Worried by the lackadaisical attitude of many Nigerians, especially public servants to work, Professor Epiphany Azinge, through his Epiphany Azinge Foundation has begun a remedial mission to change the mindset of workers — private or public — to take their official duties as their personal work and put in their best. He has been touring states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and visiting government parastatals to deliver lectures on work ethics. The former law teacher spoke to OMIKO AWA on the essence of his mission and the importance of a healthy work culture to the economy and the people.
Why work ethics in a country where many employers pay their workers poorly and do not create the right motivational environment?
One may think that low motivation and poor salaries are inexplicably intertwined; and that when there is poor salary there will be expected poor work ethics. We have tried to reason that this is not the correct culture to be enthroned, in the sense that while we aspire to have proper remuneration and get authorities concerned to put the right structure in place, workers should not lose sight that those who aspire to work for government at all levels — local government, state and federal — are the few privileged Nigerians.
From available statistics, we do not have more than five million workforce in the public service in the country at all levels. And if we consider that there are about 180 million Nigerians or even more and if you just consider the percentage that form the five million you will know that public service at any standard is made up of the privileged few. So, I urge those public servants that are doing the job to continue doing so diligently as required of them, hoping that ultimately government will do the needful by increasing their salaries and other benefits.
Some people have described public service as a place of square pegs in round holes and a place for mediocre performance. How would good work ethics be created when workers are not prepared to do things right?
Nigeria is a very peculiar country and at any point in time we must try to accommodate our differences in one way or the other. We must take cognisance of the variables that are clearly part and parcle of our existence. In this context I mean that issue of federal character, which is well enshrined in our public service lexicon is nothing we can do away with easily, but again, that does not suggest that the concept promotes inefficiency or does not encourage merit and performance driven employment.
But while we continue to emphasise the culture of work ethics along the part of merit and performance based productivity, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is in our collective interest to continue to promote the concept of federal character, so that there will be a feeling of contentment and fulfillment among all the various ethnic nationals in the country. This is true, so that it will not appear that only one section of the country runs the public service, especially at the federal level. Like I said, even with these variables and parameters, we must try to ensure that while we are taking cognisance of federal character, they must not lose sight of the fact we need to have a well motivated, performance driven and result oriented public service.
In one of your lectures you talked about protocol and loyalty, but how can one be loyal when a chief executive does not believe in good work ethics?
I talked about loyalty to organisation and not loyalty to an individual or the chief executive. Loyalty to ones organisation is not an indirect way of encouraging people to do the unacceptable just because they are working for or are under the directives or instructions of the director general or the chief executive as the case may be. People should learn to draw that line of distinction between loyalty to their organisation and loyalty to an individual who is at the helm of affairs.
The idea is that if you are loyal to your organisation you will resist or refuse to do what you are asked to do when you consider it ultimately detrimental to the organisation. Then, we will look forward to seeing people demonstrate their loyalty by telling whosoever is directing them to do the wrong thing that they won’t do it. It is the courage of conviction, even if at the end of the day, you are penalised for not doing it. It can only be for a while because in the fullness of time you will find out that you will be vindicated, better appreciated, applauded and your conscience will be at peace. You should have the courage to put your stand in writing, even if it is minuted in a file, minute back to state your opinions and try as much as possible to be humble in doing so. Be firm and ultimately it will be on record that you refused or resisted to do the wrong thing despite what will occur later. Let it be on record that you did your part by showing loyalty to your organisation by obviously refusing to do what you considered untoward and not in the best interest of the organisation.
This can only happen in public service and not in the private sector where the boss is the sole administrator and when one says no, his/her job would be on the line?
In the private sector, the maxim is ‘he who plays the piper dictates the tune.’ Courage of conviction comes from those who are well equipped and good in their field. People who pander to the dictates of their proprietors, doing things that are untoward are those who have little or nothing to offer; they are oftentimes not in a position to truly distinguish themselves.
But those who show courage push themselves beyond the frontiers of efficiency and effectiveness to the extent that they are highly indispensible. They can still find a place in other private organisations and raise their voices against what they considered beyond acceptable, because they are so well distinguished, so proficient that their employers are compelled to listen to them because they may not want to lose them.
What I am I trying to say is for one to push him/herself a little bit higher.
Take yourself to that height, whereby, regardless of the fact that you are in the private sector, you distinguish yourself to the extent that people will take your opinion seriously. So, getting a job in another place may not be a problem for you. When you are in that situation, certainly you can call the shot wherever you are.
What are the gains of ethics to the economy and the individual?
Well, of the economy, if properly put in place will promote efficiency, discipline, accountability, honesty, ensure that things are done timeously, among others. It will promote result-oriented process that will certainly impact positively on the growth and development of the economy. It will help to ensure that the economy is put at the front burner. Proper work ethics does not keep files on ones table when they supposed to be moving; it does not allow shady deals, corruption, unruly behaviour, among others.
For the individual, it brings learning and discipline, efficiency and proficiency that will help the individual become useful not just to himself, but to the community at all levels. There is no knowledge that is ever wasted whatsoever you can take away from public service, you can deploy in other phase of human endeavour, whether working for your local community or for yourself long after you have retired from office. It is something anybody stands to benefit from.
You have mingled with different levels of public servants. From your observations can our public service delivery return to its former glory where things were done properly?
There is nobody or group of people that cannot be redeemed. Mark you, people are joining public service and the young will surely grow to take over the leadership of the service from the older generation. Even if we have issues with the top echelon, one way or the other, because we could say that their views are set and characters formed, what about the younger ones coming up? I believe this messages should tend towards the younger generation, so that we can tell them that many more things can still be done differently; that there is plenty of work to be done in this country and what we go about preaching is for their own good, so that, at the end of the day we will look forward to a better and more organised country.
A place where people work to earn their living and culture of work ethics is well established. We go about doing some of these things free of charge, without honorarium, remuneration, transportation and other benefits because we believe that there is still a future for the youth and people of this country. I believe if we can do this beginning with the public service, other Nigerians will join to handle other areas of our national life, if we are able to gather all these people and effectively preach this to them. I believe in years to come we will begin to see the effect. This is the whole essence of what my foundation is doing.
You talked about working smart and not working hard, kindly expound on this?
It is obviously stupid and totally naïve in modern day for people to pretend to be working hard instead of working smart. You can see people working hard moving in concentric circles. Working smart means you have to adapt to all the modern technologies and learning to achieve certain results. Working smart enhances one’s effectiveness and efficiency.
A task that could take somebody working smart 24 hours to complete, would take somebody working hard a week or more to complete. Working smart tells that you have better tool, understanding, learning and knowledge, and can also engage in research and others to improve your work. The person is also prepared to be creative and ready to think outside the box. Working smart is result oriented, effective and efficient, and lastly, it is worthy of recommendation to the younger generation and persons desirous for change in the country.
Will Nigeria ever get out of its present situation, where things seem not to move?
Yes, we will remain hopeful. Nigeria is a country where despite our challenges; we have been able to emerge stronger than otherwise imagined. We may have to feel injurious at some point in time, but I remain very optimistic that we will overcome. However, we need to be resolute and do that which is true. So that posterity will always record us and history also will be kind to us, that is the motivating force behind what I am doing. We have to change the mindset of the average Nigerian to approach issues in a positive way and with this Nigeria will be a wonderful paradise on earth.