Reflection On 100 Years Of Civil Service In Nigeria
The centenary of the founding of the Nigerian state is something to be celebrated. But more than that, it calls for deep and profound reflection for the simple reason that a hundred years is a life time. Whatever may be the shades of opinions on the preparation for the celebration of this event, no one will doubt its momentous nature. There is therefore the urgent need to insert reflective thought into the celebrations. James Baldwin gives us a critical insight: ‘There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.’
When the Northern and Southern Protectorates were amalgamated by Lord Lugard in 1914, he could not have been aware of the century long socio-political and economic implications of creating a plural state that is constantly threatened by centrifugal forces of ethnicity, religion and bad political economy. For the 46 years preceding Nigeria’s independence, the nascent state was rigged with several implosive landmines and less-than-nationalist colonial calculations that, in part, have had determinative effects on the fifty four years of independence. Nigeria has had, therefore, a hundred years of tragic solitude, to parody the title of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s widely acclaimed novel. Like the novel and its protagonist’s founding of the city of Macondo, the metaphoric Colombia, Nigeria‘s founding owed a lot to the ‘colonial ingenuity’ of a couple.
However, unlike Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran, Lugard and Flora Shawn had no utopic desires for Nigeria. In spite of the utopic intentions of Buendia, Macondo is still very much like Nigeria in the series of misfortunes and turmoil, within and without, which ravaged the city. And furthermore, just as Macondo’s future was determined by the deciphering of a code that several generations of the Buendia family failed to decode, Nigeria’s fortune, I believe, hangs on our capacity to come to term with our colonial founding and postcolonial maturation.
The code that must be deciphered and interpreted to forecast the path of national development for Nigeria is the institution of the civil service as the machinery of government. The civil service system in Nigeria is the only institution that has the badge of continuity linking us to the past and the future. Apart from being the best that could be salvaged from the ambivalent legacies of the colonialists, the civil service system constitutes the focal point of any attempt to redeem the next hundred years of postcolonial and post-independence existence for Nigeria. My hypothesis: the salvation of national integration and development lies with a rejuvenated institution which has been rethought to surpass the logic of colonialism and the limitations of post-independence.
It does not take serious reflection to agree with Thomas Taylor Meadows’ conclusion on the glory of China: ‘the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit’ in the civil service system. Meadows’ observation was made in 1847 when he was the British Consul in Guangzhou. By 1853, William Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reckoned with Meadows’ recommendations and commissioned Stafford Northcote and Charles Trevelyan to investigate the dynamics of founding a good government on the operations of an efficient and effective civil service. The Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854 has since become the template for a modern civil service institution around which any state can ever hope to make progress through administrative facilitation of the production and distribution of public goods and services to the populace. And democracy brings its own progressive assumptions into the dynamics of the administrative competence of any state.
Since its ambivalent founding in 1954, the Nigerian civil service has had enough time to make a full cyclic transition from evolution to growth and reformulation of its founding essence since 1914 to date. The civil service system in Nigeria owes its existence and evolution to series of constitutional and administrative necessities. The year 1954 is very significant in Nigeria administrative history because it signals the formal establishment of a civil service structure with a truly Nigerian framework. Before this period, the civil service in Nigeria was strictly a colonial affair. The colonial administrative machinery was narrowly focused to handle the state function which was basically the maintenance of law and order. The strategy for carrying out that function was essentially through an arrangement which not only excluded the colonised personnel but also facilitated the exploitation of the colonies. Thus, from 1934 to 1954, seven commissions and committees became the precursor to what would become the Nigerian civil service: Hunt Committee (1934), the Bridges Committee (1942), the Tudor-Davies Commission (1945), the Harragin Commission (1946), the Smaller Commission (1946), the Foot Commission (1948), and the Phillipson-Adebo Commission (1953).
The evolution of the Nigerian character of the civil service reached its culmination in the post-1954 period with series of reforms that constituted the beginning of the institution of the civil service system in Nigeria. Thus, from 1954, the civil service became the centre of furious and progressive reforms meant to ensure that the evolution of the system would transform it into an adequate institution around which the nascent post-independence state would become true to its stated ideals of providing basic amenities to the Nigerian masses who endured the horrors of colonial administration and its exploitative logic. The Gorsuch Commission (1955), for instance, became significant for confronting from the beginning the hierarchical structure of the colonial arrangement, especially as it differentiates between the ‘generalists’ and the ‘professionals’. In a sense, the professionalization angle to the reform of the Nigerian civil service took its root from Gorsuch.
Newns Commission (1959) took that reform initiative further with the establishment of a Westminster model organisational framework compatible with a ministerial form of government. This was achieved through the integration of departments with the ministries through the grafting of the ministerial structures on the departmental structure of the colonial service. One fall out of this was the creation of the post of the permanent secretary to whom the Minister could direct all decisional problems. These reform initiatives were progressive but not definitive. The Newns recommendations, for example, have endured with the civil service system in Nigeria to date, yet we cannot say the civil service has made historic advances that ought to transform the dynamics of governance in Nigeria. And another century of nationhood looms ahead of us.
The Nigerian civil service was born in tentative hope that it would eventually acquire the capacities and competencies to drive the engine of socioeconomic growth in Nigeria as long as the state endures. No state in the world has any other hope of deliverance. In a century, Nigeria has made valiant effort at evolving a good governance paradigm that would bring the people into a democratic relationship with the state. However, in a century, we have not yet arrived. According to Henry Hampton, ‘What drive people to the public service is a sense of possibility.’ The possibility is that of making impacts that would last a century. Herein is the mandate of the Nigerian Government: the belief in the possibility of building an impactful civil service that would endure for another century, and the political will to lay its foundation. The first condition of such a mandate is however to rethink the historical dynamics that has constricted and determined the evolution of the institution.
Dr. Tunji Olaopa is Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Communication Technology,