The public sector plays a very significant role in the development of any country. This recognition may not be farfetched from the fact that no country can develop beyond the capability of its public sector. By capability, I mean the ability of the government through the public sector to respond to the growing complexity and dynamics of governance in their quest to meet the needs of citizens.
The public sector like humans grows old. They start life small and are eager to survive, fueled by youthful energy and fresh ideas. They compete, expand, mature, and eventually, with few exceptions, fade into obscurity or become complacent; these were the words of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the Prime Minister of UAE and the Ruler of Dubai at the 3rd Government Summit held in February 2015 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate. Before, these insightful words on the public sector by Al-Maktoum, the duo of Boon Siong Neo of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Singapore and Geraldine Chen of the Nanyang Technological University Singapore authored a book titled ‘Dynamic Governance: Embedding Culture, Capabilities, and Change in Singapore in 2007 where they argued that we are in an era of rapid change in national as well as global affairs, coupled with the growing awareness for good governance and competitiveness for investment, thus, countries require a dynamic public service, if not it will lag behind and become irrelevant. They went further to posit that any country that allows its public service to ‘grow old’, risks being outdated and their choice is simple: innovate or stagnate.
What this implies is that a country like Nigeria must be aware that the race for national competitiveness is every bit as vicious as the competition among companies in the marketplace. This is because she must compete for investment, talent, growth, and opportunity in a globalized world, and should she be unable to do so, she would be pushed out of the race thereby surrendering the greatest prize of all: human development, prosperity, and happiness for her people.
To avoid this fate, putting in place a world-class public sector is a necessity that requires a sense of urgency. The importance of providing a world-class public sector and its consequences is well documented in the works of Jim Collins titled ‘From Good to Great’ and ‘Built to Last’ as well as in the best-selling management book by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman titled ‘In Search of Excellence’ where innovations are seen to be the key to seizing opportunities and behaving like the dynamic, entrepreneurial countries like Singapore, Malaysia, United Arab Emirate, New Zealand, Australia, etc., that are defining and shaping the future of governance and the way the public sector is managed, and public service delivered.
These aforementioned countries recognize a world full of vulnerabilities; uncertainty and change and also recognize the fact that their current achievements are no guarantee for their future survival. Hence, even if their initial chosen set of principles, policies, and practices are good, static public service efficiency and governance could eventually lead to them stagnation and decay as eloquently narrated by Francis Fukuyama in his bestselling book titled ‘Political Order and Political Decay. This implies that no amount of careful planning can assure the Nigerian state of continuing relevance and effectiveness if her administrative machinery remains insufficient to drive the institutional capacity required for learning, innovation, and change in the face of ever new challenges in a volatile and unpredictable global environment.
As such, given Nigeria’s developmental focus, she must have in place a public sector that is characterized by new ideas, fresh perceptions, continual upgrading, quick actions, flexible adaptations and creative innovations, continuous learning, fast and effective execution, and unending change; a public sector that can enhance her development and prosperity by constantly improving and adapting the socio-economic environment in which people, business and government interact. Nigeria needs a public sector that is well equipped to influence economic development and social behavior through policies, rules, and structures that create incentives or constraints for different activities and this type of public sector is only attainable through constant reforms and transformations in line with the dynamics of the governance environment as well as the developmental needs of the state. These are the reasons why the country’s policymakers must continuously initiate and implement public sector reforms, even though for now, the majority of them have missed their goals.