Nigeria and the role of bureaucracy


From time to time when we come across speeches by politicians or writings by economists of the West, especially the United States (US), we are confronted by the phrase “Big government”. It is uttered or written with disapproval.

Indeed one of the reasons President Donald Trump proposes higher tariffs on certain imports from China is that their production involves State participation but not in the US. What role should the bureaucracy (civil service) play in the management of an economy?

In the Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society dated February 2018, there is an interesting article headed Management of Bureaucrats and Public Service Delivery Evidence from the Nigerian Civil Service. It is written by Imran Rasul of University College London, Department of Economics and IFS and David Roger of World Bank Research Department.

The first paragraph aptly starts thus: “The effective functioning of government bureaucracies matters; it is an important determinant of poverty, inequality and economic growth as stressed by the emergent literature on State capacity.”

This lapidary statement ought to be read over at least twice by all those concerned with the management of the Malawi economy. These are members of the Planning Commission, policymakers and projects implementers. It gives a clue as to why Malawi’s economy fails to develop. Laissez faire economic theories have been ignored by the Tigers of the East. We too do not need them.

The study of the Nigerian public services was launched in 2010. Nigeria was chosen because it is the most populous African country; its problems could be construed as representative of other developing countries. There is rampant corruption just as in most developing countries.

How did the investigations proceed? Another quotation is germane here.

“Under the open initiative, experts teams visited public projects to record the extent to which they have been implemented as planned in the federal budget. The presidency contracted national and regional teams to undertake the monitoring process outside the institutions of the civil services. Hence, projects were not evaluated by potentially biased civil servants but rather the teams of independents engineers and civil society.”

To make assurance doubly sure, the presidency performed random checks on evaluation sites. The open evaluation teams coded;

(i)         whether the project had started

(ii)         its stage of completion and

(iii)        the quality of inputs and work.

The teams were basically interested in the extent to which management practices had contributed to the completion or failure to complete the projects. In case of the completion to what extent incentives for the autonomy of the bureaucrats were factors in successful completion. They concluded thus: “Our results confirm that two dimensions of management practice emphasised by the public administration and economics literature autonomy and incentive/monitoring robustly correlate with the quantity and quality of public services delivered. Our findings provide support to the notion that public agencies might delegate some decision-making to bureaucrats.”

If bureaucrats are to be entrusted with a good deal of discretion in decision-making, they must have the professional ethics. This might depend on the motives they had joining the civil services. A sample of Nigerian civil servants gave the following reasons for joining the civil services: “I was interested in the type of work.”

Income prospects, the prestige associated with such a job, the stable career path that a job in the service affords; the chance to serve Nigeria; it was the only employment I could get; educational opportunities.

The experts were impressed mostly with those who said the chance to serve Nigeria.” These were said to be intrinsically motivated. They constitute one third of those who had been polled.

Those civil servants who engage in the Cashgate scandals joined the civil service because they wanted to become rich, professionalism was to them of no value. How to screen out such people in appointments and promotions is one of the big problems in managing and improving the civil service.

Reforms of the civil service cannot go far enough where electoral reforms are being torpedoed by those who fatten out of the status quo.

Try again, get the 50+1 enacted.

Share This Post