Rebuilding Nigerian Public Service for Nation Building

Rebuilding Nigerian Public Service for Nation Building

Sunday, April 7, 2019 9:02 pm

Salihu Moh. Lukman


Salihu Moh. Lukman

Given its function of developing and implementing long term vision, the public service is the main corridor, which enables governments to direct societies and nations to attain higher standards. Being the policy hub for delivering public goods, its capacity to serve as the catalyst for national development provide the legitimacy with which it can execute all its other functions, which include raising revenue; ensuring managerial, political and financial accountability; developing conducive environment for non-state actors to produce efficiently; achieve human development; and monitor and evaluate performances of public, private and non-governmental organizations rendering services on behalf of government.

The task of developing vision is in reality a derived function, which is dependent on the broad projections of political leaders. These are basically projections that highlights estimations of what leaders hope to achieve. Without any doubt, in different ways, every leader would have some estimation of what should be achieved. In the context of democratic governance, founded around activities of political parties and electoral contest, there are wide array of vision statements and documents, contained in for instance, party manifestos, campaign declarations, statements and speeches of candidates, etc. All these should under democracy highlight the broad vision of elected political leaders.

Part of the conceptual reasoning, which confers some fancied advantages to democratic governance founded on periodic elections is that ideally electoral victory should also represent vision choices made by societies and nations as expressed through majority votes. Once such choices are made, it is expected that through managerial leadership, which is expected to come from elected politicians, the public service will be able to process vision statements as provided in the party manifestos, campaign statements, speeches, etc. and translate them into enabling policies that will produce development programs and projects. Ability of elected politicians to symmetrically connect with the public service and be able to therefore translate visions into policies is a critical success factor for political leaders to serve as effective developmental catalysts for societies and nations.

While recognizing that Nigeria’s democratic experience was disrupted with the 1966 military intervention, it is important to also acknowledge that the emergence of the First National Development Plan in 1962 represented the effectiveness of Nigeria’s political leadership of the first republic to direct the nation’s young public service towards national development. At such formative stage of nationhood, to envision a five-year plan out of some broad national policy thrusts, provide leadership for the public service to mobilize the needed personnel and financial resources, and develop the necessary competences to execute most of the foundation infrastructural projects is a testimony to the huge resourcefulness and development potentials of the country.

With a capital expenditure budget of about $1.9 billion over the plan period (1962 – 1970), defining national projects such as construction of Kainji dam, oil refinery and 2,000 miles of farm-to-market roads, extending the Northern Nigeria railways by about 293 miles, etc. were achievements of the First Nigerian National Development Plan. The realities of developing the public service to execute these projects, in some respects was what led to Morgan (1963) and Elwood (1966) Commissions, which were assigned the tasks of reviewing salaries and wages of junior workers in Federal Government and correcting identified anomalies in grading and other conditions.

Partly on accounts of the modest successes achieved under the first plan, Nigerian military leaders who overthrew the first republic adopted the national development planning model and governed the country based on successive plans with a five-year tenure for each one. A total of four plans were therefore executed between 1962 and 1985. Note that Fourth Plan (1981 – 1985) was produced during the 2nd Republic, which basically continued development-oriented planning founded on good symmetrical connection between elected political leaders and the public service.

Each plan had projected capital expenditure budget based on which the public service was vested with the responsibility of both mobilizing the financial resources as well as executing specific projects. Accordingly, the First Plan (1962 – 1968) had capital expenditure estimate of $1.9 billion or N2.2 billion; Second Plan (1970 – 1974) estimated N3 billion; Third Plan (1975 – 1980) estimated N30 billion, later revised to N43.3 billion but N29.3 billion was expended; and Fourth Plan (1981 – 1985) estimated N82 billion.

Through these capital budgets specifically, in addition to achievements under the First Plan as highlighted above, NNPC, Calabar and Nkalagu cement factories, Warri refinery, Volkswagen and Peugeot Assembly plants in Lagos and Kaduna respectively were established under the Second Plan. The Second Plan recorded higher public investments in both economic and social sectors, notably education, transport, agriculture and social welfare. The Third Plan provided funding for free education, construction of Warri and Kaduna refineries, as well as Ajaokuta Steel Plant.

It is also important to note that problems of indiscipline in public financial management began to produce high balance of payment deficit under the Third Plan but got worsened in the Forth Plan. A major factor was that the oil boom period in the late 1970s accounted for national expenditure of N979.8 million on importation of consumer goods, which exceeds the budgeted N667.4 million. Secondly, crash in oil prices as a result of international oil glut eroded the basis of funding projections under the Fourth Plan. This is because from projected $40 per barrel and 2 million barrels per day, by mid 1981, prices dropped to $18 and production crashed to less than 1 million barrel per day.

