In my recent commentaries, I have been worried about the state of public administration in Nigeria, and how this rebounds on the reform of the public service as a tool for development. And my worry derives from the near absence of a gatekeeping mechanism that ought to undergird the professionalism behind the public-spiritedness of a public servant.
For instance, it is no longer news that the Nigerian Association of Public Administration and Management (NAPAM) is dead and buried. And its death, for me, signals the weakening of the generational debt that public administrators and public servants owe to those who have been charged to carry the responsibility of administering the Nigerian state and her development challenges.
I have argued that if the present crop of public administrators and public servants—my generation—was mentored by the likes of Simeon Adebo, Sule Katagum, Jerome Udoji, through the Allison Ayidas, Phillips Asiodus, Ahmed Judas, Abdul Aziz Attahs, Francesca Emanuel, Aminu Salehs, et al, it becomes a moral duty for us to also pass the baton of public service and professionalism to those coming behind.
The fundamental point for me, therefore, is that the critical players in the public administration communities of practice and service must rediscover their shared mission and stakes in not only resuscitating the dying profession, but also find ways to achieve concrete and collective actions that will facilitate the capacity to chart a new future for our cherished calling and profession.
This requires deploying our generational capital towards rebuilding public administration as the core catalyst to regaining the soul of the Nigeria Project. I doubt that it bears defending that if public administration fails, all else fail. If a defining national conference to ventilate thoughts, ideas and way forward and to strengthen the hands of the current leadership corps of the civil service, is the way to go, the conference sure will require significant basic, policy-engaged and action research inputs and deep-seated reflective thinking.
Hence this modest attempt on my part, as scholar-practitioner, to build on my earlier advocacy piece by also attempting to sketch out what I consider should be the baseline think-piece that could be reworked into a technical note that might constitute supportive research agenda for the suggested national conference on the future of the Nigerian civil service. Let me then pose my worry as a loaded question: Where is the new generation of public administration scholars and researchers, and what are their significant contributions to praxis and scholarship? This question is fundamental for lots of reasons.
I will identify just two. The names of Adebayo Adedeji, Ladipo Adamolekun, Ali D. Yahaya, Humphrey Nwosu, Kyari Tijani, Alex Gboyega, M. J. Balogun, Dele Olowu, Victor Ayeni, and policy scholars like Augustine Ikelegbe – the academics – and Simeon Adebo, Augustus Adebayo, Ntieyong U. Akpan, Ason Bur, George Orewa, Theophilus Akinyele, Ezekiel Oyeyipo – the scholar-bureaucrats – to name just a few, resonates in the annals of public administration in Nigeria, because they represent the best that the discipline and the profession could produce, even when public administration was struggling in Nigeria. These were people who knew their onions, and fought to bring the discipline to where it is today, given their own hurdles and challenges, in time and space.
We can concede therefore, that these beacons of professional practice had NAPAM as a professional association that guided thoughts and practices. However, is the absence of that association sufficient to explain why there are only a handful of scholars and practitioners worthy of the stature of pioneer public administration scholars today?
Like every aspect of Nigeria’s higher education dynamics, public administration scholarship has also succumbed to the craze for quantity, rather than the quality, of research outputs and publications, majorly as promotional requirements. This, as is to be expected, has sidetracked attention from the need for specialization, as well as the significant focusing on specific public administration and policy making institutional issues as research concerns. There is also the increasing attenuation of the town-and-gown synergy that was one of the factors in the success stories of the pioneers of public administration and the public service in Nigeria, from Adebo and Udoji, and from Okigbo and Aboyade to the super-permanent secretaries.
The town-and-gown initiative allowed scholars, from public administration to public policy to economics, for instance, to have fruitful rapport with public servants on issues of mutual concern, like the national development planning, economic policy, public finance, science and technology, personnel management, and other sector policies. Unfortunately, this sterling practice has been grossly desiccated by mutual distrust through the anti-intellectualism of the government and its officials, and the arrogant resentment of policy researchers and public administration scholars.
While the practitioners decry the theoretical scholarship of the researchers, the latter dismiss the practitioners as being intellectually obtuse. Quite fortunately, and paradoxically too, I have benefitted from both sides of the divide. And this is by reason of my work on numerous public service reforms strategy designs and implementation, and my doctoral program, which reached its height while I was the technical lead for the Federal Government’s Public Service Reform Strategy Team in 2002, through to the fundamental programmes design and implementation that metamorphosed into the establishment of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) in 2003, as well as into my career years as permanent secretary.
From commencing the PhD through my responsibilities as a permanent secretary and as professor of public administration, I was able to formulate research questions over time, which, quite unfortunately, still resonate due essentially to the lack of significant attention to them. A few of these research questions suffices.
To be continued tomorrow
Olaopa is a Retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos email@example.com