Monday, 20 October 2014

REFORMING THE NIGERIA CIVIL SERVICE: NUTS AND BOLTS - A Critical Reading of “The Nigerian Civil Service Of The Future” Dr.Tunji Olaopa.

Dr.Tunji Olaopa
Permanent Secretary
Federal Ministry of Communication Technology

Permit me express a deep appreciation to Mr. Patrick Okigbo and the entire Nextier family for initiating this development discourse. And to appreciate this audience of the crème de la crème of public sector intelligentsia for doing us the honour of following up on your passion for knowledge and the reading culture with your esteemed presence at this event. Might be Patrick is communicating a message to this audience on the urgent, though belated, need for a more institutionalised national networking platform for public sector professionals and development workers that should in time crystallize into a community of practice and of service.

I presume, as I proceed to read my notes crafted to help us with outlines with which to navigate the 372 pages; that my audience are readers who are not easily bored by a focused reader.

How should one begin this? Maybe with a personal intellectual reflection on the dynamics that gradually builds up and inspired the writing of my last attempt at joining the growing club of Future Researchers, the intellectual equivalent of Prophets of the Leviticus Order with a focus in Apocalypses or the End Time theology.

Writers indeed, are often considered ‘literary prophets.’ Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People preceded the first Nigerian military coup by seven months. William Shakespeare is no less prophetic. In Achebe’s case, we could say it was easy to diagnose the Nigerian predicament and forecast possible consequences. Shakespeare wasn’t a Nigerian, yet in Hamlet, probably his most popular tragedy; I see a deep analogy in Hamlet’s famous speech to Ladipo Adamolekun’s characterisation of Nigeria as a ‘hesitant’ reformer in the comity of reforming nations in Africa. ‘To be, or not to be,’ says Hamlet, while contemplating whether or not to commit murder. That is also the question for the Nigerian civil service (NCS) in the 60th year of its existence.

When more than four hundred years ago, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, Prince Hamlet’s question was a literary metaphor for deep hesitation; today, it connotes a deeper and more philosophical framework that surrounds conception and reality of what we want the Nigerian civil service to be.

To be, or not to be, that is the question
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them?
page1image27744 page1image27904

Page 1

Research is a perilous undertaking. And I say this with all sense of responsibility as a researcher who understands the scope of the perils. The danger doesn’t just arise from the etymological implication of the word. Research is from recerche which means to ‘search closely’ or to explore an issue or a conundrum.

Rather, the real danger derives from the conception of research by Albert Szent- Gyorgyi as consisting in ‘seeing what everyone else has seen, but thinking what no else has thought.’ Zora Huston calls research ‘formalized curiosity’ which consists in ‘poking and prying with a purpose.’ Yet, for Mark Pattison—and this is the crux of the complication—‘In research the horizon recedes as we advance.’

I am a public administration practitioner. But I came to public administration first as a researcher who saw a lacuna that turned out to be a structural or, if you will, a generational gap. In the heat of the implementation of Decree 43 of 1988, I saw the contention and distrust of bureaucrats for experts-outsiders led by Prof. Dotun Phillips who were perceived as ‘mere theoreticians’. Whereas, the thrust of the advocacy of Phillips reform had similar theoretical underpinnings as those of the 1974 Reform Commission championed by Nigerian civil service legends namely, Chiefs Udoji and Adebo, Prof. Phillips was not given a chance at all inspite of the ingenuity of his reform design.

Besides, it was unfortunate that Prof. Phillips’ team themselves did not see the conception-reality gap in the assumptions underpinning their reform blueprint. Indeed, that reform could have been modified, to suit, by civil servants while they were implementing it, if only they were open-minded and seminar enough to appreciate that public administration has a strong theoretical foundation which requires some measure of technical knowledge to deploy for system and work improvement.

In order to broker the dynamics of civil service reform which was evidently urgent, it was clear to me that the civil service needs a core of experts-insider who could stand in the gap. This was later to become praxis around the debate on whether the object of reform can also be tool of reform. This moreso, as most advanced reforming public services invariably leveraged internally-driven passion of veritable internal constituency of reform, ownership and support structure of change agents or the likes of Edward Deming called Quality Circles as critical success factor.

