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A centenary of the Nigerian civil service [II]

From the perspective of hindsight, the history and the evolution of the Nigerian civil service constitutes the sum total of an outstanding start; enduring, immature…

From the perspective of hindsight, the history and the evolution of the Nigerian civil service constitutes the sum total of an outstanding start; enduring, immature and weak structures; ambivalent decisions, bold steps, compromised reforms and fortuitous breakthroughs. The Nigerian civil service has passed through the eye of the storm on its march to greatness. Yet it has not arrived at its mandated destination. In this part, we will take historic hindsight further by examining some dynamics of misses and losses that intervened in the evolutionary progression of the Nigerian civil services and, in some senses, short-circuited its early success, especially in the immediate post-independence period.
When the Nigerianisation Policy was launched, its intention was to put the nascent civil service in Nigeria on a trajectory that would facilitate a smooth and efficient transformation of government policies into noticeable infrastructural and socioeconomic goods that the citizens can identify with.
The first snag to this worthy governance intention was the unintended clash between the administrative principles of representativeness and efficiency with regard to the placement of Nigerians who will replace the expatriates. The eventual subordination of merit to representation diminished the capacity the civil service required to facilitate socioeconomic growth and development. This was further complicated when the leadership of the civil service were seconded to the various regions. The secondment became, in the long run, a paradox. On the one hand, it further depleted the capacity quotient of the federal civil service to oversee and direct the administrative trajectory of Nigeria along the path demanded by post-independence expectations. On the other hand, it enabled the regions to achieve outstanding administrative success which, quite tragically, is what Nigeria is still attempting to recreate in terms of the multiplicity of genuine reforms.
The essence of the success of the regional civil service, especially as demonstrated in the Southwest, is the one-to-one rapport between the political and the administrative leadership. This prescribed relationship constitutes the dynamic framework that activates the efficiency required to utilise manpower and implement policies. Between Chief Simeon Adebo and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, there developed a very strong and professional synergy that transformed the socioeconomic landscape of the Southwest. This outstanding success was achieved in varying degrees in the Eastern and Northern regions. The visible infrastructural effects are still with us today. The Awolowo-Adebo model of administrative partnership demonstrates poignantly the truth of Peter Keen’s assertion that ‘complexity and trust go together.’ The Southwest administrative experiment, which is the most celebrated, teaches a simple lesson: to achieve governance requires unparalleled cooperative effort and political will that would turn policies into wonders of effective execution.
The story would have been qualitatively different today. We have been attempting to relearn the simple lesson of the Awolowo-Adebo experiment since independence. And progress has been excruciatingly slow as genuine reform initiatives have been punctured by political misadventures, global hiccups and national reversals. For instance, the hope of ever getting the Nigerian civil service on course was dashed with the advent of military intervention in politics in 1966. It is quite unfortunate that some of the most genuine and promising reforms were initiated during the long period of military executives.
Let us consider first the attempt by Adebo and Udoji to domesticate the essence of the Fulton Report within the Nigerian administrative context. This 1968 Report was an urgent attempt to bring the civil service into the twentieth century within the strategic demand for professionalism and managerial competence in public administration. In 1971, the Adebo Commission was the first to confront the deep managerial issues in the organisation and structure of the civil service (outside of its mandate of wages and salary).  
The Udoji Commission of 1974, recommended by Adebo, clearly clarified the deep intent and imperative of the Fulton Report as well as the fundamental challenge of the Nigerian civil service, which it considered to be inability to respond to and internalise global best practices that can be appropriately deployed within the complexity of modern administration for development purposes. Specifically therefore, the Commission recommended wide ranging institutional reappraisal. Central to this reappraisal is a new style public service infused with ‘new blood’ working under a result-oriented management system rooted in project management praxis operated by professionals and specialists in particular fields. It also recommended the standardization of conditions of service, increase in public sector wages, a unified and integrated administrative structure, the elimination of inefficient departments.
Unfortunately, the deeper implications of the Udoji Commission Report were jettisoned for the implementation of its wages component. And the Nigerian civil service lost its second transformatory moment. What followed was the acute breakdown of democratic governance tradition under the debilitating command structure of the military as well as several reform attempts to arrest the gradual but steady degeneration of administrative structures. When the 1975 purge of the civil service happened, it represented the climax of the erosion of the essential capacity of the civil service system in Nigeria. The structural adjustment programme of the early 80s then became the last act in an administrative drama that ensured that a very strong colonial legacy turned into a shadow of itself, without capacity or competence. From the 90s onward, there followed serious reform agenda saddled with the task of making sense of the challenges of the Nigerian civil service and how the rot can be arrested.
Yet, the foundation of the lacklustre performance of the civil service had already been laid, and the status of the Nigerian centenary had already been decided. The best we can do is to look forward to another centenary of achievements on a better foundation. ‘The important things of tomorrow,’ says Andrew Grove, ‘are probably going to be things that are overlooked today.’ So, our redemption is to look forward to tomorrow with a willingness to reappraise yesterday so that we can recover all that we left behind.
Dr Olaopa is Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Communication Technology <[email protected]>;

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