One of the most critical needs of the world population today, is information technology, with the acquisition of digitalisation as the pass-code to rapid development and business growth.
Since Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan assumed office as the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, HOCSF, training and retraining of civil servants to acquire ICT skills and other news ways of delivering quality and quick service has been top notch in her agenda.
During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, her office was neck-deep in training those permitted to go to office on how to make use zoom and webinar to conduct virtual meetings and conference to the point that today, as all civil servants have fully resumed duty across the country, they have found it seamless carrying out their duties, in compliance with coronavies protocols as well as other new ‘normals’ as workplaces.
It was perhaps in recognition of her passion and drive in that direction that she was invited to speak to Course 29 participants of the National Defence College, NDC, and on the topic- “Digitalised Civil Service and National Development,” on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 in Abuja.
Apart from the course participants, others who listened with rapt attention while the HOCSF delivered her lecture include the Commandant of the College, Real Admiral Makanju Mackson Dadiri, management and top officials of the College, members of Nigerian and foreign Armed Forces and members of paramilitary organizations among others.
In her speech, Dr. Folasade Esan said the topic she was given to discuss was very apt, in view of the ongoing reforms by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration in the public service.
She reminded her audience that it was globally recognised that development is essential to the sustenance and growth of any nation and that it was also generally accepted that when citizens have access to qualitative life, the country is classified as developed.
According to her, Nigeria has since independence, initiated several economic policies aimed at national development and growth including 5-year development plans, one structural adjustment programme, two 3-year rolling plans, four visions and strategies, saying however that none of the previous national developmental strategies has accorded uttermost priority to digitisation as the most recent Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which she said has as one of its broad objectives, the promotion of digital-led growth.
“The ERGP builds on The Smart Nigeria Digital Economy Project to increase the contribution from ICT and ICT-enabled activity to GDP. The overall goals of a digital-led strategy for growth centre on the establishment of an ICT ecosystem in Nigeria. This is enabled through significantly expanding broadband coverage, increasing e-government, and establishing ICT clusters.
“You may also be aware that government has already digitalised some of its administrative processes which are functioning very well. These include but not limited to: i. Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS); ii. Whistle Blowing Portal; iii. Open Treasury Portal; and iv. The Integrated Payroll & Personnel Information System,” she stated.
She said that the visionary concept of a Digitalised Nigerian Civil Service is one that has been nursed since the country’s return to civilian administration in 1999, saying that from that period, quite a number of initiatives to reposition and restructure the Nigeria public service have been carried out but regretted that the Nigeria Public Service like many other countries in Africa, has been bedeviled by lack of accountability, transparency and commitment in making services work for poor and marginalized citizens with the concomitant weak public institutions, collapse of infrastructures, public distrust of government and a development of a sense of despair amongst the Nigerian people.
The HOCSF said that it was most gratifying to inform that the aforementioned initiatives by government have resulted in huge savings for the country which can be channeled towards funding other critical sectors of the economy thereby contributing to national development.
For instance, she said, that the IPPIS, from 2017 to 2019 has been able to save the nation about N361 billion from the payroll clean-up. In addition, the ongoing implementation of the Human Resource (HR) Module has a projected savings of about N120 billion and gave kudos to President Muhammadu Buhari who she said allowed for the implementation of those initiatives and reforms.
“According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as at August 2020 the country had recorded a total number of 82,653,247 broadband internet subscriptions which amounts to 43.30% of internet penetration.
“In addition, a World Bank 2019 Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A) Diagnostic Report says Nigeria is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of the digital economy. The report states that Nigeria accounts for 47% of West Africa’s population, and half of the country’s 200 million people are under the age of 30. Nigeria has the largest mobile market in Sub-Saharan Africa, supported by strong mobile broadband infrastructure; yet minimal fixed broadband infrastructure and connectivity in rural areas is leaving a significant number of the most marginalized segments of the population without Internet access.
“This diagnostic report further argued that accelerating access to digital technologies spurs innovation, efficiency, and productivity, and as a result brings about choice and opportunities for greater growth and inclusion. It shows that many Nigerian citizens and businesses remain excluded from the digital ecosystem as a result of limited access to broadband and non-availability of adequate devices (mobile devices and computers) to fully utilize the Internet.
“The report, therefore, submits that to deliver on the 2030 aspirations of greater access to the digital economy and meet the bold objective of creating 100 million jobs in Nigeria, the country needs to increase investment in infrastructure, create an enabling regulatory environment for the digital economy to grow and pursue radical reforms that bring about improved skills, and a more competitive digital job market. This is in addition to supporting public-private partnerships to stimulate and sustain demand for the use of digital platforms so as to boost more investment opportunities for economic and national development,” Dr. Yemi-Esan stated.
She said it was imperative to understand how other nations and institutions have tackled their public sector transformation through qualitative case studies which she said can provide inspiration for how to go about our reform. In doing this, pertinent questions will be sufficiently answered, saying such questions as-“What pitfalls could have been avoided?” “What features or mechanisms need to be adapted to our local context and so on?” among others were necessary and listed some case studies like the UK Government Digital Service, named Moving Beyond A Website; and that of Access Bank PLC Story from which she stated that it is very important to carry out needs assessment based on the peculiarities of the local context, exploring partnerships and fostering effective collaborations, the need for organizational leadership to champion change culture and embracing new and cost effective technologies and solutions among other lessons.
“However, among all the aforementioned lessons, the Importance of Governance for Cultural Shift is a lesson that must not be forgotten and the Nigerian Public Service must learn from.
“According to the World Bank Doing Business ratings, Nigeria experienced a sharp decline in the ease of doing business. It is on record that the President Buhari-led administration took decisive steps to address Nigeria’s perpetually low ranking in global Ease of Doing Business (EDB) competitive ratings.
“Executive Order 001 on promotion of efficiency in Nigeria’s business environment was one of the proactive actions taken by the administration to get the country out of economic depression. The President had also established the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) in July 2016 to remove the critical constraints and bureaucratic bottlenecks to doing business in Nigeria.
“As a result of these fundamental and critical interventions by Government, Nigeria’s business environment has witnessed a number of improvements,” she said and listed some of the areas to include: Default Approvals to avoid undue regulatory delays; Fast-Track Visa Application/Visa on Arrival and E- passport application; More efficient Port Operations and CAC Business Registration; among others.
She disclosed that the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation is partnering with private sector stakeholders such as the Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG) towards digitalisation of processes in the Civil Service, adding that work so far has reached an advanced stage.