My Public Service Journey: Issues in Public Service Administration in Nigeria, Klamidas Books, Abuja, 2019, pp. 456
Bukar Usman’s writings, in recent times, have continued to cease the attention of the Nigerian media. For one, his offerings aren’t garden-variety stuffs; they are compelling and revelatory.
Little wonder, the recent release of My Public Service Journey: Issues in Public Service Administration has been greeted with rave reviews, but one area that has not been fully deconstructed in this rich tome by reviewers is the role of the civil service in Nigeria and why its growth has been stunted over the years.
Public policy administration, needless to say, impacts on every member of the society, which explains why there is usually a hue and cry if such policies have adverse effects on the citizenry and commendations if well executed.
Civil servants are responsible for policy formulation and implementation. It is also the institution that delivers government services to the people, writes Usman in the chapter on “The Role of the Civil Service”. However, the roles and behaviour of civil servants are defined in terms of their relationship to the political head who may be styled a minister, commissioner, chairman or a supervisory councillor in the Nigerian public service.
As a result, the Nigerian civil servant, unlike in other countries, doesn’t know what to expect at any point in time as the nation transits from one government to another, making him unsettled. Writes Usman: “Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the public service came under civilian and military rules, with each presenting its peculiar challenges to the role and effectiveness of the civil service in particular and the Nigerian public service in general” (p.69).
Documentation of these policies is one thing the civil service does so well. So Usman is writing from the perspective of an active participant, having entered the public service in 1965 and retired in 1999 as a permanent secretary.
Compared to other dispensations in Nigeria, the author reveals that, under the First and Second republics, the civil service thrived in carrying out its responsibilities; thus, “there was more certainty of policies as politics were largely ‘issue-driven’ and attempts were made by the various government to formulate and adhere to development plans set out in concrete terms.
The real test of the civil service machinery and its advisory role, he says, came under the military when, all of a sudden, a government would emerge with new policies unheard of, untested and which were to take “immediate effect”. Above all, they “acted essentially as task force masters, oblivious of the rules”. That also created a domino effect as some unusual practices of that era, which were intended to be temporary, became permanent.
Besides, “Civil servants literarily had to work backwards to put into shape the new policies thrown up. Predictably, when such policies are put into the bureaucratic grill what comes out in the end hardly remained the same; it is more so under the military when there was no prior civil service or public input in the conception of the policies” (p.71).
The author mentions the purge of the civil service in 1975 and the civil service reforms of 1988 as two “earthquakes” the military inflicted on the service, including destroying the hitherto “security of tenure” enjoyed by public servants.
Another problem militating against the capacity of the civil service in Nigeria to run the country, particularly in the economic front, writes Usman, is the impact of “globalisation”. He explains: “Multinationals, development partners and other international organisations have become such formidable institutions which interfere overbearingly on governments, especially in developing countries.
“The role of the UN institutions and Bretton Woods institutions, the IMF and the World Bank, easily come to mind. They have seized public service initiative. They recruit nationals who help in designing the economic models which are ‘exported’ to developing countries.
“Thus, instead of ‘homegrown’ development plans of the past, the public service is subjected to the imported economic models imposed on a country as the panacea for every development challenge without due regard to the peculiarities of individual nations.”
He cites the examples of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), National Economic Empowerment, Development Strategy (SEEDS) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as economic policies exported to developing countries like ours for adoption through inducement of counterpart funding and “soft loans”. Why some may see these initiatives as a good development, the results, so far, do not point to some magical transformations of our country, compared to what focused countries like China and Japan achieved on their own before those economic concepts became popular worldwide.
The author informs that, because the foreign institutions set the goals, the timeframe for implementation, define the amount of resources to be committed and set targets in qualitative and quantitative terms, the public service now tends to play a minimal role in national planning, implementation of the plans and sustaining the outcomes of such efforts.
Usman, therefore, submits that it is only when Nigeria assumes absolute control and management of its resources that it would be in a position to withstand such impositions and give more confidence to its public servants. Are we listening?