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Training For 21st Century Public Officials In Nigeria

07 June 2012

By Abdul-Warees Solanke

Partly as a recognition of the importance of training, and partly to be seen as emulating others, a number of African countries established in the 60's and the 70s institutions for training civil servants, Variously referred to as administrative colleges, schools and faculties of public administration and institutes of development management, these institutions were generally expected to contribute towards administrative modernization efforts of government by organizing high level management seminars, undertaking applied research studies and advising on measures aimed at enhancing productivity and effectiveness of government (Balogun, 1998)1

The Federal Republic of Nigeria which gained independence on October 1, 1960 from Britain falls into the category of African countries cited above. This essay shall therefore offer an insight into the public sector training systems in the country with a view to understanding the constraints imposed by the Nigerians socio political and economic dynamics that reflect in training, manpower development and capacity building for public officials in the country. Using Voice of Nigeria (VON) as a case study, the essay shall identify some of the existing problems and how they are being addressed in peculiar situations.

BACKGROUND TO PUBLIC SECTOR TRAINING SYSTEMS IN NIGERIA

The first challenge that confronted post independent Nigeria was transiting from colonial public service system to a truly Nigerian one and re orienting the service to meet the requirements and needs of the newnation. The inherited public service system was deeply hierarchical in nature, with the senior management positions mostly occupied by the colonial officers, while Nigerians were generally in the middle level and clerical cadres, because most of the existing institutions at independence produced only clerical and middle level officers for the public service. The new government therefore resorted to sending many Nigerians abroad for crash programmes, while at home a commission was set up to study the manpower requirements of the country, as the only university college of the University of London) in the country established n 1948 was also upgraded to a full fledged university. The Ashby Commission among others recommended the
setting up of four new universities in the country, one in each of the three regions and the fourth at the capital city, Lagos. This gave birth to University of Lagos, the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Northern Nigeria and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in the Eastern Region between 1961 and 1962. The last one in the Western Region, University of Ife (renamed Obafemi Awolowo University) was established much later.

But these institutions were not enough to meet the in service training needs of the public service, Hence the need to establish the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies and the Centre for Management Development in the 70s. similarly, the necessity for producing the middle level skill technical manpower led to the establishment of polytechnics and colleges of technology to offer programmes leading to the award of certificates, ordinary and higher national diplomas. Within the existing universities, polytechnics and professional/research institutes, certificate and diploma courses were also introduces to facilitate in-service training for mature/working students. A number of the tertiary institutions also introduced distant learning and correspondence schemes.

The latest trend among tertiary institutions in Nigeria is the introduction of evening and part time programmes to enable mature and working candidates enrol for professional and academic courses without affecting their jobs. The establishment of National Open University of Nigeria has widened the opportunities and prospects of Nigerians to increase their professional and public service value. But are these enough? Are the institutions truly relevant? Could more and better to be done to improve skills and increase competences in the public sector what are the challenges and prospects?

A casual survey of the training and manpower development landscape of Nigeria should suggest that the country does not lack the capacity to face challenges of the 21st Century.

The country boasts of the following:

More than 30 federal government owned universities
Almost an equal number of state-owned universities
Growing number of privately-owned universities (bout 12)
More than 30 polytechnics and colleges of technology
Over 25 colleges of education
Specialised research institutes
Chartered professional institutes for accountancy, banking, management, personnel management, secretaries, public relations and advertising, engineering, surveying and architecture.
Centre for Management \Development
Administrative Staff College of Nigeria
National Centre for Management and Administration
Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies
Multiple vocational training institutes and technical schools.

Taken altogether, the programmes offered at these instituti8ons as well as in service short courses, in-house training programmes and sponsored courses abroad are supposed to equip the workers in the Nigerian public sector with the required skills, competences and professionalism to face the 21st Century challenges. It is appropriate here to highlight what these challenges entail. They are not even challenges about to happen, but are already unfolding.

The first challenge has to do with limitation of resources in the face of increasing public needs and expectations. The second is the challenge of competition as new service providers are entering the public domain (the private sector and the third party non-governmental organisations) to challenge the relevance and dominance of the public sector. There are also challenges arising from transition from traditional economy to knowledge based economy. Similarly, there are challenges from information and communication technology revolution and globalization.

Given the multi-dimensional nature of these challenges, they pre-suppose that the various institutions with their programmes should be sufficiently positioned, empowered, equipped and funded to meet them, because for the public sector to remain relevant. It has to be modernized, dynamic and strategic management, oriented. It is also assumed that these institutions will be re-inventing and reviewing their programmes and curriculum to ensure that they are imparting up-to-date knowledge and exposing workers in the public sector or those who will be entering the public service to contemporary issues, development, tools, skills and technologies that would give them cutting edge competitiveness.

In addition, it also presupposes that the institutions are appropriately structured and staffed to attract and retain the best and experienced brains and hands who could give the right orientation to work force.

Lamentable, however, these assumptions do not necessarily hold true because of the prevailing political and economic encumbrances that did not spare any sector of the nation's public life. A nation grappling with long years of political instability, economic uncertainties, infrastructural failure and ethnical degeneration cannot confidently claim to have training institutions that will equip the workforce with requisite skills, competences and knowledge to cope with the 21st century challenges, while the training institutions are quite in existence in relatively large numbers, many of them lack the complementary resources and personnel to meet the changing demands of the age. Many good hands who deemed the public sector as not sufficiently challenging readily transit to the private sector just as a large number of the new generation of skilled professionals have left the country for greener pasture abroad in
what is generally described as brain drain syndrome. Today the government is doing virtually everything at its best to attract back to the country this corps of professionals to contribute to nation-building.

