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Nyaknnoabasi: 50 Years In The Library



Nyaknnoabasi Osso’s story is an account of a great intellect—signposted by passion, diligence, and top-notch organisational sense, with no eye for persona
Nyaknnoabasi Osso

Sam Akpe

Nyaknnoabasi Osso’s story is an account of a great intellect—signposted by passion, diligence, and top-notch organisational sense, with no eye for personal gain. Nyaknnoabasi is a librarian who has given the job a meaning that is outside the run of the mill. In his thinking and practice, a library is not only about books. It is principally concerned with a meticulous, purpose-driven management of information and knowledge. Librarianship, he insists, is about a diligent search for relevant information, the processing of the findings, their storage in retrievable formats, and their maximal use to meet set needs.

When a man has practised for 50 years in his line of training and yet believes much is still in store for him in the profession, the fellow cannot be ordinary. Nyaknnoabasi loves the smell of books. His collection of the written word, in digital and hard copies, is a reflection of how his mind works. In the last 50 years, hardly has any day passed that he has not contributed to knowledge and problem-solving by giving out information in various formats to people — even from the pulpit where he serves as a pastor.

Always pregnant with freshly-minted ideas, Nyaknnoabasi has refused to slow down. His inner mind is the mental equivalent of a construction site; always busy. He has an unparalleled enthusiasm for books; and believe me, he has acquired and read not a few of them. He adores biographies. The next thing he consumes with such fervour is gospel music.

READ ALSO: Dr. Obadiah Mailafia on Nigeria’s Plague Of Policymaking

At 67, Nyaknnoabasi’s routine is unusual. He cannot be found sleeping in the afternoon. He goes to bed late in the evening and is religiously awake before midnight. From then till the following evening, his brain and his hands are at work.

A few years ago, someone moved into the neighbourhood where I live. I was ignorant of the person’s identity. Then one morning, I had a telephone call. As I tried to establish the identity of the caller, an authoritative voice silenced or rather pre-empted my enquiry with: “My name is Nyaknnoabasi Osso. I am your new neighbour, and I am at your gate.” I was out of Abuja. On my return, we met. That meeting is still on.

Today August 27, Nyaknnoabasi is 67 years old. Imagine that little boy from an unremarkable village called Ete in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State. Once upon a time, he sold kerosene by the roadside so that he could go to school. Primed to study medicine; he got attracted to the aroma of new books. That was in 1971. The boy has since become a man—a father and a grandfather. Let’s start from the beginning.

His mother had eight of them; all boys. He was the last. Seven died before he was born. None died at birth. They were all born alive and celebrated before death visited. Some died just before their first birthdays. They simply slept and did not wake up. None of them lived long enough to see the other’s birth. The unproven belief was that the same child was making rounds of torture in the family.

Therefore, when the last child was born, no one gave him a chance of survival. Prior to his birth, his mother had given up on child-bearing. His father vowed to remain committed to his only wife—no second wife, no concubine.

But that was not to be. His mother decided to do what the Biblical Sarah did with Abraham when their marriage produced no child. She told the husband: “I’m not going to stay here alone and die alone. I’m going to get you someone—someone that will give us children.” She found the husband a beautiful young woman; as wife.

The man, a committed Christian, protested. But he later succumbed to some social pressure; and accepted the free-will offering from his wife. Both entered the other room. However, to show his first wife that his love for her was still strong and intact, he spent most of the nights with her. Two excitements unfolded in quick succession: both women became pregnant; almost at the same time.

Nine months later, it was delivery time. While the labour lasted, the senior wife was obviously more interested in the unborn baby than her own life. She pulled the midwife aside and verbally declared her will: if I die in the process, this baby should be named Nyaknnoabasi, meaning I have given him to God. From multiple premonitions and the advantage of personal history, she was convinced, though without any tangible proof, that another boy was on the way.

