My recent attempt to explore the intersection of politics and policy making sparked considerable interest among regular interlocutors of my contributions. These incidentally were not just public administration scholars and public servants, but from the wider network of enlightened readers. And whereas I had written on the issue of how politics shapes public administration profession and practice in earlier contributions, the concern in this piece is not different. It is to deepen the conversation on perhaps the dominant issue in the crisis of the Nigerian bureaucracy i.e. the issue of the politicization of civil service governance which reached its height in the 1975/76 purge, but that has since not abated, and the whole question of whether the civil service could be saved from politics. In spite of my spirited attempt to make this very intelligible to non-professionals, this essay cannot but take a seminal tone. This is because, given the experts audience for which this note was written, it was inevitable that we will come in contact with a rather stimulating meshing of the theoretical and the practical in ways that bear untangling.
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The title of this piece therefore calls on a historico-administrative analysis that delves into the founding and conception of the civil service as a profession, and how those first principles have been molded and moderated by the specific and peculiar sociopolitical contexts of different states of the world. This becomes all the more interesting when the civil service is situated within the context of postcoloniality. Most scholars of administration in Africa know that the continent bears the unsalutary reputation of being the most difficult administrative context in the world. And this reputation seems well deserved in the sense that most African states are underperforming due to the lackluster capacity readiness of their public administration systems. How then do we make sense of this terrible situation? In other words, in what ways can we begin to unravel the relationship between the civil service and the disenabling politics that backstops underdevelopment in Africa?
The state anywhere is an abstract concept that is given a face by the idea of the government and the public/civil service. It is through the activities of the armed forces, the inland revenue officials, the waste management system, the educational boards, the ports authority, and so on, that we encounter the state and its activities. Thus, the bureaucracy is the administrative machinery that keeps the engine of the government running. It is in this sense that the bureaucracy becomes significantly fundamental to the success or failure of any government. We then make our title clearer through the fact that the bureaucracy is not usually immune from the dynamics of politics that reigns in any particular state.
The politics-administration distinction is the most fundamental dichotomy that signaled the emergence of the bureaucracy into the modern consciousness. The essence of the distinction is to shield the unique vocation of the bureaucracy from the ravages of politics. This is despite the critical fact that it is the sophistication of the political leadership that determines the climate for the professionalism and capability readiness of the civil service at every point in time. The crucial point is to shield the bureaucracy from any unnecessary politicization that will undermine its efficiency and performance profile. The politician and the public servant have their own unique remit even though they are bound together in policy design and implementation.
The historical altercation between Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and his Chancellor and chief public servant, Otto von Bismarck, brings to life not only the origin of the administrative dichotomy, but also the crucial issues involved in the attempt to politicize the public service. The conflict ensued over the strong views that Bismarck had over Germany’s foreign and domestic policies which were stronger than those of the Emperor. The latter then strong-armed his Chancellor into a dismissal from his post, but then the Emperor was then faced with a bureaucratic officialdom that led to the invasion of Emperor’s cabinet in ways that eventually undermined his government.
It was Max Weber’s critical observations of this conflict that led to his determination to theorize the basis of the relationship between the politician and the public servant as an ideal type. In order to be genuinely apolitical, Weber theorized the need to circumscribe the public servant within a legal-rational process that determines the duties and responsibilities of the public servant and under what conditions the authority could be legally exercised. It is therefore the bureaucracy that establishes the stability, founded on continuity, of any government. Politicians just come and go. From Weber’s perspective, therefore, the bureaucracy is insulated within a layer of technocratic details and procedures that determine recruitment, professionalism and duty of the public servant, but also allow the policy process—from conception to design and implementation—to become as seamless as possible. Unfortunately, no aspect of human life can escape politics. Despite the effort by Weber to create a unique bureaucratic persona defined by a different mentality, the public service is still determined by politics.
Weber’s distinction between “living for politics” and “living from politics” provides a unique framework that allows us to adapt this reflection to the Nigerian administrative condition. This distinction mirrors the dichotomy between politics and administration. Living for or from politics applies both to the politicians as well as the public servants. Both could either make politics the instrument for pursuing a cause or for earning an income. The point however is that both are not mutually exclusive. One can live for and from politics. An apolitical bureaucrat can benefit from politics. The American spoils system represents a sort of civil service system that seeks to ingratiate political patronage within a meritocratic public service. In order not to jeopardize the merit system, the spoils dynamics was integrated into the selection of the senior echelon of the public service while the junior cadre was left to the determination of merit.
