Simeon Adebo and the Golden Age of Nigerian Civil Service (II)

30 Dec 2012

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By Tunji Olaopa
We prefaced the last part of this series on the Nigerian civil service with a quote from Lord Hailsham concerning the relationship between nations-state and the institutions they build for themselves. According to him, “Nations begin by forming their institutions, but in the end, are continuously formed by them or under their influence.”We then went on to analyse the efforts of the founding patriarchs of the civil service in Nigeria and the legacies they left for us in the collective attempts to get the bureaucratic “Rolls Royce” to power our national progress.

In this essay, we are going to further that analysis by examining the roles of those we are here calling the “academic pioneers” as well as the impact of the various community of practice on the development of public administration and the civil service in the immediate post-independence period. Again, the critical justification for this exercise derives from the fact that the evolution of the Nigerian civil service has a lot to say to our present efforts at transforming the service for the betterment of Nigerians. This implies that, with the power of hindsight, we can begin to resuscitate those opportunities that were ignored when the civil service was most successful, now that the service requires urgent attention.

The immediate post-independence period in Africa served as an eye-opener to the complexity of transiting from the colonial to a postcolonial public administration framework. On the eve of independence, there were attempts by the colonial powers to reform the public service in the colonies especially through the active promotion of “African visibility” in public administration. Secondly, it became immediately clear that the structure of the colonial public administration system would require extensive reforms that would make it conducive for postcolonial nation building and economic development. It was to this task that the public service patriarchs dedicated themselves. Theirs was an immediate and urgent task that left little or no room for intellectual intervention. They were faced with the day-to-day operation of an inherited civil service coming to term with postcolonial realities.

It is unfortunate that in spite of their best efforts, most of them, like Simeon Adebo and Jerome Udoji, foresaw the imminence of the decay that eventually set in. There are two good examples of this incipient decay that proved that in the immediate post-independence context of Nigeria, the civil service was like a Rolls Royce whose efficiency we are familiar with, but we are at a loss what to do with it. First, the Nigerianisation policy led to a serious case of de-professionalisation of the civil service. In other words, in the bid to achieve the visibility of Nigerians in the civil service structure, merit was sacrificed on the altar of representativeness. This eventually led to an unguarded multiplication and redundancies that assaulted the evolving administrative system.

The second event that aggravated the declining profile of the civil service was the decimating purge of the 70s. These events happened, and unfortunately, because the warnings and recommendations of the patriarchs, especially Adebo and Udoji, were not heeded. Thus, the implementation of the remuneration component in their extensive reports disconnected the incentive structure from productivity improvement trajectory in the national economy. Such that today government has ceased to be the employer of choice with a wage structure that is only capable of attracting 100 mediocre rather than 20 highly skilled personnel required in a knowledge driven technological age.

It was this critical administrative myopia that necessitated the need for administrative thinking that created its own scholarship and led to the evolutions of the communities of administrative practice that would facilitate a synergy between the practitioners and the academics. To the eternal credit of the public patriarchs, they were still able to contribute their precious quota in spite of the urgency of preparing the civil service for postcolonial responsibilities. This was possible because it was their battle with the evolving dysfunction of the civil service that actually instigated the necessity for administrative thinking at the intellectual level. In other words, the challenge of coming to term with the decaying civil service as well as the unfolding development dynamics of a new nation was already raising serious administrative and academic issues.

For instance, Wolfgang Stolper had already complained bitterly, in 1966, about the difficulty inherent in the attempt to articulate a development plan without the necessary economic facts for effective policy decision. We are also by now familiar with the specifics of the Udoji’s recommendation of the adoption of the basics of the managerial system together with the expansion of the scope of application of organisation and methods (O&M) skills and competencies required for its effective implementation.This recommendation was critically backstopped by a technical support from a consultant team supplied by the Canadian community of practice. Eventually, the unified grading structure trumped the core reform component of the Udoji Report.

In responding to the unfolding problems of the civil service, what the various administrative/policy experts envisioned was a development process rooted in evidence-based policy analysis as well as the evolution of initiatives leading to action research and project management based on tools of PPBS and M&E. This process would not only birth the necessary institutional infrastructures (like the setting up of a Policy Analysis Unit and Efficiency Units in all MDAs), but will also crucially address the needs for the development of competent administrators and managers for rapid economic and social development. The critical insight, therefore, that was becoming clear from all these technical agitation and missed opportunities was that more needed to be done for the resuscitation and rehabilitation of the civil service in terms of  study and research that would facilitate the understanding of the dynamics of public administration and what is needed to reform it within the Nigerian context.

