Civil Service and Governance in Nigeria: Issues and possible
Through this book and his memoirs, Beyond Yours Faithfully (published in 2010), he has followed the footsteps of some retired higher civil servants at the regional/state and federal levels who have published books that have contributed to our understanding of the work of administration in Nigeria.
Adegoroye’s compendium is sharply focused on the machinery of government at the federal level with attention to both the structuring and staffing of the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the civil service in particular and the broader public service (federal government agencies and parastatals) in general.
Following conceptual definitional clarifications of state, nation and bureaucracy (public/civil service) at the beginning of Volume 1 (The Civil Service Pathway), Adegoroye asserts correctly that the civil service is a governance institution.
Then, he proceeds to discuss the governance challenges for the civil service, including the functioning of civil servants in a constitutional democracy, effective coordination of the work of administration across MDAs, capacity challenge and integrity challenge. He also summarises the specific roles of civil servants in governance.
These include: the workforce of government, the brain-box and institutional memory of the public sector, the bridge across administrations, and the guardian of public interest
He lays out with admirable clarity the shortcomings in the existing structure of MDAs and the assignment of ministerial portfolios and points up the key issues that need to be addressed. Regarding possible solutions, he draws on his extensive insider knowledge and familiarity with international good practices to recommend a maximum of eighteen (18) ministries.
Strikingly, his recommendation is close to the nineteen (19) that President Buhari’s Transition Committee is reported to have recommended.
The modifications he has proposed for strengthening and streamlining the administrative support for the president are sensible and deserve the attention of the Buhari administration.
But I do not think Nigeria needs an Office of the First Lady (Chapter 15 of Vol. 1). I belong to the school of thought that would like the role of Nigeria’s First Lady to revert to what it was before the aberration of the Babangida military presidency.
Adegoroye devotes many chapters of Volume 1 and one of the two chapters in Volume 2 to the staffing and quality of the civil service at its upper stratum (directors, directors-general, and permanent secretaries) and the appointment as well as the functions of the leaders of the central human resources coordination offices – Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) and the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC).
He provides strong evidence of poor human resources management, especially as it affects career progression through the directorate levels to the permanent secretary level.
Unsurprisingly, a critical dimension to the poor quality of the civil service that he identifies is the problem of pervasive corruption, including collusion between higher civil servants and their political masters (ministers) in mismanaging the budgets of MDAs.
On the appointment of permanent secretaries (PSs), Adegoroye uses some illustrative cases to buttress his assertion that the merit principle is subordinated to patronage considerations, ethnicity and concern for state quotas that has favoured “transferees”, that is, officials who transferred from state civil services and federal prastatals to the civil service, especially since 1999.
Evidence that the deployment of PSs is rarely related to their competence, cognate experience and seniority is the frequency of their posting during the last decade: a PS spends an average of 12 months in a ministry before he/she is deployed to another.
This means that a minister who served the full four-year tenure of the immediate past president would have had to adjust to four different permanent secretaries. The record known to this reviewer is a PS who, in 24 months, has worked in five MDAs! Has the dysfunction in the federal civil service reached this astonishing level?
Unfortunately, the federal civil service also had seven heads between 2007 and 2014, that is, an average of 12-month tenure for each. Because the head of the civil service has the primary responsibility for the deployment (posting) of permanent secretaries to MDAs, the short tenure of each is the major explanation for the rapid turn-over of PSs and the negative consequences highlighted above.
Furthermore, the limited results recorded by reform efforts aimed at improving performance in the civil service during the period is also due, in large part, to the inability of a succession of short-term heads with varying capabilities (summarised in fascinating pen-portraits in the book) to provide effective leadership.
Adegoroye would like the presidential appointment of PSs, Head of Service and chief executive officers of agencies, parastatals and corporations to involve prior screening by a Federal Public Service Council to be established by an Act. Notwithstanding some sound arguments he adduces to support this recommendation, utmost attention to the knowledge, experience and integrity of persons appointed as Head of Service (and I would add a four-year tenure, coterminous with that of a president) and the chair and members of the FCSC would be an effective solution.
In the final analysis, the onus for ensuring quality leadership of the civil service is on the president: just as a people gets the government it deserves, there is a real sense in which a president gets the civil service he deserves.
However, regarding the corporations and parastatals, there would be need to either expand the mandate of the FCSC to cover them as recommended in the Oronsaye Report or resuscitate the Statutory Corporations Commission as advocated by Chief Philip Asiodu in his illuminating “Foreword” to the book.
The introduction of Tenure Policy in 2009 was intended to ensure steady career progression and leadership succession in the civil service. In the immediate, the policy was used to clear a peculiar mess in which career progression to the top posts of director and permanent secretary was blocked by long-serving directors and PSs, many of them in post for over ten years.
