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Adamu Fika and the persona of the old-school remarkable bureaucrat

Prof. Tunji Olaopa Nigerians have by now reconciled with the demise of Alhaji Adamu Fika, Wazirin Fika, former secretary to the federal government, and an…

Prof. Tunji Olaopa

Nigerians have by now reconciled with the demise of Alhaji Adamu Fika, Wazirin Fika, former secretary to the federal government, and an extraordinary public servant. My reaction to his death, at a good old age of ninety, is to reminisce, among other things, on my perception of his status as a public servant, in what will be my last OP-ED.

Thus, Alhaji Fika had been there all along, and all through the emergence and historical trajectories of the Nigerian Civil Service system. In many of my public commentaries, I have celebrated him, alongside those whom I placed in the golden era of public service in Nigeria; the likes of Simeon Adebo, Jerome Udoji, Francesca Emmanuel, Allison Ayida, Phillips Asiodu, Sule Katagum, Grey Longe, Ahmed Joda and many more. This golden era refers to that period in Nigeria’s administrative history when the civil service system was eminently set and capable of delivering optimal performance that could transform positively the postcolonial expectations of the Nigerian state.

In my critical assessment, Alhaji Fika’s professional persona embodies the direct incarnation of the old-school bureaucratic methodology: the typical no-nonsense and mercurial public officer who knew his onions and stood by the rules. He was the apotheosis of Sir Humphrey Appleby in the popular British political satire sitcom, “Yes Minister”/ “Yes, Prime Minister,” which ran from 1980 to 1984 and from 1986 to 1988 on BBC2. In that series, Sir Appleby defends the bureaucracy, its procedures and rules, and the administrative status quo with all his ingenuity as a staunch bureaucrat. He blocks and impedes Hacker, the Minister, at every point even though he is highly deferential and respectful. And he always reminds subordinates who want to side with the Minister that their career progression depends ultimately on their civil service superiors. The series demonstrates the adversarial relationship between the executives and the civil service. On the one hand, Sir Appleby frustrates proposals by the minister through series of clever administrative strategies, while on the other hand, the minister also undermines whatever proposal Sir Appleby supports.

The Hacker-Appleby adversarial encounters in “Yes Minister” reminds me of the strained relationship between Chief Olu Falae and Alhaji Adamu Fika during the Babangida regime which eventually led to Fika’s forced retirement from service. The Babangida administration had separated the office of the secretary to the federal government (OSGF) and the office of the head of service (OHCSF), what used to be the same since 1960. Olu Falae became the SGF while Fika was made the Head of Service. And that created the series of hostile engagements that brought about unsavoury consequences, especially the missed opportunity that could have benefitted the civil service system as well as the Babangida administration. For example, when Babangida, as part of his civil service reform agenda, insisted that ministers should take over the responsibilities of accounting officers from permanent secretaries, Alhaji Adamu Fika resisted that move.

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There was also the tension between the Head of Service and the SGF. Olu Falae, working with Ojetunji Aboyade, Chu Okongwu, Kalu Idika Kalu and others, had wanted to leverage on the Babangida administrative reforms and his expansive and analytics approach to governance. And he definitely would have loved to collaborate with the head of service, especially with the possibility of drawing from the planning and economic policy pool of expertise (where Falae retired) to articulate an existing talent and knowledge management tools in civil service manpower planning and capacity utilization. Unfortunately, the head of service misinterpreted this as an administrative intrusion that demonstrates the lack of wisdom in bifurcating the two offices. Well, the president must have thought about Fika’s resistance as an affront. Of course, Alhaji Fika was well apprised about the old role of the Gowon-era super permanent secretaries and their capacity to speak truth to power.

These administrative clashes were symptomatic of what has become a fundamental underbelly of what is wrong with the public service in Nigeria since it began reforming. And that is the hostile relationship between the old Weberian administrative methodology and the new managerial revolution. Indeed, the “Yes Minister” sitcom threw up the very basis on which the 1968 Fulton Report challenged and sought to overcome the Weberian methodology in favour of the new public management and its managerial revolution. Between the Udoji Commission of 1974 and the Dotun Phillips study report of 1984, there were strenuous and well-founded attempts to redirect the Nigerian civil service system away from the “I-am-directed” administrative model that privileges civil service rules compliance over and above performance and productivity, and the input-process orientation under a generalist framework. The reform assumptions and recommendations of both the Udoji and the Phillips report were geared towards transforming the system into a flexible, entrepreneurial, effective and efficient institution with the capacity readiness to enhance performance and productivity.

And this managerial revolution is even more urgent in countries like Nigeria where the civil service system is forced to confront all sorts of indices of underdevelopment and authoritarianism. The objective of managerialism – a results-based management that focuses on outputs and results rather than only inputs and processes —encompasses a range of approaches to the running of the business of government, especially through the adoption and adaptation of private sector practices; with reform emphases on customer service and the centrality of citizens as customers, decentralised service delivery models, outsourcing and human resource function; identification of targets, design of KPIs, their tracking, monitoring, measurement and evaluation based on performance benchmarks, metrics and contracting, etc.

Since the failure of the Phillips reform of 1988, the system has been floundering between stagnation and reformability and performance visioned by the National Strategy on Public Service Reform (NSPSR) and succeeding reform strategies and actions. The result is that there are so many defining reform changes from 1999 without the efforts to push them through to critical institutional determination. We have, as key examples: the irreducible SERVICOM innovation that has not yielded its fundamental fruits; the multiyear budgeting initiatives—MTSS and MTEF, for instance; the M&E and other basic elements of project management that lacks critical managerial bites; an evolving performance management framework of accountability hitched to an ineffective tenure in appointment; an active training investment without evidence of tasks-rooted training needs and post-training impact assessment; wage and incentive structures properly indexed to market relativities and to productivity indices; adversarial industrial relations with scant space for technical-rationalism in collective bargaining; the contributory pensions and national health insurance schemes requiring innovative deepening and consolidation, etc.

As we celebrate the eventful life and professionalism of Alhaji Adamu Fika, my erstwhile boss and towering figure of the civil service system in Nigeria, it is again time to use his illustrious lifetime and professional credentials to reflect on where we are in administrative rehabilitation of a system that is key to making democracy works for Nigerians.

Prof. Tunji Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Professor of Public Administration

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