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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Prof Ibrahim Bello-Kano On Wiseman Festus Keyamo
By Tony Afejuku
I present today two out of the numerous responses that found me after the essay on Festus Keyamo appeared here last Friday. The responses are particularly electrifying in different ways as you shortly shall find out – dear, dear readers. The first response gracing the column now is from a reader in the South East geo-political territory who wishes to remain anonymous. I endorse the code of anonymity which I hereby oblige him – even though his account is in no way irritating. The second reader I am also quoting word-for-word has appeared here in the past. He is a highly radical Professor of Bayero University, Kano, who suffers no fools gladly – and treats no one he disagrees with strongly with kid gloves. I hope Minister Festus Keyamo, the junior minister of our central labour ministry, and you my readers, our ever-watchful compatriots, will find today’s contributions positive. Of course, you will find interesting why Professor IBK’s stands as it stands in the title. His sharp submission is a certain and surely useful shorthand for what many patriotic compatriots will call Fine man and Boy Fine Festus Keyamo’s new identity as the column adumbrated last Friday. We hope Festus Keyamo will soon become Wiseman Festus Keyamo after reading us today. I say: easy, helpful and happy reading.
Reader Anonymous: Sir Afejuku, a very good day to you. I wish I could control my emotions to avoid expressing how deeply I was touched emotionally by your words of wisdom and piece of advice of naked truth undiluted to Festus Keyamo in your “Festus Keyamo: A hole of an argument.” I wish Keyamo has the wisdom and ability to understand what you meant and mean still by that, not just literally.
My brother, I did not know you before now, and I still don’t know you, but I call you a brother because you have what it takes to be called a brother and that is “wisdom and passion for truth that bears integrity.”
Can you see the reason we are where we are today as a nation? This is just how Nigeria is being run by the government and virtually everybody in it. Personal interest matters and nothing else is to the government and those in it. Our problems are not natural because the country is naturally blessed. Sometimes, yes, sometimes …. I cry for Nigeria. It’s very unfortunate what we are doing to ourselves in the name of politics.
Truth is sweet and heavier than any object, and anywhere it drops darkness shakes uncontrollably and in disarray… I want this country to work for all of us the people as we have no other one to call our own. Nigeria is our home, and no one else can build this country for us if we the people don’t build it and make it work for us. Keep speaking the objective truth. Only the truth shall set us free, my brother.
Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano: Thank you for your masterly demolition job of Festus Keyamo’s petty and infantile attacks on ASUU members and the Nigerian lecturership. Keyamo, the ex-radical activist, the guy from a back-water village in Delta State, a village which, I read somewhere, still doesn’t have a decent main street, a modern drainage or sewage system. Keyamo is just one out of many fine radicals who, once they joined the state machine, became servile functionaries of it. The academic psychological literature is full of “analyses” of hitherto radical activists who are now willing tools of the corrupt and unaccountable state machine or an insensitive political administration. If he ever went to university and got a first law degree and still found it expedient to denigrate his former lecturers, one would wonder how he could so easily forget that he was the product of the university system. Little wonder that he could or did, in fact, forget that he would never have held a high office in or been functionally useful to, the Buhari Administration or the APC itself had he never attended a university or had never got an academic degree. Thus people like Keyamo are the typical infantile state-idol worshippers, the willing tools of mischief against good or noble causes once those causes threaten state privilege or those of its parasitic officials who routinely and conveniently forget their humble origins.
READ ALSO: Festus Keyamo: A Hole Of An Argument
The historical literature is full of the tragic stories of old state psychophants who ended up either being ditched by the very state machinery they served or were swept away by their own very hubris. As Henry Thoreau once said, an intelligent and independent-minded person does not willingly do the bidding of a corrupt Prince. Keyamo has sold his soul to the Devil, the one at the head of a lazy, unwilling, incompetent, and insensitive Dinner Table. Of course, Keyamo hopes to keep his subordinate seat at that Table come June 2023. But he’s yet to learn the tragic lesson of betrayal from an un-impressed state machine which has no logic other than that of its own self-aggrandizement. Hubris, arrogant over-simplification, infantile political bootlicking and selective amnesia have not yet helped anyone (in the long run). Nor would all this help Mr. Fetus Keyamo, the ridiculous petty official who hopes to keep his allegedly cool corrupt privileges induced by malignantly decent men and women, the hypocritical, debased and devilish cream of Nigeria’s intellectual resources.