READ ALSO: On Ethnicity And Godfatherism

Soon, words reached her husband in the farm: your wife is in labour. He quickly left everything, mounted his bicycle and pedalled breathlessly in the direction of the local birth attendant. Before the expectant father reached the birth spot, the baby was in the safe hands of the midwife. A boy! As soon as he set his eyes on the baby, with teary eyes, he declared, I am leaving this one in God’s hands—Nyaknnoabasi. There was no consultation between husband and wife over the name. It came by divine, spontaneous inspiration.

Fast forward. The child, Nyaknnoabasi Osso, was special in many ways. From the community primary school, he passed through the legendary Regina Coeli Secondary School founded by Irish missionaries in 1955. Both in First School Leaving Certificate Examination and the West African Examination Council tests, he emerged with the best scores, in science and art subjects. Life was difficult for him. Though he was the only child of his mother, his father however had 10 other children from the second wife. But his mother was determined to give him the best education — both formal and informal.
His mother did something peculiar. As a way of guarding against another sudden death, she never allowed Nyaknnoabasi to sleep in the afternoon — afraid that he would not wake up. She had experienced the same nightmare from her deceased children. It was time to avoid the risk. When he moved into the dormitory during his secondary school days, the village elders collectively sent a message to the school authority: exempt this boy from siesta; he is a special case.

From Ette in Ikot Abasi where he was born, his first trip outside his state was to the University of Ibadan, where his uncle, Professor Eno Jumbo Udo, lectured. With excellent performance in the sciences, Nyaknnoabasi was already programmed to study medicine. But that did not happen because he was instead offered admission to study chemistry. He stubbornly turned it down because he could not endure the smell of chemicals.

This implied that he had to wait for the next entrance examination. With that decision, he condemned himself to certain undesirable home chores. For 10 months, he was a babysitter. As the only child of his mother, he never took care of a baby before then. There was no time to learn. He had to feed the baby and wash the napkins. At night, he washed plates and polished the wooden tiles. His bedtime was 2 a.m. Wake-up time was 5 a.m.

Then came the good news. One of his friends; Ukoyen, a post-graduate student, informed Nyaknnoabasi of a vacancy for a library assistant at the university. He applied, and got the job. That was in 1971. He was 17. It marked the beginning of a journey with a one-way ticket.

In fact, when he went for the interview, he was enraptured by the smell of new books, and was irresistibly charmed by the manner books were arranged on the shelves. It reminded him of how his mother used to arrange clothes and kitchen utensils back home. She drummed it into him that a disorganised person always led a purposeless life.

Driven by a gigantic zeal, Nyaknnoabasi applied and was admitted to the library school. But his uncle refused to pay his fees; insisting that his nephew must study medicine. Almost frustrated, Nyaknnoabasi sought help from far and near. He pulled through.

READ ALSO: Managing Diversity In A Multiethnic Country

On graduation in 1975, he met Professor Donald Ekong, Vice Chancellor of the newly established University of Calabar. It was on Ekong’s invitation that Nyaknnoabasi left UI on a leave of absence to work at the UNICAL library. On arrival in Calabar, he was informed that Ekong was out of the country. What? By divine direction, an old classmate introduced him to Chief Ekei Essien Oku — one of Nigeria’s earliest chartered librarians and the first woman chief librarian in Nigeria. He had an instant job.

One Monday morning, Nyaknnoabasi noticed a familiar face in the library. He had not met Ray Ekpu before; but had read his column the previous day in Sunday Chronicle — a paper edited and made famous by Ray. He walked up, greeted Ray, and offered to help with any information the editor needed. Conversation started.

Ray got curious and asked: “I have not seen you before, are you new here?” Nyaknnoabasi’s impressive self-introduction fetched him a lunch invitation. Ray informed him of the absence of a good library at the Nigerian Chronicle and asked for a feasibility study.

That assignment took the young librarian to major media organisations across Nigeria. His rich, voluminous report led to the establishment of one of the best media libraries in Nigeria. Unfortunately, that library is no more. It was razed down recently during a mass protest against police brutality.

His effort was rewarded with a job offer, which he could not reject. Encouraged by Ray, Nyaknnoabasi travelled to both the US and UK, made contacts and got loads of books from international bodies. He loved it!

