The Nation (Nigeria)

Federal character in reform to re-profession­alise Nigerian public service

- By Tunji Olaopa

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 tolaopa200­ (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)

 ??  ?? L - R:the Chief Medical Director, Unity Hospitals Group Ltd., Rotn Dr. Michael Obafunso Peters, a Past President, Rotary Club of Ikeja, Lagos with the newly installed current President, Rotary Club of Ikeja, Lagos, Rotn Gbenga Badejo and the wife of the Chief Medical Director, Unity Hospitals Group Ltd., Ikeja, Lagos, Mrs. Olusola Peters, a retired Principal, UNILAG’S Internatio­nal School, Akoka, Lagos, at the installati­on of Rotn Gbenga Badejo as the current President of the Rotary Club of Ikeja, Lagos, recently
L - R:the Chief Medical Director, Unity Hospitals Group Ltd., Rotn Dr. Michael Obafunso Peters, a Past President, Rotary Club of Ikeja, Lagos with the newly installed current President, Rotary Club of Ikeja, Lagos, Rotn Gbenga Badejo and the wife of the Chief Medical Director, Unity Hospitals Group Ltd., Ikeja, Lagos, Mrs. Olusola Peters, a retired Principal, UNILAG’S Internatio­nal School, Akoka, Lagos, at the installati­on of Rotn Gbenga Badejo as the current President of the Rotary Club of Ikeja, Lagos, recently

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