Social Discourse And The Toyin Falola Interviews: Matters Arising
The plural status quo of the Nigerian state gives rise to a series of discursive issues from federalism and restructuring to religious fundamentalism, from good governance to democratization, and from economic degradation to nation building. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Nigeria’s social discursive space is one of the most vociferous on the continent. This is in no small measure due to Nigeria’s larger than life status as a continental driver of ideas, and even problematic, around which the continent is perceived. Nigeria generates both rational and irrational but impassioned arguments as to what has happened and the how and why it has happened, as well as what is possible and what is not. From the newspapers stands to the social media, and from the informal settings to the formal academic and intellectual fora, individuals have one opinion or another to contribute to how it got to where it is and what should be done.
All Nigerians are ardent critics of their leadership. Nigeria generates criticisms from below and from above. The artisans, food sellers, traders, and others have something to say. The entrepreneurs, doctors, accountants, sports persons, musicians and other professionals hold perspectives. Academics, scholars and intellectual generate critical analysis. From the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to the late Gani Fawehinmi, from Wole Soyinka to Odia Ofeimun, from Tam David West to Burna Boy, and from the ASUU to the NBA—there is a broad spectrum of socially discursive individuals and organizations that weigh in regularly on the imperatives of understanding and ameliorating Nigeria’s postcolonial and post-independence predicament.
Social discourse is usually situated in the academics and the media – print, broadcast and social. The university, for instance, as a citadel of learning, has come to denote that space for constant instigation of public and civil discourse on the Nigerian condition. And it becomes all the more interesting because the university, as the emblem of higher education, is also complicit in the predicament of the Nigerian state. This is to the extent that intellectuals and academics have all played one role or another in the determination of Nigeria’s current situation. Academics have been ministers; and Nigeria’s last president holds a doctoral degree. However, you have also found intellectuals who have attempted to stay true to the understanding of the university as an ivory tower that enables a detached perspective from embodied participants.
David Gauke, the British politician and former Lord Chancellor, once remarked that “A willingness by politicians to say what they think the public want to hear, and a willingness by large parts of the public to believe what they are told by populist politicians, has led to a deterioration in our public discourse.” Yet, the schemes of politicians and their populist tactics and tantrums have been the source of trenchant social political analyses. Nigeria, and the social media, have facilitated the emergence of many social and political commentators and analysts, as well as public intellectuals. In this mix, Professor Toyin Falola—the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas in Austin—is unique. He is not just a mere intellectual who has made a significant mark in disciplinary history. On the contrary, he has left an indelible mental print on the African humanities. He brings to the analysis of the Nigerian and African conditions a deep sense of historical awareness, elderly wisdom and pragmatic dynamics that is uncommon in the analysis of significant elements of our collective predicament.
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And recently, he added a unique element to the social discourse on Africa through what he called the Toyin Falola Interviews. This constitutes a new modal framework in Falola’s pan-Africanist credentials, and the objective of achieving excellence in African studies. The objective of the interviews is very simple: “to promote the work of great minds and to spread knowledge to the general public about current intellectual projects that these great minds are pursuing.” This requires having profound conversations with scholars, intellectuals, policymakers, politicians and public figures on past events, current projects, influences and all things relating to Africa and her development and progress. Why is this project unique? It is a profound means by which to excavate and link past actions with present circumstances in order to generate current thoughts and blueprints on Africa’s predicament and the way forward. The interviews are more current, cogent and immediate. The interview format allows the audience to crisscross the interviewee’s mind and motives from what has been done before to what is being done and what is then possible. Essentially, and this is pure brilliance from the master historian—the interviews therefore present social discourse as an alternative source of future historical reckoning.
So far, many significant Africans and Africanists have been interviewed: Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, President John Kufuor, Aisha Yesufu, Tunde Kelani, Prof. Paul Zeleza, Hon. Kojo Yankah, Ebenezer Obey, Prof. Kenneth Harrow, Prof. Nimi Wariboko, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Prof. Jonathan Haynes, Dr Awolowo Dosumu, Segun Odegbami, Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi. From this list, Nigeria takes on a huge proportion of the significant personalities interviewed so far. And for a fundamental reason: Nigeria’s political development resonates at the moment across the continent. The plural dynamics manifesting in Nigeria reflects similar incidences across Africa, from the Congo to Senegal, and from South Sudan to Mali. When the Toyin Falola Interviews commenced, Nigeria was just making sense of the COVID-19 pandemic which morphed almost seamlessly into the #EndSARS protests. The latter was a violent chain of reactions by Nigerian youths, powered by the social media, against police brutality, represented by the dreaded and unsupervised Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protests eventually metamorphosed into a call for wide-ranging socioeconomic and political reforms that reechoed the existing outcry for the restructuring of the Nigerian polity.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the views of the actors interviewed present a robust and fiery estimation of the Nigerian state and society. The interview started, of course, with Aisha Yesufu, one of the most outspoken faces of the #EndSARS protests. Ms. Yesufu honed her activist teeth with the Bring Back Our Girls Movement that was in itself a reaction against state failure in the abduction of the now famous Chibok Girls that were kidnapped by the Boko Haram insurgents. Next in line was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former head of state and executive president as well as iconic statesman. This was followed by Bishop Matthew Kukah, the radical cleric who constantly speaks truth to power. And then we have Dr Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu who embodies the political legacies of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. These stentorian voices converged on what ails Nigeria, from their different vantage points; and how Nigeria can get out of the woods.