Shortly after, Dele Giwa, the then editor of Sunday Concord was in Calabar for the Nigerian Guild of Editors conference. He stopped over to see his friend, Ray. When he needed materials to write his column, Ray proudly referred him to Nyaknnoabasi.

Something dramatic happened when Nyaknnoabasi pulled out a folder from his drawer containing cuttings of Dele’s writings from Daily Times to the Sunday Concord. Dele was visibly impressed. That encounter triggered a relationship that eventually took Nyaknnoabasi to Newswatch magazine in 1984.

It was at Newswatch that his career assumed an international prominence. His first assignment was to gather background materials and develop a data bank on 1000 issues which the magazine considered important to focus on as it took off. This took Nyaknnoabasi back to high-profile media houses in the UK and the USA.

He visited the BBC Media Enquiry Services; TIME magazine; the Economist; the Financial Times; the New York Times; the British Library at Corlindale, North London; Europa Publishers, CNN, Newsweek; Who’s Who in America, World Almanac Book, Editors and Publishers, among others.

Besides gathering the required data, his principal mission was to understudy, return and build a media library that would compete with the best anywhere in the world. It is believed by those who should know that he did a good job of it.

At a time, Nyaknnoabasi became more popular at Newswatch than most of the journalists there. The popular belief was that any information Nyaknnoabasi could not provide in two minutes, or at least tell you the sure way of getting it, did not exist.

Mysteriously, he did this at a time computer or the internet was unheard of in this part of the world. It still remains a puzzle how he did it. As if that was not enough, he went ahead to publish the globally acclaimed reference book: Newswatch Who’s Who in Nigeria; 1989.

READ ALSO: Can Civil Service Profession Be Saved from Politics?

This was one of the high points of his professional ingenuity. The book, a compendium of background data on Nigeria’s most outstanding individuals, attracted international commendations and subtle enquiry: ‘how did he do it?’

As soon as the book came off the press, America’s Department of State bought 300 copies and invited Nyaknnoabasi over. They wanted to be briefed on how he managed to get all the information in the book, in a country that was completely blind to or slim on information management.

During his six weeks stay in US as an international visitor, Nyaknnoabasi was taken to Columbia University School of Journalism where he had interactive sessions with the authorities, on the book. He also had sessions with library officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon. They needed to know how Newswatch Who’s Who in Nigeria was conceived and executed without the required technology for such a project.

On his return to Nigeria, Nyaknnoabasi was decorated with various awards by recognised professional bodies. One day, he read a story in the Sunday Times about African Leadership Forum — an international leadership think-tank established by Obasanjo. While others saw the report as a mere news item, Nyaknnoabasi turned it into a huge opportunity. Twenty-four hours after one phone call, he had lunch with the retired general. It was the beginning of a new phase of a working relationship that lasted for 25 years.

Drawing from his international exposure, Nyaknnoabasi submitted a proposal to Obasanjo for the establishment of the first Presidential Library in Africa, located in Abeokuta. Though put in abeyance for several years when Sani Abacha sent Obasanjo to jail, the proposal was dusted up in 1998, with Nyaknnoabasi placed directly in charge of its execution.

This created opportunities for him to visit four Presidential Libraries in the United States. He met with three living American presidents including the late President George Walker Bush, President Jimmy Carter, and President Bill Clinton. He couldn’t meet the late Donald Reagan in person; but he interacted with members of his family. He even attended a Sunday School Class with Carter and family.

Located on a 32-hectre land in Abeokuta, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, the brainchild of Nyaknnoabasi Osso, is the first of its kind in Africa.

While serving with President Obasanjo as special assistant on library, research and documentation, Nyaknnoabasi underwent a study of information management system at the Executive Office Library in the White House. During the period, he interfaced extensively with officers of NARA—National Archives and Record Administration. The tutelage prepared him for his assignment in the Villa.

I thought I was merely going to pay a brief tribute to a neighbour on his 67th birthday, and 50 years of unprecedented professional achievements. But I have ended up writing a biography; because it is impossible to condense the life of Nyaknnoabasi Osso in few words! Let me simply say: happy birthday, Sir! Congratulations!


