It was great time sharing platform with a former boss, Alhaji Moibi Shitu, easily one of the finest breed of civil servants and retired permanent secretary, Dr. Dere Awosika, a civil service professional par excellence and retired permanent secretary. This was at the Prof. Pat Utomi’s Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) “Leaders without title” series in honour of the first female Federal permanent secretary, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel (Nee. Ferreira) who just clocked 85. Mrs. Emanuel is such a unique and admirable personality with such incredible mix of talents: an accomplished artiste, actress, poet, dressmaker, soaring soprano singer and Commander of the Order of Niger (CON). She worked with the legendary super-permanent secretaries, though as permanent secretary, she a was contemporary of the likes of Mr. Grey Longe, Alhaji Shehu Musa, Alhaji Abdulazeez Attah, Chief Olu Falae and Alhaji Adamu Fika, to name just a few. It was an occasion that afforded reflections on what made the golden era of the civil service legendary, what went wrong and what could be done to salvage the civil service, going forward.
When we talk about the Golden Age of administration in Nigeria’s administrative history, we refer to that period in the evolution of the Nigerian Civil Service when the civil service system was eminently set and capable of delivering optimal performance that could transform positively the postcolonial expectations of the Nigerian state. There were three factors that gave the civil service system its capacity readiness. First, there were a set of individuals, schooled in the value-based institutional parameters of the retreating colonialists, who were eager to lay the foundation of an indigenous national development in Nigeria. Second, there was equally in existence a development-sensitive national dynamics rooted in a proper federal framework consisting of a centre and regional arrangement motivated by inter-regional competitiveness. A region thus facilitates its own development within the federal space that leads to the eventual development of Nigeria. Third, there was also a values-propelled development atmosphere in Nigeria, around the twin imperatives of nation building and economic development.
One of those administrative pioneers that made up the framework of dynamic personnel that defined the then emerging civil service is Mrs Francesca Yetunde Emanuel, Nigeria’s first female administrative officer, and first female permanent secretary. This is a woman who displayed all the right qualities that distinguished other pioneers like Chief Simeon Adebo, Chief Jerome Udoji, Allison Ayida, Ahmed Joda, Gey Longe, et al. Like Adebo who studied English and Udoji who started as a trained lawyer, Mrs Emanuel studied Geography. But again, like the rest of the pioneers, she was not only there from the beginning of the entire administrative trajectory, she took the service as a special calling, a vocation that demanded from them integrity as the sole defining feature of a leader.
As at the time the likes of Mrs Francesca Emanuel and the other pioneers were stepping into the civil service, there were two poignant characteristics of that time that made them stand out as the very example of what it means to see the public service as really a service to humanity. The first feature of the time was the prominence of social and moral values as the guiding standards for the assessment of character and profession. These were the period in which those like Wole Soyinka, Akin Mabogunje, Ojetunji Aboyade, Bala Usman, Claude Ake, Billy Dudley, Tai Solarin, and the rest of them, were growing up and engaging with the Nigerian state. Specific values of patriotism and morality defined their elite status. This was the period when Soyinka hijacked a radio station, and went to prison for it, because of his firm belief in the Nigerian project.
The second prominent feature of this period was that the Weberian administrative tradition was still at its best. This system incorporated genuine administrative features that demonstrated the capacity readiness of the system for service delivery. It was also a tradition with a strong democratic intent and dynamics. Permit me to point out just a few. Meritocracy was the key factor in recruitment, training, appointment and posting. Staffing, for instance, was according to the dictates of technical qualifications, with judicious doses of mentoring, coaching and the benefits of increasing professional experience through postings and assignments. Adherence to merit was the system’s own way of shielding itself from the politics of representativeness that gave birth to the quota system.
Furthermore, the Federal Public Service Commission was a significant structure established to serve as the gatekeeping mechanism for guarding jealously the professional pedigree of those who were sworn to serve the public. For instance, the government not only recognized the capacity gap, but was willing to invest heavily in capacity building to make the civil service system more functional. Performance and productivity were all the more enhanced with a very strong town and gown multidisciplinary relationship that facilitated the cross-fertilization of ideas and insights in a manner that motivated a research-industry-policy synergy.
But the public service was not just a complement to the government’s democratic intents and policies; it was itself a repository of democratic practices. There were also public service codes of practices and value dynamics that were respected. The General Order (GO) was a framework of democratic governance that removed fear and favor from the conduct of the administrative business. As a matter of professional reckoning, politicians were the prima facie policymakers, yet, there was in existence a framework of accountability, administrative regulation and transparency which ensured that even the politicians function within the established understanding required for the politics-administration dichotomy.
At this point, Nigeria was already basking in the flush euphoria of enormous wealth occasioned by the petrodollars that filled the government treasury beyond the imagination of the federal government. And the Nigerian Civil War was already fought and won, and Nigeria was basking in the victory. A lot was owed the super permanent secretaries who performed the administrative magic that led Nigeria on a path of reconstruction. Unfortunately, this string of administrative successes undermined the system’s capacity to face the challenges that still lay ahead the nascent Nigerian state. Eventually, the oil boom complemented the institutional insensitivity of the military, and Nigeria, especially the civil service system, went into a serious nosedive. The military is the very antithesis of democratic administrative tradition. The authoritarian command structure of the military not only undermined the dynamics of institutionalization that could strengthen the structural integrity of the public service; the military itself had no transformational credentials.
