The year 2020 would be remembered in the annals of world history as the year that the coronavirus visited the world and transformed every dimension of human endeavors, from eating and greeting habits to administrative frameworks and the way we see the human world. With millions already dead and many more infected, especially through many variants deadlier than the original virus, the pandemic has already defined a new normal in human relations and activities. It does not take any serious reflection to see that public administration becomes the most significant human endeavor to be challenged not only in dealing with the pandemic, but also in responding to the ordering of the human world in a post-COVID-19 world. All across the world, public administration has often been called upon to deal with wars, pestilences, development efforts, and state projects of all kinds. In Nigeria, for example, public administration had to contend with the task of prosecuting the Nigerian civil war as well as outlining an administrative framework for a post-war social rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The implication of this assessment of public administration and its confrontation with existing realities of each period in history is that public managers must always operate efficiently within what has been called a VUCA — volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous — administrative environment. In such an environment, public managers and the public service are tasked beyond what the traditional administrative machinery is able to take charge of. This is the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has created a volatile situation determined by the unpredictable behavior of the virus. This makes the administration of human activities even more complex than it usually is. For instance, the lockdown procedures come with stringent economic realities that affect human freedom and well-being.
One of the greatest challenges of the public service, especially in a postcolonial administrative context like Nigeria, is the determination of what bureaucratic model could best enable a public service that is effective and efficient sufficiently to deal with the challenges of the VUCA environment while also smartly delivering democratic services. Max Weber, the German philosopher who did a lot to influence the emergence of the traditional administrative model, was also confronted with this kind of VUCA-situation in the early twentieth century. The crisis situation came as a result of the hostility between the German Emperor, Wilhelm II and his Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, over the content of foreign and social policies. The emperor’s erratic foreign policy has been considered to be one of the root causes of World War I. Max Weber was a very keen philosophical observer of the defeat of Germany in the first world war, as well as the bureaucratic implications of the power tussle between Wilhelm II and Chancellor Bismarck. For instance, he noticed how administrative dominance of the state consolidated in the absence of a strong political leader. This led him to reflect deeply on how to juxtapose political leadership with a bureaucracy that assists the state in terms of modernisation and development.
Weber’s understanding of the crisis led to a need to model politician-bureaucrat relationship in ways that determine the boundaries of power and authority around policymaking. For Weber, the way out was to generate a bureaucratic tradition that centralized legal-rational authority founded on hierarchical structure and a one-size-fits-all service-wide standardization of governance and operations. The command-and-control structure constructed the public servant as apolitical, loyal, neutral and anonymous. With the bureaucratic model, Weber achieved a crisis management dynamic in the aftermath of the first world war. The question, however, is whether that Weberian model is sufficient to handle the crisis occasioned by the COVID-19 and the myriad challenges of the new normal. This question resonates even more so in a postcolonial context like Nigeria considered one of the worst administrative settings in Africa. An even more fundamental question is how can public services become efficient in a time of crisis like the pandemic and its future variants?
Putting the questions like this speaks to the need for organizations like the public service to recognize the necessity of change as the most constant factor that demands of organizations a reform template made up of continuous learning, change management and iterative incremental improvements. In organizational development theory, organizations usually fall prey to three development traps that define what has been called the “first cycle” of the bureaucratic culture. First, organizational success leads to self-satisfaction and an unreflective defense of the status quo. Second, size brings the fragmentation of organizational procedures that takes the public managers far away from customers’ feedback which serves as the mechanism for innovative growth. Third, the age factor implies that the older an organization gets, the more it breeds tradition which over time tends to supersede innovative and creative handling of challenges.
The question of high-performing public service in a time of crisis also demands the emergence of astute public managers who see decision-making as the nerve of organizational efficiency. In other words, the smart public managers need to transform the public service into a bold, preemptive and high-performing organizations with the capacity to make fast and effective decisions in the time of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. However, decision-making must not be allowed to degenerate into groupthink that hinders individual and organizational creativity, information overload, analysis paralysis that leads to indecision, or overconfidence in the crisis management competence in ways that create tension at both the operational and strategic levels.