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Iwuanyanwu And The ‘Political Rascals’ Rhetoric 



Nigerian Destiny: In The Hands Of The People
Dr. Promise Adiele

By Promise Adiele

Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot avails itself of multiple interpretative tools with a compelling grip on the moral imagination of the audience. As a timeless drama, it thrives on the hopelessness of the human condition dramatized by two vagabonds, Estragon and Vladimir who waited for a mysterious, titular Godot that never came. One of the features of the absurdist literary tradition portrayed in the play is the failure of language in the verbal context as a means of communication. The verbal exchange between the two vagabonds is evident of misinterpretation. One says one thing, the other interprets it differently. Thus, it calls to question the potency of language in the verbal medium as a means of communication. The preceding analogy reminds me of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and his purported insult to the good people of the Yoruba ethnic group. Perhaps, misinterpretation currently manifests as an inexorable content of Nigeria’s absurd credentials.

Last week, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, philanthropist, accomplished businessman, the Balogun Babaguwan of Yorubaland, Ahaejiejemba of Igboland and elder-statesman, while reacting to events that happened in Lagos during the last election when many Igbo people were bloodied and harassed, assured the world that “the Igbo and Yoruba are not at war”. On the heels of that statement came another one “they are Yoruba political rascals”. A syntactic analysis of the two sentences affirms that the Chief never meant to insult the entire Yoruba ethnic group. Rather, he was referring to rascals in Lagos who maimed, killed, and vanquished Igbos, non-Yorubas, and even some Yorubas with Igbo semblance, stopping them from exercising their voting rights during the election. He also said “we know them and we will deal with them”. Language scholars know that Chief Iwuanyanwu did not mean to insult the Yoruba. Sadly, some social nitwits, victims of acute cognitive impairment, went on a rampage to misinterpret and manipulate his statement to suit their treacherous, mischievous purposes. It is absurd. 

 Anyone who knows Chief Iwuaynanwu’s antecedent will never ascribe offensive rhetoric to him. He is soft-spoken, conciliatory and peace-loving. Like every sensible person around the world, not just the Igbo, he was aghast with lurid photos and video evidence of harm against the Igbo in Lagos during the last election. Unfortunately, people who ordinarily frolic in the whirlwind of ethnic hate have seized the opportunity to insult the Igbo ethnic group while using acerbic words on the revered Chief. These people, in their degenerate and diseased mentality, are trying to install a wall of hate between the Igbo and Yoruba. Let me state categorically that the Yorubas are wonderful people whose spirit of brotherliness, conviviality, and tolerance speaks volumes across the world. I have maintained over time that the Igbo and Yoruba share a cordial, interwoven relationship in marriage, business, friendship, association and neighbourliness. The two ethnic groups can never be involved in a conflict. Many Yoruba people have helped many Igbo people to their destinies and many Igbo people have helped many Yoruba people to their destinies too. An attempt for one ethnic group to harm the other will result in serious harm for the two. It is as implicating as that. 

Since the presidential elections, keenly contested by different candidates from different ethnic groups in Nigeria, some people have desperately sought to reduce the entire development to an ethnic affair. It is myopic and at once condescending. Does Peter Obi represent the Igbo? Does Bola Tinubu represent the Yoruba? Does Atiku Abubakar represent the Hausa/Fulani?  These candidates all have supporters across the country. Of course, they will have a preponderance of support from their ethnic base. That is the way of politics. Unfortunately, ethnic jingoists have, in the inerrancy of their bleak convictions, reduced the entire political discourse to an ethnic affair especially Yoruba vs Igbo. These people, stranded in the realm of ethnic hate and communal intolerance, have done everything within their powers to inflame ethnic tension to crucible dimensions. It is wrong for anyone to insult a whole ethnic group in whatever guise. In Chief Iwuanyanwu’s case, he has put the records straight by clarifying what he meant, insisting that he was quoted out of context. But the morbid and decadent will not hear of it. They insist that Iwuanyanwu and all Igbo should be roasted alive. As far as these simpletons are concerned, the Chief spoke the mind of all Igbos. How idiotic and harebrained can anybody be? 

