The role of public administrators in public policy making: Practice and prospects in Nigeria



In Nigeria, as elsewhere, the role of the career bureaucracy in public policy making has constituted a subject of conflicting interpretation, practice, and prescription. Although higher public servants have always played a major part in shaping public policy, the extent of their involvement has ebbed and flowed in response to legal, structural, and political changes at the federal, state, and local government levels. In recent years, the exercise of policy making and implementing roles by public administrators has evoked mounting public criticism and top-level career servants in Nigeria have faced unusually serious challenges to their authority. Moreover, confusion over the proper scope of administrative involvement in policy formulation and execution reached new heights both within and outside the public services following the adoption of elected executive forms of government in 1979.

The article traces the shifts in bureaucratic policy-making roles and relationships which occurred in the First Republic period, under different military regimes, and immediately following the return to civilian rule. The prospect that more fundamental changes will be forthcoming in the nature and extent of administrative involvement in public policy formation and execution is then explored in the context of past and current practice and conventions, key provisions of the 1979 Constitution, and recent social, political, and economic developments. The author concludes that public administrators will continue to be centrally involved in the policy-making process under present structural arrangements and that a reorientation of the public services away from their prevailing preoccupation with promoting vested interests requires the development of more broadly based political organizations.