The efficiency of any CEO or public manager depends on three critical competences. The first is the capacity to effectively delegate authority in a way that prioritizes the discretion of a crisis manager to independently work in the organizational frontline within a framework of exceptions to the rules that do not however erode the normal regulations in ways that break down the organization. The second competence the public manager needs requires creating a balance between the command-and-control dynamic on the one hand, and participatory team-based decision-making approach on the other.
The third competence that a crisis period demands, is the need for intelligent public managers to be open to alternative scenario planning that anticipates both uncertainties and possibilities. This enables the public servants to bring multiple perspectives to policy challenges and public service delivery using foresight techniques to test different scenarios, and building resilience into policy design from potential shocks and unforeseen events.
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Fashioning new professional skills set involves several other requirements. First, it demands a human resources management architecture around which a new professionalism will be built. Second, this affects the way we reflect on the workplace, work structure and work dynamics that will affect the performance and productivity Nigeria needs. And thirdly, the professionalism must be undergirded by new culture and value changes that enable the public servants to focus on the new enabling values and ethos as well as helping them to think outside of the administrative box.
The idea of scenario planning speaks to the familiar four stages of “forming-storming-norming and performing” model of organization formation that enables any institution and organization to become efficiently formidable not only in dealing with a present challenge but also in anticipating future situations. A public service that wants to be efficient in the new normal created by the COVID-19 pandemic must, within the imperative of scenario planning, adopt a framework of strategic thinking that becomes strategic by challenging the status quo, challenging assumptions and framing strategic choices that allow the public service to not only wade through the difficult times, but also make the best of the situation for the benefit of the citizens.
Furthermore, such a public service must reorder its institutional and structural dynamics and frameworks through several processes, in organisational development trajectory, that must continually refresh the organisational dynamics and prevent it from going into institutional stagnation. These include: (a) Learning organization: An all-out effort is required on the part of managers to keep its employees educated on the latest technology, systems, knowhow and processes; (b) Total quality management: TQM involves employee involvement, teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving, high-level involvement, adopting a work culture aimed at growth and quality of product and services. TQM requires total commitment, removing fear psychosis due to failure at lower levels, development of successful work culture and continuous improvement; (c) Visioning: Visioning envisages as to what the organization would look like in the future. It is related to the shape in terms of which HR facilities, the growth and the needs of people it is likely to fulfill. Based on the vision, database is required to be built, leading to interpretation of information, arriving at suitable decisions and setting a course of action leading to growth. Visioning refers to looking at the organization in ‘totality’; and (d) Virtual organizations: Getting whole system in one room, evolving action plan and implementation.
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In the new normal, public administration is now doubly tasked to achieve an efficient service delivery to the citizens. This means that it cannot not be business as usual for public managers, not in terms of the traditional bureaucratic culture and definitely not in terms of the skills and competency sets. The new normal requires a new public service that is smart and decisive with regard to a decision that transforms the well-being of citizens who are struggling to make sense of their environment.
Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration, the National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos
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The Black Tax: Family Charges And Mandatory Payment
By Toyin Falola
You cannot be one rich man among your poor siblings and relations and not become poor. After all, you stole the destiny of six others to add to yours. Having made them poor, you must cater for them. Ogunde, my friend, built a house for his father and mum. You did well. On the day of house-warming Mama Ogunde called my friend to her room for a private discussion, advising him to buy a plot of land for his junior brother. The first tax has been paid, then the imposition of the second. Three months later, his sister called him to announce her wedding ceremony. Ogunde had to pay the third tax. Each time he calls me, Ogunde is lamenting the never-ending tax. Those payments, the mandated gift, and the exchanges are now what we call the “black tax”: it is the price you pay for knowing someone. Kinship was invented in an agricultural age for collective bonding and survival. Today, it is for purposes of tax collection with delivering public services. As you read this, you are either paying the tax or collecting it. Confess!
The African social system is unarguably built on the premises and strength of family and responsibilities. Society is built on collective responsibilities that spread even to every member of the society at large as a unit. This is why persons from the same village, like Umuahia, would always refer to their kinsmen as brothers or sisters merely because they have come from the same village or area. It is the sense of responsibility that bonds the African society that has been spelt out so eminently. But the question in this piece is not about the collective nature of the African communities but the responsibilities that follow from the family relationships, either for those within the same blood or the “village family.” The issue is of “black” tax; black here is not a racialized category.