Now the columnist cannot but appreciate IBK, an unblemished ultra-radical critic and commentator of Kano, and Mr. Anonymous of “Biafra” who believes in one Nigeria. If Disputant Festus Kayamo wants us to label or re-label him as Wiseman Festus Keyamo he should retrace his steps and re-learn to walk, fly, glide and travel with us as you my good readers “catch the pulse of wisdom that flows around you and it becomes a part of your consciousness like a dance of perfection.” Festus Keyamo should become a wise man by jettisoning now this regime of darkness in your country my country our country where Alas! wings of birds are powerless and dead. But the chopping minister will not hearken to any wise counsel. He will not. He is too far gone. Yes, he is too far gone. He is no more a masses-man. But that is not my problem or yours. His new cross is his new cross. Let him carry it as he chooses. Thunder!!!
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
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“Cut Soap For Me!”
By Toyin Falola
Yams do not sprout in amulets.
It is important to foreground that Nigerian society is still widely laced with traditional beliefs, practices, and other locally influenced religious practices like those seen in churches that use religious paraphernalia in their worship system. Spiritual symbolism and materials cannot be entirely separated from these practices, as different items are often administered to serve certain purposes. When one understands this, the genesis of the statement “Cut Soap for Me” becomes clear. There is a practice of voodoo baptism or head washing in traditional and other religious circles to either attract good tidings to a person or shield them from evil spirits and attacks.
In Nigeria, juju baptism became prominent among the supposed “modern youths” to attract luck. However, it became a practice among Yahoo Boys who defraud Nigerians and foreigners, especially through social media platforms. The average aspiring Yahoo Boy patronizes religious institutions to get “soap” for voodoo baptism, with the intent to hypnotize or curse victims into doing their biddings. This is one of the many spiritual steps they take to progress from “Yahoo Yahoo” to “Yahoo Plus.”
Defrauding strangers of their hard-earned money is fast becoming a culture and a normalized trade in society. There is evidence of some security personnel corroborating these practices in the name of hunting down “scammers,” as these fraudsters are locally called. In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ranked Nigeria as the 16th affected by the menace of cybercrime. The international community was thrown into the pool of surprise when the case of Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, dominated the public discussion. Hushpuppi was accused of defrauding his ignorant victims of about $24 million. Unfortunately, Nigeria is fast becoming a discothèque of thousands of Hushpuppies flaunting their ill-fated wealth at every instance they get and buying items at outrageous prices.
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Without effective measures to curb it, the public display of unexplained wealth has become normalized. Sadly, instead of condemning this act, the public applauds it, creating a euphoria that drives the perpetrators to progress in their malicious acts and advance their manner of display. To cause “oppression,” they intentionally take up their “E Choke” and “Who Dey Breathe” behaviours and rub their regrettable idiosyncrasies on the face of all that form the fabric of Nigerian society, subjecting young and hardworking citizens to self-doubt. The matter is made worse by uncensored musical and video content that glorify fraudulent activities by proliferating the usage of their registers.
“Cut Soap for Me” has literally become a slang to request that these perpetrators share their diabolic magic. However, the statement has progressed from requests for the secrets to voodoo to the general space whereby people jokingly ask to be taught the process or secret of one’s success. A Nigerian professor has accused me of using juju to write, begging me to lead him to my so-called voodoo man at Iwo to make the same potent magic. Eighteen hours of work a day was reduced to juju power! “Cut Soap for Me” could be an honest expression, sarcasm, or a retort to one’s failure and attempt to find a lasting solution. Whichever way, the underlying factor is that there is a representation that some have and some do not.
Despite knowing the criminality of an act, what would make a person resort to it? If a fraudulent act is criminal and socially unwelcomed, what would make one ask another, “Cut Soap for Me?” Greed, failure, and the realization of the impossibility of fruitful efforts are tormentors that plague the mind and push people to seek a way out. They are the demons capable of fraying social norms indoctrinated in the consciousness of an average person through their process of maturity. Unfortunately, no one needs a hunt to find where the nation has failed its citizens and sentenced its youth to the valley of helplessness.
