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Can Civil Service Profession Be Saved from Politics?



Funding Public Education In Nigeria: Towards An Alternative Financing Model

Tunji Olaopa

My recent attempt to explore the intersection of politics and policy making sparked considerable interest among regular interlocutors of my contributions. These incidentally were not just public administration scholars and public servants, but from the wider network of enlightened readers. And whereas I had written on the issue of how politics shapes public administration profession and practice in earlier contributions, the concern in this piece is not different. It is to deepen the conversation on perhaps the dominant issue in the crisis of the Nigerian bureaucracy i.e. the issue of the politicization of civil service governance which reached its height in the 1975/76 purge, but that has since not abated, and the whole question of whether the civil service could be saved from politics. In spite of my spirited attempt to make this very intelligible to non-professionals, this essay cannot but take a seminal tone. This is because, given the experts audience for which this note was written, it was inevitable that we will come in contact with a rather stimulating meshing of the theoretical and the practical in ways that bear untangling.

READ ALSO: Is Nigeria A Failing State?

The title of this piece therefore calls on a historico-administrative analysis that delves into the founding and conception of the civil service as a profession, and how those first principles have been molded and moderated by the specific and peculiar sociopolitical contexts of different states of the world. This becomes all the more interesting when the civil service is situated within the context of postcoloniality. Most scholars of administration in Africa know that the continent bears the unsalutary reputation of being the most difficult administrative context in the world. And this reputation seems well deserved in the sense that most African states are underperforming due to the lackluster capacity readiness of their public administration systems. How then do we make sense of this terrible situation? In other words, in what ways can we begin to unravel the relationship between the civil service and the disenabling politics that backstops underdevelopment in Africa?

The state anywhere is an abstract concept that is given a face by the idea of the government and the public/civil service. It is through the activities of the armed forces, the inland revenue officials, the waste management system, the educational boards, the ports authority, and so on, that we encounter the state and its activities. Thus, the bureaucracy is the administrative machinery that keeps the engine of the government running. It is in this sense that the bureaucracy becomes significantly fundamental to the success or failure of any government. We then make our title clearer through the fact that the bureaucracy is not usually immune from the dynamics of politics that reigns in any particular state.

The politics-administration distinction is the most fundamental dichotomy that signaled the emergence of the bureaucracy into the modern consciousness. The essence of the distinction is to shield the unique vocation of the bureaucracy from the ravages of politics. This is despite the critical fact that it is the sophistication of the political leadership that determines the climate for the professionalism and capability readiness of the civil service at every point in time. The crucial point is to shield the bureaucracy from any unnecessary politicization that will undermine its efficiency and performance profile. The politician and the public servant have their own unique remit even though they are bound together in policy design and implementation.

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The historical altercation between Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and his Chancellor and chief public servant, Otto von Bismarck, brings to life not only the origin of the administrative dichotomy, but also the crucial issues involved in the attempt to politicize the public service. The conflict ensued over the strong views that Bismarck had over Germany’s foreign and domestic policies which were stronger than those of the Emperor. The latter then strong-armed his Chancellor into a dismissal from his post, but then the Emperor was then faced with a bureaucratic officialdom that led to the invasion of Emperor’s cabinet in ways that eventually undermined his government.

It was Max Weber’s critical observations of this conflict that led to his determination to theorize the basis of the relationship between the politician and the public servant as an ideal type. In order to be genuinely apolitical, Weber theorized the need to circumscribe the public servant within a legal-rational process that determines the duties and responsibilities of the public servant and under what conditions the authority could be legally exercised. It is therefore the bureaucracy that establishes the stability, founded on continuity, of any government. Politicians just come and go. From Weber’s perspective, therefore, the bureaucracy is insulated within a layer of technocratic details and procedures that determine recruitment, professionalism and duty of the public servant, but also allow the policy process—from conception to design and implementation—to become as seamless as possible. Unfortunately, no aspect of human life can escape politics. Despite the effort by Weber to create a unique bureaucratic persona defined by a different mentality, the public service is still determined by politics.