Black tax is a phenomenon that has been brought to bear in the African society of today; the modern exposure has allowed questions raised on whether the cultures are of necessity or mere subjections that have resulted in the slow pace of individual developments or castigated some Africans’ invisible slavery. African men and women give, and they take care of theirs. But then there is just one successful person in an extended family: the act of giving moves from mere social responsibilities to social burdens.
Mikel Obi, a Nigerian footballer and a legend in the English Premier, recently lamented the plight of an average African. When you reach out to success and strive hard, you probably might face limited help from some of your family members. In fact, everyone is supposed to have his or her problems, and the contemporary conditions of African countries would actually justify their excuses. However, you could strive and become something without anything, but when that success comes, you have not achieved it for yourself or your immediate family; you have done so for almost everyone who carries the same last name as you, related by any measure of distance and acquaintances. The black tax must be paid.
The concept of the black tax probably originated from South Africa; it was seen as the returns black workers, in the past, sent to their families and relatives for upkeep. It should be understood that the apartheid South Africans were such that Africans and blacks were discriminated against and had only a few opportunities to contend with. Hence, the few of them who had the opportunity to work were seen, to some extent, to have been in such a position for their families that they could not have similar opportunities. I have been in the company of people from Lesotho in South Africa, returning home with the Black tax. Many people from Zimbabwe living in South Africa pay it. In my heavy luggage to Lagos, only the contents of the carry-on belong to me; the rest is black tax. I pay it routinely. Recipients even now include chefs, drivers, and Malam the Gateman.
Like the Brown Tax in the Latino communities, the Black Tax spread across Africa as a general description of family relations for every black. It is seen as an obligation, and the person who sends it must do something as a necessity. Those who are the beneficiaries sometimes develop a sense of belonging and claim over the income of the individual.
Let’s address the culture. African cultures are beautiful, and the idea of taking responsibility for one’s immediate family, at least, is born out of the many philosophies that formed the foundations of the African society, from Ubuntu to Omoluabi to the collectivism orientations that have cut across the African societies; one would understand why the contemporary society should not quickly run into the mistake of casting the habit as a forbidden practice.
We must understand that new cultures and the contemporarily subscribed behaviours born out of overbearing cultural diffusions gotten from excessive universalism have been gradually killing the bonds that the African societies have for each other. It has increased selfishness and made the act of philanthropism, which was initially a social necessity, become out of the ordinary.
At what point should one say that the black tax is bad, and to what extent would the African circumstances create the limit? Are African parents truly entitled to the success of their children? Often than not, an average African parent assigns a primary purpose of nurturing and sacrificing their lives for their children. It is an African thing for parents to forego what they need the most in order to allow their kids a needed opportunity or resources that would put them in the right positions. In the pre-European interference era in Africa, what was paramount was to ensure that a child had the right skill as well as the right behaviour, but the parents were always on the watch to ensure that akosejaye, the written destiny, of a child is fulfilled to the fullest and they were ready to make any type of sacrifices. This mentality was carried on when the new order of definition of what success meant arose across Africa. Education and other resources must be attained, and the mothers would not mind selling their biggest clothes or properties to ensure that these voids were filled. The culture prevailed over time and is still predominant in the African society of today. Children in every African household became an ambition and duty that nothing would negotiate the commitments to them. Many African parents have continued working in toxic environments; many have lost their health or become disabled from the wares they sell in traffic jams and the hustles and bustles of places like Oyingbo Market.
Basically, to an African parent, a child is an investment and future insurance for old age and moments where one’s effort would not be enough to feed or meet necessary needs. The African family institutions are different from many other parts of the world. One would then ask whether the “wokeness” conceptions would justify taking such future expectations wrong. For anyone a parent has sacrificed for, there is a level of expectation from them, and I do not think contemporariness should be reason enough to remove that responsibility. This goes down to immediate family like siblings who have followed the rough paths with one.
My point is not that one must give without control or that every ‘ask’ should never be met with a ‘no’; otherwise, one would never move to the point of self-actualization. However, the first condition to be put to black tax is the measure of sacrifice the potential beneficiary had made. This separates responsibility from mere philanthropy. It is a measure to keep one’s circle small and reduce unnecessary ‘billings.’ Young Africans who are growing must understand that what comes first is themselves, the means to secure their future, and after all personal or immediate needs have been covered, those that we owe come in, but it should never be at the expense of one’s development. One must know that the greatest responsibility owed is that that guarantees growth.
