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Bukar Usman and salient issues in Nigeria’s public policy administration

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A voluminous book of 458 pages, Dr. Bukar Usman’s My Public Service Journey: Issues in Public Policy Administration in Nigeria (Klamidas Communications Ltd, Abuja; 2019) is an expository memoir on the Nigerian public service. The book is the perspective of a civil servant who rose through the ranks, climbing to the pinnacle of a career in the public service of Nigeria. He was permanent secretary for 11 years in a career spanning 34 years. Usman, the author, retired in 1999 and since then he has been globetrotting, thrust into the forefront of public discourse through his numerous books and monographs. Usman’s creative endeavors include short stories, folktales, an autobiography; his many books in Hausa and his interventions on leadership, security, and national development issues.

The book is in two parts, with three sections in each part. This volume is Usman’s counterpoise to his earlier work My Literary Journey. My Public Service Journey is the judgment of an insider rather than one peeping into the public service of the federation from outside, though now in retirement. Though guarded, there is no mistaking the author’s desire to bequeath to history the service operated by a retinue of conscientious servants of the people. In his five-page foreword to the memoir, the former super Permanent Secretary and Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief Philip Asiodu, called the book a primer for the study of the Nigerian Public Service and the state of the public service today.

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Usman starts each chapter by defining the concepts and issues to be discussed. This gives the reader the necessary background and the gist of his message, enabling the reader to “appreciate the issues and the era being discussed.” This book has to be autobiographical because Usman became enamoured with public service from childhood. Work in the private sector never appealed to him. In section one, the author identified four categories of public policy: Substantive Public Policy, Regulatory Public Policy, Distributive Public Policy, and Capitalisation Public Policy. There is a basic assumption in his definition of public policy.

Accordingly, Usman’s definition of the public policy states: “The prime goal of all policy instruments is to solve problems efficiently, effectively and in fairness to all.” This was true of the service inherited from colonial rule and the immediate post-Independence Nigeria. This was the service of the prime minister, the regional premiers, the other leaders of the First Republic and which prevailed beyond the Civil War of 1967-70. However, that old type of civil service had to be adapted to the needs of the U.S.-type presidential system, which Nigeria adopted with the 1979 Constitution. My Public Service Journey contains the essential characteristics of the legacy of the British Civil Service document signed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Malam Aminu Kano and Professor Eyo Ita at the 1954 Constitutional Conference.

That document required non-partisan, non-political officials who are never removed after the change of government. The service was one that was objective, merit-driven, professional and permanent as it was under the British parliamentary system. The new system after the adoption of the American-style presidential system has only 12 departments. Over there, those who depart with their appointees are the secretaries of state, deputy secretaries and assistant secretaries. In the parliamentary system, ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries and parliamentary under-secretaries alone depart after a change of government. But these days, presidential advisers, ministers, think-tanks are appointed from outside the civil service.

In his memorandum to President Umaru Yar’Adua’s Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, now a member of President Buhari’s think-tank, the author deals with problems which are still current. Among these problems is the degraded state of the civil service as regards competence, training, honesty, integrity, insecurity, corruption, law and order, and conflict of interest. In section III, Usman’s lectures on ethics and accountability heralded his thoughts on accountability between politicians, the public service and the general public. He describes corruption as embracing a wide range of deviations from correct conduct.

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Usman decries nepotism, bribery, looting of pubic funds, contract fixing, conflict of interest, police brutality, manipulation of the electoral process and various due process violations. He says the main problem in Nigeria is the weak enforcement of anti-corruption law. In part B comprising sections IV, V and VI, Usman deals with many issues of great concern to the public. Among his recommendations is the need for local government police as it was in the First Republic. He discusses the demand for the creation of more states, the restructuring of the country and the people’s desire to acquire a greater share of oil revenue, which some call resource control. He opposes the creation of more states because the majority of the existing states are unviable.

In a speech before the 2011 elections, the author demanded free and fair elections which he considered very important. He said: “It is an understatement to say that although Nigerians yearn for democracy, we have not been fortunate to have a settled political structure in the last 50 years which Nigerians and well-wishers will be proud of. Instead, we continue to tinker with the Constitution while electoral transparency eludes Nigeria.” Though the country has survived the elections of 2011, 2015 and 2019, the author argues, the country still has a long way to go to ensure “free, fair and universally accepted election results.” But Dr. Usman insists that there is still a need for political campaigns to be issue-oriented, campaigns proffering ideas on Nigeria’s dreams and the future greatness of Nigeria.

Usman believes there is need to get to the situation observed by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr. Justice Alfa Belgore, when he said at a summit meeting at Asaba, Delta State, in 2010 which he refers: “The electoral system had failed, due to the lack of fundamental acceptance of the rules of electoral process by all stakeholders, including the citizens, the candidates, and the umpires,” hoping that a day would arrive when such a situation will no longer apply.

For his ‘Closing Thoughts,’ Usman looks back on 57 years since independence in 1960, assessing Nigeria’s place among the comity of nations. In his assessment, he rates Nigeria low, having been outpaced by nations like Malaysia, Brazil, and India.
He assesses Nigeria’s living standards, arriving at the damning and true verdict that the country’s scorecard is not impressive. He stresses two issues: Nigeria’s inability to conduct free, fair and credible elections and the grossly inadequate power supply. That assessment is as valid today more than ever before, especially with no available power in sight in the foreseeable future. Usman opines that it is critically necessary to give the two issues of top priority. And the response of Buhari’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, to the vexed gubernatorial election in Kogi State, where the women leader of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state was burned to death means Usman might be getting a hearing. In the said Kogi election, Malami disagreed with the Inspector-General of Police on the ignoble role of the police in the election.

Of great interest are two books given to Usman in October 2011. The first, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by a journalist, Richard Dowden and the second Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by a spy and former operative of the U.S. National Security Agency, John Perkins. Dowden’s book has a section on Nigeria where he highlights issues dealing with tourism, corruption, and elections. From Perkins’ book, Usman got the disturbing role of economic hit men who apply devious economic methods as directed by the U.S. Government to ensnare or overthrow nationalist presidents, thereby causing regime changes in target countries of particular interest to the United States.

The countries targeted include Iran, Indonesia, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Iraq, Venezuela and Libya. The Halliburton Bribery Scandal was the means through which Angola and Nigeria were targeted at that time. And that scandal and the Malabu Oil deal are still hanging afire on the necks of the administrations of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan. The books are lucid and thought-provoking portraits of corruption in high places for the author to digest. They constituted part of the public service experience of the author that enables him to bring forth issues concerning progress and development in Nigeria in this invaluable book.

Usman was born in Biu in the State of Borno, Northeastern Nigeria in 1942. After his primary school in Biu, he proceeded to the state capital of Maiduguri for his secondary education. He did his Higher School Certificate at King’s College, Lagos. Thereafter, he obtained a degree in Public Administration at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Then, he joined the federal civil service as a clerical officer, rising to become a super permanent secretary. This paperback volume has 32 pages of pictures, showcasing the author as the recipient of many awards: doctorate degrees and national honours. His round-the-world cruises on the ship ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ where he visited the Moorish Minaret, Cadiz, Spain are shown. The book has 14 appendices and 21 pages of index to make it easy reading for students, politicians, and civil servants alike.

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