Building A Culture of Responsibility and Accountability In Nigerian Public Institutions


The public servant always finds himself/herself at the centre of the call for probity and accountability. So, naturally, he is tempted to ask the question, “why me?”.  This is not unusual.

The “Why-Always-Me?” question is accredited to the maverick footballer, Mario Balotelli, formerly of Manchester City Football Club of England who recently signed for Italy’s Serie A Club A. C. Milan in the January transfer window. According to the footballer, “the message was a plea to those critics and to the paparazzi who trail him off the pitch: ‘Just leave me alone’”.

In like manner, many here are wont to ask “Why-Always-The-Public-Sector?” whenever the twin issues of Accountability and Responsibility come up in discourse. The reason is simple. According to the UNDP, “The effectiveness and efficiency of a country’s public sector is vital to the success of development activities”.

Therefore, we will not leave the public sector alone.

In the words of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, “Public offices are the shopping floors of government business. Regrettably, Nigerians have for too long been feeling short-changed by the quality of public service delivery by which decisions are not made without undue outside influence, and files do not move without being pushed with inducements. Our public offices have for too long been showcases for the combined evils of inefficiency and corruption, whilst being impediments to effective implementation of government policies, Nigerians deserve better. And we will ensure they get what is better”. He made this statement after being sworn into office in 1999. Whether the public service reforms he embarked upon thereafter succeeded or not is a discussion for another day.

The Critical Importance of Responsibility and Accountability

Responsibility is one of the three critical components (a tripod) on which empowerment rests. The other legs are ACCOUNTABILITY and AUTHORITY.

Therefore, Responsibility, Accountability and Authority are best taken together. For the purpose of this write-up, responsibility and accountability are examined from the perspective of public service.

According to a UN report on selected African countries published in 2005, “a service-oriented public sector, basic to meeting the MDGs, depends on the integrity, transparency and accountability of public institutions”. It is perhaps in recognition of this that from pre-independence up to 1999, there was much focus on reforming the public service in Nigeria. In all, there were eleven (11) reforms during the period beginning with the Gorsuch Committee of 1954 and ending with the Allison Ayida Committee of 1994.

Stephen R. Covey, best known for his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people” locates RESPONSIBILITY within the space of “pro-activity” and defines it as “the ability to choose your response”. Alternatively and for practical purposes, responsibility may be defined as “Doing what you know you ought to do”.

On the otherhand, the UK House of Commons Committee on Standards of Public Life defines Accountability as a standard of public life, where “holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their offices.”

The Crisis of Responsibility and Accountability-Where We Are

The general perception among Nigerians is that the public service has not delivered what is expected of it due to the following reasons:

  • In the last ten years, budget implementation has hovered around 60% at best.
  • The speed of service delivery by government ministries, departments and agencies is generally perceived as slow
  • The perception that you need “to follow up”, that is, to grease several fingers before you can expect to secure a contract or receive a service from such MDAs remains strong.
  • The revelations from the series of probes conducted by the legislative arms of government with a view to exposing sleaze in the MDAs has kept the Nigerian public mostly entertained – (Police Pension, for instance?).
  • In some cases, those conducting probes became the objects of probes in return

In the final analysis, the average Nigerian is short-changed.

How Did We Get Here?

It has be argued rather ironically that the crisis of accountability in the public service exemplified in cases of misconduct, bureaucratic corruption and moral decadence became the norm rather than the aberration under the military rule in Nigeria.

Though the above assertion is debatable, there is ample evidence that as at the time of independence in 1960, the Nigerian public service was noted for its high ethical and technical standards, impartiality, anonymity and dedication.

Even with the exit of the military since 1999, records show that the crisis of responsibility and accountability has continued to deteriorate in spite of several efforts to institute a culture of excellence and accountability.

Beyond blaming it on the military, it is important to note that the public service suffers from:

  1. weak institutional frameworks exemplified in the absence of a citizen’s charter and      compelling vision
  2. Confusion arising from multiplicity of principals, multiplicity of goals and lack of clarity of      objectives
  3. A vicious circle of “not me” syndrome
  4. Lack of institutionalized performance measurement systems
  5. Political interference and political patronage

The report of the Political Bureau, a committee of notable intellectuals set up by the then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, to review social, economic and political issues in Nigeria in 1987, gave a graphic picture of the problem of corruption and its debilitating pervasiveness in Nigeria’s public sector.

The benefits of an accountable public service

Responsibility and accountability are virtues that are desirable in their own right. Some of the benefits of having a responsible and an accountable public service are:

  • They act as a guideline for answerability which motivates precautionary behavior that, in turn, caters to social welfare.
  • Additionally, they make for efficient use of resources, thereby leading to savings
  • A responsible public service leads creates an operating environment for private sector initiative and excellence
  • Accountability and responsibility are tracing tools that allow us, aposteriori, to identify the people involved in accidents and damage-inducing errors, punish the responsible, if necessary, and compensate the victims if possible.

Coming in Part 2 of this article:

  • How to build a responsible and an accountable public sector
  • The relevance of culture
  • 12-step approach to developing a culture of accountability
  • The key catalysts


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