The immediate danger however is that opening up the civil service to politics, contrary to the politics-administration dichotomy, makes it difficult to prevent the corruption of the neutrality of the public servant. Power corrupts. And the postcolonial administrative experiences of the Nigerian state bear this out. The fact that the politics-administration distinction is not always a water-tight one is borne out by the 1988 Civil Service Reform which was backed by the Civil Service Reorganisation Decree No. 43 of the same year. Of course, the objective of the reform was the establishment of a virile, dynamic and result-oriented civil service. Unfortunately, the attempt to professionalize the elite corps of the civil service had a negative effect in that it led to the political appointment of permanent secretaries as director-generals. This also led to a rather abrupt turnover of very strong officers in whom a lot has been invested in terms of training. Ordinarily, the recommendation for the recruitment of a permanent secretary and other public servants ought to come through the head of service and the civil service commission respectively. And such recruitments are made in terms of technical competency in policy development, leadership management, and other core bureaucratic knowledge. However, these key issues are undermined once politics and the consideration for patronage are brought in.
Politics, especially the bad politics at work in most African states, erodes the very basis of the public service as a special calling. As a vocation, the public service is circumscribed by a public-spiritedness that is similar to the Levitical calling of the priests in the Bible. Such a calling comes with a level of professionalism founded on a competency-based human resources management and action-molding values—ethical values (i.e. integrity, honesty, respect); democratic values (i.e. responsiveness, representativeness, rule of law); and professional values (i.e. excellence, innovation). Bad politics leads to bad development. And bad politics is one that not only is motivated by an extractive and primitive accumulation logic, but also undermines developmental values like meritocracy. The Nigerian clientelist system is not as sophisticated as the US spoils system that recognizes the place of meritocracy in the performance culture of the civil service. But such a recognition is not alien to the Nigerian administrative history. With the Awolowo-Adebo model, we catch a historical glimpse of a transformational political-bureaucratic leadership that was modeled on the Weberian dream of politics-administration dichotomy. As a politician, Chief Awolowo understood the dynamics of the political terrain. And he asked Chief Adebo to leave that to him, so he could concentrate on the challenges of implementing the policies generated by the politicians. And this worked!
This type of transformational leadership is anchored on a change management sense that recognizes the critical role of reform in making the public service relevant for the transformation of the state in the twenty-first century. The fundamental question is: how do we make the public service ethically compliant, technology-based, professionally situated and efficient for the challenges of a twenty-first century postcolonial state like Nigeria? The answer lies in an institutional reform programme that transforms the old Weberian civil service system into an entrepreneurial and flexible one with the transformational capacity to operate in a knowledge society. The most relevant example that has appealed to my reform experience is that of Margaret Thatcher’s charismatic commitment to relocating the institutional capacity of the British civil service away from the old, “I am directed” and Weberian public administration to a more modern pathway after 1979.
Before then, the British civil service had become what was called a “great rock in the tideline” due to its disenabling bureaucratic culture. In order to make sense of the 1968 Fulton Report that proposed a managerial revolution, Thatcher had invited Lord Rayner, Chairman and MD of Marks and Spencer to provide the change leadership. It was Thatcher’s political willingness to push the implementation of the institutional reform to its logical conclusion that led to her hardline stance, especially in her bid to amend the British labour law in ways that undermine its adversarial industrial dispute clauses in ways that enhance productivity. We can therefore say that Margaret Thatcher was willing to carry the burden of being tagged an “Iron Lady” for the sake of her conviction in institutional reform of the civil service system as a foundation of good governance.
The Thatcher example points our attention to the transformation of the productivity profile of the Nigerian economy as the single most significant premise for the reform of her civil service. And this speaks to reform initiatives around the civil service commission, the industrial labour law, the pay and compensation dynamics, and also the trimming of the workforce as a means of undermining the cost of governance burden. Institutional reform is a necessity. But only a courageous political leadership can go through with its complexity. This is the only way that politics can enhance the capacity readiness of the public service in Nigeria.
Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor of Public Administration, National Institute
for Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos
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Adedotun Phillips And The Unfinished Business Of Reform In Nigeria
In the annals of public administration scholarship in Nigeria, and most especially with regard to the specifics of the dynamics of institutional reforms in getting the Nigerian state into shape, the name of Professor Adedotun Phillips stands out as a gigantic institutional memory. Adedotun Oluwole Phillips—husband, father, academic, scholar, statesman—was a public servant par excellence. His entire life was defined around service. In the long line of the public service giants around whom the profile of the Nigerian public service is configured—Simeon Adebo, Jerome Udoji, Sule Katagum, Joseph Imokhuede, Ali Akilu, Allison Ayida, and many more, the name of Dotun Phillips is a fundamental star. When mourning the passing of Prof. Phillips, on 13 December, 2020, President Buhari said pointedly: “The history of the Nigerian Civil Service cannot be complete without reference to the contributions of Prof. Phillips.” He is right. Phillips represents the best that a public servant could be and give the nation in terms of the best that her professionalism and credentials can afford. And Prof. Phillips’ contribution is even much more cogent because it is situated within the trajectory of public service reform in Nigeria. In other words, Prof. Phillips’ immense contributions to the public service in Nigeria tie into Nigeria’s effort to make sense of the state and future of her public service as a backstop to her development and progress.
Since the inauguration of the Nigerian public service in 1954, Nigeria had been experimenting with administrative and institutional reforms that were meant to put the civil service in shape for the challenge of nationhood. Starting with the reform of wages, remuneration and compensation that characterized the colonial service, it graduated to the need for the Nigerianisation of the core echelon of the public service especially after independence in 1960. The Phillipson-Adebo Commission of 1953 kickstarted the series of reform commissions that culminated in the emergence of the Nigerian public service system, and the other post-independence reform efforts that were meant to essentially complete the organizational development dynamics of the civil service, convert her structural frameworks into institutional frame, and strengthen its capability readiness for the task of national integration and development.
However, independence brought with it its own unique sets of challenges that the public service system was not quite ready for. The first was the challenge of plurality. The Nigerianisation Policy confronted the thorny issue of how to recruit Nigerians of different ethnocultural orientations into the civil service. Representativeness became the criterion that most suited Nigeria’s ethnic composition. And then gradually, the over-bloatedness that was the consequence of the misuse of this principle led to not only a gradual debilitation of the system but also the overshadowing of its initial efficiency by a crippling bureaucratic culture. When the 1971 Adebo Commission was set up, the civil service was already caught up in the restructuration of the federal constitution under a unitary logic marked by increased centralisation of political authority, ascendancy of federating forces, greater structural differentiation of the constituent states, increases in the Federal Government largesse, and expansion of the policy-making and execution functions of the Federal Civil Service. The implication of this “new federalism” on the civil service was the gradual evolution of a structural pattern that consistently whittled down the capacities the civil service has to promote good governance. For instance, the allocation of functions to the ministries was influenced more by political factors than by the standard criteria for the allocation of such functions i.e. the functional principle, the process principle, the clientele principle, and the area principle.
The corruption of the governance and accountability framework of the public service was simultaneous with the emergence of the managerial revolution which Britain was already contending with, especially with the Fulton Report of 1968. Thus, the 1971 Adebo Second and Final Salaries and Wages Review Commission was caught in the larger managerial concern of transforming the civil service system in ways that transcended its original remit of wage. It however passed the buck of that concern to the Udoji Commission, constituted in 1972. The commission, under the full influence of the UK Fulton Report, argued that the civil service of a development-oriented society must be one that is suffused with change and reform if it must be able to effectively meet the challenges of its context. And the Nigerian public service system, in its bureaucratic conditions, was not that amenable to those changes. The Udoji Commission then recommended a new style public service infused with “new blood” working under a result-oriented management system operated by professionals and specialists in particular fields. The government of the time however made a mess of this commission’s report, and so forfeited a significant opportunity to set the civil service on a path of institutional transformation.
