Towards Reforming The Civil Service Reforms In Nigeria: A Research Agenda
By Tunji Olaopa
In my recent commentaries, I have been worried about the state of public administration in Nigeria, and how this rebounds on the reform of the public service as a tool for development. And my worry derives from the near-absence of a gatekeeping mechanism that ought to undergird the professionalism behind the public-spiritedness of a public servant. For instance, it is no longer news that the Nigerian Association of Public Administration and Management (NAPAM) is dead and buried. And its death, for me, signals the weakening of the generational debt that public administrators and public servants owe to those who have been charged to carry the responsibility of administering the Nigerian state and her development challenges. I have argued that if the present crop of public administrators and public servants—my generation—was mentored by the likes of Simeon Adebo, Sule Katagum, Jerome Udoji, through the Allison Ayidas, Phillips Asiodus, Ahmed Jodas, Abdul Aziz Attahs, Francesca Emanuel, Aminu Salehs, et al, it becomes a moral duty for us to also pass the baton of public service and professionalism to those coming behind.
The fundamental point for me, therefore, is that the critical players in the public administration communities of practice and service must rediscover their shared mission and stakes in not only resuscitating the dying profession, but also find ways to achieve concrete and collective actions that will facilitate the capacity to chart a new future for our cherished calling and profession. This requires deploying our generational capital towards rebuilding public administration as the core catalyst to regaining the soul of the Nigeria Project. I doubt that it bears defending that if public administration fails, all else fails . If a defining national conference to ventilate thoughts, ideas and way forward and to strengthen the hands of the current leadership corps of the civil service, is the way to go, the conference sure will require significant basic, policy-engaged and action research inputs and deep-seated reflective thinking. Hence this modest attempt on my part, as scholar-practitioner, to build on my earlier advocacy piece by also attempting to sketch out what I consider should be the baseline think-piece that could be reworked into a technical note that might constitute supportive research agenda for the suggested national conference on the future of the Nigerian civil service. Let me then pose my worry as a loaded question: Where is the new generation of public administration scholars and researchers, and what are their significant contributions to praxis and scholarship?
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This question is fundamental for lots of reasons. I will identify just two. The names of Adebayo Adedeji, Ladipo Adamolekun, Ali D. Yahaya, Humphrey Nwosu, Kyari Tijani, Alex Gboyega, M. J. Balogun, Dele Olowu, Victor Ayeni, and policy scholars like Augustine Ikelegbe – the academics – and Simeon Adebo, Augustus Adebayo, Ntieyong U. Akpan, Ason Bur, George Orewa, Theophilus Akinyele, Ezekiel Oyeyipo – the scholar-bureaucrats – to name just a few, resonate in the annals of public administration in Nigeria, because they represent the best that the discipline and the profession could produce, even when public administration was struggling in Nigeria. These were people who knew their onions, and fought to bring the discipline to where it is today, given their own hurdles and challenges, in time and space. We can concede therefore, that these beacons of professional practice had NAPAM as a professional association that guided thoughts and practices. However, is the absence of that association sufficient to explain why there are only a handful of scholars and practitioners worthy of the stature of pioneer public administration scholars today? Like every aspect of Nigeria’s higher education dynamics, public administration scholarship has also succumbed to the craze for quantity, rather than the quality, of research outputs and publications, majorly as promotional requirements. This, as is to be expected, has sidetracked attention from the need for specialization, as well as the significant focusing on specific public administration and policy making institutional issues as research concerns.
There is also the increasing attenuation of the town-and-gown synergy that was one of the factors in the success stories of the pioneers of public administration and the public service in Nigeria, from Adebo and Udoji, and from Okigbo and Aboyade to the super-permanent secretaries. The town-and-gown initiative allowed scholars, from public administration to public policy to economics, for instance, to have fruitful rapport with public servants on issues of mutual concern, like the national development planning, economic policy, public finance, science and technology, personnel management, and other sector policies. Unfortunately, this sterling practice has been grossly desiccated by mutual distrust through the anti-intellectualism of the government and its officials, and the arrogant resentment of policy researchers and public administration scholars. While the practitioners decry the theoretical scholarship of the researchers, the latter dismiss the practitioners as being intellectually obtuse.