Recently, some people have also indulged in ethnic slurs. Unlike Chief Iwuanyanwu that clarified himself, Bayo Onanuga offered no apology and insisted on standing by his words. Onanuga spoke for himself and couldn’t have insulted the Igbo on behalf of the Yoruba. MC Oluomo, while registering his socio-political disorientation, spoke for himself when he threatened the Igbo on an  election day and went on to make good his threat which the police shamelessly called a joke. FFK has also made inflammatory remarks which were his personal opinion and not the opinion of Yoruba. It is therefore, a function of disabled, primitive awareness for anyone to insult an ethnic group based on the comment of one person. Such insults and abuses expose the quiddity of phenomenal foolishness which, hitherto, was concealed in some people by the façade of education. No, these hate mongers belong to the stone age. Nobody should be deceived by their pretentious liberalism. 

The question is, are there political rascals in Nigeria? Definitely yes! These are the particular people Chief Iwuanyanwu referred to concerning what happened in Lagos during the last elections. Of course, all parts of the country have their share of political rascals. It is not peculiar to one ethnicity. Political rascals are those who walk the streets, snatch ballot boxes, stab people due to their ethnic origin and prevent them from exercising their civic rights. They are not educated. They are thugs, street urchins and never-do-wells employed by politicians to advance nefarious objectives. There are also some educated political rascals. They don’t walk the streets, but demonstrate humane deficiency of unimaginable proportions using social media and sundry news outlets. They spread hate, provoke enmity and fan the embers of war. They incite the uneducated, urging them to bay for the blood of ordinary citizens. Their social media handles are replete with expletives and insults. Abusive engagement allows them to flourish. Another category of political rascals populate government establishments like INEC, the Police and different security agencies. These people compromise the electoral process in exchange for financial inducement and material gains. They are unconscionable, desperate and invidious. Are these people from another planet? No, they are among us. We know them. 

The ethnic hate narrative is a device enunciated by the political class to keep the people divided, breaking their rank and file to unite and fight a common enemy. The opposition LP and PDP are convinced that the election was marred by sharp, underhand practices and therefore have gone to court. Is going to court to challenge the outcome of an election a legitimate practice? If it is, why can’t detractors of equitable process allow the law to run smoothly? The call by some decidedly frustrated fellows in search of relevance and pecuniary patronage for the arrest of the opposition presidential candidates is from the pit of purgatory. The propaganda that there is a plan to disrupt the handover ceremony is a bundle of falsehood from the depths of Hades. Although many Nigerians regard the judiciary with a pinch of salt, people of goodwill should advocate for a peaceful resolution of Nigeria’s political challenges. Ethnic rhetoric should stop immediately. People should sheath their swords. Let us all close the road to Rwanda. 

Adiele, PhD, writes from Mountain Top University.


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Olaopa: The Self As  A Patriotic Reformer – The Tales Of  A Memoirist




By  Adeshina Afolayan
Autobiographies and memoirs are very difficult to write. One of the reasons is that they place the autobiographers and the memoirist in a very difficult position that draws the attention, and even the ire, of the public. Once the volume is written and presented before the public, the writer can no longer control its reception. And some or even all of her certainties and verities are shredded by those who must approach the book from different perceptions. But there is an even more daunting challenge. Writing an autobiography or a memoir dances at the very edge of hubris and vanity. This is what Michel de Montaigne thinks. His understanding of the human self is dark and gloomy. According to him, “If others were to look attentively into themselves as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of emptiness and tomfoolery…. Our self is an object full of dissatisfaction: we can see nothing there but wretchedness and vanity.”Now, imagine an act of self-portrait emerging from such a dark view of the self.

In The Essays, Montaigne pens a paradoxical opening statement addressed to the readers of the volume who are not supposed to read it because it is a work of vanity: “Reader, I myself am the subject of my book: it is not reasonable that you should employ your leisure on a topic so frivolous and so vain. Therefore, Farewell.” If the self is locus of emptiness and wretchedness, then any attempt at a self-portrait is doomed already; the autobiographer or memoirist thinks more highly of herself than she should. And yet, Montaigne subtly invites the reader to peruse the volume through a strategy of dissuasion.

