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The Public Service and the Transformation Agenda: Redefining the rules of engagement



“The philosophy and goals of the leaders of the struggle for Independence, the promise of pro-people programmes that would follow the attainment of Independence inspired the remarkable progress achieved in the decade before Independence and the immediate post-independence years.” Chief Philip C. Asiodu, CON, beams his searchlight on the public service , the challenges ahead, the need for a vision, the type of public sector required and the after-effects of  the overthrow of the the Gowon administration in 1975.

Severe Challenges Confront Nigeria

These are still very anxious times for most citizens of Nigeria. Massive challenges confront the country today – on issues of security of persons and property, political stability, economic growth and development. There are also the challenges of poverty alleviation, power infrastructure, education, health and the war against corruption. It is the role of the national leadership and the Government to address all these issues and to deliver services which will lead to improvements in the standard of living and quality of life of the general citizenry.

The Public Service led by the Civil Service is the main instrument for implementing the policies and decisions of the Government. The members of the Public Service are often the only concrete manifestation of government for the citizens whether in the urban centres or in the remoter rural areas.

The efficiency, effectiveness, conduct, fairness, integrity of the public servants often determines the citizen’s opinions about the Government. It is important therefore that the Government should clearly articulate and canvass its programmes and policies to enable the Public Service to commit to them and to deliver.

The question immediately answers whether we have a new context for pursuing national development. President Goodluck Jonathan in his inaugural address to the nation pledged that he would provide a leadership that would be “decidedly transformative” in all critical sectors. He re-affirmed the commitment to Vision 20:2020 first made by the Yar’ Adua Administration.

Chief Philip Asiodu, CON: The coup makers failed to capture power.

Vision 20 : 2020 was elaborated under the present administration, the goal being to make Nigeria one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020 AD and meanwhile to ensure the achievement before then of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), a drastic reduction of the proportion of Nigerians living below the poverty line, and significant improvement in Nigeria’s HDI score.

It was agreed to have three Implementation Plans for the realization of Vision 20: 2020 covering the periods: 2010 – 2013, 2014 – 2017, 2018 – 2021. The 2010 – 2013  was developed in full detail. Subsequently, the Jonathan Transformation Plan 20 II – 2015 was elaborated which is coherent with the 2010 – 2013 Plan and anticipates part of the 2014 – 2017 Plan.

The Need for a Vision or Agreed National Goals

It is a critical necessity for a developing country to be inspired by a Vision – which clearly articulates uplifting goals and objectives, especially in a country like Nigeria inhabited by a large number of different ethnic and linguistic groups organized into a Federation where the development and cohesion of the nation is still very much “work-in-progress”.

The absence of such a Vision to which the leadership and all the people were committed largely explains the floundering and sub-optimal performance which Nigeria has suffered over the past three and a half decades.

The philosophy and goals of the leaders of the struggle for Independence, the promise of pro-people programmes that would follow the attainment of Independence inspired the remarkable progress achieved in the decade before Independence and the immediate post-independence years.

One should recall the very rapid expansion of educational facilities, the introduction of free primary education, farm settlement schemes, and the beginning of industrialization, the formulation and implementation of the First National Development Plan with the economy growing under the 1962 – 66 Plan later extended to 1968 at over 6% per

Unfortunately, there were serious political problems, particularly the longstanding demand of the minorities in the three regions of North, East and West for three separate states, one in each Region.

In January 1966, some elements in the Nigerian Army carried out a coup d’etat which ended Civil ian Rule and the First Republic in January 1966. Political parties were proscribed and their assets confiscated. However, the coup makers failed to capture power.

The rest of the Nigerian Army rallied round the G. O. C. Gen. Aguiyi lronsi. We would never know if the coup makers had worked out a coherent long term programme for running the country and if they had beforehand identified a corps of convinced and dedicated persons who would execute the programme.

There is no evidence that was the case. Certainly, the Military Administration of Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi which assumed power had not planned the coup and had no programme to be implemented on seizing power. Similarly, the coup of July 1966 which ended the Ironsi Administration and which installed the Gowon Administration was not inspired by a desire to implement any carefully articulated Plan for national development.

What Type of Public Service?

Fortunately for Nigeria, the Ironsi and Gowon Military Administrations left intact the professional, non-partisan, disciplined, merit-driven Civil Service developed over decades by the British Colonial Administration similar to the Civil Services inherited at Independence by the older Dominions like Canada, and Australia and newer ones like India, Pakistan, Ghana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, etc.

We may recall that the type of Civil Service suitable for Nigeria was discussed during the Constitutional Conferences leading up to Independence. The British Government representatives had recommended to the Nigerian leaders the British system.

In January 1954, after careful consideration, the Nigerian leaders of the political parties in government and in the opposition, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (NCNC), Sir Ahmadu Bello (NPC), Chief Obafemi Awolowo (AG), Mallam Aminu Kano (NEPU) and Prof. Eyo Ita (UNIP) signed the following joint statement:

“We fully support the principle that all public service questions including appointments, promotions, transfers, postings, dismissal and other disciplinary matters should be kept completely free and independent of political control. We hope that the traditional principle of promotion according to qualifications, experience, merit, without regard to race will be maintained”.

