18-35 age bracket. This represents a sizeable demographic of over 20 percent of the total, comprising about 51 percent female to 49 percent male. It is also one that is an rapidly expanding, as the age of the larger population keeps dropping due to increased fertility rates and lesser infant mortality.

Regarded as representing “the most active, the most volatile, and yet the most vulnerable segment of the nation’s population” (NYP, 2009), over 60 percent of the Nigerian youth population live in rural areas, whilst the other 40 percent live in urban and peri-urban locations.

Whereas over 65 percent of the Nigerian youth are said to have some form of formal education, with 55 percent of this demographic subset being female and the others being male, so many youth are plagued by serious deficits of skills and capacity, making them highly susceptible to unemployment, underemployment, and economic exploitation. Equally, a host of them with certain levels of capability have been sucked deep into the informal sector, particularly in low-income engagements and activities, where their exertions are not commensurate to the value being produced. Hemmed in by the combination of deprivation and lack of meaningful opportunity, many are vulnerable to crimes and different forms of delinquency.

The plethora of issues affecting the Nigerian youth, while evolving from a base of material inadequacy and deprivation, can be seen to generally include low levels of educational attainment and consequently prospective lack of fitness for future challenges, the breakdown of social value systems leading them along less-than-desirable orientations and deviant behaviour, a nationally pervasive culture of indiscipline and the dearth of life mentoring opportunities. Concerns issuing from the foregoing have equally opened the youth up to the susceptibilities of religious fanaticism, cultism, crime and other socially reprehensible conduct.

Further to the problems assailing the Nigerian youth are escalating welfare and health predicaments, including a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, the surging incidence of physical and mental disability, noted as affecting up a third of the total youth population. As such, the National Youth Policy observes that,

The range, extent and magnitude of the problems which confront the Nigerian youth require a committed and determined effort on the part of all stakeholders in order to help them achieve their potentiality and make them appropriate partners in the task of national development. (p. 2)

More so,

…the problems need to be urgently addressed so that they can be adequately empowered and enabled to play active roles as participants in the shaping of their own destiny as well as in the building and development of the Nigerian nation. (p. 2)

In attempting to intervene in the issues that would address the challenges of youths and set them up for the responsibilities of development, successive Nigerian governments have designed a number of policies and programmes, both within and outside the school system, featuring at the cradle (usually the teenage years) the adoption of such youth-targeted character building organisations already popular in other climes such as the Boys Scout, Girls Guide, and Man O’War, etc. These social enterprises help instil discipline in the youth, engage them in community development activities, skills acquisition, vocational training, even as they strive to discover and cultivate their talents through exposure to programmes on competitive sports.

To reinforce the hoped-for gains of these endeavours, a Ministry of Youths and Sports was set up in the 1970s to marshal and coordinate the potentials of the youth, alongside responding to other dimensions of their concerns. And, importantly the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was set up in 1973 as a vital element of the post-Civil War Reconciliation thrusts of the Gowon administration. This was created as a bridge-building platform to promote national unity through the exposure of young graduates of tertiary institutions to different sections of the country for a year of intra-national acculturation, while introducing them to practical leadership and community development training, before taking on the larger society.

Yet, with the gaps to youth development coming from the relegation of youth issues and subsequent dissolution of many ministries of youth and sports at the federal and state levels in the 1990s, a renaissance of sorts to the enterprise of concerted youth-targeted public policy more or less unfolded with the coming to power of the Obasanjo Administration in the early 2000s. This government not only created a portfolio dedicated entirely to youth affairs – seemingly in response of the complaints of the objectionable conflation of youth issues with those of sports – the Ministry of Youth Development in 2006, but also took on the very necessary task of articulating a National Youth Policy, as framework for advancing the interests of the Nigerian youth.

The initial attempt at framing a youth policy for Nigeria occurred in 1981, and its attendant review in 1989, were both bedevilled and stalled by questions of weak implementation and a constricting economic cycle at that point, making the funding of youth projects near impossible.

As antecedents to the National Youth Policy, the Nigerian government had shown remarkable commitment to the cause of the youth – even though it did not give this as much local push as it deserved on the level of the design and execution of programmes and projects – through the supporting for and accession to a host of international policy instruments. In the past decades, Nigeria has been a signatory to such policies, instruments and protocols as the ECOWAS Commission Youth Policy, the African Youth Charter, the Commonwealth Youth Charter, the Charter of the United Nations, the United Nations World Programme of Action for Youth and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – now reformulated as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), having youth development as one of its essential targets.