Given such huge drop in financial resources, projects under the Fourth National Plan such as Eleme Liquified Natural Gas, Port Harcourt Refinery, petrochemical plan in Kaduna and Warri refineries, Onne fertilizer, etc. were abandoned. The nation also began to have difficulty paying salaries of public sector workers. Somehow, attempts to correct these problems led to the establishment of Dotun Phillips Commission of 1985, Admiral Patrick Koshoni Review Panel of 1988, Ayida Review Panel and Steven Oronsaya Panel. Predominantly, the main thrusts of the works of these Commissions and Panels centered around the need to restructure operations of the Nigerian public service in order to resolve issues of financial mismanagement and associated balance of payment problems.
With public service reform conceptualized based on the search for resolving problems of public financial mismanagement, almost all the Commissions and Panels had the responsibility of recommending measures to reduce both size and cost of the public service. Privatization, through which operations of some public corporations were transferred to the private sector therefore became a central feature of public service reform since 1985. This is in addition to public sector staff rationalization measures (retrenchment), which resulted in mass sack of public sector workers. Under President Obasanjo (1999 – 2007) alone, more than 35,000 public sector workers lost their jobs on accounts of rationalization.
Coincidentally, since 1985 too, national planning model, which ensured that development targets are set and programs and projects executed to achieve the targets was abandoned. In place of development planning models, so-called rolling plans were adopted. These were in many respects, contraptions that, unlike national development planning, lacked measurable development targets with projected financial estimates. Without financial estimates, the problem of public financial mismanagement gradually grew into a cultural milieu in the public service on account of which the function of mobilizing financial resources became redundant.

Without any debate, up to perhaps the end of the Second National Development Plan (1970 – 1974), the public service in Nigeria was able to discharge the function of mobilizing all the financial resources needed to execute government programs and projects. In fact, up to the Third National Development Plan (1975 – 1980), Nigerian public service was able to discharge this function substantially. Two significant features that perhaps distinguished especially the First and Second Plans were:

Almost all projects executed were done without clearly predetermined guaranteed funding sources. Therefore, the public service had to mobilize virtually all the financial resources needed to execute projects under the plans. Although during the tenure of the Second Plan, export of petroleum products to the international market had commenced, mobilizing funding to execute capital projects was perhaps the most important function of the public service, including what may be regarded as startup funds for the commencement of production activities in the petroleum sector.

Secondly, execution of development projects was the focus of initiatives by political leaders. Execution of projects was then the basis of capacity development for public servants. On the one hand, there were ambitious targets of very high budgetary estimates requiring the public service to mobilize, and on the other hand, there was also the task of developing skills and technical competence to ensure capability to execute projects. Most, if not all, public service reforms undertaken under the first two plans were essentially a function of evaluation of skills and technical competences of public servants. For instance, the Udoji Commission of 1972 was assigned the task of overhaling the entire public service to ensure development and optimum utilization of manpower for efficiency and effectiveness.

The conventional excuse is that oil boom of the late 1970s to early 1980s provided the needed funding to finance government projects. What is however also very evident was that instead of directing government funding to execute capital projects as provided in national development plans, reckless importation of consumer goods became the national priority. Strict application of analysis of consumer behavior and impact to national income accounting would highlight the devastating impact of rising importation of consumer goods.

Overtime, the consequences of the dominance of funding availability from the petroleum sector was that issues of skills and technical competence of the public service to execute projects became weakened, contract services gradually took over many schedules of the public service and some junior service schedules such as drivers, cleaners, domestic staffs, etc. become monetized. Once capacity to execute projects is weakened, service experiences, which ordinarily should confirm skills, instead deskill public servants. Again, instead of government facilitating national development, it become a receiver-manager with the objective of transferring operations of public entities to the private sector.
Processes of rebuilding the public service should also be strengthened and complemented with re-institution of national development planning, which should serve as the test for organizational effectiveness and its political relevance to the vision of political leaders. Combination of organizational effectiveness and vision of political leaders would aggregate the strength of symmetrical relationship between the public service and political leaders.
It may be strongly tempting to dismiss proposals of rebuilding Nigerian public service to get back to performing its core functions anchored on re-instituted national development planning. It however needs to be stressed that so long as so-called reform initiatives are only limited to evaluation of contractual engagement terms based on receiver-manager orientation, Nigerian public service will continue to present cost challenges, national development initiatives will continue to elude the nation, and where semblance of development is achieved, sustainability will be difficult and reversal highly probable.

To achieve this would require strong commitments of political leadership to develop the framework for negotiation and implementation process. This is one area that President Buhari can make a difference and with determined effort commence the process of rebuilding Nigerian public service and bequeathed to successive governments a resourcefully skilled and technically competent public service. It is one area where Nigerians will look up to President Buhari and expect him to once more demonstrate the power of possibility in the same way he was able to, together with other political leaders in APC, successfully negotiated the merger that led to the emergence of APC.

Similar to the pre-2015 political challenge, which beacon on President Buhari and APC leaders to respond to the yearnings of Nigerians, here is, yet again, another clarion call on President Buhari and APC leadership to rollout another national agenda to stimulate rebuilding initiative of Nigerian public service. It is a possibility with the huge potential of engraving APC and President Buhari in the political and development consciousness of Nigerians at all times!

—Salihu Moh. Lukman was Labour activist. He now works for Progressives Governors Forum, Abuja.






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