My objective in this piece is to outline what I consider the democratic responsibility which the public service owes to Nigerians. I have written several articles on the conviction that the public service is central to Nigeria’s democratic dispensation. And hence, it ought to receive constant vigilance in terms of reform evaluation and management. It is this reform of the institutional and structural processes and procedures of the public service that will enable it perform optimally its democratic duty to Nigerians. The democratic responsibility of the public service is the efficient and effective service delivery that will ensure that Nigerians enjoy and are empowered by the dividends of democratic governance.
Public service democratic responsibility however presumes a responsible political leadership and a vigilant electorate who recognizing that the ‘fish gets rotten from the head’ is able to use their electoral powers responsibly to remove incompetent leaders who are held strictly and uncompromisingly to performance accountability. Such political leadership alone recognizes the value of policy and programmes effective execution and the imperative need for a non-politicised, functional, capable, professional, accountable and high-performing public service. It is such a leadership that recognizes that the devil resides not in rhetoric of sloganeering, but in the competences and skills of its first and second eleven and competence-based human resource management in its implementation engine room. The Nigerian democratic experiment commenced in 1999 after many years of military interventions in politics that set the nation off course for many years. But with the commencement of democracy, the expectations of the Nigerian citizens have reached a fevered pitch about what the new Nigerian government would be able to translate democratic institutions and values into.
Alas, it has been a solid eighteen years now since democratic governance commenced in Nigeria, and we are still very far from what can be called a truly empowering democracy whose strength is a truly functional and efficient public service that delivers goods and services to Nigerians. Nigeria’s democracy’s most debilitating challenge has remained a crippling infrastructural deficit that has rendered the infrastructural facilities most ineffective. From the road network to education, healthcare, electricity and transportation, Nigerians daily struggled to make sense of how and why democracy is not positively affecting their lives after eighteen years. It is the responsibility of the public service to ensure that there is effective policy coordination with the political class to facilitate the smooth implementation of policies that will jumpstart Nigeria’s infrastructural strength in a way that will immediately impact Nigerians. Unfortunately, again, the public service itself has been undermined by administrative pathologies that critically reduce its operational and functional capacities to backstop democratic governance in Nigeria.
Let me offer a brief diagnosis of the state of the public service in Nigeria. essentially, while the administrative dysfunctionality of the Nigeria public service owe so much to the importation of colonial administrative systems and structures, it is more to the Nigerian national elites that we must look for the inability to deconstruct the colonial basis of the public service in order to make it sufficiently developmental to serve the objective of postcolonial rehabilitation. The Weberian administrative system which migrated with British colonialism was essentially legalistic and procedural in its deployment of rules and regulations as the effective means of achieving compliance and discipline. The challenge however, is not with rejecting this Weberian administrative system and its objective of law and order, but with the value basis of the system. Deconstructing the system therefore implies injecting a dose of value reorientation to the profession of the public service in a manner that will enable the structures and institutions to function optimally through a deep understanding of what it means to be a public servant and to serve the nation.
Unpacking this failure to deconstruct the migrated administrative structure translated into several postcolonial troubles for the Nigerian state. One of the central and most unfortunate dimensions of the public service that suffered is the human resource management, the gateway without effective gatekeeping, through which many came into the public service without any understanding of its vocational objectives. While in most public services in high-performing economies of the world, a functional managerial convergence has been achieved between the public and the private sectors, Nigeria is still unfortunately operating within the orthodox belief in public administration as government employment with job tenure and lifetime career. This traditional understanding of the public service comes at the cost of seeing performance in terms of compliance and duties rather than tasks and productivity. What is missing is the 21st century understanding of the public service as a vocational calling undergirded by a professionalized HRM as an accreditation system with professional associations as its gatekeepers, codes of conduct to evaluate professional conduct as well as mechanisms and structures for enforcing administrative ethics.
And this is the very core of the reform of the public service, beyond just strict technical and technocratic matters. It is ensuring that the public service put in place a cultural change that will achieve two cogent reform objectives. One, the cultural change will seek to transform the attitude and behavioral dynamics of public servants through the insertion of a new administrative mentality circumscribed by the ideals of public spiritedness and professionalism. Two, putting in place a solid HR structures with sufficient gatekeeping dynamics to attract those who are amply qualified to take over the public service with requisite competences, skills and entrepreneurial drives. Both objectives derive from the emphasis placed more on winning the “heart and mind” as well as the commitments and enthusiasm of public servants than on the struggle to achieve mechanical compliance with the administrative “rulebook” through a rigid and uninspiring personnel management procedures and practices.
This is how “public servants” from the Levitical Order in the Bible through the pharaonic scribes before we arrive at the modern public servants functioned. It is however modern cultural and administrative exigencies, especially in Africa, that facilitated the decline of vocational values and virtues.
In Nigeria, bureaucratic corruption is critical to understanding this administrative dysfunction. It has engendered a debilitating culture of immediate gratification that is much preferred to the virtue of delayed gratification. This terrible culture of “something for nothing” inevitably created the deep-seated moral deficit in work culture and organizational behavior. This is why a fundamental cultural change is urgently required as the change management model to infuse the public service with the reform dose necessary for transforming its institutional objec