The Nation (Nigeria)
Federal character in reform to re-professionalise Nigerian public service
THIS piece speaks to two fundamental issues at the heart of Nigeria's development drive-the imperative of managing its diverse constituents, and the urgency of how that diversity management will impact the optimal efficiency of the public service. There is no way we can gainsay the significance of the public service to Nigeria's governance and development project. I have never had any doubt that leadership sophistication, sincerity of purpose and a machinery of state with a back-end of a repreofessionalised public service manned by a new breed of public managers hold the key to the transformation of Nigeria into a capable developmental state, as well as the capacity of that state to institute good governance that will bring her diverse people together. The major challenge lies squarely within the conception and implementation of an institutional and governance reform mechanism that will deliver a firm diversity management model within which the public service can achieve a democratic service delivery to Nigerians. That achievement is still in the winds. I hope this piece will point in a right reform direction for that purpose.
By the time the Nigerian public service had become consolidated since its inauguration in 1954 till Nigeria got independence in 1960, it had become an instrumental tool by which the political elites intervene in the economy and the society. Its Weberian framework allowed it to become, within a postcolonial context like Nigeria, a significant political institution that could facilitate political intervention. That reality played out significantly though disappointingly with the military's intention, from 1966, of occupying what was called the "commanding height" of the economy. This translates into a centralization of the Nigerian state that went contrary to the principles of federalism. But this is not the end of the story. Independence also brought to light the real fundamental nature of Nigeria's diversity-one of the significant consequences of the 1914 amalgamation effort. For instance, with the coming into force of the Nigerianisation Policy, the political leadership had to face the import of the diversity of the Nigerian state, and the urgent need of managing it to keep the integrity of the country as a nation-state. The choice in filling the civil service positions left by the colonialists was between meritocracy or representativeness.
The idea of representativeness in a plural society like Nigeria seems unassailable enough. There must be a mechanism that will provide the institutional framework to give everyone a sense of belonging in their own country. No wonder then that in October 1975, the then head of state, Murtala Mohammed asked that the concept of the federal character be inserted into the Nigerian Constitution as the formal principle of the quota system determining who enters the civil service and other institutional allocations to the diverse entities with claims on the soul of Nigeria. And without any prejudice, we need to, in clear terms, acknowledge the ingenuity of the federal character principle as one of the significant means by which the Nigerian state could facilitate national integration of its ethnic diversity. And a lot has been achieved in this regard. There is now an ethnic mosaic that decorates beautifully Nigeria's institutional landscape. In those institutional arrangements that show fidelity to this principle, you can see different ethnic presence. Diversity, in this sense, is suppose to be a gateway to creative managerial dynamics.
Unfortunately, and like many policy initiatives everywhere in the world, the federal character principle has become subjected to so many alterations and caricatures in practice. And this has degenerated to the point of the policy becoming an opportunity cost for meritocracy and efficiency. And the reason for this degeneration is not far-fetched: The federal character principle arrived in the constitutional framework of the Nigerian state as a political solution. As a political solution, however, it facilitated a terrible transposition that made politics its independent variable while the achievement of the efficiency in the delivery of public goods and services became a dependent variable. If this transposition had been otherwise (and this otherwise is the reason for the urgency of institutional reform Nigeria needs now), then the critical relationship between diversity management and a competency-based human resource management would have become immediately obvious.
No one can contest the fact that there is a causal relationship between professionalism, competent human resources, efficient managerial dynamics and service delivery success in any organization. It is this mix that the federal character principle was meant to interject to be able to factor the creativity of diversity management with the efficiency that such diverse human resources and their emotional, social and cultural capitals can bring to bear on the service delivery objective of the government. But then, and quite unfortunately, the politicization of the implementation of the federal character principle, a most beautiful and ingenious concept, has fundamentally circumscribed the principle as a solid basis for human resource management in the public service. And this is especially in terms of professionalism and meritocracy. Indeed, we can now theorize that there is direct but negative causal relationship between the federal character principle as a framework of diversity management, low productivity in the national economy and an inefficient service delivery that has not been able to backstop good governance in Nigeria. In very stark terms, the federal character principle has become so porous as to facilitate the distortion of the recruitment and selection processes in ways that allows for incompetent and inefficient workers to enter the service. This in turn impact negatively on confirmation, deployment, performance appraisal, promotion and reward management with strong implications for workers productivity and service delivery.
