|Dr. Joe Abah|
Below are excerpts that have been republished with permission from 'Politicalmatter.org'.
The cliché that one need not reinvent the wheel is intended as a caution against duplicating or recreating that which already exists. To reimagine a perfectly flawless invention is both a futile and valueless effort. In terms of political society, the invention of the modern bureaucracy is nearly unparalleled in its importance. Like the wheel, its operational intention is to mitigate chaos; and when the bureaucracy functions optimally, unheard and unseen, the effect on any given society is unquantifiable. The British sociologist, Anthony Giddens, in drawing an analogy between the bureaucracy and the wheel, once described the individual worker as a “small wheel” whose ambition is to become a bigger wheel in the bureaucratic machine.
In the case of the Nigerian bureaucracy, something of a reinvention appears necessary. We may have no need to reinstall the bureaucracy anew, but it is now urgent that it be restored to operational efficiency and effectiveness.
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
At independence, the Nigerian civil service was widely regarded as one of the best in the commonwealth. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, making his valedictory speech as departing Premier of Western Nigeria at the Western Nigeria House of Assembly in 1959, said of the civil and public service:
“Our civil service is exceedingly efficient, absolutely incorruptible in its upper stratum, and utterly devoted and unstinting in the discharge of its many and onerous duties. For our civil servants, government workers and labourers to bear, uncomplainingly and without breaking down, the heavy and multifarious burdens with which we have in the interest of the public saddled them, is an epic of loyalty and devotion, of physical and mental endurance, and of a sense of mission on their part. From the bottom of my heart, I salute them all.”
For Awolowo, the public service in Nigeria in 1959 was marked by efficiency, incorruptibility, and a sense of loyal and enduring mission among its workers. Modern commentators on the current state of Nigeria’s public service would hardly recognise these attributes.
In 1999, exactly 40 years after Chief Awolowo’s speech, Nigeria returned to democratic rule after a 33-year long hiatus under various military regimes. At all levels, the country’s public service could rightly be regarded as weak and corrupt. In a 2008 document, the Federal Government itself admitted that the public service had “metamorphosed from a manageable, compact, focused, trained, skilled and highly-motivated body into an over-bloated, lopsided, ill-equipped, poorly paid, rudderless institution, lacking in initiative and beset by loss of morale, arbitrariness and corruption.”
It is difficult to say precisely when things went wrong. Some observers may suggest that the Nigerian public service was largely functional until the mid-1980s. Others point to the purge of 1975 as the beginning of the destruction of the public service when then military ruler Murtala Mohammed disengaged 10,000 public servants. Yet again, the Dotun Philips report of 1985 that led to Decree No. 43 of 1988 could arguably have been the service’s greatest undoing. That decree effectively destroyed the independence of the civil service by making ministers the chief executives and accounting officers of their own ministries; and by tying the tenure of permanent secretaries (whom it renamed directors-general) to that of the government that appointed them.
Despite the reversal of this policy in 1995, it is not clear the extent to which the civil service has recovered from the overt politicization that the 1988 decree engendered.
While the individual effect of each of these interventions is open to debate, what is undeniable is that military rule had a negative effect on Nigeria’s public service. The arbitrariness and command-and-control nature of military rule does not lend itself well to a cautious, measured bureaucracy that seeks to ensure impersonality, predictability, accountability, and due process.
The 1999 Constitution, under which Nigeria currently operates and which was bequeathed it by the military has also contributed, whether inadvertently or on purpose, to the dysfunction of the public service. As an example, the constitution enshrines a principle known as ‘Federal Character’. Although the explicit aim of this principle is to ensure equitable representation of all parts of the country in public appointments, it has often been used to sacrifice merit at the altar of ethnic and geo-political representation.
Furthermore, the Constitution also centralises all recruitment, promotion and discipline in a Federal Civil Service Commission that has, itself, been accused over the years of undermining the very core values of political neutrality, integrity, accountability and transparency that it was set up to protect.
"The effect of prioritising efficiency, performance, service delivery, anticorruption and reinstalling a sense of mission into Nigeria’s civil and public service is to aim at a world-class service by 2025."