Comments on Public Lecture Delivered at Prof. Adamolekun’s 70th Birthday Celebration- July 21, 2012

July 27, 2012

Iju Public Affairs Forum

A.        Introduction

Chairman, Mr. Sam Amuka, Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers,

Honorable Minister of Lands, Urban Development and Housing, Ms. Ama. I. Pepple;

Professor Ladipo Adamolekun and Family Members and well-wishers;

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

Occasions such as this are avenues to flaunt wealth and consumption by the elite. Not so for today’s celebrant. Rather, it is the opportunity for serious reflection and he succeeded in inviting none less than an Honorable Minister of the Nigerian Federal Republic, a former academic to prepare a paper with footnotes and end- notes that addresses an important aspect of our national life. The celebrant also identified another one of his kind, to discuss the paper submitted by the Honorable Minister. Of course, I appreciate the honor of such an invitation.

One issue on which my mentor and friend of many years, Prof. Adamolekun, has spent his entire professional career and which he has pursued with vigor, resoluteness, passion and consistency is the improvement of Nigerian and African administration. He must be glad that African countries’ economic indicators have improved somewhat at a time of global economic and financial downturn. Although the explanation for this impressive turn- around differ, many people believe that it is the outcome of several forces which include: improved economic policies, demographic and urban transition, globalized economies’ search for cheap labor and low tax havens; emergence of young  African entrepreneurs, many having returned from diaspora and the influx of new investors especially from Asia.

Unfortunately, in contrast to this happy news the experience of African administration by the mass of Africans is one of decline and decay. Focusing only on the African giant, Nigeria, this is exemplified by:

  • Massive and growing levels of political and administrative corruption-at federal, state and local levels. A selective review of Nigerian news on an online weekly confirms the Honorable Minister’s assertion that corruption exists within the political and administrative wings of the public service…. In fact, most close observers believe that what exists is closer to systemic or institutionalized corruption—as the recent probes into the oil, power, aviation, the closure of the Nigerian US consulate etc  at federal levels; and the conviction of several Nigerian state governors, some in foreign courts, seem to confirm; not to mention local government chieftains and officials down the line;


  • Declining capacity for policy management-reflected in the non-achievement of what the Honorable Minister and her colleagues in other African countries referred to as the minimum standards of the Millennium Development Goals-Nigeria was one of the 11 countries in Africa with the worst performance in 2010-according to OECD statistics;


  • Severe job deficit especially for young people. A 2010 study chaired by our present Honorable Minister for Finance estimated that we must create 25 million jobs within 10 years to avert disaster;
  • Insecurity of life and property and absence and poor maintenance of basic infrastructures (notably roads and electricity) that other countries take for granted.


  • Growing inequality between the opulently rich (the richest African is a Nigerian, according to the latest statistic), an emergent middle class and the impoverished masses of have-nots;


  • Decay of administrative and administrative training capacity in spite of huge investment of domestic and donor resources in capacity development over many decades.

The persistence of these problems as national challenges suggest that we have on our hands a system breakdown (a system was once actually in place) at a time when, in fact, we need to have in place a virile and vibrant public service that is able to launch us as a country to the club of the emergent economies of the 21st century.  Surprisingly, there is a growing consensus in several academic and policy studies indicating that in spite of all these problems, Nigeria, with a consistent economic growth of 7% per annum in the last 8 years may actually attain the ranks of the newly emergent economies that would dominate world economy from 2050 onwards—the BRIC countries, if only we can find a magic wand to contain and reverse the corrupt proclivities and the decline of our political, economic and administrative systems. The Economist of June 20, 2012 for instance estimates, based on a review of several studies, that Nigeria is projected to become Africa’s biggest economy by 2016, with Egypt on her heels and then RSA. The problem, the report notes, however, is that whereas Nigeria’s higher Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of US$23 billion per annum creates only 95,000 jobs, RSA’s much lower FDI of US$10billion generates 125,000 jobs.

The Honorable Minister highlights a number of governance challenges confronting the Nigerian public administration system in her speech. As someone who has served with distinction in various capacities within the Nigerian public service she has done this with courage, candor and compassion. She identified the possible causes of friction between political and administrative leaders: the concept of neutrality, advisory role of civil servants vis –a-vis other advisers, growing dominance of non-meritocratic considerations in the appointment of permanent secretaries, frequent transfers and other factors-such as differential backgrounds, personality styles and competences different actors bring into the job; jobbery, improper understanding of each other’s respective roles and the award of contracts without due process etc.

