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Adebayo Adedeji’s contributions to public administration professionalism in Nigeria

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Adebayo Adedeji

Being lecture delivered by Dr. Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), at the UN-ECA Memorial Symposium in honour of Prof. Adebayo Adedeji, former Executive Secretary, UN-ECA in Lagos on the 7th of July, 2018.

The late Professor Adebayo Adedeji falls within the category of headliners in his contributions to public administration scholarship and practice nationally, and on the continent.

Indeed, his public administration credentials and how that impacted on the development of the theory and practice of administrative thinking especially in Nigeria remains a reference point.

Prof. Adedeji was trained as an economist with core competence in high-end economic policy design, planning and management, but he was of a different stock from many eminent economic policy experts. Prof. Adedeji was also a public sector management specialist who could conceptualize and undertake management design tasks that tie together the five (5) Ms of the public service management system namely; Men (HR and Establishment matters), Money (Financials and national accounting), Machine (technology and innovations), Material (facility, inventory and assets management) and Methods (management tools, techniques, systems, processes and structural design function and management).

This illustrious pan-Africanist was a visionary nationalist who came of age in the immediate post-independence period when Nigeria was in the thick of post colonial administrative necessities.

These necessities were conditioned by the need for nation building and development for a nation that had been under the colonial yoke. The incipient Nigerian state had challenges in achieving the task of social reconstruction that was integral to Nigeria’s survival as a plural nation.

The most important of this was a critical reconfiguration of the administrative structures of governance in a way that first established nationalist ownership of these structures; and second, to transform the face of public administration and of the public servants away from the dreaded colonial officials to that of the postcolonial Nigerian public servants with a sense of patriotic enthusiasm while making public administration the most effective tool of decolonization and national development in Nigeria.

Adedeji saw the future of the African continent in the economic and integrated well-being of all Africa’s regions and states.

Against this backdrop, it made good sense that the man who would rise to become the Executive Secretary of United Nation’s Economic Commission of Africa (UN-ECA) used Nigeria as the launching pad for his ideological scholarship.

In fact, a proper understanding of his scholarly trajectory must commence from his attempt to come to grips with public administration scholarship in Nigeria as well as the cogent development input he made to Nigeria’s economic blueprint as a member of government and as a dedicated public servant

The lopsidedness and imbalance in the colonial public administration system led to the clamour for a new public administration persona and structure.

To arrest this, the Nigerianization Policy was developed as an appropriate policy template.

The policy was designed to redress the employment imbalance put in place by the colonial administrative calculation.

The basis of the policy derived from the disaffection caused by the obvious disproportion in employment to the civil service top posts.

Owing to the dearth of well trained Nigerians, colonial expatriates filled the senior cadre of the civil service, while the minor clerical and technical duties were left for Nigerians.

As the struggle for independence heightened, there were increased calls for institutional dynamics that would facilitate the restructuring of the emerging national civil service.

In 1943, Nnamdi Azikiwe called for the introduction of a merit system in the service (that would displace the racial criterion for recruitment) and the inauguration of an educational programme that would prepare and empower Nigerians to be able to compete favourably.

This recommendation received official imprint in 1948 with the setting up of the Foot Commission which recommended accelerated training, inclusion and promotion for Nigerians who show sufficient administrative promises.

The Commission further recommended that scholarships should be put in place and the University College at Ibadan be supported to facilitate the adequate supply of manpower for the civil service.

This ideological mission was all about making public administration a most effective tool of decolonization and development.

However, the Nigerianisation policy confronted the difficult challenge of making policy choice between merit and representativeness as overriding public employment policy.

Nigeria went for representativeness to achieve the goal of national integration but its implementation sowed the seed of mediocrity in manner that have been extensively documented.

The federal civil service was therefore left to flounder within a quota system conditioned human resource policy framework while the regional civil services were much more professionally enabled.

This challenge of consolidating the evolution of the Nigerian civil service was further aggravated by two factors: the first was the reluctance of the expatriate heads of department to implement the Nigerianisation policy because of its obvious assault on the traditional bureaucratic ideals of public service.

The second was the overriding of this reluctance by the Nigerian Government which recommended the acceleration of the pace of the policy through the ‘immediate creation of a number of supernumerary super scale posts—deputy permanent secretaries—and the appointment of Nigerians to fill them, and that by October 1 1960, the date of independence, Nigerians should occupy the posts of permanent secretary and deputy permanent secretary in all ministries, as well as certain other important positions’.

The civil service in the immediate post-independence period therefore became filled with all manner of administrative elements, the good, the bad and the ugly, with the consequence that the workforce became unduly over-bloated.

It does not take serious reflection to realize that the federal civil service would not be able to effectively and efficiently play its leadership ad coordinator role in the implementation of the development plans which Nigeria had set in place.

Representativeness, de-professionalisation and the loss of public service integrity had taken its toll on the vitality of the civil service.

All these events were crucial study and research materials for the young Adebayo Adedeji who was still assiduously learning at the intersection of theory and practice at the London School of Economics.

Thus, the LSE provided the theory while the Nigerian and African postcolonial administrative and economic unraveling provided the needed practical and contextual grounding for the burgeoning intellectual.