The joy of theory...and the burden of practice
Going a little back in time, by the time I commenced my first doctoral research in 1987, there was this debate that there was nothing really wrong with the national development plans, national visions and development agenda. And that the problem resided in the execution trap that was circumscribed by the legendary Nigerian factor.

page2image25432 page2image25592
Page 2

This got me interested in implementation research. When I however got into the mainstream civil service in 1992 with its many structural and institutional dysfunctions, I realized the significant imperative of a functional, efficient and professionally capacitated civil service within the context of good governance as a sine qua non for national transformation.
Thus, in the final analysis, I became a bureaucrat driven to research by the need to understand the reality of practice i.e. the policy-implementation gap in Nigeria’s arrested development. The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future is inevitably the culmination of my research, observation, diagnosis and prognosis of its future dynamics, especially if it is to achieve some qualitatively different lifestyle for Nigerians.

The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future
The book therefore is a synthesis of the outputs of my research since 1993. As mentioned earlier, my research concern has been one of resolving the whole issue of ‘execution trap’ through getting the civil service capability ready to support transformational leadership that can take democratic governance by the neck. In what follows, I will systematically outline the basic arguments that run through the book.

First ... the premise(s)
  • The basic objective of The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future is to serve as a reform blueprint that supports the intention to transform the Nigerian civil service into a world class institution. It attempts this through an outline, in eighteen chapters, of the historical and administrative issues and problems which attended the establishment of this institution, the present logjam which has inhibited its capability readiness and the future prospect the service faces.
  • There is therefore a deft blend of the empirical and the prescriptive arising from an insider’s perception of how the civil service has worked over time and how we can best move it beyond its present predicament. If a metaphor is permitted, then we can say that the book is an extended manual for jumpstarting the stalled engine of the Nigeria civil service.
  • This view refreshes our memory as to those issues which have resisted the best of efforts in administrative reforms. These issues include the pay and compensation structure of the service, industrial relations dynamics, the design and execution of reforms, bureaucratic corruption, human resource management, the operational logic of the Federal Civil Service Commission as well as the core institutional framework of the civil service. The combustible mix of these issues in the present administrative set up, the book argues, raises the spectre of a productivity challenge around which economic competitiveness can be enhanced.
  • However, translating its objectives and goals to reality requires some first level conditions which, in The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future, we call ‘getting the basics right.’ These basics are woven around what I called a five-point agenda, a personal administrative vision of how reformers can overcome the complexity of administrative reform.

page3image26176 page3image26336
Page 3

And the five-point agenda for rethinking the reform of the MDAs include: (a) creating a new generation of public managers committed to the agenda of a new productivity paradigm; (b) reengineering the MDAs management system into performance-oriented, technology-enabled and social compact or accountable business model; (c) strengthening and leveraging Public-Private Partnership to facilitate and deepen effective and efficient service delivery; (d) reorienting the public service into a rebranded profession; and (e) instituting a leadership development scheme that would enable permanent secretaries to raise and answer hard questions about reform and policy designs and programmes implementation. The essence of the five-point agenda underlying the forthcoming book is to provide a strategic thrust for re-capacitating the performance management dynamics and business model of the MDAs for more productivity outputs.
Then...the arguments
  • I will now outline some of the central and specific argument underlying the above premises. And I will do this by making textual reference to the book.
  • One of the unfortunate signposts of our present predicament is that in spite of over sixty years of reform management, we cannot categorically say we are an advanced reforming nation. Prof. Adamolekun’s empirical study of the reform profiles of 29 African states in 2005 rated Nigeria only as a hesitant reformer.
  • In the Introduction to the book, the intention was to juxtapose the celebratory economic analysis on the continent that sees Africa as already rising from its doldrums with a nuanced understanding of the administrative machinery that makes such a rising worthy of celebration. If Africa is rising, why do we have only a few of its states categorised as ‘advanced reformers’? What is it about these advanced reforming states that make them different from ‘hesitant’ Nigeria?
  • On page xxxiii, I diagnosed the need to rethink ‘the paradigmatic institutional condition upon which an efficient and effective civil service system can be founded.’ In this case, there are two institutional frameworks that are contending for administrative space: the traditional Weberian framework and the New Public Management.
  • While the orthodox methodological assumption of the NPM is that the traditional Weberian administration is due for a radical overthrow, reform experience all over the third world demonstrates that the NPM itself is not a ‘cure-all’ drug. The whole of the book also furnishes me with the theoretical opportunity to critically reflect on the possibility of weaving the old Weberian structural ethos into the new managerial framework. The concept of a Neo-Weberian State (NWS) affords the opportunity for a methodological mix of the best in both frameworks.