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Quite fortunately, and paradoxically too, I have benefitted from both sides of the divide. And this is by reason of my work on numerous public service reforms strategy designs and implementation, and my doctoral program, which reached its height while I was the technical lead for the Federal Government’s Public Service Reform Strategy Team in 2002, through to the fundamental programmes design and implementation that metamorphosed into the establishment of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) in 2003, as well as into my career years as permanent secretary. From commencing the PhD through my responsibilities as a permanent secretary and as professor of public administration, I was able to formulate research questions over time, which, quite unfortunately, still resonate due essentially to the lack of significant attention to them. A few of these research questions suffice.
What kind of public service does Nigeria need to successfully manage the dynamics of democratic consolidation reinforced with a developmental state capable of providing required support as Nigeria enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its huge technological and knowledge backend? This research question is, for me, the most fundamental. It is a question that has been asked since Nigeria began experimenting with reforms, especially from the Udoji commission to date. This question encapsulates all the others, since the end of the public service reforms is to enable the emergence of a public service that a developmental state in Nigeria can rely upon. With the idea of a developmental state, this question rides on the need to honor the social contract between the government and the governed by inaugurating a public service that works in terms of efficiently achieving service delivery for the citizens. This, for instance, was instantiated with the service compact with Nigerians – the SERVICOM reform.
The emergence of an efficient public service in Nigeria is undergirded by a deeper objective that conduces to the well-being of Nigerians, and that is radically overhauling Nigeria’s productivity profile. Thus, the next research question: how does the reform of the public service system eventuate in the crafting of a new national productivity paradigm? This question speaks to perhaps one of the most fundamental reform hurdles in Nigeria’s governance and administrative challenges—the issues of the role of the state, institutional streamlining, rightsizing, redundancy and cost of governance. Nigeria’s presidentialism and democratic governance for instance have become too expensive to the point of suffocation. The wisdom of redundancy management commences with deep reflection on how to manage or contain cost of governance, while still achieving buy-ins and strategic partnership by labour unions who are most concerned about the deals their members will get through social assistance while shifting from the adversarial to being understandably and ostensibly developmental for the sake of country.
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The issue of national productivity intersects that of an efficient public service and performance management. This leads us to generate the third research question: What are the appropriate human resource policies, pay structure and operational budget cum cost ratios that are most cost effective and consistent with the optimal productivity level of the national economy? This question enables administrative reformers, practitioners and policy researchers and academics to focus attention on the skills, competency and productivity deficits in the public service system through a rigorous program of re-professionalization and business model reprofiling. This is what I have called the imperative of creating a new generation of public managers with the capacity to rethink the intellectual bases of skills and the reskilling of the cadres, through a systematic injection of scarce skills to alter the IQ of service, and prepare it for the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in a vulnerable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) postcolonial administrative environment.
In situating itself within the VUCA environment, the public service in Nigeria must not only battle operational and tactical issues, but also the concern of rebranding and reprofiling of its vocational essence. So many Nigerians have lost faith in the public service system as the conveyor of democratic service delivery within the pervasive theory that neither can governments in Nigeria deliver development nor are public institutions working. Hence the fourth research question: What cultural adjustments programme needs to be implemented as a rebranding imperative to undermine the moral and trust deficits of the public service in the public perception? The public service is a value-based institution, a vocational calling with public-spiritedness at its core. How can that public-spiritedness and values-based work culture be rescued?
Since the public service cannot be isolated from the national need for an ethical framework that binds all citizens and government officials in mutual institutional relations around a national integrity system, we arrive immediately at the fifth research question: What are the structural, institutional and ethical demands of a national integrity system that could strengthen public administration as bulwark against seemingly confounding incidences of bureaucratic corruption? Part of the transformation required is for the public service system to ditch its Weberian “I-am-directed” bureaucratic essence, or what Douglas McGregor refers to as Theory X, in a shift to a more flexible, entrepreneurial and open-government oriented paradigm, or what he calls Theory Y.
It is therefore within the context of the deconstruction of the Weberian institutional foundation of the public service to achieve the status of a world-class institution that we generate the sixth research question: What should MDAs be doing differently within the framework of performance managed systems and democratic consolidation? This is fundamentally a cumulated question that takes in all the other ones concerning the much-desired image rebranding and operational reform of the public service. In other words, everything that is reformed about the system leads to the one question of how to get the MDAs efficiently and productively functional. And this question also leads to a correlative question: Since there cannot be an interregnum, how might the MDAs, in the intervening period, take advantage of technical supports and assistances from consultants, think tanks, subject specialists and international development partners especially in terms of learning, development, and skills transfer?