Thereafter, successive Nigerian governments became embroiled in the contestations to make the system compliant with the managerial revolution, new public management (NPM) and its reform imperatives. By the time the Murtala/Obasanjo regime took over in 1975, the civil service was already too systemically dysfunctional to matter any longer in development consideration. Indeed, the purge of the service by Obasanjo in 1975 was long overdue even though it turned out to negatively undermine the little shred of professionalism remaining. The Second Republic was truncated by the Buhari-Idiagbon regime in 1983. And then, enter Professor Dotun Phillips. One of the fundamental legacies of the regime was the constitution of the Dotun Phillips Study Team in 1985, with the objective of undertaking an interrogation of the structure, mode of operation and strategy of the civil service in the light of contemporary administrative situation, as well as finding means by which the eroded professionalism of the system could be restored.
When the Babangida regime took over the reign of government, it inherited the study group and reconstructed its report into the foundation of the 1988 Civil Service Reforms through a Civil Service Re-organisation Decree No. 43 of 1988. The basis of the Decree is the establishment of a virile, dynamic and result-oriented civil service. The Babangida administration was also seriously concerned about the gains and benefits of managerialism and of a professionalised civil service. The added objective was the alignment of the service with the form and spirit of presidentialism.
Professionalism goes to the very heart of what it means to be a public servant; what it means to be public-spirited. It is the sum total of the competences, knowledge, attitude, spirituality and ethical sensibility that a public servant requires to perform her responsibility to the public with all accountability, transparency and commitment. A professional public service, in other words, is circumscribed by three actions-moulding value frameworks: ethical values (i.e. integrity, honesty, respect); democratic values (i.e. responsiveness, representativeness, rule of law); and professional values (i.e. excellence, innovation). To seek the restoration of professionalism is to attempt a restoration of the pride and ideals of the public service. It is to seek the reinvention of the public service as a noble calling, a vocation in the manner of the Levitical order of priesthood. This was the philosophical foundation of the Philips’ reform agenda. The re-professionalization strategy is meant to reposition the civil service through a rebranding of its critical ethos and virtue. Thus, if the civil service system in Nigeria must overcome its dysfunctional bureaucratic culture, the best way is for it to reconnect with its inherent value as a vocation that is spiritual and spirited. And managerialism was just the perfect structural mold within which to achieve this reconnection. The managerial revolution was founded on the urgency of re-articulating what makes a public servant accountable, effective and efficient. Since the old Weberian system has collapsed under the burden of administrative rules and regulations, a managerial reform becomes the next best thing to recreate the public service in the image of an efficient machine.
In its attempt to lay the foundation of a professionalised civil service, the 1988 reform emphasized the need for specialization. Civil service officers were required to undergo regular training and retraining. This led to the creation of a new bureaucratic structure made up of assistants, officers and directors. The assistant does not require any university or professional qualification to function. The officer, on the other hand, requires a university degree or a professional qualification while the director was reserved for professionals who had been given general management functions as heads of a department, branch or division.
But then, the Dotun Phillips reform carried the professionalization mandate beyond the bound of administrative reason and necessity. It was rather too ambitious of the reform to attempt the professionalization of everybody in the civil service. In other words, it was a profound mistake to think that the service could be handled by professionals all alone, to the exclusion of other non-professionals and generalists. Unfortunately for the reform agenda, the professionalizing move turned into a politicizing one that, for instance, turned permanent secretaries into political appointees, contrary to the politics-administration dichotomy on which public service integrity depends. The idea of professionalism suffered a conceptual-reality deficit in the sense that it was seen as a function of how long a public servant spent in any particular ministry.
And yet, the Phillips reform was not in any sense a failure, despite its fundamental assumptions and reform errors. The reform agenda, apart from the Udoji Commission report, was the next fundamental advocacy for managerialism and performance management in Nigeria. Indeed, both reform agenda and their recommendations are still fundamental to achieving a world class public service in Nigeria. Prof. Philips’s recommendation of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system as a significant plank in the performance management system, and a decentralized HR are sine qua non for any functional public service. Management controls through organization, operations and management research (OOMR), critical for propelling policy implementation praxis, is a feature of the Phillips agenda we need to revisit. In revisiting the Phillips reform recommendations, we will be able to retrospect on two fundamental issues in Nigeria’s reform necessity. The first has to do with the imperative of creating and incentivizing professionalized planning, research and statistics departments in the MDAs that should take responsibility not only for sector plans, but also for monitoring and reporting on their implementation. The second issue derives from the first: the departments of planning, research and statistics serve as the institutional template for a structured and recurrent engagement between policy researchers and policy workers; a hub of policy intelligence and action research that the MDAs can strategically deploy.