page4image24840 page4image25000
Page 4
  • The entire fourth chapter of the book is dedicated to a deep and critical analysis of the manifestation of this bureaucratic culture in Nigeria. If the bureaucracy must assume its complementary function in a democratic context, then it must transcend its bureaucratic pathologies. However, the idea of bureau-pathology explains the essence of that dysfunction.
  • This bureau-pathological predicament manifests in two senses in the Nigerian civil service. The first sense ensures that ‘a huge proportion of the MDAs brain power is not used as there is really no quality assurance mechanism that limits the chances of the objectively less deserving managers from being at the top.
  • Hence the profound truth of my doctoral finding that in the Federal Civil Service, there are too many people doing nothing, too many doing too little, and too few people doing too much’ (p. 61). In the second sense, this bureaucratic structure also ensures that bright and talented professionals are prevented by the system from demonstrating the implications of their talents for the overall development ad successes of the civil service. This is because it is often wise for these professionals to discreetly hide their administrative ingenuity and sacrifice it on the altar of political and administrative correctness.
  • There were two other incidences that aggravated this institutional deficit in the operational dynamism of the civil service system. The first was the good intentioned but badly implemented Nigerianisation Policy which sadly bloated the system and compromised vital standards all in the name of replacing expatriates with Nigerian civil service professionals. The second incidence was the terrible purge of the 70s that constituted extreme attempts to sanitise a system that had been overtaken by mindless multiplication and redundancies.
  • Why have several good-intentioned reforms failed in Nigeria? I dedicated chapter six of The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future to an analysis of this historical and conceptual question. And, on page 92, I identified the execution trap as the bane of reform implementation. Reform is a complex and non-linear process that requires that one moves from an adequate conception to an adequate implementation of a reform attempt. I argue that the execution trap addresses two fundamental deficiencies:
  • In the first place, there is a fundamental conception-reality gap that ensures that the local condition and environment of administration in Nigeria almost always work contrary to the intent and trajectory of reforms (p. 92). This is demonstrated by (a) a serious disconnection between governance, policy and administrative operation; (b) the tendency to equate symptoms with the diseases to be cured; (c) faulty diagnosis and prognosis.
  • In the second place, the institutional framework for thinking about reform in the civil service is equally deficient because of the passion for reform without the knowledge of what it takes to successfully manage a reform process (p. 93). This deficiency also manifest through (a) failure to recognise the theoretical underpinning of public administration systems; (b) inability to ground reform solution in action research; (c) overemphasis on structural changes to the acute neglect of cultural and behavioural changes.

page5image27136 page5image27296
Page 5

Way Forward
  • Stepping out of our reform cynicism actually requires (i) recognising the significance of a correct diagnosis of the existing situation; (ii) asking the right sets of question that will give the proper leverage for transformation. Some of these questions include:
    1. What kind of public service is appropriate for us at this level of our development?
    2. How can we get MDAs operations to be restructured to deliver results and outcomes?
    3. How can the MDAs’ skills deficit be corrected in a manner that would be through a mix of re-skilling, regulated injection of fresh new skills and some measure of rightsizing or redundancies declaration if unavoidable?
    4. What would be the contingent changes to personnel policies, pay structure and operational cost ratios that is most cost effective and consistent with the optimal productivity level of the national economy?
    5. How would the service be more sensitive to the political objectives of government and be at once accountable to stakeholder under SERVICOM compact without its independence and professionalism being undermined? (p. 97)
  • These questions, within the context of the objectives of the book, are supposed to direct our focus to the creation of a world class public service institution that would professionalised, performance-oriented and technology-enabled to facilitate the grounding of a productivity paradigm in Nigeria.
  • This beautiful vision of the Nigerian civil service as performance-oriented is prefigured in the National Strategy for Public Service Reform (NSPSR) discussed in chapter 12. I then specifically identified bureaucratic corruption (in chapter nine) and public service pay framework (in chapter ten) as two outstanding and critical issues to be tackled on the way to a performing civil service that is globally and democracy compliant.
  • The insufficient pay package of the civil servant is definitely implicated in the idea of bureaucratic corruption. And this problem has been with us since the inauguration of the Nigerian civil service.
  • In spite of the constant attention that the pay issue has received in global reform context and within specific reforms in Nigeria the reform effort has only been able to achieve a marginal improvement in service delivery efficiency.