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The last research question superintends all the others as a gatekeeping imperative: How should the agenda of resuscitating NAPAM as a professional gatekeeping platform for community of practice and service be achieved and harnessed to catalyse the overall objective of getting the public administration profession and management system back on track? One significant means of doing this, which has not really been under research focus, is the collective gatekeeping of the public administration curricula, knowledge pack and competency framework as well as institutional reengineering of public service training institutions or MDIs. This is one of the achievements of the pioneer public administrators at the Ife, Zaria, Nsukka and other institutes of administration in the 70s and 80s. It should be part of the remit of a revamped NAPAM.
This question takes us right back to where we started this piece—the concern about a platform that will serve as a generational purveyor of learning in ways that will keep pubic administration scholarship and public service public-spiritedness always at the edge of disciplinary and professional progress, and which will be leveraged to harness the vast and daily growing global knowledge fronters within carefully managed networks and knowledge management. These questions have been there all along, as soon as public administration and the public service system in Nigeria began nosediving. Part of the tragedy is that they have been lying under the surface of the collective and institutional rot for far too long, with no one caring about their significance. If we love this profession, and believe that public administration is a bulwark against national debility, then we can no longer ignore these research questions.
. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos .
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Iwuanyanwu And The ‘Political Rascals’ Rhetoric
By Promise Adiele
Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot avails itself of multiple interpretative tools with a compelling grip on the moral imagination of the audience. As a timeless drama, it thrives on the hopelessness of the human condition dramatized by two vagabonds, Estragon and Vladimir who waited for a mysterious, titular Godot that never came. One of the features of the absurdist literary tradition portrayed in the play is the failure of language in the verbal context as a means of communication. The verbal exchange between the two vagabonds is evident of misinterpretation. One says one thing, the other interprets it differently. Thus, it calls to question the potency of language in the verbal medium as a means of communication. The preceding analogy reminds me of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and his purported insult to the good people of the Yoruba ethnic group. Perhaps, misinterpretation currently manifests as an inexorable content of Nigeria’s absurd credentials.
Last week, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, philanthropist, accomplished businessman, the Balogun Babaguwan of Yorubaland, Ahaejiejemba of Igboland and elder-statesman, while reacting to events that happened in Lagos during the last election when many Igbo people were bloodied and harassed, assured the world that “the Igbo and Yoruba are not at war”. On the heels of that statement came another one “they are Yoruba political rascals”. A syntactic analysis of the two sentences affirms that the Chief never meant to insult the entire Yoruba ethnic group. Rather, he was referring to rascals in Lagos who maimed, killed, and vanquished Igbos, non-Yorubas, and even some Yorubas with Igbo semblance, stopping them from exercising their voting rights during the election. He also said “we know them and we will deal with them”. Language scholars know that Chief Iwuanyanwu did not mean to insult the Yoruba. Sadly, some social nitwits, victims of acute cognitive impairment, went on a rampage to misinterpret and manipulate his statement to suit their treacherous, mischievous purposes. It is absurd.
Anyone who knows Chief Iwuaynanwu’s antecedent will never ascribe offensive rhetoric to him. He is soft-spoken, conciliatory and peace-loving. Like every sensible person around the world, not just the Igbo, he was aghast with lurid photos and video evidence of harm against the Igbo in Lagos during the last election. Unfortunately, people who ordinarily frolic in the whirlwind of ethnic hate have seized the opportunity to insult the Igbo ethnic group while using acerbic words on the revered Chief. These people, in their degenerate and diseased mentality, are trying to install a wall of hate between the Igbo and Yoruba. Let me state categorically that the Yorubas are wonderful people whose spirit of brotherliness, conviviality, and tolerance speaks volumes across the world. I have maintained over time that the Igbo and Yoruba share a cordial, interwoven relationship in marriage, business, friendship, association and neighbourliness. The two ethnic groups can never be involved in a conflict. Many Yoruba people have helped many Igbo people to their destinies and many Igbo people have helped many Yoruba people to their destinies too. An attempt for one ethnic group to harm the other will result in serious harm for the two. It is as implicating as that.