It was only logical that when he finished his studies at the Harvard University that Nigeria would become one of the primary points of interest for his brimming vision of economic growth and regional integration that would turn him into an intellectual powerhouse in the whole of Africa.

Whereas the launching point for Prof. Adedeji heavily ideological scholarship was Nigeria, he remained one of the few scholars who were able to successfully and profoundly tie together the national and the regional or continental.

Professor Adedeji’s career start and arrival at the Institute of Administration in the then University of Ife coincided with the significant period when the study of public administration was still at its infancy in Africa.

Indeed, at the time, governance was not making sense to the Nigerian leadership and to Nigerians, and the Nigerian civil war came so quickly.

There was therefore an urgent need for a public administration that was muscular enough to explain Nigeria’s postcolonial direction.

It was in this maelstrom that Adedeji launched himself into the pioneering task of developing the conceptual foundation for managing the Nigeria’s complex development process.

Adedeji’s major scholarly contributions started with his first published book, ‘Nigerian Federal Finance: It’s Development, Problems and Prospects’.

The book was premised on a fundamental hypothesis that “poverty anywhere in a federation is a limitation to prosperity everywhere”.

This was borne out of his critical observation of economic disequilibrium among Nigeria’s federating units and the resultant federation that was essentially unbalanced.

This imbalance federation is, for him, a consequence of a number of factors.

These include unequal resource balance and therefore uneven development possibility for the federal and sub-national governments; the discrepancy between the income and the need in the various regions; and the problem of raising the poorer regions to a level of equalization with other regions.

Prof. Adedeji served as Federal Commissioner for Economic Development and Reconstruction tasked with the onerous responsibility of mapping the economically messy terrain of post-war Nigeria during the military regime of Yakubu Gowon.

Indeed, Adedeji’s strength in public policy, public finance and macroeconomics was crucial for the evidence-based policy interjected into postwar reconstruction in Nigeria.

Even as Federal Commissioner, he instituted a town and gown policy-research hub that quickly transformed into an administrative laboratory for multidisciplinary brainstorming about the direction Nigeria should take to achieve accelerated growth and sustainable development.

In 1969, Prof. Adedeji from the Ministry of Economic Development and reconstruction convened the Ibadan Conference on Reconstruction and Development at Nigeria Institute for Social Economic Research (NISER) at which the blueprint for a post-war economic policy was outlined along with the fundamentals for second national plan (1970-1975) document produced solely by Nigerians.

At the level of institutional reforms, Adedeji was never shy to unsettle orthodoxies and explore alternative ideological positions.

In the discourse that inspired the debate and the wave of administrative reform of the early ‘70s in Africa christened as the Udoji Reform in Nigeria, Adedeji expressed strong reservations.

According to him, the reforms were a result of what he called the “international demonstration effect” of the Fulton Report of 1968 in the United Kingdom.

The Fulton Reform being the precursor of managerialism (adoption of private sector practices) as a template for administering public institutions and all its dynamics.

To his credit, whereas managerialism had the heavy influence of institutional economists in its conceptualization, the New Public Management revolution that came in its wake has recorded mixed and ambivalent successes across Africa.

NPM has indeed largely led to the solidification of a statist tendency which undermined the trajectory and consolidation of democratic governance in Africa.

Prof. Adedeji’s non conformist stance played out with his alternative to the Bretton Woods institutions economic recipe of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), an outgrowth of the NPM dynamics, defined by its strict and austere conditionality’s as prescribed by the World Bank and the IMF which favored scaling down of the role of the state in development accompanied by deep cut in social spending.

For Adedeji, SAP was an unmitigated ideological failure that technically brought Africa to its knees in international economic interplay.

The result was heavy budget deficit, an avoidable increase in ratio of debt servicing to export earning, a steep fall in investment ratio, and drop in the GDP of most African states.

The SAP strategy of “growth without development”, for Adedeji suggests the veritable compelling necessity for ideological alternative for Africa that enable the continent to look inwards for redemption in its resources, especially the prioritization of agriculture, and rigorous pursuit of intra-continental economic growth through regional cooperation.

With the platform that UN-ECA afforded him, Prof. Adedeji launched several regional and continental alternative frameworks. His Africa’s Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programs for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP) was widely hailed.

Prof. Adedeji patriotic zeal and commitment to Nigeria always had the best of him.

At the inception of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, and as part of a long-term process of institutional reform, President Olusegun Obasanjo commissioned Prof. Adedeji to coordinate a reorientation programme involving seminars and retreats involving Ministers, permanent secretaries, CEOs of Agencies, Special Advisers and Directorate level officers in the Federal service which culminated in the Kuru Declaration of 2001.

Through the reorientation workshops titled “Preparing the Nigerian Public Service for the 21st Century”, the Federal Government in taking forward the Adedeji ‘Harmonized Report’, initiated the strategic planning process that launched, perhaps the most comprehensive and far reaching institutional reform in Nigeria, in 2003.

I had the distinct privilege of being technical head of the secretariat of that reform effort that birth the Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR) and the 2003 national public service reform strategy.

Taking a cue from the old song of the black slaves in the plantations, Professor Adebayo Adedeji may be dead but his soul and all he represented go marching on.


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