Olaopa: Why Asian Tigers, UAE, Japan Left Nigeria, Other African Countries Behind

The Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), Prof. Tunji Olaopa, has offered insight into why Nigeria and other African countries are not as developed as the Asian Tigers, UAE, Japan, among other countries.

Olaopa who is a former permanent secretary and the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) spoke at the South-South States’ BRACED Commission Strategy Retreat on the theme ‘Leadership in the Public Sector: Strengthening Public Institutions through Capacity Building’ held in Benin City on 5-7 June, 2024.

The seasoned bureaucrat whose lecture was entitled “Strategic Leadership in Civil/Public Service: Challenges, Opportunities and Future Prospect”, said that Nigeria and other African countries not only lag behind other European and Asian countries but also within the African continent.

He listed Rwanda and Botswana as some of the developmental models in Africa which are far ahead of other countries on the continent .

Decrying the failure of leadership in Africa and its attendant under-development, Olaopa said : “Whether we reference the Mo Ibrahim Awards or Global Governance Ranking in the last decades, especially when put in the contexts of the Asian Tigers, UAE, India, Brazil, and even Botswana and Rwanda’s success stories, it is clear that there are some things that these countries are doing differently that Nigerian political and administrative leadership would do well to learn from.

” The development literature is rich with glowingly expanding perspectives on how differently these high-performing countries approached their challenges.

“From the perspective of policy analysis, the major difference is that these leaders were thinkers who are very open and desirous of evidence-based technical-rational approaches to governance and administration. And at that with little room for the kind of politics that we play with everything including census, which have combined with other indices to undermine policy work in Nigeria.

“Many of these countries are strategic and perceptive enough to correctly discern the ideological assumptions of neo-liberal approach to economic policy management, and had deployed high-end policy intelligence and expertise to recalibrate its nuances so they could align with indigenous ideas and local innovations in measures that have significantly attenuated structural dependency on the West with all its attendant imperialisms.

“Many of these high-performing countries chose the path of a developmental state to condition liberal democracy by ‘conjoining private ownership with state guidance.’ They adapted to the trajectory of capitalist growth within a logic that differed from the capitalism in the West.

” Consequently, a country like Malaysia came up with indigenous tailor-made solutions in her industrialisation strategy, while countries like Botswana proved in spirit and action that the resource curse trap that circumscribed Nigeria’s development trajectory is avoidable.

“The two countries, like all others, underscore the importance of strong leadership backed up with strong institutions.”

Olaopa recalled that after the devastation of WWII, Japan took charge of her developmental destiny based on a deep understanding of the relationship between economic growth, development and performance .

He said Japan leveraged TQM’s American-style inspection system that incorporated quality control and measurement with the guidance of Edward Deming et al and the Keiretsu principles, thereby launching a national productivity movement that transformed Japan to become the second largest capitalist economy in record time in the 1950s.

According to Olaopa, all the referenced success stories speak to the crucial issues that sustainable development anywhere in the world is due to the critical factor of leadership-led transformation.

” And that has in turn depended on a strict regime of disciplined policies and programmes execution and change management that successfully install performance and productivity quadrants.

“Two, leadership in the context of a developmental state is different from the idea of a leader as a single superhuman charismatic hero who singlehandedly forces change through. Rather, such leadership is activated at multiple levels within framework of what Matt Andrews et al (2010) calls the ‘change space model’ “, Olaopa said.

Such leadership model, according to Olaopa, creates mutually-reinforcing and interdependent nexus between the political-technocratic-administrative leadership in facilitating the capability of the institutions and systems of government through “critical balancing of acceptance, authority (and accountability) and capability in managing contextual pressures and circumstances as devils in the details of execution.”

Thus for Olaopa, if good governance then becomes the trigger, and policy intelligence, institutional capability readiness and service delivery revolution have become the compelling game changer, then the traditional ‘I am directed’ Weberian administrative orientation will obviously be even more inadequate.

To Olaopa, therefore, the key to the transformation of the public service for development will be the emergence of a new generation of public managers who are self-motivated, competent, committed and imbued with intellectual courage to push for paradigm shifting changes required to install systems, structures and work culture with a structured leadership acumen that supports the workforce to move from current states to desirable states .

He urged that based on the foregoing, public servants as change leaders would be required to instigate the public service at some levels.

He listed these levels as “Getting the best out of the workforce by targeting staff morale to create incentives for peak performance by instilling discipline in into implementation processes that are essentially focused on the right kind of targets, performance indicators and data and feedback; transforming the internal processes of our MDAs by utilising cultural change approaches that affect mental models; reprofiling strategic communication; remodeling decision making systems, and reprofiling inter-departmental cum sectors relations for a whole of government system thinking praxis.

“Instigate institutional and operational innovations in rethinking the role of government so that MDAs will concentrate on areas of their core competences while exploring alternative delivering models to deliver on their ‘non-core’ functions as a window to unleash service delivery revolution”.

He said that for public service leaders to be the engine of development, they need to build such change management skills and competences as networking skills, partnership development around open government date, framing issues results and outcomes, smarter citizens engagement practices that leverage social and multimedia, crowdsourcing, branding and user data analytics .

“PPPs are as yet fully optimised to enable public private sectors economies of scale and therefore require that we build commercial skills that enable civil servants to understand the working of the markets and how to create, manage and support businesses in co-creation dynamics”, he said.

Within Nigeria, Olaopa considered the Awolowo-Adebo strategic leadership model as one classic example that he has studied “of how politics and administration can both be distinct and efficient in facilitating good governance.”

He said: “The two leaders provided the change space of a transformational kind. Chief Adebo provided an administrative context that took the civil service profession seriously as a calling and a workplace grounded on a sense of value and meaning.

“The CSC took his gatekeeping responsibility almost like a religion, by safeguarding public service values and holding merit as sacrosanct.

“Town-Gown synergy strengthened policy, strategic intelligence and bureaucratic and skills with the infusion of ideas and innovative reflections from the academia and industry in a systematic and institutionalised pattern.

“Staff development and welfare was well planned to achieve work-life balance and labour productivity, while industrial relation was democratic, collaborative and developmental.

“This was the managerial orientation subsisting up until the Gowon super-permanent secretaries’ era that enabled the prosecution of the civil war leaving the country stronger as ever.”

Olaopa noted that public service leaders would be required to facilitate change leadership within a change space model characterised by a leadership that is more about groups than individuals.

“Here multilevel leaders will be identified based on their functional contributions rather than their position in the hierarchy. This was the institutional capability enabled in Japan in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and the Economic Development Board in Singapore where both bureaucratic structures facilitated the accelerated outlier change and development achievements that positioned them for global competitiveness in perpetuity”, he said.

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