Since the presidential elections, keenly contested by different candidates from different ethnic groups in Nigeria, some people have desperately sought to reduce the entire development to an ethnic affair. It is myopic and at once condescending. Does Peter Obi represent the Igbo? Does Bola Tinubu represent the Yoruba? Does Atiku Abubakar represent the Hausa/Fulani? These candidates all have supporters across the country. Of course, they will have a preponderance of support from their ethnic base. That is the way of politics. Unfortunately, ethnic jingoists have, in the inerrancy of their bleak convictions, reduced the entire political discourse to an ethnic affair especially Yoruba vs Igbo. These people, stranded in the realm of ethnic hate and communal intolerance, have done everything within their powers to inflame ethnic tension to crucible dimensions. It is wrong for anyone to insult a whole ethnic group in whatever guise. In Chief Iwuanyanwu’s case, he has put the records straight by clarifying what he meant, insisting that he was quoted out of context. But the morbid and decadent will not hear of it. They insist that Iwuanyanwu and all Igbo should be roasted alive. As far as these simpletons are concerned, the Chief spoke the mind of all Igbos. How idiotic and harebrained can anybody be?
Recently, some people have also indulged in ethnic slurs. Unlike Chief Iwuanyanwu that clarified himself, Bayo Onanuga offered no apology and insisted on standing by his words. Onanuga spoke for himself and couldn’t have insulted the Igbo on behalf of the Yoruba. MC Oluomo, while registering his socio-political disorientation, spoke for himself when he threatened the Igbo on an election day and went on to make good his threat which the police shamelessly called a joke. FFK has also made inflammatory remarks which were his personal opinion and not the opinion of Yoruba. It is therefore, a function of disabled, primitive awareness for anyone to insult an ethnic group based on the comment of one person. Such insults and abuses expose the quiddity of phenomenal foolishness which, hitherto, was concealed in some people by the façade of education. No, these hate mongers belong to the stone age. Nobody should be deceived by their pretentious liberalism.
The question is, are there political rascals in Nigeria? Definitely yes! These are the particular people Chief Iwuanyanwu referred to concerning what happened in Lagos during the last elections. Of course, all parts of the country have their share of political rascals. It is not peculiar to one ethnicity. Political rascals are those who walk the streets, snatch ballot boxes, stab people due to their ethnic origin and prevent them from exercising their civic rights. They are not educated. They are thugs, street urchins and never-do-wells employed by politicians to advance nefarious objectives. There are also some educated political rascals. They don’t walk the streets, but demonstrate humane deficiency of unimaginable proportions using social media and sundry news outlets. They spread hate, provoke enmity and fan the embers of war. They incite the uneducated, urging them to bay for the blood of ordinary citizens. Their social media handles are replete with expletives and insults. Abusive engagement allows them to flourish. Another category of political rascals populate government establishments like INEC, the Police and different security agencies. These people compromise the electoral process in exchange for financial inducement and material gains. They are unconscionable, desperate and invidious. Are these people from another planet? No, they are among us. We know them.
The ethnic hate narrative is a device enunciated by the political class to keep the people divided, breaking their rank and file to unite and fight a common enemy. The opposition LP and PDP are convinced that the election was marred by sharp, underhand practices and therefore have gone to court. Is going to court to challenge the outcome of an election a legitimate practice? If it is, why can’t detractors of equitable process allow the law to run smoothly? The call by some decidedly frustrated fellows in search of relevance and pecuniary patronage for the arrest of the opposition presidential candidates is from the pit of purgatory. The propaganda that there is a plan to disrupt the handover ceremony is a bundle of falsehood from the depths of Hades. Although many Nigerians regard the judiciary with a pinch of salt, people of goodwill should advocate for a peaceful resolution of Nigeria’s political challenges. Ethnic rhetoric should stop immediately. People should sheath their swords. Let us all close the road to Rwanda.
Adiele, PhD, writes from Mountain Top University.