The above is also not to say that we should kill the African culture of giving. There are many individuals to be lifted out of poverty. The continent today is positioning itself as a proper headquarters of poverty and as such, it cannot afford to stop all the help it could get. However, one must ensure that giving should be out of abundance. Abundance is indeed the remainder from excesses and should never affect fundamentals, secondary, and even tertiaries. It is an act out of comfort. So, the black tax may not be an unnecessary social responsibility, but instead, some level of necessity and discharge of appreciation to those who have made tangible sacrifices in our lives. Evaluate your black tax; instead of complaining to me as Ogunde does every other day, he should review the list and delete the names of several recipients. As I told him yesterday, why not use part of the tax to take me out?
Obama, Clooney, And Gates Should Include Witch Persecution InTheir Campaign
By Leo Igwe
The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) welcomes the collaboration between the foundations of Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney, and Melinda French Gates to end child marriage in Africa. These foundations have committed to ending this practice within a generation. This initiative, announced during their recent visit to Malawi and South Africa, demonstrates the urgency that such a harmful traditional and cultural practice demands. Child marriage is a sore on the conscience of humanity. It violates the health, rights, and well-being of women and girls. Culture, tradition, or religion should not be used to excuse or justify practices that undermine the humanity of women and girls. So it was a great relief to know that these influential women would be working together to combat this menace.
At the same time, AfAW wants to draw the attention of Obama, Clooney, and Gates to another practice that is undermining the rights of women in Africa: witch persecution. Witchcraft accusation is pervasive in Malawi and other parts of the region. Witchcraft accusation is a gendered phenomenon that predominantly targets women and girls. Those accused of witchcraft are tortured, banished, or murdered in cold blood. In Malawi and other parts of the region, accused women are raped, stoned to death, or lynched. Many accused women are banished and forced to live in make-shift shelters called witch camps in Ghana’s Northern region. In Malawi and the Central African Republic, the accused are imprisoned, or flee to live in prisons to avoid being killed. Rooted in traditional and cultural beliefs, witch hunting is another vicious phenomenon which they said would not be eradicated.
This misperception should be rejected and discarded. This mistaken assumption has prevented international organizations including the UN from treating the problem of witch persecution with the urgency that it deserves. This misrepresentation has made the world ignore and look away while women and sometimes girls are accused, abused, abandoned, or savagely killed in the name of witchcraft. As in the case of child marriage, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches believes that witch persecution can end within a generation. The problem can be solved or resolved in a matter of years. AfAW is working and campaigning to rally national and international political will against witch hunting. That was why the organization announced in 2020 a decade of activism against witch persecution in Africa.
AfAW urges Obama, Clooney, and Gates to join efforts in stopping witch persecution of women and girls. They should know that the girls they are trying to save from being married away as children could end up being stoned to death or buried alive for witchcraft. Obama, Clooney, and Gates should include witch-hunting in their campaign because the practice is rooted in gender injustice and misogyny. The foundations should know that women are likely to suffer child marriages when they are young and witch persecution when they are growing old. So they should not focus on one and ignore the other. To effectively protect and defend the rights of women and girls, they should tackle both child marriage and witch-hunting . The foundations should commit to ending practices that violate the rights of women, whether they are young or old, children or adults.
Dr Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, which campaigns to end witch persecution in Africa by 2030.
Powering Prosperity: Unlocking Nigeria’s Potential Through U.S. Partnership
By David Greene
Nigeria is on track to be the world’s fourth-most populous country by 2050. It already has the largest economy in Africa and, with 60 percent of its population under the age of 25, it stands on the threshold of a demographic dividend that can dramatically transform its economy for the better. Nigeria’s strategic partnerships are essential in harnessing this potential, and the United States is playing a leading role. As we near the six-month mark of President Tinubu’s administration, our relationship has emerged as a key for success. One year ago, at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, President Biden renewed our commitment to deepening engagement across the continent. Here is how we are doing that in Nigeria – working in areas that matter most to everyday citizens, such as growing the economy, strengthening democracy, improving health outcomes, ensuring security, and addressing the climate crisis.