From the four avatars interviewed by Toyin Falola, Nigeria faces daunting problems, which Falola metaphorized as the four horsemen of the biblical apocalypse. From insecurity to economic underdevelopment, and from infrastructural deficit to incremental poverty, listing these issues is no longer enlightening. Yet, their various diagnosis and prognosis, indeed the very activism of Yesufu, Kukah and Dosumu, as well as the outspoken criticism of Obasanjo, is a cry against despondency and resignation. To fight for one’s nation is to display implicit trust in her capacity to overcome her predicament. Almost all these significant actors agreed on the present state of Nigeria, and her internal contradictions. As was to be expected, the issue of security took the front burner in all the discourses. And security underscores the most minimal of indices to judge the capacity of any leader. It is the very complicity of the law enforcement agents in fomenting troubles, and undermining the security they are meant to secure, that led to the #EndSARS protests in the first place. If, according to Father Kukah, security is not too much to ask for from the government, it becomes significant, in Obasanjo’s assessment that leaders must possess some modicum of experiences, like knowledge of economic matters and global relations. And as Obasanjo came to understand from the grilling he received from the interviews, leadership is a sine qua non for good governance and political stability. The choice of Yar’adua and Jonathan as presidents after him was considered by all to be a disservice to the future of the Nigerian polity.
The issue of federalism and restructuring underlies the very challenge Nigeria is facing, as became very glaring in the interview with Dr Dosumu and Father Kukah. The struggle to federalize Nigeria’s structures and processes points at a critical lopsidedness that keeps weakening every effort at making democracy work for development and well-being. Restructuring has been interpreted in so many ways. Yet, it simply means adopting a federal system of government that adequately addresses Nigeria’s plural existence. It means, for instance, decentralizing critical institutional framework in Nigeria to cater for the aspiration of the people. The idea of state police, for instance, might have been a panacea to forestall a monolithic security structure like SARS. Indeed, the issue of decentralizing the police was prominent in the #EndSARS protest that Ms. Yesufu participated in.
With the #EndSARS protest, the legitimacy of protest as one of the elements for watching over the existence of democracy came alive in Nigeria. That the protest was overwhelmingly youthful speaks to several morbid symptoms of the Nigerian state. For instance, it speaks to the alarming fact of youth unemployment that stands at 14.2 percent. It equally speaks to the preying of the law enforcement agents on a hapless youth population finding means of making ends meet. While the 419/Yahoo boys’ phenomenon is a byproduct of raging unemployment, it is a mark of unprofessionalism for the police to use that as an excuse to dehumanize the youths. And so, while Ms. Yesufu represented the positive potentialities of the Nigerian youths and what they are capable of, Chief Obasanjo canvassed for a very active structural dynamics that involve the Nigerian youth in the democratization and governance process in Nigeria. In this way, it will become very difficult for unscrupulous politicians and cleric to keep harnessing the unemployed energies of the youth for nefarious religious and political agenda.
Let us give Father Matthew Hasan Kukah the last word: no one gains anything if Nigeria should break up. In drawing the voices of significant individuals into critical conversations about the Nigerian condition, Professor Toyin Falola has brought into existence a crucial framework that keeps social discourses about Nigeria alive and current. The essence of this conversations is found in the aphorism that it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. There is nowhere that the ominous signs of war and dissolution are more frightening than in Nigeria. Speaking about our condition can bring us to a point of agreement about what to do to alleviate our collective circumstances.
Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Directing Staff, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos. email@example.com
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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 nonself, 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
Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir
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.
The Unending Quest For Reform – Tunji Olaopa’s Intellectual Memoir: A Commentary
By Matthew Hassan Kukah
It takes great courage for anyone to make the decision to write an autobiography. That is not something one does lightly. It is an act that opens one up to the public glare, and to lots of reinterpretations and misinterpretations . So, when I received the manuscript of Professor Tunji Olaopa’s memoir narrating his career as a scholar-bureaucrat, I had quite a rewarding intellectual experience reading it. It is really commendable that the tradition of documenting administrative career experience that was established by the icons of the civil service like Chief Simeon Adebo, Chief Jerome Udoji and Mr Allison Ayida, is being extended by a knowledgeable policy worker and expert like Prof. Olaopa. This tradition derives from a duty I think they owe the public service profession and public administration scholarship: documenting their career experiences .The uniqueness of Unending Quest for Reform is that it brings together the career trajectory of someone who is both a scholar and a bureaucrat; someone who brought the uniqueness of theory and scholarship to the peculiar profession of the public service. This great work closes the gap between the two.