Olaopa: The Self As A Patriotic Reformer – The Tales Of A Memoirist
By Adeshina Afolayan
Autobiographies and memoirs are very difficult to write. One of the reasons is that they place the autobiographers and the memoirist in a very difficult position that draws the attention, and even the ire, of the public. Once the volume is written and presented before the public, the writer can no longer control its reception. And some or even all of her certainties and verities are shredded by those who must approach the book from different perceptions. But there is an even more daunting challenge. Writing an autobiography or a memoir dances at the very edge of hubris and vanity. This is what Michel de Montaigne thinks. His understanding of the human self is dark and gloomy. According to him, “If others were to look attentively into themselves as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of emptiness and tomfoolery…. Our self is an object full of dissatisfaction: we can see nothing there but wretchedness and vanity.”Now, imagine an act of self-portrait emerging from such a dark view of the self.
In The Essays, Montaigne pens a paradoxical opening statement addressed to the readers of the volume who are not supposed to read it because it is a work of vanity: “Reader, I myself am the subject of my book: it is not reasonable that you should employ your leisure on a topic so frivolous and so vain. Therefore, Farewell.” If the self is locus of emptiness and wretchedness, then any attempt at a self-portrait is doomed already; the autobiographer or memoirist thinks more highly of herself than she should. And yet, Montaigne subtly invites the reader to peruse the volume through a strategy of dissuasion.
In The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa faces the charge of hubris head-on , and persuades us to plunge into a narrative that connects the self with a larger space of meaning, struggle and fulfilment. This is an even more difficult endeavor since it goes beyond the self-portrait that embroils the self in its own dynamics of maturation. On the contrary, a memoir like the The Unending Quest for Reform, like Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died, connects the self to nonself, or to its Other. The autobiographer or the memoirist then invites the reader to weigh the significance of the self in relation to its other. Only those who have a strong sense of inner worth and significance can ever achieve such a courageous level of self-ascription.
I think a reformer deserves his memoir or autobiography. I have read the late Professor Akinlawon Mabogunje’s autobiography — A Measure of Grace. It details not only birth, historical trajectories and intellectual maturation, but also the agonies of a public servant eager to see some of his best ideas and insights inserted into the policy architecture of the Nigerian state. He met brick walls at every turn. In The Unending Quest for Reform, Olaopa typifies a more enduring courage to serve and confront the dysfunction of a system that had been rigged to be inefficient since independence.
The public service is not just another vocation. It embodies a double imperative. First, it is a service that transcends any consideration of self-interest. Within the service and its accountability dynamics, the self cannot be placed in contradistinction to what is required of it. The service is therefore a
selfless one that demands that the servant serves. Second public service is a service to public, the public. It therefore requires a different kind of spirit—public-spiritedness—that insists that the public servant must bow to certain logic of service that bend the will of the public servant to the will of the citizens. The task of a public servant therefore becomes a very arduous one: she must bend the self to serve the others. However, serving others becomes very onerous when the system that enables the service is inefficient and dysfunctional. When Olaopa first confronted this dysfunctional system, his first human instinct was to flee. But he did not. This was where his scholarly instinct—to learn, to reflect, to research, to rethink, to reorganize—kicked in. And he had a background in Plato and a mentoring acquaintance in Professor Ojetunji Aboyade to trim his fears and fuel his reform thinking.
The Unending Quest for Reform details the long trajectory that took an Aáwé boy to the Presidency and then the very height of public service status as a permanent secretary. But in each of the fifteen chapters that make up the memoir, you are compelled to encounter and reflect on how ideas and insights emerged from Olaopa’s interaction and engagement with intellectual and administrative forebears, and how both
the forebears and the ideas molded his own original philosophy of reform—with a huge dose of providential intervention.
While Plato’s Republic maps the boundaries of the ancient Athenian city-state and its utopic possibilities, Olaopa’s
The Unending Quest for Reform delineates the circumferences of a
dysfunctional public service, and how it could be rehabilitated within a comprehensive institutional and governance reform blueprint that took years to design, and even many more years to attempt mounting for the benefit of making Nigeria work better. This is where he joins the community of suffering that Mabogunje, and many others, once belonged. At every turn, the system itself frustrated all his well-being intentions and yearning.
Olaopa carries the burden of a man driven by God’s purpose. Or how else does one understand the passion that
drove and still drives him to dedicate his research and professional life to a system that seems too dense to allow self-examination? As an expert-insider, he had to face the fundamental significance of whether the public service can reform itself. That query, for Olaopa, could not have been just an academic exercise; he must have had to face the suspicions and stubborn resistance of those who could have considered him “too know” and obnoxious. There are ways by which a
debilitated system punishes those who would claim diagnostic knowledge. There are several means by which those who benefit from the status quo impede the progress of a reformer. And yet, Olaopa kept at this onerous task, even after retirement,with a single-mindedness that belies any logical understanding.