In The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa faces the charge of hubris head-on , and persuades us to plunge into a narrative that connects the self with a larger space of meaning, struggle and fulfilment. This is an even more difficult endeavor since it goes beyond the self-portrait that embroils the self in its own dynamics of maturation. On the contrary, a memoir like the The Unending Quest for Reform, like Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died, connects the self to non￾self, or to its Other. The autobiographer or the memoirist then invites the reader to weigh the significance of the self in relation to its other. Only those who have a strong sense of inner worth and  significance can ever achieve such a courageous level of self-ascription.

I think a reformer deserves his memoir or autobiography. I have read the late Professor Akinlawon Mabogunje’s autobiography — A Measure of Grace. It details not only birth, historical trajectories  and intellectual maturation, but also the agonies of a public servant eager to see some of his best ideas and insights inserted into the policy architecture of the Nigerian state. He met brick walls at every turn. In The Unending Quest for Reform, Olaopa typifies a more enduring courage to serve and confront the dysfunction of a system that had been rigged to be inefficient since independence.

The public service is not just another vocation. It embodies a double imperative. First, it is a service that transcends any consideration of self-interest. Within the service and its accountability dynamics, the self cannot be placed in contradistinction to what is required of it. The service is therefore a
selfless one that demands that the servant serves. Second public service is a service to public, the public. It therefore requires a different kind of spirit—public-spiritedness—that insists that the public  servant must bow to certain logic of service that bend the will of the public servant to the will of the citizens. The task of a public servant therefore becomes a very arduous one: she must bend the self to serve the others. However, serving others becomes very onerous when the system that enables the service is inefficient and dysfunctional. When Olaopa first confronted this dysfunctional system, his first human instinct was to flee. But he did not. This was where his scholarly instinct—to learn, to reflect, to research, to rethink, to reorganize—kicked in. And he had a background in Plato and a mentoring acquaintance in Professor  Ojetunji Aboyade to trim his fears and fuel his reform thinking.

The Unending Quest for Reform details the long trajectory that took an Aáwé boy to the Presidency and then the very height of public service status as a permanent secretary. But in each of the fifteen chapters that make up the memoir, you are compelled to encounter and reflect on how ideas and insights emerged from Olaopa’s interaction and engagement with intellectual and administrative forebears, and how both
the forebears and the ideas molded his own original philosophy of reform—with a huge dose of providential intervention.

While Plato’s Republic maps the boundaries of the ancient Athenian city-state and its utopic possibilities, Olaopa’s
The Unending Quest for Reform delineates the circumferences of a
dysfunctional public service, and how it could be rehabilitated within a comprehensive institutional and governance reform blueprint that took years to design, and even many more years to attempt mounting for the benefit of making Nigeria work better. This is where he joins the community of suffering that Mabogunje, and many others, once belonged. At every turn, the system itself frustrated all his well-being intentions and yearning.

Olaopa carries the burden of a man driven by God’s purpose. Or how else does one understand the passion that
drove and still drives him to dedicate his research and professional life to a system that seems too dense to allow self-examination? As an expert-insider, he had to face the fundamental significance of whether the public service can reform itself. That query, for Olaopa, could not have been just an academic exercise; he must have had to face the suspicions and stubborn resistance of those who could have considered him “too know” and obnoxious. There are ways by which a
debilitated system punishes those who would claim diagnostic knowledge. There are several means by which those who benefit from the status quo impede the progress of a reformer. And yet, Olaopa kept at this onerous task, even after retirement,with  a single-mindedness that belies any logical understanding.

It was not just Plato and philosophy that gave him inspiration. All through The Unending Quest for Reform, one sees him holding onto a deep understanding of the place and role of the divine in human understanding and trajectories. If God could save him from blindness, as he narrated, then he would dedicate his life to service, spiritual and institutional;
he would commit his expertise to Nigeria and her quest for a world class public service that will be able to transform the quality of life of Nigerians. He has not faltered in that commitment.