Effective from January 2010, PSs and directors were to serve a four-year tenure renewable once for a total of eight years, subject to satisfactory performance.
Notwithstanding Adegoroye’s stout defence of Tenure Policy, his frank critique of its implementation confirms this reviewer’s professional viewpoint that it should have been only an ad hoc measure to clear the existing mess.
Besides the non-implementation of tenure review before extension (similar to the widely-acknowledged challenge of reviewing contracted top bureaucrats in many countries), maintenance of the existing Tenure Policy fundamentally undermines the idea of a career service up to the director level.
With the formal assimilation of PSs into the category of political appointees by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC Act (2008) on Salaries of Political Office Holders, the director level has become the peak of the career civil service. For directors who rise to that level after the normal 26 years prescribed by the FCSC, this would mean nine years of service before retirement by the 35-year service rule.
And for genuine high-flyers, it could mean additional three years, making a total of twelve years at the director level. It would make eminent sense to reverse the application of Tenure Policy to directors effective from January 2016.
And because PSs are political appointees that serve at the pleasure of a president, Tenure Policy becomes of limited applicability. For example, in June 1999 the new president retired 60 percent of PSs and seven were removed in 2005 for poor performance.
What Adegoroye’s book reveals about the problem of corruption in the civil service constitutes the justification for his assertion that “the civil service and the political class [are] the problem of Nigeria”. And he is in good company. According to Zulfikar Bhutto, a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, civil servants and politicians “form the managing personnel of the vast enterprise of getting rich through participation in authority” (cited in The Economist, Aug.22nd 1998).
The sordid details of corrupt practices involving civil servants (on their own) and civil servants in collusion with political office holders in Chapters 5 and 9 of Volume 1 make very depressing reading. Closing all the leakages exposed and effective enforcement of extant rules and regulations for curbing corruption that are detailedin the book must feature prominently in the Anti-corruption Strategy that President Buhari has promised to make public before the end of his first 100 days, that is, before the end of 72 days from today.
Finally, Adegoroye’s overview of public service reform experience between 1999 and 2014 in Chapter 1 of Vol 2 (Leadership & Political Will) sheds light on why the problems he identifies in his book have persisted. And he provides some pointers to the way forward. Adegoroye asserts that compared to the success recorded in public service reform between 2004 and 2007, “there is now [in 2014] more rot to be cleared within the civil service system” (Vol 2, p. 66).
However, according to him, by 2008, President Yar’Ardua had complained about inheriting a poor quality civil service (Vol. 2, p. 74).
Concretely, then, only patchy achievements were recorded by the reform efforts carried out between 2004 and 2007, notably the widely-acknowledged “pockets of efficiency” such as the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and in the core civil service, the successful introduction and implementation of Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) in six pilot MDAs.
But the poor management of human resources, weak implementation capacity across MDAs and the problem of pervasive corruption in the civil service had not been solved by 2007.
Thus, it was against the backdrop of a persistently poor performing civil service that the Yar’Ardua administration directed the preparation of a comprehensive strategy for rebuilding the public service and transforming it into a world-class service that can implement government policies and deliver quality services to the public in the manner that regional and federal civil services had done from the late fifties through the 1960s to the mid-1970s. The National Strategy for Public Service Reform (NSPSR) was submitted to the federal government in January 2009. There is some overlap between the desirable next steps reforms highlighted by Adegoroye and the contents of the four-pronged strategy focused on an enabling institutional and governance environment, an enabling socio-economic environment, public financial management reform and civil service administration reform.
Although the Strategy was not formally approved, aspects of it (especially those focused on improving public financial management) were implemented continuously until the Strategy was refreshed and updated at the request of the Jonathan Administration in 2014. The Federal Government’s Steering Committee on Reform approved the updated NSPSR in March 2015. Making allowance for necessary modifications to the Strategy to take into account the new policy directions of the Buhari Administration, implementation of a Strategy to help the federal government rebuild and transform the civil service into a well-performing institution delivering quality service to the public should begin no later than January 2016.
The undisputable merit of this two-volume compendium is that it addresses an impressive range of issues relating to civil service and governance in Nigeria and the author provides thoughtful and sensible solutions to many of them. Significantly, too, he provides interesting “windows” on some aspects of current public administration history: a research report on geopolitical distribution of federal career and (non-career) political appointments and some appendices that would be of interest to both students and practitioners of Nigerian public administration. I recommend the book to them as well as to politicians who have the challenge of responding to the unfolding “change” promised by President Buhari. And I would like to stress that the politicians would need to abandon being part of the problem of governance and embrace being part of the solution.
I thank you all for your kind attention.
• Adamolekun is a Professor of Public Administration, a former Dean of the Faculty of Administration at the Obafemi Awolowo University and a former Lead Public Sector Management Specialist at the World Bank. He is currently an Independent Scholar.
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