Weber’s distinction between “living for politics” and “living from politics” provides a unique framework that allows us to adapt this reflection to the Nigerian administrative condition. This distinction mirrors the dichotomy between politics and administration. Living for or from politics applies both to the politicians as well as the public servants. Both could either make politics the instrument for pursuing a cause or for earning an income. The point however is that both are not mutually exclusive. One can live for and from politics. An apolitical bureaucrat can benefit from politics. The American spoils system represents a sort of civil service system that seeks to ingratiate political patronage within a meritocratic public service. In order not to jeopardize the merit system, the spoils dynamics was integrated into the selection of the senior echelon of the public service while the junior cadre was left to the determination of merit.

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The immediate danger however is that opening up the civil service to politics, contrary to the politics-administration dichotomy, makes it difficult to prevent the corruption of the neutrality of the public servant. Power corrupts. And the postcolonial administrative experiences of the Nigerian state bear this out. The fact that the politics-administration distinction is not always a water-tight one is borne out by the 1988 Civil Service Reform which was backed by the Civil Service Reorganisation Decree No. 43 of the same year. Of course, the objective of the reform was the establishment of a virile, dynamic and result-oriented civil service. Unfortunately, the attempt to professionalize the elite corps of the civil service had a negative effect in that it led to the political appointment of permanent secretaries as director-generals. This also led to a rather abrupt turnover of very strong officers in whom a lot has been invested in terms of training. Ordinarily, the recommendation for the recruitment of a permanent secretary and other public servants ought to come through the head of service and the civil service commission respectively. And such recruitments are made in terms of technical competency in policy development, leadership management, and other core bureaucratic knowledge. However, these key issues are undermined once politics and the consideration for patronage are brought in.

Politics, especially the bad politics at work in most African states, erodes the very basis of the public service as a special calling. As a vocation, the public service is circumscribed by a public-spiritedness that is similar to the Levitical calling of the priests in the Bible. Such a calling comes with a level of professionalism founded on a competency-based human resources management and action-molding values—ethical values (i.e. integrity, honesty, respect); democratic values (i.e. responsiveness, representativeness, rule of law); and professional values (i.e. excellence, innovation). Bad politics leads to bad development. And bad politics is one that not only is motivated by an extractive and primitive accumulation logic, but also undermines developmental values like meritocracy. The Nigerian clientelist system is not as sophisticated as the US spoils system that recognizes the place of meritocracy in the performance culture of the civil service. But such a recognition is not alien to the Nigerian administrative history. With the Awolowo-Adebo model, we catch a historical glimpse of a transformational political-bureaucratic leadership that was modeled on the Weberian dream of politics-administration dichotomy. As a politician, Chief Awolowo understood the dynamics of the political terrain. And he asked Chief Adebo to leave that to him, so he could concentrate on the challenges of implementing the policies generated by the politicians. And this worked!

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This type of transformational leadership is anchored on a change management sense that recognizes the critical role of reform in making the public service relevant for the transformation of the state in the twenty-first century. The fundamental question is: how do we make the public service ethically compliant, technology-based, professionally situated and efficient for the challenges of a twenty-first century postcolonial state like Nigeria? The answer lies in an institutional reform programme that transforms the old Weberian civil service system into an entrepreneurial and flexible one with the transformational capacity to operate in a knowledge society. The most relevant example that has appealed to my reform experience is that of Margaret Thatcher’s charismatic commitment to relocating the institutional capacity of the British civil service away from the old, “I am directed” and Weberian public administration to a more modern pathway after 1979.

Before then, the British civil service had become what was called a “great rock in the tideline” due to its disenabling bureaucratic culture. In order to make sense of the 1968 Fulton Report that proposed a managerial revolution, Thatcher had invited Lord Rayner, Chairman and MD of Marks and Spencer to provide the change leadership. It was Thatcher’s political willingness to push the implementation of the institutional reform to its logical conclusion that led to her hardline stance, especially in her bid to amend the British labour law in ways that undermine its adversarial industrial dispute clauses in ways that enhance productivity. We can therefore say that Margaret Thatcher was willing to carry the burden of being tagged an “Iron Lady” for the sake of her conviction in institutional reform of the civil service system as a foundation of good governance.