Nigeria’s economic potential is vast, and with the right macroeconomic framework, a sound fiscal strategy, and a strong commitment to rooting out corruption, it can become a preferred destination for foreign direct investment. American investors and companies are eager to engage with Nigeria, and the United States government is doing its utmost to build our bilateral trade and investment ties.
Consider these examples: We have joined forces to accelerate Nigeria’s digital transformation, with investments from U.S. tech giants such as Microsoft, Cisco, Meta, Google, and Starlink. This partnership has built a platform to train unemployed and underemployed women and youth. Moreover, it has been a catalyst for quality investment, accounting for more than a quarter of all venture capital flowing into Africa.
Collaborative efforts in agriculture further underscore our commitment. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently dedicated $22 million to strengthen Nigeria’s cocoa value chain, supporting more than 60,000 cocoa farmers, processors, marketers, and other agribusiness service providers in what is Nigeria’s #2 foreign exchange-earning export. From tech to agriculture, these steps go beyond statistics. They translate into tangible outcomes: good jobs, seed money for new ventures, and higher-value agricultural exports.
The United States is also a steadfast partner in strengthening Nigeria’s health sector. With World AIDS Day – December 1 – approaching, it is worth recalling that over the past two decades, PEPFAR, the leading U.S. initiative to address HIV/AIDS, has invested nearly $8 billion in Nigeria, providing more than 1.6 million individuals with life-saving HIV treatment. In response to COVID-19, the United States donated more than 44 million vaccine doses, helping the Nigerian government approach its target vaccination rate of 70 percent of the eligible population. Partnerships like the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, with an annual budget of more than $71 million, have reduced child death rates and strengthened health systems.
Those investments are just part of our overall development assistance to Nigeria. In fiscal year 2022 alone, the U.S. government allocated over $1.2 billion dollars in such support. These funds provide humanitarian assistance, and improve health, economic development, education, social services, democracy, human rights and governance, and peace and security.
In the latter two areas – democracy and security – we aim to support an inclusive future where Nigerian citizens’ votes count and translate into responsive governance, and where they can live in peace. We are a steadfast partner in seeking to strengthen election processes that will enhance accountability to meet citizens’ expectations, and pursuing innovative projects to help communities resolve differences without violence. Through cooperation with and training of Nigeria’s military and police, we are building more capable forces. Collaborating with civil society, law enforcement, and the judiciary, we are confronting the security challenges that stand in the way of economic growth while upholding a shared commitment to human rights. Initiatives include building Nigeria’s counter-terrorism capacity, bringing technology to courtrooms and case-management systems to help in the administration of justice and reduce pre-trial detention, and supporting efforts to enhance accountability and transparency in police forces.
Our partnership to address the climate crisis reflects our mutual recognition of this challenge, and our respect for Nigeria’s role as both an energy producer and a country profoundly impacted by the effects of climate change. In the leadup to COP28 – the 28th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, which begins this week – the United States and Nigeria are aggressively seeking solutions. For example, U.S. support for Nigeria’s leadership as a Global Methane Pledge champion has led to action that is reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the benefit of all.
These programs and cooperative efforts advance a joint agenda that is built and driven by the highest levels of our leadership. President Biden met with President Tinubu in September, and numerous senior U.S. officials have come to Nigeria in recent months to confer on meeting Nigeria’s energy needs, driving U.S. trade and investment in Nigeria, and strengthening our law enforcement cooperation. These engagements strengthen our ties, address Nigeria’s pressing needs, and tackle shared challenges.
Ultimately, realizing Nigeria’s potential hinges upon enhancing its fiscal and economic health – and capitalizing on its strategic partnerships to build on that foundation. The opportunity has never been greater. Nigeria, with its youth, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit, is poised to seize this moment. We commend the government for its bold actions thus far to try to move the economy to a more solid footing. The United States is your partner in that effort – through investment, better security, a stronger workforce, and resilient institutions – that benefits all Nigerians and expands prosperity for both our peoples. Our journey ahead has its obstacles, of course. But together we will find a path toward a shared prosperity.
. Greene is Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. United States Embassy Abuja.
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