This incapacity is rooted in political instability in the country since independence, while the priorities of several governments that came into power, for political and pecuntary reasons were mostly misplaced, thus affecting the attention and investment on human resource development (education) In the new era of information and communication technology too, investment in ICT is not yet very encouraging for the country to attain the standard of the newly industrialized countries and their developed counterparts. Public servants caught in the web political and economic uncertainties are therefore mostly not motivated to take training for their pristine purpose of enhancing or increasing their efficiency or productivity in the public sector, but look at the secondary considerations of immediate material personal benefits, Solanke, A (2008)2 summed these realities thus:

Politicization of public service affects human resource development in Nigeria
Political instability impacts negatively on the maturity and dynamism of the public service and management of human assets
Too many institutions and legal instruments affect coordination and consistency in the public service human resource management in Nigeria.

The immediate challenge of arresting this incapacity is commitment to the on-going reforms in the Nigerian public sector. Happily, there is some optimism in this direction given the assurances and pledges of the new leadership in the country.

TRAINING IN VOICE OF NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY

Voice of Nigeria, established in 1961 as the external service of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, but transformed into an autonomous entity in 1990 is not entirely immune against the dysfunctional realities of the Nigerian public sector. As a government established organisation. It has its own fair share of the bureau pathologies existing in a typical bureaucratic set-up. Secondly, as a government funded outfit, it is subjected to the vagaries of government budgetary and fiscal polities, Hence, it is limited to some extent in what it requires to modernize and transform itself to meet the pace of similar broadcasting organisations in the developed world, part of which is training and capacity building. But within these constraints, the VON management has put in place a structure that guarantees regular training and retraining for its staff, including the establishment of a training school.

As a matter of policy, VON believes that there is a world of difference between the knowledge a new of fresh staff is bringing in and what he or she will confront in working for an external broadcasting service. So as new staff is recruited they are given orientation about the operations of the corporation. In addition, there is a schedule for all staff in the operational areas of the corporation (news and programmes) to be sponsored on basic, intermediate and advanced journalism, presentation and production courses,. While approaching management cafes, members of staff are also short listed and selected for management courses at the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria. There are also several international and local training workshops, seminars, and professional conferences to which staff are regularly sponsored. Voice of Nigeria also has Memorandum of Understanding and established partnerships with several other international
radio stations, with-in training and exchange programmes as key components. Such radio stations include the following:

Radio France Internationale
Deutsche Welle
Sudan National Radio Corporation
British Broadcasting Corporation
Voice of America
Egyptian National Radio.

Radio Netherlands Training Centre

The organisation also uses its membership of bodies like Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, Association of International Broadcasting, Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development, the Union of Radio and Television Networks of Africa among others to avail training to its staff. To demonstrate the seriousness attached to training, Voice of Nigeria tries to ensure that beneficiaries are immediately challenged to take up tasks in which their training will be of immediate use. But they are also required to write a report on their training experiences, offering appropriate recommendations to the management on how the programme will be of immediate value to the corporation and as a guide to future training attendance for others. There have been instances where staffs that failed a training course or on whom negative report were written by training coordinators, being asked to repeat the programme at their own expense, with another disciplinary action of reduction in status. Hence, VON staff on training are monitored and made accountable to ensure that investment in training is not wasted.

STRENGTHENING TRAINING AND CAPACITY BUILDING IN VON

For all intents and purposes, the VON training policy respects of diversity and operational relevance. But the immediate concern now is raising its training school to an international standard.  This much was recognized in the position paper presented by the Finance and Administration Directorate (2005) at the organization's management retreat where far reaching recommendations were made to ensure that the VON Training Centre ranks favorably with similar institutions in the developed countries where many Nigerian take excuse to do advanced training in broadcasting and journalism such the Poynters Institute in the US, Thompson Foundation in Cardiff, Wales, the BBC Training, All India Radio Training, Radio Netherlands Training Centre, RFI  and Deutsche Welle Akademie. It recommended among others as follows:

The training centre should be upgraded to an autonomous level with the state of the art equipment to  function as a full-fledged training centre with its own personnel and programmes of course. The target audience would be both local and foreign students who could participate in the course.These recommendations partially sum the policy focus of VON with regards to training and capacity building. While this local training aspect is being addressed in this manner, VON makes it mandatory for its staff to belong to professional bodies relevant to their professional specialisations so that they can be availed opportunities of professional development programmes.

In addition, however, the organisation  constantly reviews its MOUs with partner stations and training institutions to explore new partnerships locally and abroad to ensure that it is not on the losing and in its quest for training opportunities for staff. This essay has tried to establish a linkage between training incapacity in the Nigerian public sector and the socio-political and economic context of the nation. With the case study of Voice of Nigeria, it portrays how some organisations are coping with the challenges especially by external partnerships and collaborations. It also reflects on how the collaboration or the training itself can be abused. The optimism as established in the essay is however in the commitment of the new leadership in Nigeria to reform the ensure public domain. This will ultimately trickle down on training and capacity building of Nigerians generally for them to confront the challenges that are already on ground in this century and will get more compex in the years ahead.

 Abdul-Warees is the Head of Training, Voice of Nigeria, Ikoyi, Lagos, (korewarith@yahoo.com korewarith@voiceofnigeria.org  , abdulwarees01@gmail.com ) 08090585723

 

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