Saturday 20.07

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Public Administration & Service Reforms


On the face of it, public administration is usually taken to mean “the planning, organizing, directing, coordinating, and controlling of government operations.” This conception would very often direct and tend to limit attention to the institutions of public administration vis-à-vis their design, structure, managers and their capacity to do what they are designed to do. But a much more robust view of the concept would also involve the context, or what could be variously described as the ecology, within which those activities referred to as public administration take place for this determines to a far greater extent the success or failure of public administration. This perhaps makes the discourse more relevant to Nigeria which is the focus of the book under review, Public Administration and Civil Service Reforms in Nigeria, writtenby Dr Tunji Olaopa.

The context of public administration would quickly shift emphasis on to the time-honoured but infamous realm of politics and the state. Certainly, and in accordance with the pluralist argument, the state is not the only realm where politics takes place. However, notwithstanding the objection of the pluralists, the state remains the quintessential realm within which the distinguishing feature, specific to the political, can be best apprehended. The book delves into the theories of public administration, and to what extent these have shaped its practice in Nigeria, and how and why the practice of public administration in the country have brought about the need for reforms of the civil service.

The nine-chapter book is a good and balanced compendium on Nigeria’s public administration as it traces its evolution way back to before the country’s independence in the colonial era to the present times. It also examines its prospects and challenges, and offers solutions to the myriad of problems that plague Nigeria’s public administration.

Chapter One, “Theories of Public Administration”, is a comprehensive exploration of the theories of public administration from the classical to the human relations, the behavioural, system theory, up to the current orthodoxy, the New Public Management (NPM). The rather detailed examination of administrative theories in this chapter offers a necessary historical trajectory of the theoretical evolution of public administration up to the NPM which constitutes the theoretical framework for the book.

Chapter Two, “The Civil Service and the Ideas of Reform and Professionalism”, narrows the focus a little to the civil service and the idea of professionalism. Here, the book explores how the concept of civil service came about, and how civil servants came to be conceived as professionals with the attendant ethos and values that go with it. There is also a brief look at various liberal economic theories of civil service as they evolved to be the driving forces for continuous administrative reforms up to the emergence of the NPM, which is a more radical departure from what is generally conceived to be the normal, continuous administrative reforms that bureaucracies constantly embark upon (pp. 38-49). A focus on the NPM as the current global reform blueprint is a connecting theme of the first two chapters.

Chapter Three, “Survey of the Development of Public Administration in Nigeria”, traces three phases of administrative development in Nigeria vis-à-vis the era of colonial tutelage, the era of institutional transfer, and the period of home rule. Here, an insight is also provided into the contributions of scholars, professionals, professional bodies, and training institutions to the development of public administration in the country.

Chapter Four, “Evolution of the Nigerian Civil Service and Reform Initiatives”, sheds light on the origin of the Nigerian civil service. It traces its history to its colonial origin as an institution that was modeled on the British civil service as part of the “migrated social structures” (Ekeh, 1980) from metropolitan Europe. It also follows the course of its development from the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954, which effectively established regional civil services in the country, to the acceleration of Nigerianization, through the short-lived First Republic, to the beginning of military rule in 1966. The chapter highlights the fact that the military began to tinker with the civil service right from the start, as witnessed by the promulgation of Decree 34 in May 1966 by the Aguiyi Ironsi regime, which unified the hitherto regional civil service structure. This was followed later by reform commissions –Adebo and Udoji commissions – set up under the Yakubu Gowon government.

There was also the 1988 civil service reform of General Ibrahim Babangida, and the 1995 Ayida Reform Panel constituted by the Sanni Abacha regime. It has been the case that virtually every military regime in Nigeria, except those whose stay in power was too brief, tinkered with the civil service in one way or the other in the name of reform, with the attendance consequences many of which are unwholesome to the performance capacity of the service. The chapter closes with a chronicle of some of these negative impacts of military rule on the civil service in the country (pp. 141-146).

Chapter Five, “The State and Public Administration in Nigeria” examines the context of public administration in Nigeria. By devoting this chapter to the discussion on the state and public administration in Nigeria, the book gives a deserved recognition to the political dimension of any reform process. Unlike the position held by classical administration theorists, typified by Woodrow Wilson –now widely recognized as flawed –which called for a strict dichotomy between politics and administration, Dr Olaopa emphasizes the strong nexus between the two, and therefore, advocates as a necessary requirement for the success of reform that it encompasses both the technical, and the political, which is best embodied by the state as “a core element in the organisation of a society” (p.147). The emphasis on the state in the reform process is particularly pertinent as the relevance of the state to its citizens is defined by the competency, effectiveness, and efficiency of its public administration apparatuses, just as the latter are affected and indeed determined by the nature and character of the state. In this regard, the chapter raises quite appropriate and intriguing questions as to the kind of state that is promotive of development.

Using Nigeria as its focal point, the author goes on to shed light on the character of the Nigerian state and the consequential impact of this upon the public administration institutions. He then goes on to emphasize the importance of building a capable state in Nigeria while also noting the crucial role of political leadership in that enterprise.