The nation has failed in almost all ramifications, leaving the people’s hope bare in the cold of poverty, insecurity, and a corrupt system. When the child of a supposed affluent father begs to join the mendicant’s trail, it means that either the father is no longer in affluence or the child has been abandoned. Regretfully, Nigerians are in the two situations; therefore, they must find escape routes. In a nation with only a 33 percent employment rate and only 40 percent employed youths, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank, one should not be surprised at the increasing number of “soap” users and those aspiring to do the same. It is pitiful, but it should be expected from a failing system that has refused to “cut soap” for its citizens, leaving both old and young in despair.
Expectedly, there will be consequences in the face of all the social imbalance and hardship citizens face, social decadence, including fraudulent festivals of fraud that have gained international notoriety. Where there are discouraging situations like those faced by the Nigerian youth, there is a need to reenact social values to keep them in place. Unfortunately, the institutions in the best position to reenact these values are struggling to survive. The family institutions, which should serve as the primary forte of social values, are crumbling either in the face of modernity, distractions from the need for survival, or marital dissolutions, leaving children to make early adult decisions. Religious institutions auction God’s works and miracles, celebrating the rich without minding the source of their wealth. Institutions have been stricken by bribery and corruption, producing kleptomaniac politicians who become role models for potential fraudsters. The systems have refused to “cut soap,” and it is only logical that one looks elsewhere.
In a situation where it seems like the nation and social institutions gang against people’s success, one cannot help but become desperate. When desperation is the case, discretionary approaches potentially take three natures: legal, illegal, or both. For those taking a legitimate approach to success, the statement “cut soap for me” is an expression of amazement at how others have succeeded despite discouraging odds, and also serves as a request for pointers on how to successfully climb the ladder of progress. The illegal approach makes one ask to be trained in the trade of unscrupulousness to either succeed or remain uncaught or affected by the authorities and society.
Credence must be given to the culture of “we rise by lifting others” that is fast becoming the reasonable response to the honest requests of “cut soap for me.” Nigerian youths might be many things, but they value connectivity and spread the ropes of opportunities to one another. There is evidence that the youths have been able to project one another, especially when they are in need. A common example is the intentional creation of trends and crowdfunding for individuals who announce their talents, trade, or unemployment on social media and other means. The statement thus becomes a positive confession of readiness for honest toil projected at bringing good tidings.
It is important to know that despite the odds, the conditions of the nation, and the delay in results, there is dignity in labour. Spiced with consistency, the right strategies, and the creation and maintenance of connectivity, it is not rocket science that a developmental process would materialize, and when the world throws lemons, the youth must learn to turn them into lemonades. While “we rise by lifting others” has been a positive response to positive intentions, it is also a positive response to negative intentions. From the “cut soap for me” of fraudulent Yahoo Yahoo to that of Yahoo Plus, extending the circle of menace, cyber-fraud or whatever appellation used to describe it, is a mere pronouncement that one has lost faith in a possible future, escaping into an illusion of success without process. This explains the increasing rate of ritual killings in the country in an attempt to sacrifice one for the progress of others. These individuals have forgotten that “yams do not sprout in amulets,” thus no matter the soap or a bath serious enough to turn black to white, the strokes of luck would end, nemesis would catch up, and the pods of reality would soon be ripe to show helplessness and gnashing of teeth.
Like Wole Soyinka had stated, “Don’t take shadows too seriously. Reality is your only safety. Continue to reject illusion.” To say that the Nigerian government has been totally quiet about the predominance of cyber fraud that is taking notable international reputation is to subject oneself to unnecessary oblivion. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) arrests and activities of these perpetrators get reported, with a surprising number of suspects reported almost every week. On June 9, 2022, the EFCC was reported to have arrested 140 suspected Yahoo Boys in Ikorodu, Lagos. On August 14, 2022, two clerics were arrested alongside the fraudsters who had employed their services.
Despite these reports, the problem has not subsided. The best explanation for this is that either there is a wrong approach to solving it, or there is no full understanding of the situation.
The Nigerian government’s approach to this problem is like cutting the branches of an intruding tree; they will keep growing. Either the tree is cut off with its roots, or one settles for recurring growth that robs one of peace. Arresting perpetrators is attacking the problem from the surface; it only makes them smarter and more cautious. The Nigerian government and society must attack the issue from the source. The government must be ready to tackle social issues capable of neutralizing and frustrating the honest efforts of individuals, provide a friendly environment for small and medium-sized businesses to grow, reform government institutions that discourage attempts to succeed, salvage dwindling standards of living, and increase the nation’s employment rate. At this point, there will be enough “soap” to go around in society.