The Thatcher example points our attention to the transformation of the productivity profile of the Nigerian economy as the single most significant premise for the reform of her civil service. And this speaks to reform initiatives around the civil service commission, the industrial labour law, the pay and compensation dynamics, and also the trimming of the workforce as a means of undermining the cost of governance burden. Institutional reform is a necessity. But only a courageous political leadership can go through with its complexity. This is the only way that politics can enhance the capacity readiness of the public service in Nigeria.

Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor of Public Administration, National Institute
for Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos


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The 2023  Elections And The Newness Of Nigeria



The Futility Of A Marital Chase
Dr. Hope Nwawolo

By Hope Nwawolo   

Despite the hues and cries that greeted the results of the 2023 elections, what if the court’s pendulum stays or swings otherwise in the expected litigations?

What will it teach our inquisitive young children?

What will it do to the hopes and dreams of the youths?

What will it do to the mind set of those in diaspora, waiting and hoping to return?

How will it affect our heroes still alive and yearning for the good old times?

One basic fact is that no matter where the pendulum swings, something new has started in the political sphere of Nigeria. And because it was unexpected, it has become almost impossible to strangulate it.  

In every competition, there is an expectation that the best man will win. That may not always be in politics, particularly, in Nigeria…where the winner may not be the best man or even the better man. And when it is said that politics is a game of numbers, sometimes, the actual numbers may not be visible to determine the end result. It becomes a case of the more you look the less you see; until interpreted by respected learned men with high integrity.

Politics, they say is a dirty game, where money speaks and promises made are broken without an iota of guilt. Where the gullible minds of the masses are deceived, with as little as a box of indomie. Where some vibrant but jobless youths are brainwashed to risk their lives to snatch ballot boxes for the politicians who do not know them beyond giving them stipends through some third parties. Where market women are forced to come out for rallies and campaigns because they cannot afford the fine that will be imposed on them if they failed to participate. They also do not want the harassment of the market leaders. 

In politics, fear is palpable in the air, before, during and after elections. The 2023 elections recently carried out, depicted these more than expected in both the politicians and electorate. What started like the usual political pattern took a drastic turn about nine months to the first elections and though it was said to be only a social media affair, it got everyone sitting upright and tightening his seat belt, particularly after the first elections.

Now, there is a generational shift, a new awakening, a new dawn and a new political birth, waiting to happen. To wherever the pendulum turns; where the court stands, it will make a turnaround in Nigeria. It may be turbulent at the beginning, it may be emotionally draining and psychologically traumatizing, but it will point to light at the end of the tunnel.

There is a new hope backed by a high spirit of determination. An unexplainable faith in many people for that newness of existence and purpose. An unprecedented emotional and psychological strength in the youths not to give up on their dreams. An unquenchable desire to keep praying. Soon a newness will break forth to calm all nerves and dry all tears.

A newness that will permeate conflicts and hatred,

A newness that will dissipate unnecessary anger,

A newness that will usher in unquestionable and transparent political systems in future elections,

A newness of freedom to choose a candidate without coercion or molestation

A newness of jubilation after the announcement of election results.

This is the new Nigeria that is awaiting delivery…

Nwawolo, PhD, writes from Lagos.




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Overcoming Policy Execution Trap As Nigeria’s Development Challenge



Prof. Tunji Olaopa

By Tunji Olaopa

If I am asked to give a succinct and apt summary of the entire challenge faced by the Nigerian state in terms of her policy architecture and development management, in spite of contestation in the development literature, I will not hesitate in stating clearly and unambiguously that it is the challenge of policy implementation; the whole dynamics of getting things done. By elimination, the implication is that the challenge cannot be located as that of the dearth of development ideas, insights, models and paradigms. Right from her independence, Nigeria has been inundated with several ideas, both local and global, about development policy and frameworks. And yet, policy outcomes keep getting bogged down in the murky waters of political shenanigans. This means that the new administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu has its challenge mapped out, in red, for it.