And the first tangible steps in this direction, after the herculean efforts of the public patriarchs, were taken by administrators and academics that saw the interface between research and the civil service. I have especially in mind, out of all others, the commendable achievements of Prof. Adebayo Adedeji and Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun as well as economists like Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade, HMA Onitiri, Dotun Phillips et al. It was Nnamdi Azikiwe who once said that “Originality is the essence of true scholarship. Creativity is the soul of the true scholar.” These scholars were immediately confronted with the problem of the almost non-existent materials on public administration in Nigeria. This lack obviously made it imperative to intensify the research into the nature and dynamics of the postcolonial civil service in Nigeria. This instigated the establishment of journals and conference interaction with the universities. This dialogue stimulated the close link that was developing between policy and scholarship. Most importantly, this synergy demonstrated the need to overcome the dynamic of dysfunction founded on the Nigerianisation policy in search of a better option conducive to effective and efficient performance.

The likes of Professor Aboyade who, in the words of Olu Falae, “brought University-style rational discourse with him to the planning process,” took up the challenges of the “planning without facts” that Prof. Stolper decried. For him, the knowledge and information gaps undermining the Nigerian planning process can best be addressed through a process of “intellectual self-confidence” that “lies in a country’s ability to write its own agenda for social action.” Furthermore, such an agenda would enable a development process consisting of ‘the continuous enhancement of a people’s capacity to design and implement responsive policies not just projects and financial flows”.
The above is a development and administrative manifesto which the likes of Adedeji and Adamolekun shared. Prof. Adedeji, the first Professor of public administration in Nigeria, was the cabinet minister for economic development under the Gowon administration. His strength in public policy and public finance was of seminar significance for the evidence-based policy interjected into the post-war reconstruction of Nigeria. Prof. Adamolekun served as the intellectual power-house for the Buhari (and later Babangida) administration’s inaugurated Study Group led by Prof. Dotun Phillips. Both Adedeji and Adamolekun initiated and sustained the Ife Project on Profile Studies of Nigeria’s Higher Civil Servants.

In its concern to further the wholesome collaboration between professional administrators and professional academics, as well as the desire to lay administration on a firm developmental basis, the regional governments gave the nod to the establishment of institutes dedicated to the study of public administration. The pioneer institutes were the Ife Management Training Centre (later, the Ife Faculty of Administration) and the Zaria and Nsukka Institute of Administration. These institutes became immediately the hub for the clarification of administrative thought, especially around figures like Adebayo Adedeji, Ladipo Adamolekun, Eme A. Awa, A.V. Aliyu, Tukur, M. J. Balogun, A.D. Yahaya, H.N. Nwosu, Alex Gboyega, Muyiwa Sanda, Augustus Adebayo, Dele Olowu, Victor Ayeni, Mufu Laleye, Tijjani Bande as well as academic outsiders like G. O. Olusanya, Akpan,  G. Orewa, E.A.O. Oyeyipo, Ason Bur in one breath and Goran Hyden, David Murray, Collins Baker, and so on.

This immense and bludgeoning collaboration solidified into a serious and effective community of practice, again, stimulated by the bold and energetic resilience of the academic and professional pioneers. For instance, while Nigeria was still seeking for a unique way to achieve an effective postcolonial civil service, the African Association for Public Administration and Management (AAPAM), founded in 1978, was already in the forefront of the search for enabling public administration practices in Africa. Its first secretary general was, interestingly, Chief Jerome Udoji. One of the key objectives of AAPAM is to serve as a forum for the exchange of practical and useful administrative ideas andpractices for managers and administrators. This objective was replicated in the establishment of the Nigerian Association of Public Administration and Management (NAPAM) in 1981. The Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) and the Centre for Management Development (CMD) were institutional addition that strengthened the commitment of the government to the training and retraining of administrators.

“The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization,” Peter Drucker once said, “are disorder, friction, and mal-performance.” In other words, systemic performance grows out of professional dedication, constant vigilance and administrative creativity to ensure that the proliferating tide of disorder and decay does not undermine the extraordinary reform effort that had gone into the rehabilitation of the Nigerian civil service since its inauguration. If, as Edwards Deming says, “The aim of leadership should be to improve the performance of man and machine, to improve quality, to increase output, and simultaneously to bring pride of workmanship to people”, then there is no doubt that the present day civil service in Nigeria was given a needed impetus from the originality of academic thinking about the business of administration. This consists solely in the recognition of the utility and performance capacity of the mighty bureaucratic Rolls Royce that had been bequeathed to the Nigerian nation in the service of her developmental need.

Albert Einstein sums up the significance of the academic pioneers this way: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were when we created them.” The teething problems occasioned by the civil service grappling with postcolonial realities created a gap for what Aboyade called intellectual self-confidence in confronting our realities. And the academic pioneers not only met that need, but equally laid the foundation for administrative thinking in Nigeria. We can therefore conclude that thinking about our problems has brought us to this point in the evolution of the Nigerian civil service. Administrative thinking initiated by the academic pioneers in the civil service has enabled the clarification and fine-tuning of the requirements for a progressive reform of the civil service. What remains to be seen is how that thought can be translated innovatively and sustainably into a practical reform template for making civil service reforms work in the government effort to translate the lives of Nigerians and to transform the national economy.
• Dr. Olaopa, is the Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Labour & Productivity Abuja.

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