Taken together, all these instruments witnessed various levels of domestication and incorporation into what became the National Youth Policy and Strategic Plan of Action in 2001, and its subsequent, more wholesome iteration as the Second National Youth Policy Document of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2009.

The Nigerian Youth Policy situates its very important target demographic, their needs and aspirations, at the centre of national development and planning, while seeking to understand and proffer solutions to their issues and challenges in the process. It strives for youth development in the country to not only be youth-led and driven, but for youth issues to be integrated into all the sectors of national life, in a manner that would guarantee holistic development. In its declaration of intent, the Policy offers:

… guidelines and provides the framework for all stakeholders to empower the youth to realise their potentialities and take advantage of the opportunities available to make positive contributions to the well‐being of their communities across the entire country.” (p. 3)

As a declaration of the priorities and directions of government in relation to the youth, the National Youth Policy attempts the coordination of all the other policies dealing with the youth, both indigenous – including the National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development, the National Health Policy, and the National Policy on Education, etc. – and the ones domesticated from international instruments. The Policy is expressed as a:

Commitment to mainstreaming youth issues as a development approach shall inform the economic reform agenda, medium and long term development planning, value reorientation and social transformation and other development initiatives of government. The creation of opportunities and strategies for addressing the challenges facing young men and women should be the concern of the whole society. (p. 4)

Rather commendably, the National Youth Policy does not consider the youth as an amorphous category, but endeavours to direct development planning in a manner that is sensitive to the nuances of gender, religion, tradition and culture.

The variations of disabilities, gender, and location (on the level of the rural-urban divide), etc. are sought out through inclusive approaches to development programming. Whether in terms of youths needing liberation from the yokes of gender discrimination, religious radicalisation or armed conflict and restiveness, the National Youth Policy provides the frame for targeting these demographic sub-categories for intervention differently and more proactively.

The African Youth and Agenda 2063

As in much of the developing parts of the world, Africa is home to surges in population growth, occurring rather disproportionately to the manners of planning being made for them, and henceforth putting the resources of states under tremendous pressure. This has in part spawned the inevitable fallout of the routine rehearsals and outbreak of conflicts that have largely come to signpost the identity of the continent.

Fundamental to the necessity of unleashing the potentials of the African youth for an African-driven future in which the region would come into international prominence and respect, is the notion of the demographic dividend. This is dividend that would come from investments in the youth through their improved access to high-quality education that prepares for them for the future…


Fairly recent figures (2015 estimates) reveal a gross population of about 1.2 billion in its 54 countries, which is also projected as growing at the rate of 3.7 percent annually and predicted to reach 1.7 billion people in 2030, 2.5 billion by 2050 and 3 billion in 2063 (UN, 2015), at the centennial of regional integration (which started out through the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, in 1963. The foregoing suggests a projected increase in the African population by 1.8 billion between 2015 and 2063, a 150 percent increase comprising largely those between 15 and 34. This, no doubt, would be a young population that had been growing at about 12.1 million people per year in between.

A range of regional policies and instruments had been deployed through the decades as responses to the geometric leaps of the African population and attempts to match its rise with social provisioning, including the more recent 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This has, more so, operated in tandem with a grander continental policy outlay.

Currently, with about 60 percent of the region’s over 1.2 billion people being from the ages of 24 years downwards, there has been a renewed urgency for the transformation of this huge youth bulge into demographic dividends across the countries of Africa. This led to the devotion of 2017 by African Heads of States and Governments as the year of “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth”.

Vital to the issue of coordinating the potentials of the African youth has been the context of a resurgent Africa, as framed within the latest 50-year grand vision to break the continent from a cycle of want and make its development essentially driven by its people, and articulated by the African Union (AU) in the declaration known as Agenda 2063.

This immense regional agenda was formulated in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, which has transfigured into the African Union (AU), towards achieving the “Africa that we want”. It is conceived of as “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena”.

The Sixth Aspiration in this declaration is the attainment of, “an Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of women and youth”, and one in which “the creativity, energy and innovation of African youth will be the driving force behind the continent’s political, social, cultural and economic transformation.”