There is no shying away from this postcolonial predicament that has limited and kept limiting Nigeria’s capacity to honour the terms of her social contract with Nigerians. Hence, the Tinubu government will soon be inundated with the impatient agitations of Nigerians for a quick and tangible fix that will address their sufferings. And they are justified since they have not been given any real deal for the past sixty-three years of sovereign independence. And the new administration is obligated because that is the reason for seeking office in the first place.

Prof. Olaopa’s new book on public policy and development challenges

How then can we begin to understand this policy execution challenge? It is simple: how can an administration in Nigeria transition from governance vision and policy intention to policy outcomes that elevate and transform the quality of life of its citizens? Failure to understand and give critical and political attention to this question lies at the heart of the governance failures of successive Nigerian administrations. The new Tinubu administration cannot afford such a glaring mistake. And so, a fundamental case must be made out of the question of how policy intentions get circumscribed in the dynamics of policy execution that occasions policy failures in past administrations.

Modern states all across the world are distinguished by the traditional four functions they discharge as part of their administrative responsibilities—security i.e. securing the sovereign territory against lawlessness, policy formulation and implementation, governance regulation and service delivery.The capacity to perform each and all of these functions very well within an integrated framework in the governance context is what delivers the dividends of democratic governance to the citizens, and it enhances the state’s competitive and human development rating in global reckoning. With these functions, we have the metrics to differentiate between high-performing states like China, India, the United States,Botswana, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirate, Germany, Rwanda and the Asian Tigers (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea), and low- or even under-performing countries like Nigeria that is still cluelessly stuck within a dysfunctional vicious cycle within her arrested development.

From the perspective of governance, there must be something these states are getting right in the connection between leadership, politics, and policy articulation. For instance, there is a trajectory of relationship that links elite bargains to development bargains. In other words, development is a
function of elite nationalism and the extent to which the political class of a state can commit elite suicide and gamble on development on behalf of the people they are leading. In Nigeria, low
manifestation of elite nationalism has made it really difficult for the political class to set aside their personal and egoistic class interests in ways that enable them to clearly and ideologically discern and navigate the deadly developmental landmines strewn all over our governance landscape by the
neoliberal implication of ideological apparatuses and frameworks to which Nigeria is beholden. And here, the factor of development gamble of the Asian Tigers’ elites comes into bold relief. From within the ideological ambit of the developmental state, the leadership of the Asian Tigers were able to define a policy space that consciously and critically weighed the benefits and shortfalls of external influences, especially the type that came from the World Bank, IMF and the other cohorts of the neoliberal policy dynamics. Their developmental circumspection paid off!

Since we cannot argue that Nigeria has been stumped by the lack of vision documents, development plans and blueprints, or even policy expertise, the locus of the new administration’s focus  must be directed at the possibility of mustering the political will to undermine the mystified Nigerian Factor, and face the global neoliberal consensus in order to begin the crafting of an enabling policy architecture to drive development. And to achieve this translates to creating the delicate balance between ‘doing the right things’ (a function of decision making quotient) and ‘doing it right’(project and change management effectiveness), and overcoming the various political, cultural, structural and systemic constraints that trapped past well-meaning policies and intentions of Nigerian leaders in the dynamics of implementation.

There is first the conspiracy of elitist interest that ensures there is a poor resource allocation that focuses on elite bargain than development calculations and taking care of the national interest. Other constraints follow: (a) the disconnect between policy design and implementation due to  weak  implementation planning, risk assessment and incompetent change management strategies; (b) unstable and poorly managed macroeconomic policies; (c) policy and project discontinuity; (d) public service low capability readiness; (e) political interference; and finally (f) deep-seated political and bureaucratic corruption. In essence, development has failed not because Nigeria lacks the blueprint or paradigms to make it happen, but due to the dynamics of the politics that the political elite plays with Nigeria’s development potential.

Let me outline what we can regard as the “politics of policy implementation” that Nigeria has played for many years, a politics the new administration must take into serious consideration if it
does not want to fall into the category of failed administration right before it commences. This politics throws Nigeria’s development and policy non-performance right into the frame of the 2005 World Bank review findings about policy and development projects in Africa. According to the finding, 29% of development projects ever get completed, 45% of on-going projects are rated as satisfactory, while 26% of such projects invariably get cancelled. Such a review can never backstop a solid development project of a developmental state.