It was not just Plato and philosophy that gave him inspiration. All through The Unending Quest for Reform, one sees him holding onto a deep understanding of the place and role of the divine in human understanding and trajectories. If God could save him from blindness, as he narrated, then he would dedicate his life to service, spiritual and institutional;
he would commit his expertise to Nigeria and her quest for a world class public service that will be able to transform the quality of life of Nigerians. He has not faltered in that commitment.
But we need to highlight the role of philosophy in Olaopa’s professional and intellectual maturation. Right from discovering Plato and the capacity of philosophy to reconstruct, Olaopa had
remained fixated on the potential of philosophy to both enlighten and enable. He had taken Plato’s Republic far more seriously than I have seen anywhere. The Republic gave him the basis
from which to reenact the possibility of reflecting on dysfunction and reconstructing the parameters for
utopia. While Plato’s Republic was entirely a thought experiment about what could have been, Olaopa’s philosophical, intellectual and administrative exertions were right within the context of an actually existing Nigerian state that combines what he calls “bureau-pathologies” and possibilities for greatness.
The Unending Quest for Reform is therefore not only a paean to the existential exertions and Sisyphean achievements of the self, but also a testament to what reform can make possible for the transformation of the
Nigerian administrative entity. With the memoir, Olaopa is reaching out to
Nigerians, and especially fellow public servants and aspiring institutional and governance reformers,with a manual for technocratic action. The memoir bristles with pain and optimism about the ascent of a self from the obscurity of a small town in Oyo State to the convoluted
bureaucratic spaces of the Presidency, from a struggle to master political science and political theory at the University of Ibadan to the urgency of deploying a range of ideas and ideologies to the understanding and operational optimality of the public service system. In The Unending Quest for Reform, the self and the nation merge in a struggle for realization. And the denouement of that titanic struggle is a finale that is yet to happen. And we will know it when
it happens because that would be the end the reformer has been waiting for. With the new administration, may we not arrive at a tragedy to the high drama of hope and possibilities Olaopa’s memoir has treated us to.
Prof. Afolayan is the Head of Department of Philosophy, University of Ibadan
Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir
By Eghosa E. Osaghae
Intellectual autobiographies come as absorbing and engaging as other profound academic works tend to be. Professor Tunji Olaopa’s intellectual memoir is not different and certainly ranks as one of the more profoundly intellectual autobiographies to come out of Nigeria. The reflections on the nexuses among public policy, public administration, civil service and governance on the one hand, and how these can be transformed along the paths of the reforms that seek to address the pathologies of bureaucracy – or bureau-pathology as Professor Olaopa calls them – are done in the best traditions of rigorous scientific analysis, normative and empirical. And given the relative leanness of analytical and theoretical scholarship in the field of public administration in Nigeria and Africa, it is obvious that this book, even as an autobiography, has all that is required to be a major contribution to the discipline, especially on the subject of reforms, which is a central theme of the memoir.
From the story of his progression through life as told in the memoir – from being a scholar-in-the-making since the
age of five, to earning the alias, Azikiwe, at the highest level of ‘-isms’ in secondary school, to finally becoming an expert-insider in the federal civil service and professor at Lead City University, only a knowledgeable, visionary, and activist-reformer like Olaopa, with the zest of patriotism and nationalism has the qualifications and credibility to say the kinds of things he has said in this book. His premature and unexpected retirement from the federal civil service in 2015 seemed to have halted the leading roles Olaopa played in the complex arena of reforms; these were roles that his academic pursuits and engagements with The Commonwealth , The World Bank, the UN system, and reforms institutions and processes in Australia and South Africa,continental and global professional institutions, amongst others, prepared him for; but this book documents the hows and whats of those roles and sets a well-reasoned rationale and template for continued reforms. The concluding chapters of the book, which are addressed to the reforms the leadership expected of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federal Civil Service in particular, fill the gap of what might have been. That is, if the unexpected retirement – another
painful reminder of the insecurity of tenure that has plunged the civil service in Nigeria deeper into the recesses of instability, demotivation and corruption, did not happen.
