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The Delicate Ethno-religious Road To 2023



How We'll Pick Presidential Candidate To Support - Northern Elders

By Raymond Oise-Oghaede
As we eagerly await the flagoff of the electioneering preparatory to the all-important general elections of 2023, I have been following the unfolding events in the country’s political terrain with keen interest and observed that some happenings are gradually sliding us back to the days of old. Shortly after the elections and selections of presidential and vice presidential candidates respectively across all the parties, the political permutations and manipulations have assumed extremely tricky and fragile dimensions that are so delicate and capable of causing serious problems for our democracy, if not properly handled.

In the emerging dispensation, religion and ethnic considerations have once again taken the centre stage of politicking; and, people are treating them with levity as if it is a normal phenomenon. If the ignorance of the ordinary man on the street or the retinue of political jobbers to the dangers posed by this trend is overlooked and forgiven, the same cannot be the case for our experienced/well groomed politicians and the elites who ought to know better. In as much as this review is not in any way casting aspersions on anyone or group for not giving it a serious thought or shouting out, it would not hold back anything or fail to draw the attention of all well meaning and patriotic citizens to the dangers lurking in the corner.

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Whether it is good to hear or not, the fact remains that our politicians are gradually dragging us back to the era where religion and ethnicity tore us apart and greatly contributed to political instability in governance. At the early stages of the country’s democracy, political activities were largely beclouded by parochial sentiments based on ethno-religious considerations. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to state that one of the major achievements of President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s (IBB) administration was the elimination of the multi-party system of ethnicized politics by the adoption of a two party system with national spread and outlook. At that period, the creation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) was the elusive and much-sought solution to the fragility of our then prevailing political hullabaloo. It was this “sophisticated masterpiece” by IBB that led to the freest and fairest election on 12th of June, 1993. Nigerians from all walks of life “jettisoned” the old practice and embraced the politics of national interest geared towards forging a “united” and “progressive” political order. Although, the outcome of that election was not eventually actualized, the basics became the foundation upon which the present FOURTH REPUBLIC was laid in 1999. To buttress this, the present administration declared June 12th of every year as Democracy Day and Public Holiday.

Today, it is utterly sad, disappointing, unfortunate and worrisome that the dangerous and calamitous tendencies of religion and ethnic politicking are gradually being reinvigorated. Though, the proponents of the current moves are hinging their actions on the necessity for ethno-religious balancing, the way and manner in which some of them are propagating it leave much to be desired. Rather than creating awareness and conducive atmosphere for the electorate on the activities lined up for the marketability or salability of their respective candidates when the electioneering eventually kicks off in earnest, they are busy confusing the masses the more and creating an atmosphere of mutual suspicion across the nooks and crannies of the country. Gradually, their acclaimed actions for national interest have started planting seeds of discord and cancerous wounds in the hearts of the citizenry.

As much as there is nothing bad for political and religious leaders, associations, institutions and other individuals to amicably agitate for inclusiveness or equity and fairness of representation in governance, doing so in way(s) that could send wrong signals to people of other ethno-religious affiliations is the most fretful aspect of the whole matter. Nigeria is a secular state where no particular religion is seen as the official religion. In furtherance to this, the subsisting 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides in Section 38(1) that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. In the same vein, there is no provision in the constitution or any known law where one ethnic nationality is seen as superior or inferior to the others. However, our people have so made the situation very complicated that we now see imaginary dichotomy based on ethnicity and religion. It is so worrisome that the country is presently engulfed in fiercely political wrangling on issues bordering on the geo-political region to produce the next president. There are also agitations for a Christian president and a total rejection of a Muslim-Muslim ticket that is generally believed and seen as having the coloration of an “Islamic Agenda”. As already stated earlier, there would not have been any problem with thiesr agitations and objections if they were backed by any law; but, there is none.

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The Constitution and the newly passed Electoral Act 2022 did not in anyway make provisions for religion and ethnic considerations in the election of political parties’ presidential candidates or selections of their running mates. The same is also applicable in the election processes of the chairmanship position of the parties. If the above is the “position of the law”, then, why do people always criminalize it whenever the process does not agree or favour their ethnic or religious affiliations? If what is presently in practice is flawed and undesirable, the best way to go about it is by constitutional means through the National Assembly. Alternatively, result could be achieved by a stopgap approach through discussions and negotiations to arriving at a win-in compromise; and, that is the beauty of modern politics. The use of threats, propaganda, force or other processes not known to the law can only compound and not resolve the problem(s). Ironically, the same people that are very quick to acknowledging and making references to our lofty achievements of June 12, 1993 (including those that were not born or have not attained the voting age then) are also the same people that are championing the crusades condemning and crying foul against the principles upon which that achievement became possible. This review will be neutral as much as possible; but, references will be made to some individuals and their political affiliations without prejudice to anyone or group.

