There is a saying that in life, you learn new things every day until the day you die, meaning that the learning process is continuous as every day have new experiences and make new discoveries voluntarily or involuntarily, consciously or unconsciously. While this is nothing new as it is quite common knowledge, I guess today is just one of those days where this statement has rung true in every sense of the word.
Well for starters, last night I had dinner with several classmates at another’s home. She invited us to share a traditional French dinner and it turned out to be a wonderful evening – the food was really great, we had lots of interesting discussions on so many things ranging from our course work, to our various countries, and to how we were adjusting to life in Britain. The discussions were particularly interesting because we all come from different countries – about five different nationalities and we were all women…well you know, the rest is best left to the imagination. Anyways, the most interesting thing for me I guess was what I learnt from two Indian ladies in the group who apparently work with the Indian Administrative Service (the civil service). What struck me in particular was their passion, drive and motivation for their work as well as their sojourn in the UK.
The Civil Service or Public Service in the developing world is generally perceived to be a bastion of inefficiency, bureaucracy and red-tapism and even corruption while civil servants are generally regarded as simply living-off government and public money for services not well-rendered. However talking to these ladies gave me cause for a re-think. They work a lot, and when I say work, I don’t mean just going to the office, sitting down, chatting away, pushing one or two files, but really working and getting things done every day — taking concrete steps to achieve tangible results in their districts; ensuring the services and facilities provided by government in their districts are functioning well like electricity, water and so on. It was absolutely fascinating to hear real life stories of how they work every day to make a practical difference in the lives of people in their communities. It was amazing that civil servants in a developing country despite enumerable challenges could have so much drive and motivation for their jobs that they feel nothing is too hectic or difficult to do so long as results are achieved, services are delivered to the people, then they feel a sense of fulfillment of doing what they are meant to do and contributing to giving others a decent standard of living and therefore to the growth and development of their country.
Furthermore, as I found out, working in the Civil Service is apparently prestigious in India. Youngsters in school plan, study and work hard for years to have substantial knowledge in order to be successful in the rigorous, three-stage Civil Service Examination which is considered to be very difficult. Out of hundreds of thousands of candidates who apply for and sit for the examinations annually, less than 1% actually scale through and are recruited into the Service making it very competitive while ensuring that the best candidates are selected. This then explains why there are such high expectations from the administrators and why there is some level of efficiency.
In addition was the realization that these ladies along with some other Indian nationales in my department are sponsored by their government for postgraduate study in the UK. Basically, after working for a number of years a civil servant could be sent for further study overseas. I believe this applies to a number of countries as even in Nigeria, a lot of ministries and parastatals have provision for “in-service” training at home or abroad for further study as short-courses, postgraduate study or even doctoral study. However in this case, what struck me in particular was the fact that even though the opportunity given to these ladies was primarily to further their education, it was just as well for them to get some international exposure, to get a feel of how things work here, study their surroundings and think about how improvements can be made back home. Now this I found to be particularly remarkable – it is possible that this might actually be something quite common with other developing countries and I am simply getting over-excited or that it is incredible as you can see the conscious, calculated steps a country is taking in attaining growth and progress by developing it’s human capital where it matters the most – the Public Sector — a part of the executive arm of government that implements decisions.
Learning these things today, I could not but feel extremely saddened as my mind reflexively started making comparisons with the Nigerian Civil Service. In the first place, how many young graduates or youths with good degrees even want to work for the Nigerian Civil Service? Yes with the high unemployment rate in Nigeria and the thousands of unemployed graduates all around, most people would relish the opportunity of getting a job anywhere, the bloated Civil Service inclusive but for all the wrong reasons. I can attest to this because I have been in that exact same position, and could probably go back home to that situation. A good number of unemployed youths would only join the Civil Service because there aren’t that many alternatives, and because they just want a job and any means of sustenance, not because they genuinely want to be in a position where they contribute meaningfully to service delivery.
A visit to any federal or state ministry leaves one with an impression of crass mediocrity, inefficiency and lackadaisical attitude of the staff right from the entrance gate. Nothing about their demeanor, comportment, body-language or speech attracts you, appeals to you or even makes you want to be part of that. People go late to the office if they go to the office at all, and when they do go it is to engage in idle talk and chatter, they demand for bribes to perform their duties and so on. It is generally an environment that does not inspire hard work, would possibly deaden one’s zeal and enthusiasm and put one’s passion and motivation in deep coma. And the saddest part of all is that the state civil services which are closer to the masses and whose actions are directly felt by the people are the worst culprits. I am not saying here that all civil servants in Nigeria are like that as there are quite a number of hard-working, target-oriented officers out there, but the general atmosphere there (or at least at the ones I have been to) is neither the most encouraging neither nor is it the most inspiring. In fact there is a common notion that working in a ministry is the best job for a female graduate who is not very bright, or who cannot cope with the rigors of a demanding job that requires skill and hard work, because a job in the civil service is more flexible (since one does not have to go early, or spend long hours working) and is less “stressful” (depending on the ministry and the grade level, not much might be done) . Yes. Unbelievable! Coming from a country that aims to be one of the top 20 economies by 2020! Absolutely unbelievable!
By now, you probably think I am a snitch discrediting my country in cyberspace. But please do not get me wrong, I love my country now more so than ever. For one thing, living here in the UK has made me realize how precious home is (but that’s a subject for another day) and how much I would like to see real progress in Nigeria. Besides, the Indian Administrative Service like any other government institution around the world is not perfect and is certainly not devoid of challenges that beset any public sector in any part of the world such as excessive bureaucracy, red-tapism, and that probably not everyone is as driven as my classmates, among other challenges common to the public sector.
Nevertheless the basic issue is that work gets done, real input is made to achieve concrete, tangible outcomes that make a difference in the lives of people. No wonder India is today one of the fastest growing economies in the world or a BRIC country which is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China , regarded as the four emerging market economies which are key drivers of the world economy. Infact India as a result of its tremendous economic successes has the 11th largest economy in the world, is a member of the G20 and a member of IBSA initiative. While in contrast, Nigeria which has so much potential – has the right ingredients for economic success in terms of natural resources, arable land, human capital, huge land mass etc is yet to find its footing and to take its rightful place in the league of emerging economies with other BRIC countries. However, with the recent reforms in the civil service notably under Stephen Oronsaye that have been implemented to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery, we are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that these reforms will usher in the changes needed and give us hope for a better performing Nigerian Civil Service.
I finally went to bed last night still thinking about what fascinating information I had learnt, fervently praying and hoping that in the next one or two decades, it would be the nationale of another developing country making new discoveries, being completely awestruck by the motivation, dedication and passion exhibited by a Nigerian civil servant towards their job and country.