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Civil service and future of public administration

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The Nigerian Civil Service has again been decimated. The death of Alhaji Sule Katagum, Wazirin Katagum, has just been announced. And even though he was an old man, his death is one that historians of public administration in Nigeria will celebrate with nostalgia. This is because the very personality and professional credentials of Sule Katagum is one that is decorated with significant administrative arsenal that is as significant as it is ironic. In fact, Katagum credential is a critical dimension to the very essence of why the Nigerian civil service system has become the opposite of what we thought it ought to have become.

The death of Katagum not only represents the exit of the last of the conscientious Nigerian public servants—in the company of especially the likes of Simeon Adebo, Jerome Udoji, Ali Alilu, etc., extending to the super-permanent secretaries—who exited with him in 1975—whose administrative professionalism defined the Golden Age of the public service in Nigeria, he was at the helms of affairs of its professional gatekeeping task. Indeed, with the death of Sule Katagum and Gidado Idris, a whole archive of rare information about the Nigerian public service and a certain dimension of Nigeria’s political history are lost.

I am not sure whether it is the gentle and self-effacing personality of Katagum that is responsible for the dearth of information about him and his professional credentials or whether the blame belongs to Nigeria’s historians of the Nigerian public administration. What is however certain is that Katagum went to the grave with vital information and tonnes of administrative perspectives on how the Civil Service through the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) of which he was a chairman, could be deployed as the core gatekeeper of professional conduct, attitude and performance in the civil service in Nigeria.

Before he passed on, I had made strenuous attempts to excavate crucial information about him and Alhaji Ali Akilu and many thanks to Prof. A. D. Yahaya who has offered to help out. I was even very lucky at a point in my research to have got in touch with him. We had an appointment to meet at Abuja and I was very excited about the possibility that such an appointment would yield for my inquiry into the Northern Regional Civil Service as well as the last decade of the federal civil service in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the meeting could not hold. The second appointment that was supposed to hold in Azare hometown also failed.

I therefore consider it a matter of responsibility to outline the imperative of public service professionalism which Katagum represented. This is all the more significant because he was not just a professional civil servant in the rank of the best that Nigeria had to offer, he was also sufficiently worthy to seat as the Chief Gatekeeper of the public service ethos, conduct and professionalism which Nigeria needed at a critical juncture in its administrative evolution. Quite unfortunately, Katagum was one of the prominent public servants that the civil service purge of 1975 swept away. We probably have not begun to understand the historical effects of that singular but disastrous policy decision on what the public service had become today. Yet, Katagum and many others in his generation dedicated their lives to making the civil service a worthy world class institution that could service Nigeria’s development and progress.

As at the time Katagum was the chairman of the then Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC), the Nigerian public service was already in the throes of bureau-pathology. For instance, the military regime at the time had rejected the Udoji Commission Report and its strident insistent on the reform of the management system of the public service as a means of transforming its capacity readiness to backstop Nigeria’s post-independence development management. The unfortunate decision to favor the reward component of the Udoji Report over the managerial reform effectively consolidated the downward spiral of the public service. We can therefore understand immediately the herculean task of those charged with the responsibility of clearing the Augean Stable of the Nigerian public service system.

Established in 1954 as the Federal Public Service Commission under the MacPherson Constitution, and later renamed in 1979 as the Federal Civil Service Commission, the FCSC came into existence as part of the British Northcote-Trevelyan reform of 1885. Most countries which inherited it—Botswana, the Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, South Africa, Bangladesh, etc.—have innovatively recreated its modus operandi. In Nigeria, it has a constitutional vision “To build a core of highly focused, disciplined, committed and patriotic Civil Service totally dedicated to supporting the Government in the development of a strong, united and virile Nigeria.”

Its objective four-fold: (a) To appoint qualified candidates to man the different Ministries/Extra-Ministerial Departments in the Federal Civil Service; (b) To ensure that such appointments maintain/represent the Federal character of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; (c) To make recommendations to the Federal Government on Personnel policies aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the Federal Civil Service; and (d) To ensure that Personnel decisions are taken objectively, promptly and competently in accordance with the policies and interest of the Federal Government.

Yet, 63 years after its creation, the question remains whether the FCSC has the necessary institutional mechanism to attract, retain and effectively utilize administrative skills and competencies on behalf of the Nigerian civil service? To what extent has the FCSC been able to protect the principle of merit in recruitment without buckling under political pressure, especially for representativeness?

Posing this question this way especially situates the FCSC within the global dynamics of human resource management, and the framework of merit and professionalism that has become the global benchmark for measuring performance and productivity. Within the context of Nigeria as a developing country, this is not a simple matter. And its complexity is further complicated by the managerial revolution which raises the private sector as the standard of operational efficiency for the public service.

In fact, with managerialism, two significant things happened to the public service. First, the capacity of the government, through its public service, to satisfy the citizens’ expectations for infrastructural empowerment was put into serious doubt. In other words, the government had become too bureaucratic to facilitate democratic service delivery. Second, as a direct consequence of this, there was a massive competence and skills flight from the public sector to the private. By becoming the preferred place of employment, the private sector left the public service bereft of the capacity readiness to backstop the democratic policies of the Nigerian government to effectively affect the lives of Nigerians.
To be continued tomorrow.
Dr. Olaopa is executive vice chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Ibadan.


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Sule Katagum
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