Nigeria, the African largest producer of oil, a country with lots of oil but little electricity is not at its best for some time. It is sad that, coupled with the problem of Boko Haram, greed and corruption, Herdsmen clashes and kidnapping, the real soundtrack of Nigeria is not Gospel song, Juju, Apala or Afrobeats, but the din of diesel generators as most Nigerians … have to rely on them because power cuts are common.’ The reflection is how Nigeria would become a developmental state if its ethnic energies that forms it spiritual, political and public service system are ‘not capacity-ready to take on the challenge of development.’ Professor Tunji Olaopa, a retired federal permanent secretary, and the Executive Vice Chairman of Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, Ibadan, provides us clue on the challenges of Nigeria’s ethnic energies on our public service system. According to Olaopa, ‘when the British left, they left behind an administrative tradition that was a combination of operational efficiency and value orientation. There is a way the public servant is expected to behave. They must not only be neutral and anonymous and professional, they must also be ethical in the handling of administrative matters. This was the tradition that was inherited by administrative pioneers like Simeon Adebo, Alilu Akilu, Jerome Udoji and Joseph Imoukhuede.’

In all the various regions, based on ‘strict professionalism and public spiritedness … these pioneers were able to achieve immense administrative successes.’ Without the federal allocation, Nigeria, divided as a Federal State of three administrative regions in 1954: Northern, Western, and Eastern with additionally provinces before they were abolished in 1976 were not only surviving, they were prosperous and developmental. The assurance of tenure of office was an impetus to the public service system and not a distraction until ‘the era of the Udoji down to Philip Asiodu’ when ‘the government suddenly woke up in 1975 and started retrenching civil servants. And that culture continued till today. So, this in turn created a culture of self-interested consciousness: most civil servants, even the clerics among them, now started living in the awareness that after working their entire lives, their future was not assured by any government policy. In those days, civil servants were trained in the values of deferred gratification. The deferred gratification is what we call investing for eternity.’ The bad culture of immediate gratification was not only the greatest undoing of the public service, in terms of bureaucratic corruption,’ it was the flowering time for systemic corruption through the military government into the Nigerian society.

43 years after, out of the present 36 States, ‘a total of 33 State Governments cannot finance their recurrent expenditure without allocation from the Federal Government,’ According to a report by BudgIT, a social enterprise with special focus on accountability and transparency in governance, today, ‘many states would be affected if federal allocation were to reduce owing to oil price fluctuations.’

Presently only three State Governments, Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom ‘could finance their recurrent expenditure independent of federal allocation.’ Over 40 years ago, the regions were not only sustaining themselves, constructing good road, providing drinkable water, hospital, built Cocoa House, Ibadan, Liberty Stadium and many more, and they were successful at the recurrent expenditure with free feeding and loans to university students. Today, State Government cannot sustain themselves talk less of their recurrent expenditure. The question is, how are the 33 State Government going to meet their operating obligations, when they are not able to pay salaries so that anything coming from federal allocation would go to investments in the key sectors of the economy?

Using the words of Professor Olaopa, Nigeria’s major problem is that of how to harness its ethnic energies as a means of achieving development.’ The regional leadership of Nigeria was able to combine their ethnic energies to promote development ‘construed in terms of either economic growth or infrastructural development. And the public service system is a fundamental variable, if not the most fundamental, in this development equation.’ State of Nigerian States are shaped by combined (united) or divided political and public service system ethnic energies. Truly, the challenge of carrying the Nigerian project as a development predicament is too cumbersome for the public service coupled with our democratic and religious realities shaped by systemic culture of corruption and greed. The truth about corruption as cultural and spiritual issues is that, our elites, religious and political leaders, and the public service are not any more corrupt than the society in which they finds themselves.

The questions for all Nigerian to answer include: Where is the same professional discipline, intellectual competence and administrative acumen that the super permanent secretaries deployed in their herculean attempt to administer Nigeria during the war period? Where are the prophetic discipline, accountability and transparency that the early white missionaries and indigenous religious leaders used in building schools, hospital and promoting revival in our major cities and schools? Beloved, our understanding of the religious, political, and the public service have become fractured, ‘warped and distorted.’ It is very sad that, like the public service system in Nigeria today, our religious and political systems are not designed to operate administratively and developmental beyond input and processes. According to Prof Olaopa, ‘a system of inputs and processes is that you can manage budget, you can manage resources, you can manage human resources and all of that through a process guided by rules and regulations; circulars, memos and all of that.’

Professor Olaopa’s summary with a biblical allusion of Nigeria to a prodigal child is very challenging. Once upon a time, Nigeria, the giant of Africa ‘embraced plenty resources like a prodigal child but when the resources are no longer there, it does not have the strength and value to adjust. So, for example, we created so many universities. We keep creating universities, even after the oil boom. We are a nation that does not sit down to count the cost before setting up institutions. The first problem of education system is that education is used to pursue political objectives. It is not set up to fabricate a national philosophy’ hence, no development but rather ethnic division and hatred. Today, Nigeria has 43 federal universities, 48 State universities and 79 private universities, making it a total of 170 universities. Indeed, university education is being used to pursue private objective thereby promoting corruption.

In Nigeria, State Governments, educational and health care system, road and social amenities are in jeopardy. Nigeria’s ethnic tensions, mistrusts and prejudices are result of the failures of many State Governments. It is time we harness our ethnic energies for the common good rather than government of the people for the few by the few.