Prof. Adedotun Oluwole Phillips’ engagement with the Nigerian public service system is not yet done. Even in death, he is still awaiting fulfilment that will derive from the government recognizing the deep reform fundamentals that remain untapped within his reform dynamics. In returning to the Phillips reform, Nigeria would have taken a significant managerial reform step forward. And we would have given Prof. Phillips a posthumous reason to rest in the knowledge that he served Nigeria well.
Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and professor of public administration, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos . firstname.lastname@example.org
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The End Of Your Rule Is Near
Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
The end of your rule is near. Mr. President. Mr. Governor. Mr. Speaker. Mr. Chairman. Mr. Legislator. The end of your rule is here. It has been four, eight, sixteen years since you danced into State or Legislative House after election victory. Or after a dubious victory awarded by a dubious court after dubious monies dubiously exchanged hands. Your humility while you sought votes was legendary. You shook hands, hugged cripples, visited the bereaved, paid school fees, and ate with the sick. You built alliances across zones, across religious groups, economic groups, across social groups. You made promises. You raised hopes. You preached unity. Now that the end is here, let us ask you Mr. Chief Executive, what kind of ruler, what kind of leader, what kind of administrator have you been? Did you dash hopes? Are you leaving the people worse than they were when you came into office? Did you create a few super rich, from your ethnic group, from your religious group, from your family? Are the people beating their drums in joy on the imminence of your departure? Will they start to ignore you from June this year when you become a lame duck? Are you now worried about how freely you can walk after you leave office?
It is one of the beauties of democracy, beginning and end of tenure. You give account to the people, to posterity, and to the Great Judge ultimately. Because there is end of tenure, there are marginalised persons who wait for the end to come. Those you may have locked up in time or physically or psychologically. These hope that once you are gone, freedom will come their way, there will be a restoration. Also, the wrong policies which you have enunciated will be thrown into the dustbin. Those who had barely tolerated your greed or your foolishness or your wicked, selfish ways will now openly despise you. The sycophants who had licked your boots with histrionic relish will now move on to the new power base, forgetting you, cursing you and blaming the woes of their ancestors on you. You will become history, bad history if you have been a bad ruler. It is the story of the world; it is the story of life and the iterative narrative of humanity. Yet, we, the rulers and the ruled, never learn. The tragedy of man, according to Nietzsche, is that he forgets.
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Memory is the strength of the wise. Memory is the strength of successful societies. Institutional memory. Memory is the strength of successful nations. That ability never to forget the circumstances of their existence, their history, and their identity. In great societies, there is no collective amnesia. Some individuals may forget. But the institution that is the State never forgets. Some facts may slip into amnesia. But they will crawl back in the day of reckoning. Knowledge of the past is instructive and fundamental to building the future. So, our philosophers teach us. I remember Ernest Hemingway when he says ‘a man is a sum of his memories’!
O mighty ruler, the bearded one with oil stains on his white robe, all the roads and projects which you concentrated in your own part of the land, all the appointments which you made to favour a section of the electorate, and/or your cronies will now haunt you. The viciousness with which you dealt with supposed enemies will haunt you. If you ignored the interest of the people to pursue your narrow selfish interests, it will be time to splash your acts of impunity on the pages of newspapers and social media. Did you think you were God when you kept people waiting for you, while you made older people kneel to you to make their requests? The people will soon say to you: ‘command no more, your rule is over’, as Creon tells the mighty Oedipus in Antigone in Sophocles’ classical play!
A fool can and could win elections in Nigeria. But a fool cannot govern like a wise man, because a fool can only do foolish things that could hurt the people. An idiot or a man with idiotic ideas could win elections anywhere in the world. Demagoguery often starts from idiotic ideas and sentiments couched in fanciful or pseudo nationalistic language. Argentinian singer and author once wrote: ‘my grandfather was a brave man; he was only afraid of idiots. I asked him why, and he answered: because there are too many of them, and by being a majority they could even elect a president’. So, we are also worried about the people, the mob that Shakespeare despised in his plays, describing them through one of his characters in Julius Caesar as ‘you blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things, you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome’. Men and women who sell their soul for a mess of the proverbial pottage. They who would vote for the idiot who may not do much to improve their lot. These are the type the Prophet Hosea has in mind when he says ‘my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge!