Fundamental to the necessity of unleashing the potentials of the African youth for an African-driven future in which the region would come into international prominence and respect, is the notion of the demographic dividend. This is dividend that would come from investments in the youth through their improved access to high-quality education that prepares for them for the future; health, particularly family planning; the lowering of mortality and fertility, etc.

The planned increased investment is projected as yielding the dividend of a larger labour force comprising a younger working-age population, and upwardly spiralling productivity that would form the backbone of an African economic renaissance. With more continental prosperity will come the end of an age of desperation that has witnessed ubiquitous conflicts and the compulsive migration to more prosperous parts of the world.

In observing the continent as only moving at its present pace due to the uncoordinated and untapped potentials of its youth, the African Union (2017) noted that:

Investments made today in the youth, who represent Africa’s greatest asset, will determine the development trajectory of Africa over the next 50 years and position the continent towards realising the “Africa We Want,” a strong, united and influential global player and partner as envisioned in Agenda 2063. (p. 2)

As equally outlined by the African Union, there are four interconnected pillars for delivering on the youth demographic dividend, particularly in view of the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan towards achieving the African renaissance encapsulated in Agenda 2063. These include a first pillar of creating opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, aimed at reducing at least a quarter of the number of unemployed youths on the continent by 2024; improving access to credit for businesses and establishing sub-regional Youth Funds; engaging the private sector for the expansion of internships, alongside CSR initiatives from African philanthropists; and promoting programmes for African youth volunteers and junior professionals, etc.

A second pillar pertains to the enabling of massive investment in education and skills development, comprising the review of educational curricula to “increase quality and relevance to labour market and national developmental needs”, with emphasis on skills development and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Education. This is to equally include the expansion of vocational training opportunities, promotion of inclusive access to education at all levels, the adoption of lifetime approaches to learning and establishment of regional educational institutions that create learning and exchange opportunities, etc.

The third interconnected pillar for the empowerment of the African youth to produce the demographic dividend speaks to the need to invest in health and wellbeing. This involves the institution of integrated adolescent and youth friendly health services, the prioritisation of universal access to family planning services, and the necessity of improving the nutrition of children. Moreover, it would require the enhancement of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, and the scaling up of policies to support the reproductive rights of women, etc.

The fourth pillar dealing with rights, governance and youth empowerment, is about ensuring the ratification, domestication and comprehensive implementation of the African Union’s Shared Values instruments, such as the African Youth Charter and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), by all African countries by the end of 2017. Also it entails the creation of national implementation mechanisms, the elimination of all barriers to the participation of the youth in the political space, and the abolition of policies, practices and customs that have discriminatory effects on the youth, especially girls and young women, etc.

The foregoing constitute the regional framework for activating the demographic dividends that would set Africa on the part of a virile future, which are expected to be domesticated and serve as the basis of national action plans, from which programmes would be designed.

The Way Forward: Partnering With the Nigerian Youth for Africa’s Transformation

The Nigerian Civil Service has witnessed a transformation from an institution basically serving the interests of the British Empire and its economic logic of exploiting its colonial outposts, to one that has made progressive evolution in the reform of its mandate. It has grown in strength and capacity as the engine room for government and governance in Nigeria. And this is despite its myriad challenges. Even then, there is still so much the institution can transform into as it works to fortify its ability to deliver on public services that would enhance the welfare of the Nigerian.

From the policy of Nigerianisation to the host of reform efforts targeted at the Civil Service, the focus had been the repurposing of a delivery culture that has the Nigerian as the ultimate beneficiary of the activities of governance. Whilst the ills of poor political leadership and pervasive corruption could be said to exert deep levels of distortion on the capability of the Civil Service to realise its mandate, it still needs to draw insights from modern ‘customer-centric’ perspectives to transform its public service delivery obligation into one that is more citizen-centred. This entails understanding its ‘customer’ in more than cursory ways, and building the capacity to targets his or her needs effectively.

While numerous instances of development planning in the country have fallen short of the requirements of Nigerians, and huge surges in population have moved in tandem with the deepening of poverty and immiseration, particularly since Independence from colonial rule, redirecting the attention to the youth seems to offer the leeway out of the country’s arrested development.

