Promoting competence in public institutions

Today we turn our attention to the recently concluded Nigerian Economic Summit held in Abuja. We attended a plenary entitled ‘Effective public institutions; the unfinished business of reforms’, which provided insights into the economic benefits of reviving public institutions across the country. Although public institutions do not initiate policies, they play a critical role in ensuring that policy decisions are implemented. The public institutions are the engine rooms that translate policy to impact. It is therefore important that human capital within these institutions is well equipped to enable effectiveness.


  • The public sector is cramped up with ill-equipped workers who are expected to assist with implementing reforms. This is a function of the poor education system in Nigeria. Undoubtedly, many public servants possess degrees but this does not guarantee increased productivity or high-quality output.

  • Tunji Olaopa, a professor of government and public policy and a panellist on this plenary, expressed concerns over the recent debate around hiking the current national minimum wage of N18,000 to N30,000, as requested by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). The upward revision in his opinion is not justifiable if productivity remains low due to lack of necessary skills.

  • We understand that the government has offered the NLC a 33% increase to N24, 000. However, both parties are still negotiating.

  • Jennifer Musisi, the executive director of the Kampala Capital City Authority in Uganda and also on the panel, disclosed that she applied a strict approach upon her resumption in office to achieve desired results. The first action was to disengage the existing team within the authority and replace it with better-skilled candidates.

  • Additionally, there was zero tolerance for corruption, and severe consequences were attached to misconduct. Furthermore, the authority invested in technology, periodic training and a conducive environment for its workers.

  • The benefit of this approach has been increased productivity, which has resulted in 200% revenue growth over the past seven years, more than 1,000% asset growth within the same period and a grade ‘A’ credit rating from the World Bank. The latter encouraged private Ugandan companies to invest in projects under the authority.

  • In contrast, Ifueko Okauru, the former chair of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), applied a different approach. During her tenure at the FIRS, minimum criteria were set for existing staff to avoid retrenchment; 2,500 were unable to pass. However, she decided to create an education funding structure for those below the minimum mark that was open to returning to school, rather than discarding them.

  • Given that with the stroke of a pen, it is possible for a public servant to torpedo a well-planned business initiative that could be beneficial for both the private and public sector, private-sector participants become stakeholders. Therefore, every effort should be made to ensure that public institutions perform at their optimal levels.

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