But we need to highlight the role of philosophy in Olaopa’s professional and intellectual maturation. Right from discovering Plato and the capacity of philosophy to reconstruct, Olaopa had
remained fixated on the potential of philosophy to both enlighten and enable. He had taken Plato’s Republic far more seriously than I have seen anywhere. The Republic gave him the basis
from which to reenact the possibility of reflecting on dysfunction and reconstructing the parameters for
utopia. While Plato’s Republic was entirely a thought experiment about what could have been, Olaopa’s philosophical, intellectual and administrative exertions were right within the context of an actually existing Nigerian state that combines what he calls “bureau-pathologies” and possibilities for greatness.

The Unending Quest for Reform is therefore  not only a paean to the existential exertions and Sisyphean achievements of the self, but also a testament to what reform can make possible for the transformation of the
Nigerian administrative entity. With the memoir, Olaopa is reaching out to
Nigerians, and especially fellow public servants and aspiring institutional and governance reformers,with a manual for technocratic action. The memoir bristles with pain and optimism about the ascent of a self from the obscurity of a small town in Oyo State to the convoluted
bureaucratic spaces of the Presidency, from a struggle to master political science and political theory at the University of Ibadan to the urgency of deploying a range of ideas and ideologies to the understanding and operational optimality of the public service system. In The Unending Quest for Reform, the self and the nation merge in a struggle for realization. And the denouement of that titanic struggle is a finale that is yet to happen. And we will know it when
it happens because that would be the end the reformer has been waiting for. With the new administration, may we not arrive at a tragedy to the high drama of hope and possibilities Olaopa’s memoir has treated us to.

Prof. Afolayan is the Head of Department of Philosophy, University of Ibadan


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Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir



Prof. Eghosa Osaghae

By Eghosa E. Osaghae
Intellectual autobiographies come as absorbing and engaging as other profound academic works tend to be. Professor Tunji Olaopa’s intellectual memoir is not different and certainly ranks as one of the more profoundly intellectual autobiographies to come out of Nigeria. The reflections on the nexuses among public policy, public administration, civil service and governance on the one hand, and how these can be transformed along the paths of the reforms that seek to address the pathologies of bureaucracy – or bureau-pathology as Professor Olaopa calls them – are done in the best traditions of rigorous scientific analysis, normative and empirical. And given the relative leanness of analytical and theoretical scholarship in the field of public administration in Nigeria and Africa, it is obvious that this book, even as an autobiography, has all that is required to be a major contribution to the discipline, especially on the subject of reforms, which is a central theme of the memoir.

From the story of his progression  through life as told in the memoir – from being a scholar-in-the-making since the
age of five, to earning the alias, Azikiwe, at the highest level of ‘-isms’ in secondary  school, to finally becoming an expert-insider in the federal civil service and professor at Lead City University, only a knowledgeable, visionary, and activist-reformer like Olaopa, with the zest of patriotism and nationalism has the qualifications and credibility to say the kinds of things he has said in this book. His premature and unexpected retirement from the federal civil service in 2015 seemed to have halted the leading roles Olaopa played in the complex arena of reforms; these were roles that his academic pursuits and engagements with The Commonwealth , The World Bank, the UN system, and reforms institutions and processes in Australia and South Africa,continental and global professional institutions, amongst others, prepared him for; but this book documents the hows and whats of those roles and sets a well-reasoned rationale and template for continued reforms. The concluding chapters of the book, which are addressed to the reforms the leadership expected of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federal Civil Service in particular, fill the gap of what might have been. That is, if the unexpected retirement – another
painful reminder of the insecurity of tenure that has plunged the civil service in Nigeria deeper into the recesses of instability, demotivation and corruption, did not happen.