However, like most African countries, Nigeria has a demographic time bomb ticking away gradually – surfacing intermittently in profusions of youth restiveness and crime across its territorial expanse, and requiring the urgency of now in terms of intervention. A significant means of containing this is certainly through the vigorous domestication of the African Union’s approach of seeking to harness the demographic dividends by creating a frame of response that invests in the youth.

This is not only a strategy of transforming Nigeria but also one that is ultimately continental in latitude, given the proportion of the African population that is Nigerian. As the largest and fastest growing population on the continent, any programme of youth development in the country is undeniably regional in impact and consequence.

Beyond issues of control and regulation, the Civil Service would need to make bolder incursions into the tech world and environment to tap into its offerings in order to inspire more positive outcomes for the Nigerian youth. The natural convergence of young people around technology and its products need to be engaged and coordinated more efficiently.


Considered as the key catalyst for implementing the mandate of governance, the Civil Service is crucial to making the delivery of the demographic dividend a reality as its sprawling and country-wide bureaucracy is the principal vehicle for giving life to the agenda of government. Yet, on a primary level, with respect to Service Delivery to Nigerian youths, there is the need to build a thorough and continually evolving understanding of who they are whilst, as the ‘deep government’, facilitating their effective participation in national development.

The Civil Service needs to endeavour more in promoting a comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach to youth issues and concerns in the country. And consequently ensure the mainstreaming of the youth, as an essential development category, into the respective agenda of all government agencies.

Closely aligned with the foregoing is the necessity of a composite reformation of national budgeting processes, in a manner that is more youth-centric. Traditionally, beyond the typical reference to youth needs on the level of education, health, agriculture, etc., budgeting for the concerns of the Nigerian youth have been reposed within the ministries of youth and development or sports – depending on the political disposition of the day. Hence, about 80 percent of these budget allotments tend to serve the NYSC scheme and token sports programmes and activities. However, numerous voices have kept rising to denounce this skewed appropriation of resources as routinely missing real purpose as youth concerns cannot be reduced to the NYSC and sports issues.

The Nigerian youth is, perhaps, the only crosscutting category whose issues need to be mainstreamed in a more palpable form in all budgets across sectors and through the entire gamut of the Civil Service bureaucracy, at all levels – from the Ministry of Science and Technology to that of Health, Transportation, Women Affairs, Information and Communications Technology, etc. Ministries and MDAs would have to be more proactive in their programming and making stronger cases for increased budgetary allocations for youth-centric planning.

Further to this is the urgency for the Civil Service to work at the bridging level of harmonising various policies, programmes, strategies and research strewn across the various levels of its bureaucracy. And this should be complimented by the determination to effectively reinvent itself to improve its institutional performance and delivery capacity to ensure a national coverage in the execution of youth programmes.

Also, in targeting youths in development planning, there is the compelling need to be more inclusive and sensitive to all the nuances of the Nigerian youth as a peculiar focus of its policies and programmes, whether in terms of differences across cultural contexts, gender, location (the rural/urban divide), physical states of being (disabilities), etc.

While its programmes should seek to promote moral development and values reorientation in the youth, these should also very consciously seek the elimination of all forms of discriminatory practices against women across sectors, from pulling down employment barriers, to the removal of other forms of gender bias.

The Civil Service certainly requires a more proactive interface with and response to the global technology environment, which has fundamentally impacted, and keeps impacting, on the way we live, relate and work. There is the necessity of understanding the primary ways in which technology is altering the landscape of service delivery; and as such an intrusive and disruptive phenomenon, its capabilities need to be harnessed to secure the wellbeing of the Nigerian youth, whilst being utilised to draw out their potentials.

Beyond issues of control and regulation, the Civil Service would need to make bolder incursions into the tech world and environment to tap into its offerings in order to inspire more positive outcomes for the Nigerian youth. The natural convergence of young people around technology and its products need to be engaged and coordinated more efficiently. This has created opportunities for service delivery programming that could drive latent competencies and advantages, in ways that would motivate serious value additions to it by the youth, and pave other paths for the future.

Reforming Nigerian Civil Service Delivery for a Youth-led Future

As observed in the foregoing, crucial to the concerns about a citizen-centred service delivery culture in Nigeria, at the institutional level, are not only the challenges to professionalism, but also the questions of pervasive corruption, and the lack of political will to carry through reforms in the Civil Service.

