The Future of the Nigerian Civil Service


By Akin Mabogunje

It was with great delight that I accepted the invitation to provide a Foreword to this very opportune publication, coming so soon after the national choice of a new President for the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the renewed challenge of effective nation-building and more rapid and sustainable economic development.  My delight at the invitation arose from the fact that I am still to meet a civil servant like Tunji Olaopa who is so passionate and committed to promoting the reform of the Nigerian Civil Service to make it live up to the challenges of national development and transformation in all its ramifications.  I was privileged to have been one of those to whom Tunji Olaopa turned in one of his moments of despair and frustration at the dysfunctional and effete performance of the Service.  On that occasion, I succeeded in arranging for him to meet the then President of the Federal Republic, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who also must have sensed the staunch fervor of dedication in Tunji for improving the level of effectiveness in the operations  of the Civil Service for the gargantuan task of nation-building and rapid economic development.

The Nigerian Civil Service especially at the Federal level has, of course, had a very chequered history.  Coming with the confidence to advise on policy decisions and the secured tenure of the Colonial Civil Service in the early years of our political independence, the Service was soon forced to confront the profound national crisis that led to the military intervention in the administration of our nation in 1966.  Those years of crisis and military rule leading to the Civil War of 1967-70 saw the Civil Service virtually operating effectively at both the political and the bureaucratic levels of governance.  A subsequent military regime re-acted against this conflation of responsibilities and almost literally “decapitated” the top echelon of the Service by forced retirements, leaving the Service bruised, disorientated and no longer possessed of its earlier confidence and sense of security.  The debilitating effect of suddenly placing at the top of the Service, persons who were not fully prepared and experienced  enough to take on the responsibilities and challenges of those positions soon came to undermine the robust pro-activeness of the Service in matters of nation building and economic development especially after the country returned to a democratic dispensation.

In this publication titled Civil Service and the Imperative of Nation Building, Tunji Olaopa has taken on the challenge of delving into the workings of the Nigerian Civil Service to dissect the basis of its dysfunction, failings, successes, progress and future possibilities from both a theoretical and practical perspectives.  His passion for research and the intellectual confidence with which he presents his findings, observations and conclusions are attributes not commonly found among career civil servants.  Indeed, the structure of most of the essays in the volume is certainly a critical notch above the conventional public commentaries that populate our nation’s newspapers, with most of the analysis duly spiced with personal anecdotes and wisdom quotes from great minds in the political and administration arena.
Tunji’s major thrust in the volume, however, is to stress and underscore the fact that democratic progress all over the world responds more to the consistent reformulation of the operational dynamics of the Civil Service System which, in every country, is the recognized engine room of national development and progress.  The Civil Service is especially a sine qua non for national integration in a country like Nigeria racked by pangs of post-colonial ethnic, religious and cultural agitations for identity, a sense of belonging and social inclusiveness.  Indeed, the Civil Service stands at the critical nexus between grand infrastructural and service delivery efficiency and effectiveness and the trans-ethnic and trans-religious loyalty which is necessary to promote and sustain the civic bond of unity that will truly transform Nigeria into a nation.
The newly elected President and his administration will be well advised to take note of the unfinished nature of the reforms of the Federal Civil Service and be decisive in re-focusing its operational processes and procedures towards the goal of efficient and effective service delivery and national integration.  To this end, this book, Civil Service and the Imperative of Nation Building will be found to be of immense value.  I commend this truly seminal work to all politicians and technocrats in the corridors of power, to bureaucrats themselves, to administrative historians, researchers, students of public administration, social reformers and to all those who believe in the dream of a viable Nigeria rising from the ashes of her failures and mistakes to become a truly great African nation.
–– (Being text of a speech by Prof. Mabogunje on two new books: Labour of Our Heroes Past; and  Civil Service and the Imperative of Nation Building by Dr. Tunji Olaopa)