Olaopa engages the more substantial and critical issues elicited by public servicee reforms including those that constitute formidable obstacles in highly perceptive ways. “The public service”, he writes, “was not a place where mere ideas are sufficient to achieve  significant transformation. Those ideas have to be immersed in the deep and dirty crevices of bureaucratic dead weights. As a public servant, it increasingly became clear to me that reading was not enough for the reformation of the public service. Ideas and knowledge had to be consciously adopted, creatively adapted, and deliberately owned and domesticated to achieve optimal results”. This was the lynchpin of reforms and transformations buoyed by Olaopa’s continuous research and development opportunities offered by the strategic positions he held especially in the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Head of Service. But the high expectations and ideals are easily brought down by the limits of realistic possibilities: “As an expert-insider”, he also writes, “I was equally confronted by a limitation: Can the civil service supervise its own reform? Can civil servants supervise the reform of their own institution?” Which all goes  back to perhaps the greatest puzzle faced by reforms and their drivers: “In a situation where administrative dynamics have already congealed, can we expect the publice servantsto oversee the reform of their institution? How can reforms be jumpstarted by the very people who have vested interests in operating the bureaucratic culture? The obvious answere seems negative. And experience has revealed that most reforms failed because they were undermined by vested interests”. This is the essence of ‘bureau-pathology’ – “a state of stagnancy in which the civil servants protect themselves against any attempt to reform the very system with in which they operate. In this terrible situation, reform becomes the exception  rather than the rule”. The pathology also leads to “too many people doing nothing, too many doing too little, and too few people doing too much”.

But these obstacles – and frustrations – which Olaopa experienced firsthand in hugeo tons thanks to the complexities, intrigues, treacheries and politics that climaxed with his premature retirement, do not diminish Olaopa’s conviction, enthusiasm and unending quest for reforms .The decision to set up the Ibadan School of Governance and Public Policy (ISGPP),take up the professorship at Lead City University, become a directing staff member at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, and this memoir (just in case the other platforms are necessary but not sufficient to actualise his vision) represent important milestones in this quest. Olaopa’s analysis also shows that the journey of reforms requires a lot more thanh the individual motivation; that motivation emanates from several other reinforcing anchors: expository reading, such as is found in his reading of Plato’s The Republic and other texts; the benefit of sound education and good peers, such as he encountered in Aawe, Olivet, and UI; the sheer boldness, such as is demonstrated in his forays into radical student unionism; the   strategic opportunities that come through postings such as those to MAMSER, Ministry of Education, Office of the Secretary of Government of the Federation and Head of Service; and, perhaps, most importantly, the mentoring, reassurances and confidence-building such as he had from Professors Ojetunji Aboyade and Akin Mabogunje (these two had the OPTICOM modelt that provided a foundation for participatory reforms), Professor Tunde Adeniran and many more.

Although Olaopa engages public service reforms in an intellectually robust and engaging manner, there are issues that he has either left out or not engaged sufficiently. One of these is the cultural and historical specificities of particular reform situations. Surely, reforms have not grown to the level of a science of universals. Is there a need to decolonise the civile service for example? Another is the omission of the age-long debate between generalists and specialists in public service. Is it possible that the decision to bring specialists into the core of the civil service in Nigeria – that led to the appointment of engineers, medical doctors andc accountants for example, as permanent secretaries – has created problems of a different kindf for the civil service? Thirdly, for all the points raised about a purpose-driven public service with substantial federal restructuring, it is a  little curious that very little consideration, if any,was given to the subnational spheres of the public service. Would the public service be trulyr reformed if the state and local government domains are not reformed? Should the federal public civil service be the federalist empire/colonial service?

Knowing Professor Olaopa as well as I do, I am sure that these issues will be taken up in his next volume on public servicee reforms– after all, the present volume is strictly a memoir and should not be read as an academic treatise, irrespective of all that I have tried to say.

Although the scholarly insights of Olaopa’s Unending Quest for Reform have the upper  hand in this foreword, the memoir is far more extensive and encompassing. It covers his historical progression and, in the process, the several lessons to be learnt from his interesting experiences and discussions on familyhood, marital relations, religion, the role of God in humanl lives, mysticism and human relations in their adversarial and friendly forms. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir and digesting its deeper and very reflective lines. They show that Olaopa’s initial and continuous love for philosophy has crystallised into a way of life.

Professor Osaghae is the Director-General, Nigerian Institute of
International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos.

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