A Template for Salvaging the Nigerian Civil Service, By Tunji Olaopa

The salvation of the Nigerian civil service lies in keeping the significance of the Fulton and the Udoji Reports before our administrative eyes. The summary of the Fulton Report of 1968 that examined the British civil service was to inquire into the readiness of the British civil service to confront the modern British society and its technological complexity. The report posited that if management is all about effectiveness, economy and efficiency, then the bureaucracy had to go.

On the other hand, the Udoji Commission of 1974 constituted a wakeup call for Nigerian administrators about the critical urgency of performance as the test of an effective civil service. The nod that these reports gave to performance-oriented civil service system is, in the final analysis, an important nod to democratic governance that has the potentials to transform the civil service itself as well as the lives of the citizens.

The general objective of the two Reports was to initiate the movement of their respective civil service systems into what Kolind calls the ‘second cycle.’ The first cycle, as we noted in the first part, was what engendered the bureaucratic culture. When the civil service system reached a point of maturity that calls for a reformulation of its original objective, it missed this point because it had achieved a measure of success in policy management. And in consequence, the administrative system became bureaucratic by becoming immersed in its own internal complexity and contradictions. The British civil service became a ‘great rock in the tide line’ because it successfully resisted change for its long years of existence.

The tragedy of the Nigerian civil service system is that the oversight of the administrative moment Udoji called for left an indelible damage which resulted in a condition of bureau-pathology.

What administrative oversight were the two Reports meant to perform? In the 60s, the British civil service system was already showing signs of administrative strains that belied its complacence.

The end of World War II was the watershed of a deep criticism of the bureaucracy; journalists, politicians, academics, and public opinion were mightily against the British civil service and the role it played in the loss of empire and the decline of the British economy.

The major culprit of the British bureaucracy was the domineering administrative class. The Fulton Report, inaugurated by Harold Wilson in 1966, became the centre-point for articulating all these criticisms. Its 158 recommendations were meant to replace the bureaucratic culture with a managerial philosophy and operational efficiency that runs on professionalism and dynamism.

According to the Report, ‘a modern civil service must be able to handle the social, economic, scientific and technical problems of our time, in an international setting…. [The] Service must be far-sighted [and] from its accumulated knowledge and experience, it must show initiative in working out what are the needs of the future and how they might be met.’

With this summation of the future prospect of the civil service, the Fulton Committee demonstrated its significance as an oversight framework on the future of ‘a professional and dynamic’ British civil service system.

The brief of the Udoji Commission was no less significant. The need for a total reassessment of the Nigerian civil service became obvious from the perception of the role of the civil service in delivering the dividends of independence to a citizenry with high postcolonial expectations. The Civil War had already ended, and the need for development and national reconstruction was high on the agenda. The ailing bureaucratic structure bequeathed by the British had to be reassessed in the light of the urgency of delivering the goods and services of good governance to Nigerians.

Ironically, Udoji had to also look to the Fulton Report for an articulation of its oversight duty conceived as a search for a new public service. According to that Report, ‘The civil service of a development-oriented society must itself be change-oriented if it is to meet the present and future demands on it. Any change must include the introduction of modern methods of managing complex organisations like government and the injection of new blood and the removal of obsolescence.’

Both Reports conceived their oversight significance as that of facilitating a paradigm shift from the first to the second cycle. That was radical enough to rethink the bureaucracy and its strategies. But, for the bureaucrats and the politicians, it was too radical! The Fulton and Udoji Reports both identified a critical transformation juncture that could have been revolutionary in the way the civil service system conducts government business. Within them, we find the gem of a democratic/entrepreneurial/technocratic culture that would have refocused the bureaucracy’s operational dynamics. Unfortunately, these Reports and their recommendations were trumped by political expediencies.

Why were the two Reports rejected? Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister, had good intentions in accepting and deciding to implement the Fulton Report recommendations. However, that intention became damaged the moment he asked the civil service to supervise its own transformation.

In the Nigerian case, the military strangled the Udoji Report’s initiatives through a selective implementation of the recommendations, most especially its trivial wage component. This critical oversight effectively disconnected the public service from productivity trajectory in the economy. The Status Quo survived! While the British civil service became the ‘great rock in the tide line,’ the Nigerian civil service bred a bureau-pathological condition that further strengthened the bureaucratic culture and denied the civil service of the creative ingenuity of new talents and innovative managers. Lawrence Peters once remarked, wittily, that the ‘bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.’

With the betrayal of the need for a paradigm shift through a deliberate oversight of the significance of the two Reports and their recommendations, it appeared as if the war against the bureaucracy had been lost. On the contrary, it may be the case that the moments of transformation were shifted for several years beyond the dates they were meant to begin.

The Fulton and the Udoji Reports have a place in administrative history essentially because they identified for us the historical juncture at which the bureaucracy was served the notice of its transformation. We may only speculate about what could have happened if the commencement of the transformation had been 1968 for the British civil service, or 1974 for the Nigerian civil service.

What is not in doubt, however, is that the bureaucracy is under democratic siege; the citizens are daily bombarding its borders for demonstrable results. The future of consistent and unwavering reforms, especially in Nigeria, is to force the bureaucracy to complement democracy in a manner that delivers efficient and effective services to the people.

The salvation of the Nigerian civil service lies in keeping the significance of the Fulton and the Udoji Reports before our administrative eyes. The nod that this report gave to performance-oriented civil service system is, in the final analysis, an important nod to democratic governance that has the potentials to transform the civil service itself as well as the lives of the citizens.

Dr.Tunji Olaopa, a Permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, writes from Abuja. Please give him feedback via tunji.olaopa@commtech.gov.ng


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