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Real leadership is for the wise, the humble, and the visionary. A myopic man in office brings the office to his level. That is dangerous to our collective survival. Of such men we must beware. A fool should not go near the throne. He will endanger the empire. For this reason, blockheads were precluded from the throne in traditional African societies. Even the deformed were asked to go away from the road to the throne. In the modern age, thieves or crooks win elections all over the world. Crookedness could be hidden from the people. It is often in the dark. In saner climes, crooks get booted out. In our land, they seek and win elective positions because they carry a deep pocket.
It is true that some current leaders or elected officials have been misjudged. As we know, there are some who have made a difference, who have touched lives, who have sacrificed a lot for the people. But all state officials are judged harshly on account of prevailing situations. Hunger, real hunger, is real in the land. People are barely able to feed. Inflation is near the sun. Insecurity is real. So, the people are frustrated. They are angry. And their judgment will be harsh. It is possible that with the passing of time, opinions would be moderated. For that time, we must wait though not everyone will be exonerated, not everyone will be around for the beauty of reversals. It is the way of man, it is the way of life!
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Mr Elected or Appointed Official, your time is up, the end is here. Those you have alienated, some who did a kind thing for you in the past, some who supported your election and were subsequently ignored by your ‘Almighty Self’, some you gave contracts and refused to pay for work done, some who fell under the moving bus because you listened to gossip and gave them no chance to defend themselves, some who were shoved from the inner table because they are not brothers and sisters from your ethnic group, they await your exit. The time has come when you must rise from the level of the beast that was Nebuchadnezzar and come to your senses. They will see you in public and walk past you in scorn. Or bring down the statues you erected as it happened in Imo State after the last governor left office. There will be money in your deep pocket, but there will be no political power in your hands, there will only be infant gums without teeth to bite the sweets of the world. What have you wrought O Elected Official, what have you wrought in the land of the living?
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Obasanjo As Our Newsmaker
General Olusegun Obasanjo who has been a long-standing Chief of Owu Kingdom in Ogun State needs no introduction. He is too well known to us here to be introduced. In fact, the retired army general of our despicable army is popularly and deliciously known well and well outside our shores to be re-introduced to the imagination and consciousness of your compatriots my compatriots our compatriots and your citizens my citizens our citizens. Many citizens and compatriots will say, rightly or wrongly, that at the two different times he led this country people, the masses and all tribes of persons, that is, cried out in pain and in aguish.
We can always go back to our civil war years of 1967 to 1970 to recall the man and his exploits as the chief strategist and the numero uno of the Third Marine Commando he took over from the great – perhaps our greatest – civil war hero, the late Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, the one and only Black Scorpion of his soldiery era of gallantry whose poisonous bullets muted the booming guns of thunder and artillery fire of Biafra. Before our troops and Biafra’s knew it what seemed impossible to everyone regarding the time the war would end became possible.
Biafra surrendered and Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu to the pleasure and displeasure at the same time of Biafrans and Nigerians was in his surrender- flight to Ivory Coast. Obasanjo took the credit for what the Black Scorpion started and systematically pursued gallantly and strategically. What tales were not told and retold several times over about the Black Scorpion! Within three years the torture, torpor, stagnation and degradation of our Igbo brothers ended. That was the beginning of the ascent of Obasanjo’s superfluous popularity as a newsmaker. The obscure army engineer who succeeded the authentic commander of the Third Marine Commando was honeyed as our worthy war officer and commander and military newsmaker by the honeyed pens and voices of our war journalizers and broadcast seeds of our broadcasters.
Let me hop-step-and-jump to our patriotic present.
