Administration Dichotomy – Solutions to Politics


Politics Administration Dichotomy has proved to be a long aged debate between elected officials and administrators in a democratic society.

Introduction to Administration Dichotomy

The politics – administration dichotomy model has proved to be one of the most debated theoretical constructs in public administration to establish the relationship between elected officials and administrators in a democratic society like Nigeria.

Politics and Administration are like Siamese twins, the compartmentalization of which is a somewhat impossible venture. This study is aimed at finding or rather proffering some useful solutions to it. But before we do that, let us clarify some key concepts employed in the study.

Concepts Clarifications
Some key concepts like politics and administration need some clarifications to aid our full grasp of the debate.

1.    Politics:
The oxford advanced learners dictionary defines politics as “the activities involved in getting and using power in public life, and being able to influence decisions that affect a country or a society.”

2.    Administration:
Augustus Adebayo defines administration as “The organization and direction of persons in order to accomplish a specified end”. He said that administration brings human beings together in a hierarchical set-up, making use of tools, equipment, human and material resources, all in the quest to attain the objective for which the organization is established. That the process requires planning, organization, command, co-ordination and control.8

This implies that both politics and administration can be found in every field of human endeavor-public and private alike.

Having refreshed our minds as to what politics and administration stand for, we shall now take a critical look at the debate on politics-administration dichotomy and then proffer some useful solutions to it.

Politics – Administration Dichotomy

Politic – Administration Dichotomy is all about the nominative relationship between the elected or appointed political heads or officials and the core public servants or administrators in a democratic society like Nigeria. This has generated a lot of debate among public administration scholars and intellectuals.

The politics – administration dichotomy has been one of the most disputed theories of public administration. According to online, “Despite serious critiques, neither the theoretical utility nor the normative power of the dichotomy has totally disappeared over the past decades” It went on to assert that “the dichotomy has been advocated on the grounds that authority between elected and administrative officials increases the democratic accountability and planning ability of public administrators”

That is to say that the political head should be held responsible for political lapses, while the administrative head should be held accountable for administrative matters of the organization.

Woodrow Wilson, cited in Adebayo stressed that “administration lies outside the power sphere of politics and that “administrative questions are not political questions”

This implies that while politics sets the tasks, administration implements them. In other words, complementarity should be emphasized in place of dichotomy – that is the interdependence between elected officials and administrators.

The contention of this study is that politics and administration though different in theory, cannot always be separated and isolated in practice but must always complement each other.
Adebayo maintains that “the intention of the division of roles between the policy – makers and administrators is to ensure that one should not encroach upon the other in a meddlesome manner.’’

Take the national population commission as a case in point. At the national level, we have the chairman as the political head and the Director General as the administrative head. The chairman cannot do anything without conferring with the D.G. While the chairman sets out the general policy thrust of the commission, the D.G compliments this by planning, organizing, directing, coordinating and budgeting for the execution of the said project. At the state level, we have the Hon. Federal commissioner as the political head, and the state director as the administrative head. Likewise none of them does anything in isolation. From the fore going, it is clear that politics- administration dichotomy is only in principle and not in practice.

There are several reasons for that. These include:

1.    Low educational background on the part of the politicians:

Owing to political circumstances, some individuals with very low educational background are appointed as ministers, commissioners etc. In this situation, such a person cannot effectively formulate any policy to be implemented by the permanent secretary. So, he needs the input of the administrator to actually function effectively since he is unable to guide and control policy in the department or ministry.

2.    Preoccupation with politics:
Most of the political heads are so occupied with political pressure that there is hardly any time left for them    to lay guidelines for their ministries or departments so, the administrator is left with no option than to do so to keep the ministry or department going.  Again the short tenure of the political heads does not give them time to be thorough in their policy formulation duties, so they resort to the political head for his/her assistance. And so many others.
Solutions to politics-administration dichotomy:

Solutions to Politics Administration Dichotomy can be found in laying more emphasis on the interdependent relationship between elected or appointed officials and administrators as complementary rather than dichotomous.

Secondly, actual behaviors of politics and administration in the policy making process should be emphasized in place of dwelling on their normative relationship.
Moreover, politics should try to stick to its policy – determining sphere and leave administration to apply its own technical processes free from political meddling, and the administrative personnel should abstain from political controversy.

Again, intending political heads should try and equip themselves intellectually to be able to function effectively.

Finally, administration should continue to help in the conceptualization, formulation, execution, co-ordination and monitoring of policies and programmes of politics to ensure effective implementation.


In conclusion therefore, politics – administration dichotomy should be replaced with politics – administration complement rarity.