One of the very delicate and trending issues of concern is the opinion held in some quarters about the purported ploy by the north to remain in power. This people are hinging their misgiving on the participation and eventual victory of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the presidential primaries of the PDP as a way of denying the south from producing the next president. Though, no one has been able to show us the section(s) of the Constitution or the Electoral Act that provides for “turn by turn” or zoning amongst the regions, they are of the firm belief that the presidential position should have been reserved/zoned for the south in 2023, in accordance to an “unknown and unwritten gentleman’s agreement” within the party. However, the fact that the said Atiku was able to garner the majority of the delegates’ votes (which cut across all the regions) at the presidential primaries which was also contested by candidates from the south, is an indication that he was the most preferred amongst the lot in spite of his northern origin. If that be the case, the issue of his ethnic background should not be held against him; unless, it could be proven that he forced the delegates to vote for him involuntarily or illegally and denied the south or other aspirants their right to be voted for or elected. Funny enough, it was this same Atiku that “stepped down” (from the second ballot during the SDP presidential primaries held at the Jos Township Stadium) to pave way for M.K.O. Abiola (a Southerner from the West) to emerge as the presidential candidate of the party and the eventual winner of the June 12, 1993 elections. Perhaps, the electoral achievement of June 12, 1993, that has come to be the cornerstone of our present democracy might not have been possible without that “strategic sacrifice” of stepping down by Atiku (I was not told; I was a live witness of what transpired at the venue). The question we should be asking is, “does he possess the experience and capacity to unify us and move the country forward”? So, the issue of his ethnic background should not be a major factor.

In another development, the Muslim–Muslim ticket of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC has also been generating widespread furore. Those condemning it have not also been able to refer us to any section of our subsisting laws that frown on the same-faith pairing of candidates. The same people have suddenly forgotten that the electoral victory of June 12 1993 was also based on Muslim-Muslim pairing of Chief M.K.O Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe. So, why are they celebrating June 12 and seeing the present combination as an abomination? As we have mentioned earlier, Nigeria is a secular state with no singular official religion; and, if there would be anything like adoption of an official religion, the constitution must be amended to give legal backing to it; and, this can only be achieved through the National Assembly. Interestingly, the lawmakers are representatives of all the states from different religious backgrounds. Even in the present political dispensation, there are some states with Muslim-Muslim and Christian-Christian Governors and Deputy-Governors respectively; and, heaven has not come down. So, why are we bothering ourselves with nothingness? At this age and time, what we should be concerned about is the people that can move the country forward and not the religion they profess; and, that should also be the case if the pairing was a Christian-Christian or Others-Others.

Another delicate situation is the imbroglio surrounding the chairmanship position of Senator Iyorcha Ayu of the PDP as a result of the emergence of Alhaji Atiku (another notherner) as the party’s presidential candidate. The proponents of his sacking or resignation to give way for a southerner to take his place have not also been able to back their demands with any provisions of the law. They have suddenly forgotten that Ayu was constitutionally and lawfully elected into office before the presidential primaries was conducted. The two positions are products of separate processes backed by the law; and, if there is anything that must be done to undo the present status or position; that process must also be recognized and backed by the law. If anything is done arbitrary to undo what the law has put in place; such would become illegal and that would not stand in the face of the law. It does not matter whether Ayu had earlier “promised to resign” or not; or whether Atiku gave his words that “Ayu must go” or not; those words/statements cannot be made sacrosanct when they come pari passu with the law. Ayu definitely knows his right on the matter: and, may want to defend it to the letter; because, it is backed by the law. Therefore, all the name-calling and exchange of hot words will not lead to an amicable resolution of the issue. If there is going to be any headway; such must be through moral suasion which must be guided by mutual understanding and co-operation. Nothing is impossible in politics; because, it is a field where you disagree to agree. Presently in the ruling party, the sitting president and the chairman are also from the north; and, they are still forging ahead as a national party. Interestingly, the chairmanship positions of both the APC and PDP were hitherto held by Southerners (Adams Oshiomhole and Uche Secondus respectively) before their kinsmen and party members orchestrated their removal.

Another very delicate issue is the rumours going round that the northern politicians in APC strategically opted for Shittima as the vice presidential candidate to Tinubu for ulterior motives. By now, one would have expected the leadership of the party and the candidates to have dispelled such damaging and dangerous rumours; but, their long silence on the issue is also a problem in itself.

In another but related development, the supporters of the emerging third force(s) from the other political parties such as that of the Labour Party (Peter Obi) should also be cautious in the way and manner they carry out their activities so that they will not give people the impression that their movement is all about the talks in some quarters that it is the turn of the south-east or Christian to produce the next president. All the rancorous media buzzing, showman-visitations to worship venues, declarations by some highly placed individuals and religious leaders should be tactfully guided in order not to be seen as tacitly drawing battle line along ethno-religious divides. Some actions could be misinterpreted or misplaced to the extent that such would inadvertently result in the loss of genuine love and support of those who would invariably see their religion or ethnic affiliations as the targets of abuse. Winning a presidential election under the present democratic setup is a function of the majority votes and obtaining 25% of the valid votes in at least 24 states. The spread is key; and, no one ethnic or religion can do it in isolation.

At this junction, it is very important to state it equivocally, that this review is without prejudice to the individuals and parties mentioned and not mentioned therein. The instances shared above are the delicate and crucial areas that need to be addressed urgently to forestall imminent dangers for our democracy in the road to 2023. The ongoing political maneuverings and movements are gradually giving the impression of a “gang-up” of the south against the north and vice versa; and, if the situation continues unabated, it is capable of leading us back to the era of the north/south dichotomy. If that be the case, the ethno-religious affiliations of the vice presidential candidates of the major parties will count for less or nothing; because, there will be mass decamping and antiparty activities across the political platforms based on the ethno-religious affiliations of the presidential candidates; and, this will be detrimental to our democracy as the electorate will have no other option than to vote along the lines of the three major geopolitical divides of north, west and the east as it were in the days of old. At the end of the day, the desperately sought equity and justice will further be flushed down the drain; because, you cannot build something on nothing. Everything must have to be done in accordance to the law.

From the foregoing, the earlier those concerned see the dangers ahead and put things in place to averting them, the better it will be for all and sundry.

A word is enough for the wise.


Oise-Oghaede writes in from Suru-lere, Lagos; and, he can be reached via


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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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