The politics of policy implementation in
Nigeria is founded on the following assumptions and practices. One: there is that dangerous presumption, that the new administration must resist, that once policies and development plan are designed, they are automatically implemented by the public service. And such a presumption is against the background of a scant investment in implementation analysis and planning, as well as the failure to facilitate the capability review, determine public
administration system’s capability readiness, and strengthening of the MDAs as the powerhouse of government administrative functionality. The MDAs, that is, are not working according to any
specific theories or praxis of change that can guide the functional integration of blueprints or paradigms. This kind of policy inattention draws attention to the policy contradiction: launching a
national development plan and strategy that are not implementation- ready in terms of adequate capability review of the MDAs integral to ensuring implementation success. Two: this
presumption is compounded by the uncritical reliance of past governments on policy experts and consulting firms who are tasked with designing high-end policies that are then dumped on MDAs whose capability reviews and implementation readiness have been neglected in the first place. The
extroversion of the policy design is then compromised by poor functional integration. The truth is that most of these consulting firms lack the appropriate deep content and solution frameworks that are in tandem with the context of policy dysfunction they are supposed to work with. Three: governance policy or project are hardly subjected to feasibility test determined in terms of scope and expectation that are captured by their framework of time, cost and risk assessments before
they are pushed into implementation. This makes it very difficult to benchmark funding projections for these policies and projects against revenue estimations, as well as facilitating in-built flexibilities that enable the policies and projects to adjust to volatilities and contingencies.

All the issues raised above constitute binding constraint that will undermine any governance possibilities the new administration requires to make a success of democratic governance. Undermining the binding constraints demands returning to the fundamentals. The first and most significant is that the new administration needs to interrogate the framework of how government business is currently being conducted. Governance successes are necessarily a function of how government business engages the complexities of the policy design and execution processes within a results-oriented frame. And that entails undermining the structural gaps between policy objectives, development strategies and policy outcomes. This demands second, setting the public service on a performance curve with the institution of a performance management system. This means that the public service must, for example, unfailingly now deploy KPI-based metrics to replace the cumbersome annual performance evaluation report (APER). And at the backend, it becomes imperative to have a monitoring and evaluation system supported by databases that enable staff and program continuous assessment, human resource development rooted in iterativep performance gap identification, supervisors-staff dialogue and multisource feedback mechanismsf for overall national development policy tracking and reporting.

The governance mantra must be on getting the balance between doing the right things and doing it right. And this cannot be achieved through the wanton multiplication or even duplication of
governance plans, programs and blueprints. What is needed is sequencing the blueprints into a coherent and feasible implementation programme, with the right amount of political will behind it. This gives the success of democratic governance a 95% chance of succeeding. The new administration  needs that fighting chance!

. Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration .

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Rigged Elections And The Moral Burden Of Illegitimacy



Prof. Hope Eghagha

By  Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Adamu: A man who rigs his way to power carries a moral burden!

Orezime: A moral what?

Adamu: You heard me, didn’t you?

Orezime: I’m not sure I heard you right. Moral what you said?

Adamu: A moral burden, I said!

Orezime: Hahahahahahaha! You make me laugh! Are you from the moon?

Gani: Or Mars?

Emeka: In which country? In Nigeria? That principle does not apply in Nigeria! There is no moral burden on anybody in this country! The election which produced Bubu in 2015 was rigged. Where are the two million voters from Kano State who voted in 2015? Was an INEC official not burnt alive after that election? The one which brought Obj to power was also rigged by the forces which wanted him to ease the tension of the Abiola tragedy on the Yoruba people. Yet those men had the temerity to preach against corruption!

Orezime: The international community winked at the whole exercise.

Gani: Yes! That’s why those two could only preach; they couldn’t really act decisively. A moral burden? They spoke from both sides of their mouths on the issue of corruption. The late President Yar Adua confessed that the election which produced him was compromised. An honest man, he didn’t live long enough to right the wrong of the period!

Orezime: That’s why I laughed when Adamu talked about a moral burden arising from rigged elections.