Hence, in addition to opening up to the issues highlighted in earlier sections of this lecture, for the Civil Service to re-orientate and start delivering effectively in a manner that would unleash the demographic dividend of a youth-led future, it needs to adopt the following reform measures more seriously.

Within a context of diminishing national resources – profoundly affecting what is available for programming – but yet increasing service delivery expectations, there is the necessity of the implementation of a comprehensive and merit-based performance management system across the Civil Service, including its recruitment and deployment processes. And this would require a deeper partnership between the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation and the Federal Civil Service Commission.

Since one of the abiding – if equally crucial – issues eroding the capacity to deliver on public services has always being finance, the tide of the haemorrhage of government resources has to be stemmed decisively through the tackling of the question of a ghost labour force. One can then imagine how much funds would be saved when the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) is achieved on a single platform.

There are projections that up to N185 billion would be conserved yearly, when the estimated 60,000 ghosts civil servants claimed to be roaming on the payroll are finally identified and removed. These are resources that could be freed up for the domestication of a number of the programmes essential to harnessing the youth demographic dividend, as identified by the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063, spelt out earlier.

Strengthening the preceding would equally be the ensuring of a speedy implementation of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) and the merging of the mandate of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) and that of the Federal Civil Service Commission to deliver on better targeted reforms in the Civil Service.

Also, the service compact, SERVICOM, between the Federal Government (across all its various organs and institutions) and the Nigerian people, will need to be reinvigorated as an effective means of enhancing service delivery in the Nigerian Civil Service.

With a complete computerisation and digitalisation of the Service and the streamlining of overlapping of functions across MDAs, the turnaround time for service delivery will be improved, along with the guarantee of its efficacy. Moreover, a necessary reduction in the unwieldy number of MDAs – including the 28 ministries and 542 agencies (50 of which are said to have no enabling laws) – would lead to a much lower cost of governance. Ministries should be rationalised from 28 to 19, and they could have both senior and junior ministers each, or either of the two, as a way of resolving the conflict between the constitutional imperative of having 36 ministers – one from every state of the federation – and the need to reduce the cost of governance.

To tame the monster of corruption, vital to the reform of public procurement in Nigeria, and the return of the Federal Executive Council to its core policy making function (away from the distraction of serving as a procurement ratifying body in a number of past years), is the imperative of inaugurating the National Council for Public Procurement (NCPP), as created by the Procurement Act of 2007.

This, alongside the strengthening of the Bureau of Public Procurement to perform its statutory functions; the institution of mechanisms to deal with errant staff who violate procurement laws (e.g. contract splitting, etc.), and a push for a review of the Public Procurement Act to allow for competent and independent people to head the NCPP, would enable sanity in the Nigerian procurement environment.

Equally, an overhaul of the budgeting process in order to institute a process by which the budget calendar commences in June and leads to the submission of the Appropriation bill to the National Assembly by the September of each year, and the improvement in financial transparency by the publication of credible quarterly budget implementation reports, would certainly enhance public financial management for better service delivery. And, further to this, the setting up of the machinery for full Public Expenditure and Financial Assessment (PEFA), and the increase of the Open Budget Index (OBI) rating by publishing budget implementation reports, will reinforce the system of administering public finances.

Essential to entrenching a citizen-centred service delivery culture is the augmentation of government finances for the Civil Service to be able to deliver on the programmes required for a youth-led future that has great implications for the African continent. A key way of achieving this is through the bolstering of the revenue base of the Nigerian state, by means of an enhancement of the taxation system, the securing of total tax compliance by private and public individuals – including officials, the restructuring of corporate tax waivers, and enforcement of tax laws through the judicial system.

If the many issues and concerns that have been highlighted and reiterated over the course of this lecture are well considered, comprehensively engaged and tackled, both at the institutional level and that of the political leadership that motivates its processes, I have no doubt that the Nigerian Civil Service is still uniquely positioned to deliver on and deepen a culture of public service delivery that would positively unfetter the full potentials of a youth-led and driven future.

‘Doyin Salami, a renowned economist, is senior fellow at the Lagos Business School and a member of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

This was delivered as the Keynote Address for the Africa Public Service Day, in Abuja on Tuesday, August 8, 2017.

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