Clearly, her submission begs the question whether we are not confronted with a serious crisis of governance of the Nigerian state. There are indeed genuine fears on the part of large sections of the Nigerian populace at home and abroad and other close observers of events in our country that our nation is fast becoming ungovernable and that if this trend towards fragility continues, we could indeed become a failed state. To which we all say, God forbid!

We thus have a strange paradox: on the economic front Nigeria is moving upwards in the direction of an emergent economy but is humbled by another movement in the opposite direction –of fragility and failure on the politico-administrative front.



B.        Grappling for Explanations
Many economists and other social scientists explain this paradoxical condition in terms of the resource curse thesis. Existence of huge natural resources in countries in which critical governance institutions are ineffective attract political forces that seek rents for themselves and their cronies and use their rewards to undermine and contain progressive and developmental forces in that society.
One implication of the above thesis is that it is perhaps futile to seek to revitalize public administration when the political system is beholden to forces that are anti- progressive.

What makes the above scenario more significant is that most observers, including those who work within the Nigerian federal public service, concur with the above diagnosis and also that Africa’s future is closely tied to what happens to the Nigerian state. This then makes the revitalization of Nigeria a high priority agenda for all of us not only for future generations of Nigerians but for all Africans and lovers of Africa.

C.        In Search of a Proper Response

Fortunately, Nigeria is not the only country to find herself at this critical juncture. Most of today’s industrialized and industrializing countries also confronted similar challenges at the earlier periods of their social evolution as states. What has made the difference between success and failure is the determination of the citizens generally but of the elites in particular to agree on the most appropriate elite compact for governance.  Britain adopted the politics –administration dichotomy, what has been called the ‘Whitehall’ model to ensure that such an elite compact existed to enable her contain corrupt proclivities of her ruling elites, improve the welfare of her citizens and compete globally on land and sea. That she succeeded is demonstrated by the fact that she became the first industrial nation on earth and had, at a point in time, two –fifths of the world as a part of her colonial possessions, Nigeria inclusive.

We inherited the Whitehall model as a part of this colonial legacy but the essence of the speech of the Honorable Minister is that our system of governance has lost the core elements of the Whitehall model. According to Edward Page of the London School of Economics (2010), they include the following:

  • Political Neutrality of civil servants—which means that civil servants reach the top of their profession through a merit system of promotion dominated by civil servants and no top level political changes by new governments or administrations;
  • Civil servants are generalists-they are trained to have a broad view of the work of government not specifics;
  • Career in the civil service is for life-time—unlike the first two: this is a trait that is found in other European bureaucracies as well.
  • Civil servants are the main or even sole providers of policy advice to their ministers.

Over time, Britain has of course jettisoned core elements of this system in view of her current contexts and challenges. Nevertheless, it is exactly the same system, properly modified that the Asian tigers –from Japan to other East Asians and presently to the Chinese—have adapted to emerge as developmental states –in spite of the diversity of their cultural and political systems and the challenges that all nations face.

  • Indeed, this process cannot be confined to the Asian tigers but such elite governance pacts have enabled every economically and politically successful country to improve their national economic outcomes (Acemolu & Robinson-Why Nations Fail 2012). They have led to the:
  • Emergence of effective state power—mostly through grand coalition compromises for national survival in the face of terrible odds such as the ones we confront presently;
  • Creation of a professional bureaucracy that is passionately committed to modernization, innovation, good governance and economic survival and success. Such a bureaucracy is characterized by: Relative Autonomy (ability to rise above special interests and avoid state capture designed to function as a rational bureaucracy that is characterized by meritocracy and professionalism); Social Embeddedness (ability to fully reflect the diversity of interests of the whole of society and not just of those in power); Insulation —through legal and operational measures (such as generous remuneration including pension, meritocracy, innovation and performance management;
  • Accountable use of state power—effective legislatures and vibrant rule of law administered by an independent judiciary–as checks on the executive branch and corporations;
  • Acculturation of exotic models of governance, through state-society interaction;
  • Openness of the management cadres to innovation –heavy investment in research and effective linkage between domestic research and policy centers and the civil service via professional associations (Leftwich 2000, Evans 1995, Fukuyama 2012).

Countries as distant from one another in history, culture, orientation and stature –all of the BRICs and G20 countries –have gone through this historical evolution. Due to time and space considerations, I will comment only on three of the above-mentioned points.


