Reforming Nigeria’s Public Sector: Insights from Two Memoirs, By Ajibola Adigun

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Ajibola Adigun, Policy Innovation Center

 

Nigeria’s public sector has long been plagued by corruption, bureaucracy, and inefficiency. Despite various attempts at reform, the sector has remained largely unreformed.

This year, two books have shed light on the challenges of reforming Nigeria’s public sector from the perspectives of two public servants who have experienced it firsthand.

The first is “The Unending Quest for Reforms: An Intellectual Memoir” by Professor Olatunji Olaopa, and the second is “Stepping on Toes: My Odyssey at the Nigerian Ports Authority” by Hadiza Bala Usman, the former Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority.

Professor Olaopa’s memoir provides a unique insider’s perspective on the challenges of reforming Nigeria’s public sector. He recounts his journey into the public sector from his early years in Awe, to Olivet Baptist High School and to the University of Ibadan, and his experiences working within the Nigerian civil service for over three decades, his transition from the Federal Ministry of Education to the Management Services Office during which he witnessed and participated in various attempts at reform, including the implementation of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS).

Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the four pillars of NEEDS included: macroeconomic stability as well as the liberalization of the economy; Public Service Reform (PSR), including the reforms of public expenditure and budget processes; strengthening of basic service delivery through improved governance, institutional strengthening, transparency, accountability and the fight against corruption.

The telecommunications industry is the touchstone of President Obasanjo’s liberalization of the economy. At the launch of the book at the Yar’Adua Center, President Obasanjo gave an address and lend credence to the efforts of Professor Tunji Olaopa and his services at the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) and the influence of his mentors like Professors Akin Mabogunje, Ojetunde Aboyade and Adebayo Adedeji in the unending quest for reforming Nigeria.

President Obasanjo at the Yar’Adua Center where the launch held in conjunction with Nextier – who are yet to email the lectures to us, in the usual Nigerian manner – regaled the audience of sending him to the creeks to talk to Niger-Delta militants and how he would be held hostage so Obasanjo could send them money.

One of the key themes in the book is the resistance to reform that exists within the Nigerian civil service. Professor Olaopa notes that many civil servants are resistant to change and prefer the status quo, which allows them to continue to benefit from corruption and inefficiency. He also highlights the role of vested interests, including powerful politicians and corrupt bureaucrats, who are resistant to change and benefit from the status quo.

Another key theme in the book is the political factors that hinder meaningful reform in the public sector. Professor Olaopa writes candidly about the power dynamics within government and how these often impede progress. He also discusses the role of corruption in the Nigerian political system and how this has hindered reform efforts.

The book is a valuable contribution to the literature on the challenges of reforming Nigeria’s public sector. It provides a historical context and highlights the systemic issues within the civil service that have hindered reform efforts. It also provides insights into the political factors that have hindered meaningful reform and the need for sustained efforts to tackle corruption and inefficiency. What is more, he does all this in an engaging philosophical tone.

In contrast, “Stepping on Toes” by Hadiza Bala Usman is a more contemporary account of the challenges facing the Nigerian public sector. As the former managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Bala Usman details her experiences in trying to root out corruption and inefficiency within the agency. Her journey into public office is instructive. From her national service in Abuja in 2000 after finishing from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria where her father – Dr. Yusuf Bala-Usman – has a cult following, a note from her friend to his elder brother’s friend landed her at the Bureau of Public Enterprises where Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was Director-General. In twenty-years, she became Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority.

One of the key themes in the book is how ingrained graft is within the Nigerian political system. Hadiza Bala-Usman documents the attempts to obtain ‘birthday presents’ from her by her supervising minister, and the resistance she faced from powerful politicians who were benefiting from the status quo. She also highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in the public sector and the need to tackle corruption head-on. As a daughter of a renowned historian, she wrote the book in order to write her own history.

Another key theme in the book is the need for public servants to be courageous in the face of corruption and vested interests. Hadiza Bala-Usman recounts her experiences in standing up to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and the importance of having the courage to do what is right, even when it is difficult.

The book is a valuable contribution to the literature on the challenges of reforming Nigeria’s public sector. It provides a contemporary account of the challenges faced by public servants attempting to effect change and highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in the public sector.

Both books highlight the challenges of reforming Nigeria’s public sector and the need for sustained efforts to tackle corruption and inefficiency. They provide unique insights into the inner workings of government and the challenges faced by public servants attempting to effect change.

As Nigeria continues to grapple with the challenges of corruption and inefficiency, these books serve as a reminder of the need for sustained efforts to tackle these problems. It also serves as a map of the different routes to public service for any discerning youth.