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Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje: Man, Mentor, Monument
By Tunji Olaopa
This is my fourth essay on Prof. Akin Mabogunje. And it is the only one to be written posthumously. When he became a nonagenarian ten months ago in October 2021, I published the last celebratory article to honor his birthday. After a long trajectory of relating with this larger-than-life personality, this is how I prefigured that birthday celebration: “It is better to celebrate life than death. Life, for me, does not consist in the length of existence but in the depth of the life’s worth measured in other-regarding capacities. In other words, it is better to celebrate the lives of those whose very existence constitutes a symbolic stretch of significant influences that a person has exerted on the collectivity. A hero is one whose life transformed the way we see life itself, and makes indelible contributions to our conceptual, intellectual and national infrastructures. This is the essential way in which I conceive of the fulsome life of Prof. Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, the grandfather of disciplinary geography in Africa, an intellectual, global scholar and patriotic exemplar extraordinaire.”
Now, the man and patriot has joined the ancestors. He lived for nine solid decades, more than seven of which have been spent serving in various capacities, from the personal and the state to the national and international. Now, he has been translated. And contrary to the Yoruba adage that we become deified after death, Mabogunje was revered when he was alive; he was a colossus. And now in death, he has become a monument.
It is ever so difficult to quantify the measure of any life; and definitely not a life that carried a full measure of providential grace, as Mabogunje’s autobiography proclaimed. “The purpose of life,” according to Robert Byrne, “is a life of purpose.” Martin Luther King, Jr. caps it: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Prof. Mabogunje surpassed this question with his devotion not only to others but also to his family. I am one of the few, I think, that straddled family and others. And that long relationship I had with him speaks a lot about the passion that defined his entire life of achievement, from scholarship to public life. My mentor-mentee relationship with Papa began many years ago when, with his late friend, Ojetunji Aboyade, they made a conceptual and practical success of reengineering thoughts about grassroots development with the optimum community – OPTICOM experiment, that exploits the principle of social capital and subsidiarity in the rural areas, especially at Aáwé, my home town. My mentorship at the feet of Prof. Mabogunje had started as shared responsibility with Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade as at late 1993 when the latter passed on. As part of Aboyade’s programme for my induction into policy professionalism which was perhaps the most rigorous mentor-mentee learning arrangement anyone could imagine, I would also consult Prof. Mabogunje on those issues of policies that touched on his expertise. I was animated with his indescribable capacity to unravel the stories behind the stories and their philosophical underpinnings as education to embellish the policy analytics dimensions. So, I developed the practice of approaching him as sounding board cum unofficial source of knowledge and teacher, and he gladly obliged throughout my career years in the Federal service and after. In the process, I got enlisted into some of his networks. This, apart from his introducing me to distinguished statesmen like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (as president, which grace brought my public administration scholarship to bear on the national public service reform process); Chief Emeka Anyaoku (who delivered the keynote at the inaugural conference of the ISGPP); to dozens of global scholars and personalities around the world, and to many development projects like the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), championed by the Awujale of Ijebuland, HRM Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, to name just a few.
But my most significant learning experience came with the conceptual and administrative trajectories that led to the establishment of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). Throughout all the brainstorming sessions in that experiment in institution building, Prof. Mabogunje would patiently hear you out. And you will know he is very interested in your most earnest ideas and arguments. And like a modern-day Socrates, when he noticed the gap or limitations, as your knowledge of issues played out, he would stretch the necessity of closing that gap by recommending available materials and authorities. And only then would you begin to enjoy the moments of critical engagement with him. Some of those moments led to the sharpening of the ISGPP. Indeed, over many review meetings and technical sessions, Mummy, Justice Titilola Mabogunje, would call to say, “Akin, it is enough. Do you think you are still a young man?” And then, he would check his wrist watch and exclaim, “Do you mean I have been sitting here for these many hours?” That was how dedicated he was to the matters of the mind.