The British Ministers had advised that “It would be disastrous to have a Civil Service under the control of the Executive, and for appointments to change according to the turn of the political wheel would lead to instability. In some countries such a system had proved nearly fatal”.

So it was that during the crisis years of 1966 – 1970 of two military coups and the Civil War, Nigeria had a Federal Civil Service which had authority. Its morale was high. It was confident, professional, competent, non-partisan, disciplined, non-corrupt and much respected. It was dedicated to the service of the people generally. The Civil Service was able to:

·Maintain day-to-day orderly administration of the country despite the escalating confrontation and defiance of the Federal Military Government by the Eastern Region Military Government;

· Organize the campaign to rally the rest of the country to support the Federal Military Government in its desire to maintain one united country;

·Insist on and eventually persuade the Military Authorities to invite well known political leaders of the country into the Government to give credibility to the Government, ensure the people’s support and assure the external world that the Federal Military Government was not a military tyranny. Thus Chief Awolowo, Chief Enahoro, Mallam Aminu Kano, Chief I. S. Tarka, Mr. Wenike Briggs, Mr Okoi Arikpo and others were brought into the Government;

·Plan and co-ordinate the required diplomatic effort to maintain the support of the UN, OAD and of nearly all sovereign countries for the Federal Government;

·Organize the resources and logistics to enable the Federal Army grow from under 10,000 men to over 200,000 men and to prosecute the War;

·Develop the 3Rs Programme (Rehabilitation, Reconciliation and Reconstruction) to address the immediate Post Civil War situation; and

·Develop and launch the 1970 – 74 Plan.

There is an attempt at the beginning of the 1970 – 74 Plan to suggest the adoption of some national objectives or ideology. Five principal national objectives are indicated:

(i) A united, strong and self-reliant nation;

(ii)A great and dynamic economy; (iii) A just and egalitarian society;

(iv) A land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens; and

(v)A free and democratic society.

One must also give due credit to the competence and resourcefulness of the Regions’ Civil Services, particularly the Eastern Region Civil Service.

In 1970, Chief S. O. Adebo, who was the Chairman of the Salaries and Wages Review Commission stated in his Report: “We have earlier referred to the arduous responsibilities which the Civil Service shoulders. We have suggested that it is on its creditable performance as a flexible modern machinery for the management of complex programmes that the survival, stability, progress and development of Nigerian society ultimately depend.

This thesis has been amply borne out by our national experience over the last decade and does not require further elucidation”. Chief I. O. Udoji, the Chairman of the Public Service Review Commission also said : “It is fitting here to state our appreciation of the achievements made by Nigeria’s public servants, especially over the last 14 years”.

The 1975 Overthrow of the Gowon Administration

The 1975 coup which overthrew the Gowon Administration may have been planned over a considerable period but again the planners did not develop beforehand a long-term plan for economic development and growth, or for continuing the task of developing and strengthening the Nigerian nation by pursuing concrete uniting and integrating programmes. However, the Murtala Mohammed / Obasanjo Administration which succeeded Gowon implemented  three measures which have impacted negatively on governance and the development and cohesion of a Nigerian nation:

1.Whereas, the creation of 12 states in May 1967 on the eve of the declaration of Biafran Secession was meant firstly, to address the old demand of the Middle Belt Movement in the North and the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers State Movement in the East to complement the creation of the Mid-West Region in 1963, and secondly, as a strategic imperative to contain Biafran Secession Attempt, the 1975 division of the country into 19 states pandered to the desire of some influential sectors for dividing and sharing the national cake, not for baking it.

The rapid expansion of oil production and with it the OPEC – led dramatic increases in oil revenues accruing to oil producers made it possible to indulge in this pre-occupation with sharing oil revenues while paying less attention to genuine development and growth of the economy.

The formula for the allocation of federally collected revenues (more than 85% of it from oil and gas taxes) – 50% allocated in equal proportion to each state and 50% on the basis of population encourages the demands for further creation of more states.

2.The traumatic massive purge of about 10,000 officials over a period of two months, without due process, involving officials from the rank of Permanent Secretary to the class of messengers being retired or dismissed, including some obvious leaders and role models, some without any terminal benefits or pensions destroyed the professional, non-partisan, fearless, prestigious, merit-driven Civil Service and Public Service inherited from the British Colonial Administration. In the process, the nation lost a great deal of institutional memory and valuable international connections.

The more senior ones, who,  inspired by the ideals of the Pre-Independence movement and the patriotic commitments of the leaders of the First Republic, were still energetic in suggesting and developing policies, programmes and projects and who also imbued as they were with the old core values would have  been able to provide some checks and balances but they  were also swept away.


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