Let us break this down properly. Two crucial things are wrong with the implementation of the federal character principle. First, there is a level of significant arbitrariness that has kept into its operational dynamics. There is evident lack of a definite and adequate guideline that speaks to the necessity of a balance between equity and efficiency in the application of the principle. Second, there is also the absence of the requisite political will to compel the proper application of the principle. The implication of this, to quote Peter Ekeh's words, is that the federal character policy "has invaded the integrity and standards of public bureaucracy as well as other governmental bodies that normally require some protection against the vagaries of politics." It is within this loophole that it became possible that the recruitment exercise would be weighed down by subjective biases that make favoritism and nepotism possible, rather than the qualification of individuals based on objective job description and selection parameters.
Thus, once the principle opened up the crack that allowed institutions and establishments to be filled by the incompetent and the inefficient, all wallowing in ethno-religious prejudices, it takes little reflection to see why it becomes difficult (a) to recruit the best and the most qualified for any specific position, (b) with institutional capacity development and professionalism subordinated to the politics that the nation plays with her destiny, and (c) no public official sees herself, or is seen by others, as a Nigerian. The incapacity of the federal character principle to birth a Nigerian image, due to its multiple loopholes, creates, in addition, two debilitations for progress: one, the treatment of public officials as anything but Nigerians, as they are viewed from the lens of ethno-linguistic group rather than of the nation-state, thereby creating a multiple system of citizenship in the polity, and two, thus providing incentives for ethno-regional patrons and their clients to exploit and mismanage state resources without any concerns for return on investment of those public resources. In its function as a mere absorption framework into the public service, rather than as an avenue for human capital development within the ambit of diversity management, the federal character plays its own negative role in the bloatedness of the public service, and the consequent collapse of the internal control mechanisms like manpower forecasting and planning, treasury and manpower controls, organization and method (O&M), annual personnel audit, succession planning, etc. It is at this point that we see clearly how the theory of labor productivity plays a huge role in the determination of national development. With a bloated public service and a dysfunctional dynamic of operational inefficiency, there is no wonder why Nigeria's productivity profile is so abysmally low.
Recuperating meritocracy, professionalism, and a competencybased HRM that instigate efficiency in the public service is difficult but not impossible. It requires a deepseated structural, systemic and institutional reforms that are not just targeted at the establishment of performance management system. The proposed culture change will en tail an administrative re engineering that alters current chronic bureaupathology with a vision of the role of the public service in a knowledge age—a new public service that is entrepreneurial, technology-enabled, flexible, small and performancebased. Even the federal character principle must be brought in conversation with the fundamental idea of public-spiritedness that defines the essence of the public service. not everyone can be a public servant, no matter the need for representativeness. with a functional gatekeeping frameworks like a reengineered and professionalized civil service commission and a revitalized professional association like the nigerian association of public Administration and Management (Na pam ), we can then look forward to the emergence of a new generation of cosmopolitan, detribalized, knowledge-propelled and reformminded professional and transformational public managers supported by a corps of professional HR managers, who will take on the challenge at both its conceptual and administrative levels. The gatekeeping dynamics and the professional organizations and bodies will not only provide the opportunity for building a community of service and of practice, but also facilitate the harnessing of ideas and insights that arm the public manager with the transformational powers of value orientations, philosophical foresight and intellectual capacity that transforms the public service into a self-motivated and depoliticized institution with a world class capacity-readiness to achieve democratic service delivery to Nigerians.
However, one factor remains critical: the political leadership must itself get to that defining moment when it will be able to see the futility of going on with a dysfunctional public service and governance failure. it must get to that point when it becomes crystal clear that when public administration fails, all else has fail. It is only at this crucial moment of realization that the political will to jumpstart the emergence of a new administrative paradigm can begin. It is only then that the federal character principle can be redirected to achieve its original objective of a wholesome diversity management that kickstart an efficient labor productivity.
• Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Professor of Public Administration and Directing Staff, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos email@example.com (Being paper presented at the Roundtable Organi ed by the University of Benin, Nigeria on 23 June ,2021 to mark the african public Service Day)