The most fundamental of these challenges was the imperative of transforming the civil service system itself away from the old Weberian bureaucratic tradition which had served its purpose. By 1971, the managerial revolution was already afoot, and the Fulton Report in Britain had already pointed at the next direction that any public service was to take if it ever hoped to achieve a capacity readiness that could deliver the goods and services of democratic governance to the citizens. Simultaneously, in Nigeria, the echo of this development occasioned by managerialism and its template of performance management reverberated. While at the task of determining the wages and compensation issues that kept plaguing the public service since its inauguration in 1954, the Adebo Commission of 1971 was compelled by strong empirical observations to recommend the setting up of another commission to inquire into the productivity and performance structure of the public service as an urgent reform necessity.
The Udoji Commission of 1974, under the strong influence of the Fulton Report, recommended a crucial reform of the civil service system in a manner that would have instituted performance management dynamics that would have enabled its capacity readiness for postcolonial governance. By this time, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel was already the principal secretary at the Cabinet Office. Unfortunately, that transformation recommended by the Udoji Report failed to materialize. The Gowon regime, for instance, refused the straightforward productivity paradigm shift that would have emanated from the performance management reform. Paying the wage was more important rather than addressing the basis of wage and performance. And what government would not want to look good in the eyes of its citizens given that petrodollar has brought significant wealth! The Gowon administration eventually decided to implement the wage component of the Udoji Report, and Nigeria is still suffering the long-term effect of that decision.
Mrs. Emanuel had already achieved the status of Nigeria’s first female permanent secretary in 1975 when the massive purge of the public service negatively transformed the administrative contours of the service in terms of institutional dynamics and attitudinal and culture change. In retrospect, we can with hindsight assess the impact of these changes of pioneers like her who were there at the beginning, and then gradually watched as their cherished public service lost all forms of administrative nobility. With the wrongheaded purge, the value of deferred gratification which defined the public service ethos of Mrs. Emanuel and all the others, went completely overboard! This noble exemplar of public service virtues must have been glad when she read the Dotun Phillip Report of 1988. Nothing more could have been consolatory for people like her than a visionary Report that saw the significance of a performance management system, and sought to correct the ills of neglecting the 1971 and 1974 recommendations. Yet, the anxieties of Mrs. Francesca Emanuel could not be assuaged. She retired without the satisfaction of seeing a restoration of a once glorious public service she gave her entire professional life to establishing. Nigeria again lost the initiatives for installing a performance management system that would transform her productivity paradigm for good.
We are celebrating Mrs. Francesca Emanuel today as one of the few pioneers who saw the glorious years of the public service and is also seeing what that civil service system has become. It does not take any significant reflection to be able to determine what her aspiration for the public service would be in terms of urgent reform for the system she committed her productive years to nurturing and serving. Since 1999, Nigeria commenced a democratic dispensation that comes with huge expectations from the Nigerians about the government and democratic dividends. This in turn places a lot of justifiable burden on the performance profile of the public service for democratic service delivery that will legitimize the government in the eyes of the citizens. This then requires that the Nigerian government reconsider the reform imperative that would transform the public service into an institutional machinery for concretizing democratic governance in Nigeria. This essentially boils down to the issue of professionalism that was a key public service ethos for Mrs. Emanuel, as one-time secretary to the Federal Public Service Commission. Within the gatekeeping function of the FPSC, now the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), public service professionalism encompasses three levels of attitudes and actions-moulding values: ethical values (i.e. integrity, honesty, respect); democratic values (i.e. responsiveness, representativeness, rule of law); and professional values (i.e. excellence, innovation). It is at these three levels that the reform of the capacity framework of the public service can proceed. And this is very critical: the essence of the performance management system canvassed by managerialism is not just to facilitate the technological transformation of the public service, but also to recruit, train, nurture and retain a critical mass of new managers who could make the performance management system work for a new productivity profile in Nigeria.
We have therefore now reached a critical point where it is now the turn of democracy to invigorate the administrative structures of the public service system in a way that enables it to respond adequately to the administrative and governance challenges of Nigeria’s democratic experiment. This is essentially what Joseph Schumpeter meant by the bureaucracy being the inevitable complement to democracy. However, complementing democracy is a task that would not come automatically. The political and bureaucratic leadership must make a conscious effort to make reform an enabling framework that achieve the capability readiness of the public service. It is only within this context that we can start talking of a democratic order that is founded on the responsiveness of the public service to the aspirations of Nigerians. It is in this regard that we could have talked about the Oronsaye tenure policy of 2009 which prescribed a fixed term of four years each for permanent secretaries, a single term of eight years for directors, and subsequently, the rationalization of parastatals. This policy had an underlying performance accountability clause which with conceptual depth could have been reviewed rather than discarded out rightly as was done, as its underpinnings are critical to a functional and performing public service. However, while celebrating the lifetime and professional achievements of Mrs. Francesca Yetunde Emanuel, we are reminded that there is still hope for Nigeria.