page6image22496 page6image22656
Page 6
  • Finally, in chapters 13 through 16, I unravel the basic institutional fundamentals that would be significant in building what we can call an enduring architecture of reform in the Nigerian civil service. Why are these chapters unique within the overall framework of The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future? The first reason is that they derive from an accumulated knowledge of what has worked and what hasn’t in the administrative history of reform since 1954.
  • The second reason is that the insights contained therein constitute the observational and theoretical nuggets derived from my many years as an expert- insider within the Nigerian civil service. The last reason is that these chapters began from a basic assumption about reform: This is that reforms cannot even get off the ground until and unless the reformers attend to the basic and fundamental institutional and procedural dynamics which we mostly take for granted in reform management. This is the essential reason why the chapters are titled ‘Getting the Basics Right.’
  • To achieve the larger vision of a world class and democratic public service, we need to urgently get the basics of reform execution and management right. This sounds simple, but remains a cogent fact that spells the difference between success and failure. Getting the basics right implies the need to build the strengths of our public services before deploying best practices to ignite desired change.
  • The three essential basics identified in the book are
    1. Building a new generation of public managers and leaders. This works at
      two levels. The first is the need for a strong and committed political leadership that supplies the vision the civil service is meant to run with. The second is core dedicated and professional public managers who are adequately knowledgeable and duly incentivised to transform the vision into an administrative framework for an efficient and effective service delivery within the context of democratic governance.
    2. The second basic ingredient is the specific action framework that will define the reform focus of these ‘new professionals.’ This is really the core of the reform package, and it ranges from HRM; ethics; rebranding; professionalism; leadership development; welfare; retraining; creation of specialised cadres; career management system to other unique issues like reengineering the MDAs management system into a performance-oriented framework; public-private partnership dynamics; resuscitating professional bodies, civil service clubs, civil service quarterly lecture series, etc.; creation of a Council of retired Permanent Secretaries; rebranding the Civil Service Week; creating an online weekly gazette; instituting an ICT and e- government modernisation scheme; and so on.
  • The action framework is divided into short and mid-term frameworks to ensure proper sequencing and implementation. (c) The third basic the book identified is what I called the core institutional framework that will be essential if reforms are to be properly monitored and nurtured to achieve original objectives.

page7image26776 page7image26936
Page 7

This institutional framework will come in the form of what is called a Lead Agency in charge of reform that will be charged with the following responsibilities:
o Define clearly the roles of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in the content of the reform programme;
o Agree targets and associated time scale within the programmes with MDAs;
o Hold MDAs accountable for attaining agreed performances;
o Provide facilitation, advice and support to MDAs;
o Organise meetings of individual facilitators from ministries and, together,
review progress and problems;
o Develop and carry out surveys of clients of MDAs;
o Manage the consultative forum – balancing interests

In concluding, let me say that Nigeria has been very kind to me and that is why I said in 2012 in Accra, Ghana, that:

“Anyone, civil servants or otherwise, who must make a mark, must have to make it through the rigour and danger and the tantalising possibilities of success that reform promises. As Lawrence Lowell, the American political scientist comments,

“Anyone who sees in his own occupation merely a means of earning money degrades it; but he that sees in it a service to mankind ennobles both his labor and himself”.

It was said of Augustus that he found Rome brick and he left it marble. Let my own honour also be that I found the civil service in a challenged state and I contributed my quota, through my ideas or legacies of concrete reform initiatives targeted at turning it fortune for the better. For me, a life of service is its own honour.

If ever I ever nursed an ambition as a career civil servant, it was to be DG of the BPSR. But God said that was not my limit and made me to become a PS. The only national duty left for me as a bureaucrat and scholar in still in-service, is to champion the cause of public service reform as for me ‘if public administration fails, all else (including the much desired national transformation) fail’.

The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future is a lifetime’s work. For me, it affords me the opportunity to present what I called a personal vision of reform borne out of many years of political and administrative research into bureaucratic dysfunctions. The most important thing for me, however, is the opportunity to submit this vision and the theoretical, philosophical and administrative assumptions behind it to rigorous analyses and interrogations. It would amount to a grand delusion to imagine that the vision, arguments, assumptions, frameworks and core issues presented in this work will automatically resolve Nigeria’s lingering administrative predicament. Rather, what isn’t delusional is the necessity of jointly scrutinising our collective administrative anomie. We can no longer keep quiet. I am deeply honoured to have deserved your time and attention. Thank you and God bless you all.

page8image26216 page8image26376
Page 8


Dr.Tunji Olaopa
Permanent Secretary

Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, Abuja. Nigeria. 

Being Paper Presented at the Development Discourse on ‘Reforming the Nigerian Civil Service: Nuts and Bolts’ and Book Reading by Dr. Tunji Olaopa Organised by Nextier Ltd. on Saturday, 11th of October, 2014 in Abuja
Page 9 

No comments:

Post a Comment