Chapter Six, “The Obasanjo Civil Service Renewal Programme, 1999-2007”, examines the rather comprehensive civil service reform of the Olusegun Obasanjo civilian regime. The Obasanjo government came to power against the background of Nigeria’s emergence from years of destructive military rule, severe economic depression, serious crisis in governance and public administration, international isolation, and the spreading wave of democratization-cum market economy accompanied by the NPM revolution. The preceding 15 years of military rule had wreaked so much havoc on virtually all the facets of the country’s public life that Nigeria required a root and branch transformation to get back in shape. This is the context that set the Obasanjo government on the path of reform. The chapter surveys the background to the reform, digging into the monumental challenges that confronted the regime and the vision of the leadership for lifting the country out of the doldrums and taking it to its El-Dorado. Highlighting the NEEDS implementation framework for the reform, it provides elucidation on the various components of the reform plan, and concludes with a detailed critique of the reform strategy and programme (p. 179).

Chapter Seven, “The SERVICOM Initiative in Perspective”, puts the SERVICOM initiative in perspective – a very important NPM element of the Obasanjo renewal reform – and plunges into its nitty-gritty as a service delivery initiative. It offers an exposition on the SERVICOM structure, on its use as a performance measurement index with details on how the measurement is done (pp. 212-213). It also touches on the achievements of SERVICOM and its challenges with a lot more details than can be justifiably dealt with in a few pages of review.

Chapter Eight, “Civil Service Reforms and the Yar’Adua Administration”, brings the book up to speed on the efforts of the current administration along the reform path. As a follow-on from the Obasanjo reform, the Yar’Adua government adopts a 7-point Agenda as a fulcrum around which its reform would revolve. The chapter thus explores the continued emphasis of the government on building a capable and viable civil service towards achieving the goal of development. It is acknowledged that being only two years in office (as at the time of writing the book), it would be difficult to assess conclusively the reform measures put in place by the administration. Nonetheless, Dr Olaopa takes up some of the steps that the administration had already instituted, especially in view of the president’s commitment to the principle of “rule of law” and “servant-leadership” (p. 229). Within the context of the NPM the chapter addresses itself well to the crucial role of the permanent secretary as a manager/chief executive in ensuring an effective civil service in the country (p. 238).

Chapter Nine, “Elements of an Optimal Public Administration System Model for the Nigerian Federal Civil Service: The Way Forward: A Conclusion”, addresses the important structural and behavioural issues that need to be taken on board in redefining the Federal Civil Service for enhanced performance. These structural and behavioural issues are embodied in what the author calls the Optimal System Model. The elements of the Model which he recommends are: (a) changing the cadre or pools system to functional fields of specialization; (b) establishment/workforce control and management of growth of the service; (c) establishment of professional and ethical values in the conduct of government business; (d) installation of integrated public service human resources information system; (e) professionalisation of personnel administration function at the centre and line ministries level; (f) new training policy and leadership development; (g) institution of a new career/professional development scheme; (h) institution of a new system of performance management/staff appraisal and promotion systems; (i) new pay, compensations and incentive system; (j) abolition of the executive cadre and limiting of career protection to senior posts; (k) creation of a senior executive service; and (l) modernization of systems and processes using e-government solutions.

The structural and behavioural issues are useful and appropriate as they are in keeping with public sector reforms being undertaken in other African countries. They are also in tune with current trends in countries like the United Kingdom, United States and Canada.

Overall, Dr Olaopa’s book offers a robust exploration, on the one hand, of the problems and challenges of public administration, and on the other, the problems and prospects of reform. The book could be said to contain the two key elements in confronting the issues of public administration: the technical/organizational dimension, and the ecological/political dimension. While the first four chapters deal exhaustively with the first dimension, chapters five to eight address the latter dimension. Using Nigeria as a case study, the sections on the state and public administration, the Obasanjo renewal programme, the SERVICOM initiative, and the Yar’Adua administration put the issue of public administration reform in their proper political and leadership context. They establish a connection between the state, visionary and good leadership, effective public administration institutions, satisfactory service delivery, and legitimacy, thus situating the whole reform project within their proper democratic governance context. Hence, the book provides a very rich material on public administration and reform especially with particular reference to Nigeria.

Public Administration and Civil Service Reforms in Nigeria is not only rich in pointing out the weaknesses of prevailing reform programmes, but also comes up with alternatives, where necessary, and ways of fixing the weaknesses identified. Thus its closing chapter offers an optimal public administrative model for the civil service in Nigeria. It does not only put forward the model, but gives a careful, step-by-step account of how the model is to be incorporated into the Nigerian system; and in this, Dr Olaopa sits pretty well as a practitioner with insider knowledge of the workings of the system.

The book, Public Administration and Civil Service Reforms in Nigeria, is a must read for scholars, students and practitioners not only in Nigeria but also other African countries. It is easy to read and follow. The issues addressed are crucial and debated over in both the theoretical, comparative and empirical literature.

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