Olaopa engages the more substantial and critical issues elicited by public servicee reforms including those that constitute formidable obstacles in highly perceptive ways. “The public service”, he writes, “was not a place where mere ideas are sufficient to achieve significant transformation. Those ideas have to be immersed in the deep and dirty crevices of bureaucratic dead weights. As a public servant, it increasingly became clear to me that reading was not enough for the reformation of the public service. Ideas and knowledge had to be consciously adopted, creatively adapted, and deliberately owned and domesticated to achieve optimal results”. This was the lynchpin of reforms and transformations buoyed by Olaopa’s continuous research and development opportunities offered by the strategic positions he held especially in the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Head of Service. But the high expectations and ideals are easily brought down by the limits of realistic possibilities: “As an expert-insider”, he also writes, “I was equally confronted by a limitation: Can the civil service supervise its own reform? Can civil servants supervise the reform of their own institution?” Which all goes back to perhaps the greatest puzzle faced by reforms and their drivers: “In a situation where administrative dynamics have already congealed, can we expect the publice servantsto oversee the reform of their institution? How can reforms be jumpstarted by the very people who have vested interests in operating the bureaucratic culture? The obvious answere seems negative. And experience has revealed that most reforms failed because they were undermined by vested interests”. This is the essence of ‘bureau-pathology’ – “a state of stagnancy in which the civil servants protect themselves against any attempt to reform the very system with in which they operate. In this terrible situation, reform becomes the exception rather than the rule”. The pathology also leads to “too many people doing nothing, too many doing too little, and too few people doing too much”.
But these obstacles – and frustrations – which Olaopa experienced firsthand in hugeo tons thanks to the complexities, intrigues, treacheries and politics that climaxed with his premature retirement, do not diminish Olaopa’s conviction, enthusiasm and unending quest for reforms .The decision to set up the Ibadan School of Governance and Public Policy (ISGPP),take up the professorship at Lead City University, become a directing staff member at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, and this memoir (just in case the other platforms are necessary but not sufficient to actualise his vision) represent important milestones in this quest. Olaopa’s analysis also shows that the journey of reforms requires a lot more thanh the individual motivation; that motivation emanates from several other reinforcing anchors: expository reading, such as is found in his reading of Plato’s The Republic and other texts; the benefit of sound education and good peers, such as he encountered in Aawe, Olivet, and UI; the sheer boldness, such as is demonstrated in his forays into radical student unionism; the strategic opportunities that come through postings such as those to MAMSER, Ministry of Education, Office of the Secretary of Government of the Federation and Head of Service; and, perhaps, most importantly, the mentoring, reassurances and confidence-building such as he had from Professors Ojetunji Aboyade and Akin Mabogunje (these two had the OPTICOM modelt that provided a foundation for participatory reforms), Professor Tunde Adeniran and many more.
Although Olaopa engages public service reforms in an intellectually robust and engaging manner, there are issues that he has either left out or not engaged sufficiently. One of these is the cultural and historical specificities of particular reform situations. Surely, reforms have not grown to the level of a science of universals. Is there a need to decolonise the civile service for example? Another is the omission of the age-long debate between generalists and specialists in public service. Is it possible that the decision to bring specialists into the core of the civil service in Nigeria – that led to the appointment of engineers, medical doctors andc accountants for example, as permanent secretaries – has created problems of a different kindf for the civil service? Thirdly, for all the points raised about a purpose-driven public service with substantial federal restructuring, it is a little curious that very little consideration, if any,was given to the subnational spheres of the public service. Would the public service be trulyr reformed if the state and local government domains are not reformed? Should the federal public civil service be the federalist empire/colonial service?
Knowing Professor Olaopa as well as I do, I am sure that these issues will be taken up in his next volume on public servicee reforms– after all, the present volume is strictly a memoir and should not be read as an academic treatise, irrespective of all that I have tried to say.
Although the scholarly insights of Olaopa’s Unending Quest for Reform have the upper hand in this foreword, the memoir is far more extensive and encompassing. It covers his historical progression and, in the process, the several lessons to be learnt from his interesting experiences and discussions on familyhood, marital relations, religion, the role of God in humanl lives, mysticism and human relations in their adversarial and friendly forms. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir and digesting its deeper and very reflective lines. They show that Olaopa’s initial and continuous love for philosophy has crystallised into a way of life.
Professor Osaghae is the Director-General, Nigerian Institute of
International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos.
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