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Nigeran civil service and trajectory of public administration – Part 3

By Tunji Olaopa
15 April 2022   |   2:28 am
Thus, administrative and governance reforms became key parts of service rehabilitation. But then, the reforms became as transformative as they also contributed to institutional problems.

Tunji Olaopa

Thus, administrative and governance reforms became key parts of service rehabilitation. But then, the reforms became as transformative as they also contributed to institutional problems. One example suffices here: the Dotun Philip Commission and the Civil Service Reorganisation Decree 43 of 1988 it inspired during the Babangida administration.

One major reform item of this reform report was the paradigmatic shift away from the British Westminster parliam entary and administrative tradition to the American presidential system.

Within the remit of achieving a professionalized service, the Phillip Report focused on training to achieve specialization. Civil service officers were targeted based on the high-end qualifications they present at entry, and are required to undergo regular training and retraining. This led to the creation of a new bureaucratic structure made up of assistants, officers and directors.

The unintended consequences of the reform transcended its initial objective of a professionalized and specialized service. For instance, the renaming of the permanent secretaries as director-generals was a politicising act that gave them the tenures of political appointees. They therefore occupied offices as long as the tenure of the appointing government lasts. By the late 90s, the fight to regain the value-based practices of the civil service was already getting lost. First, the service was already a mixed multitude—a genuine set of administrators and conscientious civil servants coexisting with a motley of politically-minded bureaucrats more inclined to political orientation, parochialism and primordial sentiments. Second, the category of mentors and seniors who were more than willing to assist in waging the war to relocate the system back to its value-based administrative tradition were already rapidly thinning out due to retrenchment and death.

It was thus that sincere reform efforts were contending with congealing anti-reform bureaucratic practices. Even after 1999 when the democratic experimentation commenced, and the civil service was under the reform imperative of re-professionalization to capacitate service delivery to Nigerians, the phenomenon of organized lateral transfers and the resultant stagnation and promotional block which had built up since the movement of the capital of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja in the federal in 1990/1, had already become complicated and disenabling to the system.

This measure of bureau-pathology was aggravated by a certain level of in-breeding that ensured that the service is not opened up in a structural sense that facilitate systematic process of infiltration by external expertise and competences through sabbatical leave, staff exchange, projects-based exposures opportunity to officers, and so on. There was also a limited exposure to business and commercial orientation that constrained capacity by officers to take advantage of such emergent business models as PPPs, outsourcing, etc. in the last decades. The service also became constrained by a reluctance to modernize through a critical embrace of new technologies and digitization necessary for the implementation of open (cum electronic) government, and consequently a performance management culture that has the capacity to enhance national productivity Nigeria requires for a competitive twenty-first century economy.

In essence, the third generation of administrators and civil servants were confronted both with the challenge of modernizing the public service, and the imperative of becoming twenty-first century public servants patriotic and professional enough to drive the public service as a valuable complement to the demand for democratic governance in Nigeria. Each of the two generations was confronted with its own unique challenge. The first generation had to ensure that the inherited civil service retained its value-based framework so as to be able to function in the newly independent Nigeria. The second generation had to retain the functional efficiency not only to conduct the civil war but to also rehabilitate a war-torn Nigeria. The third generation is confronted with the challenge of democratic governance and the imperative of modernizing the public service to achieve efficient service delivery. And this challenge is all the heavier because the administrative and governance dynamics of the 60s, the 70s and the 80s cannot match up with the series of administrative and governance ideas that have all formed to insist on modernizing the government and its public management framework for an even better performance protocol and productivity than ever before.

Managerialism has transformed the way we understand government, governance and management.
Essentially, the idea of the twenty-first century government is one that is democratic, citizen- centric and seamless in the way it connects its efficient and technology-enabled public service to an enlarged governance space that allows both the government and other nongovernmental and nonstate actors to brainstorm and strategize on how to generate policies that facilitate better service delivery to the populace.

And the idea of a 21st century government is practically impossible without a corresponding 21st century public servant—constrained by ethical values (i.e. integrity, honesty, respect); democratic values (i.e. responsiveness, representativeness, rule of law); and professional values (i.e. excellence, innovation)—with the capacity to create and continually recreate public values within a framework of entrepreneurial dynamics that allows citizens’ and societal satisfaction. In essence, the twenty-first century public servant must be willing and able to operate in a VUCA—volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous—environment, armed with a large dose of public-spiritedness and a sense of the public service as a calling in the Levitical Order.

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