That unflinching discipline is what led from the providential love for geography to an even more uncanny love for Nigeria. This is not a trajectory that anyone can claim to understand; how Mabogunje came to love Nigeria and dedicated himself to her national development and search for greatness. From transforming the study of an “arid” discipline like geography into a truly developmental one, to making Nigeria the centerpiece of his globally sound and locally relevant scholarship, Akinlawon Mabogunje defined the template of patriotic scholarship and socially relevant intellectualism. So, for Mabogunje, geography was not just a discipline, human or physical. It was essentially national—a theoretical articulation of cartographic manipulation to the understanding of Nigerian spaces and places. This becomes even more cogent within the context of Nigeria’s colonial and postcolonial dynamics. As a colonial creation, Nigeria’s amalgamation was an oddity that required postcolonial unraveling. And Mabogunje was right on hand. From his assignment with the 1962 census to the survey of the Kainji region to the delineation and mapping of Abuja as Nigeria Federal Capital Territory, Prof. Mabogunje’s ingenious understanding of geographical dimensions came to the fore in charting a path of development for Nigeria.
His expertise became especially significant with regard to what he called “realistic urban planning” that could lead to regional and national development, and the land tenure predicament in Nigeria. Land reform was especially constrained by the pre-capitalist elements of primogeniture and kinship. Mabogunje’s understanding of the significance of land speaks immediately to Hernando de Soto’s question of why capitalism has not led to the generation of wealth in third world countries, the same way it did in western society. Soto’s answer is that these developing countries, like Nigeria, hold the crucial factors of production, especially land, in “defective forms”: “houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them.” This tallies with Mabogunje’s belief that true development can only come when access to the factors of production is transformed into modern dynamics, for instance, the security of tenure and the property rights of citizens. Land use in Nigeria demands engaging with the deficiencies in the Land Use Act of 1978.
The land reform assignment eventually and inevitably devolved into a fundamental concern with grassroots and rural development. For a plural country like Nigeria, focus on the grassroots is a significant dimension of the federal imperative. And Mabogunje saw it immediately. His argument, contrary to the efforts at capacitating individuals, is to strengthen the community cooperative structures that transform the entire grassroots on the basis of subsidiarity. The principle insists that the rural areas have the potential to not only transform its own developmental initiatives, but to also enhance Nigeria’s federal strength. And indeed, he insisted, there are four internal elements that are critical for transforming the rural areas: organization, technological innovations, credit institution and market access. And it should not be difficult to see why I read providential assistance to the choice of geography as the discipline that would make Akinlawon Mabogunje—from mapping to rural infrastructure to national development.
Unfortunately, the genius of Akinlawon Mabogunje was critically restricted by the formidable retrogressive forces in Nigerian politics. The bad politics that the Nigerian political class plays has a lot to do with how and why heroic patriotism in Nigeria is essentially crippled. There is a fundamental disjuncture between patriotism and development in Nigeria. Those who have the critical expertise, especially the non-politicians, like Prof. Mabogunje and a host of others, from Wole Soyinka to the Nigerian youths, do not have the means to break into the corridors where the core policies are made to affect Nigeria positively and transformation-ally. Mabogunje served his country to the best of his abilities and capacities. But he simply kept coming short against all the factors that have been restricting Nigeria’s growth and progress since independence. And he never relented, despite his advancing age. Now he has done his bit and has gone to the great beyond. He left his intellectual and scholarly footprints all over Nigeria’s policy mechanisms. He left his ideas and ideals all scattered deeply within the context of making Nigeria a great place; the context within which he maturated, and would want others to also benefit. But most significantly, he left his imprints on the many minds that he mentored in several ways.
Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje was not just another Nigerian. In his autobiography, he narrated how he met the late Umaru Yar’Adua who asked that he be a part of his resolve to achieve a land reform. This invitation came at a point when Mabogunje, at 75, was determined to take a much-deserved rest for his aging body. And yet he accepted to serve. For all his adult life, he could not resist serving and deploying his humongous intellect and capacities to thinking and rethinking possible resolutions of the Nigerian predicament. While still alive, Mabogunje was a deeply entrenched monument that reaches deep into the intellectual, administrative and political sides of Nigerian postcolonial life. And now in death, Professor Mabogunje has now transited into a monument that reminds us all, and the political class, about what is possible when realistic policy ideas and frames of actions meet undaunting and focused political resolve in making Nigeria better. Mabogunje, like so many other patriots, believed in Nigeria. The last chapter of his massive autobiography is dedicated to an alternative set of perspectives of what he called an “emerging vision” of Nigeria. Indeed, his last sentence in the narrative of his life declared that he had lived a most fulfilling life in being allowed to play a “modest part” in the emergence of that vision. Only a patriot, who loved and lived for Nigeria, could say that. And may the soul of this giant Iroko, emeritus professor Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, NNOM, CFR, CON, rest in peace.
.Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos .
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