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‘Reforms, governance and development: Administrative experiments in reform and reform thinking’

It is an honour to write this review to Dr. Tunji Olaopa’s, Reforms, Governance and Development: Administrative Experiments in Reform and Reform Thinking. After a distinguished 27-year career in the Nigerian Civil Service, and his increasing prominence as a public intellectual, Dr. Olaopa occupies the influential position of Executive Vice-Chairman of The Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP)

In this volume, he distills the abundant knowledge and understanding acquired in his civil service career, including the reform efforts he oversaw as a permanent secretary. He has read deeply in the history of public administration, the humanities and several social sciences. He has participated in many seminars and conferences on the topics addressed in this book, and authored policy papers on producing a more efficient and responsive civil service.

His book is very timely. Why, it is repeatedly asked, has Nigeria underperformed as a state and economy? How can it again be a leader in African and global development? In search of answers, Dr. Olaopa explores the transition from the British colonial service to its Nigerian counterpart, and revisits the achievements of Nigeria’s post-independence civil service. He dissects the many attempts to promote civil service reform and harmonize the work of political leaders and federal and state bureaucracies. Along the way, he delves into Weberian and other theories of bureaucratic rationalism, and new opportunities for accelerated development presented by disruptive communication technologies.

This volume is a compilation of a number of overlapping papers by Dr. Olaopa. As a result, several themes and arguments are repeated. Familiar topics are re-examined: the post-independence successes of regional governments, especially in the southwest; the mismanagement of petroleum resources and the associated failure to reduce Nigerian’s dependence on this revenue source; the deleterious effects of adjustment policies that focused on slashing government expenditures at the cost of weakening capacity; and the failure to learn from both Nigerian and global best practices in developmental governance.

What stands out from these exercises? The first is that, by failing to develop the non-oil sectors of its economy, and using income from petroleum export more efficiently and accountably, Nigeria was blindsided by the rapid expansion of oil extraction from shale deposits, especially in the United States, thereby losing a major purchaser of Nigeria’s sweet crude. With most of the 36 state governments highly dependent on financial transfers from the Center, the way forward, he contends, is through greater regionalization of economies and infrastructures. In this regard, drawing on their historical legacy, the states of the former Southwest can make rapid advances and also influence other regions.

Dr. Olaopa believes that the emergence of Nigeria as a democratic developmental state in Africa – contrasting with the few autocratic models – requires re-grounding the civil service in fundamentals of leadership, professionalism, and organization. He outlines in detail the steps needed to realize these objectives. The nation is approaching the two decades mark since the return to civilian rule. Dr. Olaopa contends that the Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and Chief Simeon Adebo, Head of the Civil Service in the former Western Region, systematically pursued a growth and development agenda. More recent accomplishments in governance and development can be analyzed and, as Dr. Olaopa suggests, lessons distilled and highlighted. It would be helpful to show how the “governance gap” can be overcome regarding the production of specific public goods, such as electricity, water, sanitation, health, education, transport, and jobs.

With less than two years remaining before Nigerians return to the polls to select the political leadership for the third decade of the Fourth Republic, Reforms, Governance, and Development can be an important resource in revitalizing federal and state administrations. With his unique experience as a practitioner, analyst, and theorist, Dr. Olaopa can play a crucial role in implementing the very ideas and models he advocates. In addition to the publication of this volume, efforts can be made to synthesize the large body of arguments and information it contains. The ISGPP can be a nursery for such thinking and also a demonstration site for putting the ideas into practice.

The formidable Ibadan political scientist, B. J. Dudley, came to mind as I read Dr. Olaopa’s treatise. Dudley saw the need to apply Platonic/Hegelian thinking regarding the role of enlightened individuals. Such individuals, who came to understand the nature of the just and efficacious state, were obliged to take their perceptions into society and help realize them. Dr. Olaopa also calls to mind intellectually-gifted public servants whom I knew personally, like Allison Ayida. If Nigeria is to overcome its “bureaucratic pathologies”, and forge a state system that can nurture its people’s innovative entrepreneurialism, special efforts should be made to draw on the impressive breadth of knowledge and insights in this book.

Professor Richard Joseph, reviewer.




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April 2018
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