The Nigerian Civil Service Bureaucratic Corps from a Generational Perspective – By: . .
By Professor Tunji Olaopa
Jhe trajectory of emergence and institutionalization of public administration and the civil service in Nigeria benefits enormously from a generational analysis. There are three generations that contribute to the capital and deficit of institutional performance and productivity quotients of the Nigerian civil service. Of course, the first generation of civil servants and public administrations belongs to what we now affectionately call the golden age of public service in Nigeria. This first generation took place between the 1950s and the early 1960s. This period first coincided with the inauguration of the Nigerian civil service in 1954 as a fledgling institution, and the political independence of Nigeria . These two facts bear significant witness both to the quality of the founding officers of the civil service and to the institutional quality of the civil service itself. This civil service framework was based on the traditional Weberian structure which required civil servants to maintain anonymity, neutrality and impartiality. Thus, the overall profile of a civil servant should therefore be circumscribed by efficiency, effectiveness, integrity, responsibility, responsiveness, loyalty, fairness, justice, etc.
Choosing a career in the civil service at that time conferred prestige and status in society. The state of service justified this class recognition. At this point in its evolution, the public service was not perfect, but it established itself as a values-based institution distinguished by its competence, professionalism and moral rectitude. They attracted the best and the brightest. Their internal governance has been entrusted to an independent, non-partisan and impartial beacon of integrity: the Public Service Commission. Recruitment was strictly meritocratic and promotion was based on merit and performance. There were attractive competitive and comparable terms of service and generous, well-funded pension plans.
The second generation of public administrators and civil servants, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, the nucleus of which constitute those we affectionately call the super permanent secretaries. The permanent secretaries who carried the qualification of “super” among this corps were so called because they were called upon at one of the most desperate and chaotic times in Nigerian history – the period of the civil war – to deploy their acumen of administration, their skills and their wisdom to bring Nigeria across. the pre-war, war and post-war periods. Their challenges also concerned the management of the command and control structure of the army during and after the war.
Before exposing the trajectory of the third generation of civil servants and public administrators, to which I belong, I must point out some dynamics and administrative dysfunctions which heralded the emergence of the third generation. From the pioneer generation of civil servants, as noted earlier, Nigeria inherited a civil service that was fundamentally values-driven, public-oriented and highly professionalized. The values of service as well as those that existed within Nigerian society at the time were mutually reinforcing to facilitate the fundamental public spirit that the profession demanded.
The Adebo Commission (1971) and the Udoji Commission (1974) signaled when the system should have moved from the Weberian administrative tradition of “I am directed”, so that the system would be reshaped to facilitate its capacity. the desire to carry the functionality of a developmental state. Unfortunately, the system was at the peak of its success, of its pre-eminence, and a little too complacent to respond to the urge to reform. The administrative dissonance between the civil service and the second and third development plans undermined the vision of placing the Nigerian state at the top of the economy as a developmental state capable of achieving the goals of transforming the lives of Nigerians. Several series of events – the discovery of oil, the huge petrodollar which overwhelmed the national income, the rejection of the Udoji recommendation for a managerial rehabilitation of the administrative system, the establishment of the Udoji windfall which structurally disconnected the structure service wage from the national productivity trajectory thus making it complex to recalibrate within technical-rational parameters, and the civil service purge of 1975 eclipsed the golden age of the civil service and aggravated the second generation that was already immersed in office pathology. It was already an open season of societal and administrative anomie. The economy awash in oil revenues had already incited national debauchery.
From the 1975 civil service purge to the process of deinstitutionalization of SAPs, the values orientation of inherited civil service ethics had been eroded in damaging ways. Professionalism and civility had passed to the dogs! The culture of delayed gratification had been replaced by that of instant gratification (or something for nothing). The statist dynamics of prebendalism and the clientelist framework could then easily invade the civil service in ways that engendered a culture of waste and layoffs and a damaged system of maintenance and asset management. The third generation of civil servants was thus announced by an inflated cost of governance and an administrative weakening far removed from the system inherited from the pioneers, from Adebo to Ayida.
By the time my generation came of age, it was already deeply embroiled in the dynamics of office pathology that had weakened the public service. And it was all the more serious because we had mentors and seniors who connected us to the golden age in terms of passion, professionalism and zeal for service powered by knowledge. They carried the grand tales of nation-building promise and progress. And they were all too willing to pass on their knowledge and zeal through generational empowerment. Unfortunately, it is my generation of administrators and civil servants who must bear the brunt of institutional decadence at its most acute, and especially when the challenges of national integration and good governance have increased. Nigeria now needs “a world-class public service that delivers government policies and programs with professionalism, excellence and passion”, to quote the NSPSR vision. But then, “professional, efficient, effective and accountable” public servants who understand the system (past, present and in light of daily growing innovations in public administration) to bring knowledge and skills to readiness capacity can really not be in the field. Additionally, there is a dearth of think tanks and consulting firms that have developed service portfolios that have content, solution frameworks, and core competencies relevant enough to address issues and problems first-hand for which Nigerian governments are seeking solutions.
Concluded on http://www.dailytrust.com.ng
Olaopa is a retired federal permanent secretary