Bankole: In the ideal world, any power that is stolen and acquired through a dubious means imposes a moral burden on the power holder. No matter what the person does, that power remains stained.

Orezime: What does that amount to in our country? Even the brigands who shot their way to power in the notorious days of military misadventure in Nigeria soon became legitimate.

Emeka: You are going too far in our history. See what happened in Lagos State in the governorship elections of March 18. Ethnic jingoists went about preaching hatred against Igbo people and warned them against coming out to exercise their constitutional rights. Security officials looked the other way when ballot boxes were snatched in broad daylight in places where the opposition was leading.

Gani: A serving state governor personally went about snatching ballot boxes and threatened to shoot whoever got in his way. The same governor declared somebody wanted without recourse to the Inspector General of Police! He worked against the party on which platform he won the seat to spite the party hierarchy!

Adamu: And to think that this is the President-elect’s state. He kept mute through the horrendous attacks on Igbo people in Lagos State just the way the incumbent president has looked the other way when herdsmen went on the loose!

Bankole: Rigged elections are so familiar yet notorious in our land. It was the main trigger to the crisis in the Western Region in the First Republic because the people reacted when they saw a rape of their rights and wishes! It soon snowballed into a conflagration that consumed the nation in the late 1960s. Already, the youths are talking about a protest in the ENDSARSNOW# manner. I hope it doesn’t result in disaster. We have lost too many lives already!

Orezime: What I fear is the rise of ethnic profiling in a supposedly democratic society. To be sure, Governor Sanwo-Olu and the party hierarchy did not single out any ethnic group for verbal attacks. They even courted them. Yet they didn’t caution their followers to stop the degeneration into ethnic hatred. It is a dangerous curve what is happening in Lagos. I don’t subscribe to the Lagos is no man’s land nonsense which some misguided fellows are spewing, but threatening anybody not to vote their candidate is a new low! Can a Sanwo-Olu victory be said to be legitimate if a significant percentage of the electorate is disenfranchised?

Emeka: Good question. They did not stop there. They rolled out the culturally dreaded Oro rituals on election night. Come on! Who is fooling who? The Oro festival was designed to drive fear into non-Yoruba in Lagos. In the 21st Century?

Gani: I am sure the reports from election observers will be damning.

Bankole: I don’t care about those biased observers.

Adamu: Where are we headed in this country?

Orezime: We are on the road to Kigali!

Bankole: May we not travel that route!

Orezime: It’s a good prayer. But what are we doing to avoid the descent into anarchy? Nothing. Those monkeys are simply interested in acquiring power.

Gani: The Obedient Movement seems to have lost steam once it was misbranded as an ethnic agenda to grab power at the national level. Peter Obi needs to tread carefully so he doesn’t become another June 12! Some people are egging him on to challenge INEC through protests.

Orezime: If he decides to lead a protest, it would be within his constitutional right to do so, especially as INEC is stalling on the issue of inspecting elections materials despite an order from the courts. Peaceful protests are guaranteed by the Constitution.

Adamu: No one can be sure whether a peaceful protest will remain peaceful after it starts. That’s the experience the ENDSARS people had.

Gani: It’s not enough to stop people from taking to the streets. Protests are fundamental to democracy.

Adamu: We do not want dead heroes! Mark my words.

Bankole: That’s ominous!

Emeka: It means nothing. Nigeria must change. We cannot go on like this forever! Things are just going down. No cash. No fuel. No power supply. No security. No nothing.  Peter Obi gave a glimmer of hope. Now that has been dashed to the ground.

Adamu: Rigging will remain a moral burden each time our President-elect travels outside the country, each time he meets foreign observers, especially those ones who have a dossier on him. History will also judge him and assess how he came to power. This applies to all the states as well where some politicians have turned themselves into demigods and have compromised poor INEC officials with mouthwatering sums. This is not how to build a democracy. The votes must be counted and must count. Seventeen people have their lives during the governorship and House of Assembly elections. We are supposed to count ballot papers, not bodies. Sad!

Bankole: The moral burden of rigged elections is on all of us. Without our connivance there would be no rigging. We can only hope that this will end some day!

Emeka: Tough luck!


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