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Nigeran civil service and trajectory of public administration – Part 2

By Tunji Olaopa
14 April 2022   |   2:46 am
Before expounding on the trajectory of the third generation of civil servants and public administrators, to which I belong, I need to note a few administrative

Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. Photo: WOMENOFACRICA

Continued from yesterdayBefore expounding the trajectory of the third generation of civil servants and public administrators, to which I belong, I need to note a few administrative dynamics and dysfunctions that heralded the emergence of the third generation.

From the pioneering generation of a civil servants, as noted earlier, Nigeria inherited a civil service that was essentially value-driven, public-oriented and highly professionalized. The values of the service as well as those existing within the Nigerian society of the period were mutually reinforcing to facilitate the core public-spiritedness that the profession demanded.

An added positive characteristic was the symbiotic relationship between town and gown that allowed for a policy architecture that benefitted from both. While the Victorian value set that grounded the civil service made it inevitably elitist, the real challenge for the pioneers was their inability to interrogate and deconstruct the value foundation of the civil service in ways that connects it with local ideas and traditions. This failure would late have terrible consequences, which the pioneers themselves anticipated.

Both the Adebo Commission (1971) and the Udoji Commission (1974) signalled the moment at which the system ought to have transited from the Weberian, “I-am-directed” administrative tradition, so that the system would be remodeled to facilitate its capacity readiness to carry the functionality of a developmental state. Unfortunately, the system was at the height of its success, preeminence and somewhat too self-satisfied to respond to reform prompting. The administrative dissonance between the civil service and the second and third development planning undermined the vision of placing the Nigerian state at the commanding height of the economy as a developmental state that was able to realize the objectives of transforming the lives of Nigerians.

Several series of events—the discovery of oil, the immense petrodollar that submerged the national revenue, the rejection of the Udoji recommendation for a managerial rehabilitation of the administrative system, the implementation of the Udoji bonanza which structurally disconnected the service wage structure from national productivity trajectory thus making recalibration within technical-rational parameter complex, and the 1975 purge of the civil service—eclipsed the golden age of the civil service, and aggravated the second generation that was already immersed in the bureau- pathology. It was already an open season of societal and administrative anomie. The economy awash with oil revenue had already instigated national profligacy. And Prof. Wolfgang Stolper had become frustrated by the culture of planning without facts or statistics. Once the 80s were fully underway, the Nigerian economic and institutional dynamics were too weak to resist the structural adjustment programmes when they were foisted on the country.

From the 1975 civil service purge to the SAPs de-institutionalization process, the value-orientation of the inherited civil service ethos had been damagingly eroded. Professionalism and public-spiritedness had gone to the dogs! The culture of delayed gratification had been replaced by that of instant gratification (or something-for-nothing). The statist dynamics of prebendalism and clientelist framework could then easily invade the civil service in ways that instigated a culture of waste and redundancies as well as damaged maintenance and asset managing system. The third generation of public servants was thus heralded by a ballooning cost of governance and an administrative debilitation that were a far cry from the system inherited by the pioneers, from Adebo to Ayida.

By the time my generation came of age, it was already deeply embroiled in the dynamics of the bureau-pathology that has debilitated the civil service. And this was all the worse because we had mentors and seniors who connected us to the golden age in terms of their passion, professionalism and knowledge-propelled zeal for service. They carried the grand narratives of promise and progress tied to nation-building. And they were all too willing to pass on their knowledge and zeal through a generational handholding. Unfortunately, however, it is my generation of administrators and public servants that has to pick up the brunt of institutional decay at its acutest point, especially when the challenges of national integration and good governance have become more heightened. Nigeria now needs “a world-class public service delivering government policies and programmes with professionalism, excellence and passion”, to quote the vision of the NSPSR.

But then, the “professional, efficient, effective and accountable” public servants who understand the system (past, present and in the light of daily growing innovations in public administration) to bring knowledge and skills into capacity readiness may really not be on the ground. Besides, there is a dearth of think tanks and consulting firms that have developed services portfolios that have deep enough relevant contents, solutions-frameworks and core competencies to address first-hand, the issues and problems for which governments in Nigeria are seeking solutions. And at that measure that could seamlessly translate into handholding technical support services which MDAs require to excel or to be on top of their game.

The third generation and its notables (not in any verified order of seniority) would include Aliyu Mohammed, Aminu Saleh, Gidado Idris, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, Ignatius Olisemeka, Baba Gana Gingibe, Abu Obe, Yayale Ahmed, Ebele Okeke, Amal Pepple, Stephen Oronsaye, Oladapo Afolabi, Sali Bello, Goni Aji, Danladi Kifasi, Winifred Oyo-Ita and Folasade Yemi-Esan. They were generational, confronted from the 80s through the 90s to date, with a huge tide of challenges and possibilities.

The managerial revolution that the Udoji Commission recommended confronted the public service with new concepts and practices around target setting, performance assessments metrics, professionalized human resource departments, policy-engaged research, evidence-based policy intelligence, monitoring, evaluation and new project management accountability structures, management and operation research, etc. Of course, the succeeding governments, from independence, were equally concerned with the sustained decline in the effectiveness and efficiency of the civil service, and especially its disconnection from planning and state objectives.

To be continued tomorrow

Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary.
& Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos