It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of the 40th National Council on Establishment (NCE) holding in this historic and beautiful city of Owerri. The meeting affords us the profound opportunity to reflect and exchange views on the general state of the civil service, address the condition of service of civil servants and the interface with the economic realities of the day, and as well find a way forward.   

2.       Permit me at this juncture, Ladies and Gentlemen, to express my immense gratitude to His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha  for accepting to host this Council meeting. You will recall that Lagos State was to host the meeting last year but for other compelling exigencies, the State was unable to oblige. The excellent arrangements, the warm reception and symbolic hospitality extended to us by the government and people of Imo State since our arrival, goes to demonstrate in practical terms the long cherished tradition of hospitality of the Imo people.

3.       There is no gainsaying that the country is going through challenging times worsened by a relentless harsh global economic situation. It is indeed a complex environment for the Civil Service. In the face of dwindling resources, the challenge of socio-economic and infrastructural development in Nigeria has become a matter that requires fresh ideas to tackle. Thus, the drive for the diversification of the economy has assumed a new urgency and the reality of the current situation is such that a renewed drive for enhanced revenue generation will greatly contribute to bridging the resource deficits for the finance of the national budget.

4.       The Public Service needs to change its narrative when interacting with Nigerians who are demanding more accountability at all levels of government especially as regards the quality of public service delivery. Trust in government by the people is enhanced by closing the widening gap with the citizenry, it is a fact that improvements in public services and delivery capabilities have direct effect on the living standards of citizens and the competitiveness of the private sector.

5.       The Civil Service is an indispensable sub-division of the executive arm of government enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. There is no government that can function without the Civil Service. The Civil Service is an apolitically independent machinery for implementing Government policies and programmes for the greater good of the citizenry and our dear country.

6.       Countries with more effective public service tend to achieve higher levels of economic growth by obtaining better credit ratings and attracting more investment, offering higher quality public services and encouraging higher levels of human capital accumulation, putting foreign aid resources to better use, accelerating technological innovation, and increasing the productivity of government spending.

7.       There has been mixed reactions on the role the Civil Service has played in the developmental history of Nigeria. The reports have been sweet and sour as the media is awash with litany of low efficiency and productivity in the Service forever emphasizing on the failings of the Service, but hardly ever acknowledging any worthwhile achievements in the civil service. It is my honest submission that the Civil Service is the foremost institution aside the Military that has sustained the unity of this country and ensured smooth transition of power from government to government be it military or civilian.

8.       The task before us as a Council is to find answers to these fundamental questions frequently asked:

i.        What is the ethos, the ethical and ideological world view that the service is to deliver?

ii.       To what purpose do we deploy leadership skills and for what ends?

iii.       How can we measure performance when the objective itself is unclear?

9.       To address the above questions, the OHCSF charted a new course for the service intended to make the service Efficient, Productive, Incorruptible and Citizen-centred (EPIC). This new trajectory for the civil service after engagements with several relevant stakeholders culminated in the 2017-2020 Strategy of the OHCSF. The Strategy is aligned with the priorities of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) aimed to drastically cut cost through capital optimization initiatives, reduction in the cost of governance, leveraging technology to improve public service productivity, capacity development of public servants, institutionalization of performance management practice and strengthening the delivery unit to ensure successful implementation of the strategies. The strategy, which has received the approval of the Federal Executive Council, has elicited a lot of support from the private sector. I am happy to note that this meeting will consider the memorandum on the Strategy of the OHCSF. 

10.     The programme of events and the agenda for this meeting as well as the minutes of the meeting of the 39th Council have been circulated for  information and consideration of members. I have no doubt, that the Officials have thoroughly evaluated the various memoranda, and made copious recommendations for the consideration of Council. I anticipate that with the quality of work already done by the Permanent Secretaries, our deliberations and conclusions during plenary should be constructive and seamless.

11.     The National Council on Establishment is a high policy making organ on Establishment matters for Civil Service in the Country. The Council has responsibility for matters pertaining to gradings, structures, salary, schemes and condition of service of Civil Servants. The Scheme of Service in particular, is a career guide, and if properly articulated and understood, is able to ensure stable industrial relations climate in our services. It provides for the method of entry and advancement in the various cadres/professions, the skills and knowledge requirements, and the process of advancement for various cadres with specified additional academic or professional certificates/qualifications. It is imperative to clarify that the decision of the NCE at its 39th meeting in Minna, Niger State in 2016 to review the entry level of all holders of the HND to SGL. 08 should not be misinterpreted as conversion to the officer Cadre, nor elongation to Salary Grade Level 17.

12.     Following series of stakeholder engagements by the Federal Ministry of Education, it was resolved that the Ministry in conjunction with the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), should develop a bridging programme to enable HND holders acquire the B.Tech Degree to be offered by the various polythenics for conversion to the officer cadre and progression to grade level 17. The Ministry is yet to conclude action on the issue. It should be reiterated that the Postgraduate Diploma (PGD) is only a bridge towards the acquisition of a Master’s degree in the relevant field to enable officers who possess the HND convert to the officer cadre. It is not the bridging programme which the Federal Ministry of Education is required to develop for the career advancement of such category of officers.

13.     I am pleased to inform Council that the eighteen (18) issues/memoranda referred to the Standing Committee at its 39th meeting, have been further evaluated and thoroughly examined, while reports of findings and recommendations have been submitted. They are part of the memoranda for consideration at this meeting.

14.     Let me observe that following the earlier meetings of the National Public Service Negotiation Councils I, II & III held in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, the Joint National Public Service Negotiation Council met in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State from 21st -23rd November, 2017 to harmonize the various positions of the National Public Service Negotiation Councils. A report on the outcome of the Joint Council meeting will be considered at this meeting.

15.     I am to inform that, in addition to the matters arising which are contained substantially in the report of the Standing (Technical) Committee, this meeting will consider a total of eighty (80) memoranda from stakeholders, notably State Governments and Labour Unions concerning creation of new cadres, amendment or elongation of existing ones and matters affecting the general welfare of Civil Servants. I am confident, that with the rich and varied experiences and exposure of members, the final resolutions of this meeting would sustain the various efforts to direct the Civil Service on the path of growth and productivity. The core values of integrity, impartiality, transparency, selflessness and the apolitical character of our Civil Service must be emphasized at all times to ensure the continued relevance of the Civil Service, and guarantee its recognition as a tested institution for national development.

 16.    Ladies and Gentlemen, let me end this Keynote Address by stating that our drive for innovation and change in the Civil Service should be a motivating force in our desire to improve on the systems, procedures, processes, regulations and operational guidelines in the service. The character of our service is largely determined by the corresponding character of the operators-Civil Servants, whose attitude, work ethos, commitment and performance must improve if we are to sustain the current level of productivity as well as improve on them. One of the methods of productivity improvement we have applied is to identify and close skill gaps through continuous Mandatory Training Programme, and among others, the introduction of appropriate non monetary reward system for deserving officers. The update and review of the scheme of service to reflect decisions of Council has reached advanced stage.

17.     I urge you to use the opportunity of this Council meeting to explore the beauty and rich cultural heritage of Imo State. Once more, I welcome you all to this 40th National Council on Establishment and wish you fruitful deliberations.

18.     I thank you for your attention and God bless us all.