A. The Grand coalition must not only articulate the norms of good governance applicable to our national context and essential for national survival, it must ensure that everyone irrespective of party-political affiliation or other leanings respect these norms (Adamolekun 1986). These norms must include: transparency, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness, equity or fairness and rule of law.  Such a coalition between the indigenous social forces and state actors is essential for creating and sustaining this constitutional order. In our context, in Nigeria, these indigenous forces must include religious or faith-based organizations (FBOs) for the following reasons:

1. They have large following and huge human and financial resources besides social capital;

2. When properly channeled, they have helped, historically, to provide the fundamentals for the enjoyment of civic life in 3 important ways: articulated the fundamental norms of right and wrong, produced critical social and atimes economic services (schools, health clinics, agricultural extension, water and sanitation etc) either alone or better in collaboration with state structures; and provided broad and continuing education through societal mobilization.

3. In the absence of such positive social mobilization, all kinds of opportunists have utilized the immense religious fervor of people at this stage of our social development to fight the forces of progress… Unfortunately, these types are found among all the religious groups and are not necessarily confined to any of the religious brands (Olowu 2011).

Such a coalition could in our circumstance determine that a substantial portion of oil revenues, being a wasting resource, should be devoted to infrastructure development (as in Norway) and not administrative overheads.

B. Professional and Insulated Bureaucracy: A professional civil service is the sure antidote for containing corruption. And the reason it is so effective is that it fights corruption from within not from without. Also it prevents the commission of the crime rather than prosecute the criminals after the event, with the possibility for plea bargaining. Most countries within and outside the Commonwealth have therefore subscribed to this tradition whereby the permanent secretary not only leads based on expertise and his/her ministry’s institutional memory and  but also serves as the Accounting Officer.

Let me illustrate these first two principles by a reference to the country in which I have lived off and on for the last 14 years. The Dutch political system is dominated by coalition governments that ensure consensus and inclusive policies especially between the economic classes (employers and employees) and the cultural and religious groups. Though they have serious weaknesses (tendency for policy compromises and weak governments) coalitions ensure that no group is marginalized in society and extremes are avoided.

Moreover, the governmental process is dominated by two crucial days—the Budget Day (3rd Tuesday in September) after the delivery of the Dutch Queen’s Annual Speech which outlines the policy directions of the government; and the Accountability Day (3rd Wednesday in May) when each ministry reports on its policy and program performance in the previous year. This annual policy review/evaluation focuses ministers’ attention and those of their permanent officials (Whitehall model) instituting a strong performance culture among both political and administrative leaders.

C. Openness of the Management Cadres to Innovation: Knowledge has always been important to national greatness because tackling social problems through the policy process requires both societal values and facts. Today, we live in a knowledge economy in which all countries seek to harvest the best of their talents and skills and also compete globally for talents for each of the four actors critical for policy: Politicians/ Administrators /Professionals/Scientists. The strategy for tapping professionals and scientists for policy is myriad-recruitment into the bureaucracy or tapped for advice from outside of the public service or the creation of separate policy institutes or professional associations. The latter comprises civil servants, politicians and professional public administration academics and trainers and any others from the domestic and international environment as platform for discussing, researching and advancing public administration as discipline and practice, very much along the lines of the Annual National Economic Forum for economists.

One country that has greatly benefitted from this last point is South Korea. Modern public administration was introduced to this the country about the same time as in Nigeria. As early as 1956, a small group of scholars and practitioners established the Korean Association for public administration (KAPA) to study and research the theory and practice of public administration-at the time Fred Riggs visited. KAPA grew steadily in size, status and stature helping to integrate and promote the discipline and practice of Korean public administration. Today, it has two journals, in Korean and English, which it has published regularly since 1967 and 1997 respectively. KAPA has birthed other associations in the areas of policy, local government and in almost all other subject areas of public administration-organizational management, financial management, electronic government, administrative history etc and two critical independent research institutions in the areas of policy, local government, and public finance…all funded by government but managed by independent actors drawn from the professional associations. These institutions ensure that the Korean public administration keeps pace with the most recent global developments (Kim 2012).

Most of us celebrating here today are likely to have witnessed Nigeria’s political independence. At age 50 and above, we all must be concerned about the kind of legacy we leave behind. Perhaps the best birthday gift to the celebrant is a decision by us all to inaugurate an Association for Good Governance in Nigeria (AGGIN) whose primary objective would be the creation of a platform for academics, government officials in politics and administration as well as civic society organizations, including FBOs, to devote themselves to making, in our lifetimes, our country greater than it is today.

Here is wishing the celebrant happy, blessed and rewarding years to come in the service of God and humanity and to all other distinguished guests and the Honorable Minister, may the Almighty take you safely back home.

Dele Olowu

Akure, Nigeria

July 21, 2012

Olowu is Director, Africa-Europe Foundation, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

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