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About more than three weeks ago, our one and only Obasanjo, former military head of state and civilian but dictatorial president of this dear land – your country my country our country under the Peoples’ Democratic Party became a frontline newsmaker when he said what he should not have said at a gathering of what I wish to refer to as what have you or what not compatriots and citizens. What did he say that he should not have said? The wily warrior who whaled the super-patriotic and outstandingly clever and sensible Chief Obafemi Awolowo out of the presidency in 1979 caused despair in the Niger Delta when he gushed with unpatriotic or inhuman ignominy that the natural oil in the Niger Delta belongs to Nigeria and not to the region. In the voice of almost a traitor who is worse than a traitor who belongs to the godless variety of tormentors our ex-head of state and ex-president and occupier of Aso Rock for eight years held back nothing when his rain of words thrummed on the roof of the Niger Delta. “The oil in the Niger Delta belongs to Nigeria,” he thrummed, thrusted and thundered. Of course, he was giving vent to a constitution which the standing army he once commanded put in place to torment and terrorize us.
I had been thinking deeply since our newshounds put the acclaimed letter-writer in the news once again. And I have been of the opinion that the great General is not a true patriot because a true patriot in our part of the world must have a crystal clear conscience that underlines his humanity that should consolidate the whole of our humanity.
Of course, some frontline denizens and citizens of the Niger Delta pointedly spear-headed by E.K.Clark, a former commissioner of information at the federal level when General Yakubu Gowon held sway in the land from the middle of the nineteen sixties to the mid-nineteen seventies, have since attacked Obasanjo the maker of news. E.K. Clark and company’s attacks were not devoid of great gusto. I, in particular, regarded E.K. Clark’s gusto as the gustation of gustation. It was rightly meant to prick and press the conscience, the guilty conscience, of Obasanjo who certainly must have a guilty one especially after E.K. Clark’s salvo.
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I remember the ex-president’s follow-up response that he has no hatred in his heart or conscience for the Niger Delta region. His guilty conscience surely elicited his response. But anyone like the General and erstwhile commander of our armed forces who is possessed of a guilty conscience must always be seen and regarded as a defeatist – as Jean-Paul Sartre, French philosopher, activist, humanist and writer who rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature in his hey days, informed us a long, long time ago.
Obasanjo does not love our Niger Delta more than our Niger Delta people and citizens. What does not go around does not go around. If Nigeria does not give Niger Delta justice, fairness and equity Nigeria should not expect the Niger Delta to take the trouble to give or guarantee peace and to “live and remain patriotic” in Nigeria. Nigerian people everywhere should know this: If our Niger Delta people are afraid of injustice that either terrorizes them or forces them to die unjustly, why should they unjustly obey their tormentors who all the time have been immoral force-mongers and cruel power-mongers? Obasanjo and his co-travellers could take the position they have been taken with reference to the Niger Delta because the majority of the region’s indigenes in government at whatever level have been compromising themselves and the region. Their selfishness and greed have tormented the people and the region without qualms over the years.
But this must be viewed as political, economic and moral sins of the past that must no more be tolerated. Now let me add as follows: our silence over the decades was not a “sign of assent”: it originated from nightmares which have been intentionally birthed, nurtured and controlled by our decisioners. But all this must end now.
All tribes in the Niger Delta must perish, must die and re-born themselves along the line of unity that is unity for all; along the line of justice that is justice for all; along the line of the rule of law that is the rule of law for all; along the line of fairness that is farness for all; along the line of what is good for the goose must be good for the gander. Torture by exploitation and oppression and degradation must stop and be hated and halted. Water torture, the result of pollution of the streams, rivers, mangroves, farms and the land by oil excavators and their political and greedy backers, must be ejected completely and permanently – now.
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All negative newsmakers and grandstanders profiting from our region by stirring us to torture one another must be shunned and shamed out of our anguish in darkness and in broad daylight. I hope our highly respected fabulous newsmaker of news and grandstander of grandstanders is going to profit himself a great deal from this column today by fighting patriotically for us henceforth. Our heroes lying in their graves will turn and turn and smile the smiles of the new times when he does this genuinely and sincerely. In his column of last Tuesday, January 18, 2022 on the back page of this newspaper Ray Ekpu ended as follows: “Nigeria abhors change, the right kind of change.” Niger Delta, I underline, is ready for the right kind of change. Their living heroes will enforce it in their land. They will do this without grandstanding and grandstanders.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
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