When Tunji and I first encountered on the pages of the newspapers, I was amazed at the depth of his insights into policy issues. He shattered all the assumptions that some of us had about the civil service and those who inhabit that universe. I was forced to take more than just a reader’s interest in his articles. This is because I immediately connected to his mission as a governance and institutional reformer. Given that what he began to do reflected what I have been doing, it made sense that reformers must close ranks. He wrote with so much confidence and clarity drawing from a deep well of knowledge. There was a patriot committed to changing the tenor of public policy, making public service very attractive again to public intellectuals. I, therefore, started thinking of how we might work together. Sometime in 2013, when we reconstituted the governing board of the Kukah Centre, we did not hesitate to bring him on board as a formidable member. I had no little consternation when I heard the news of his untimely retirement by the Federal Government in 2015. It was one of those national decisions that one loses sleep and appetite over. But then, I was not disappointed that about three months
after his retirement, he announced the setting up of his pet project – the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). I was pleased that this reformer was now determined to reposition himself and continue on the path he had set for himself.
On 1st February, 2016, Olaopa convoked the inaugural international conference of ISGPP, which brought together eminent personalities like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the late Prof. Akin Mabogunje (who was the chairman of the ISGPP Governing Board), Prof. Richard Joseph, the global scholar and distinguished professor fromNorthwestern University, Evanston, along with virtually all known social scientists and governance-cum-development practitioners and scholars in Nigeria and the Diaspora. That, for me
, was the stuff that a scholar-practitioner of stature is made of.I would later be invited to feature in the ISGPP Book Readers Series when my 2011 book, Witness to Justice: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission, was subjected to a seminal discussion at the school’s imposing premises in Ibadan. Thereafter, the Kukah Centre and ISGPP brokered an agreement,and subsequently worked on a number of collaborative projects. That agreement is, of course,still exploring how the institutional collaboration might be deepened now and in the future.
Permit me to just reflect on a few fascinating things about Tunji. The first, of course, is what I want to recall as his spiritual tenacity. I am a Christian who has taken the pulpit to the public sphere and I know what that means. It has put me right in the eye of the storm and attracted curiosity and interest. And Nigeria is a very stormy place to be a Christian and a public person. Public office has made a mess of most people’s spirituality. But here is someone who does not hide his spiritual orientation. Indeed, here is a bureaucrat who not only sees the public service as almost akin to a calling in the priestly Levitical order. He also sees spirituality as a critical dimension of what makes a public servant committed to public service. I was delighted to read about the impact that his parents and his Baptist background had on his spiritual maturation.For me, the home and that heart made warm by the love, care and discipline of dutiful parents contribute a lot to who we eventually become. Tunji brought a lot of solid character traits from that warm heart kept alive by his parents to his public engagements.
Prof Olaopa clearly has drunk from the springs of wisdom of Plato, Max Weber, Chief Awolowo and Simeon Adebo; Olaopa practically learnt at the feet of these giants. He had the best of intellectual and moral grounding that would contribute to his making as a scholarbureaucrat. And I should know this: a reformer must always keep up the delicate act of transcending the fray, of always being above board. I could feel Tunji’s pain and frustration when I read the narration of his encounters with the deep-seated dysfunction of a system that ought to make critical impacts on the lives and well-being of Nigerians. And yet, this is a system that keeps foiling the best intentions, not only of the government, but also of well-intentioned reformers like Prof. Olaopa. And so, in 2015, retirement arrived at the doorstep of someone who had laboured for twenty-seven years trying to find the means and ways by which this civil service system could work better. And I wondered and still wonder at the paradox that is Nigeria. What country that wants to grow regularly dabbles in the wastage of her talents or even undermines the very best efforts of her heroes and heroines – patriots who dare to hold up the country’s image to her? How does a country that urgently wants to reform its institutions throw out her institutional reformers untimely on the altar of bad politics?
With Unending Quest for Reform, Prof. Tunji Olaopa is making a two-point contribution.The first is that the volume provides a documentary encouragement to those who would take up the onerous task of institutional reforms in the public service. The challenge is simple: this is a worthy and patriotic life aspiration that makes one’s existence fulfilling.Reform is a spiritual task, as far as I am concerned. It is like Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The book is both a challenge to the civil servants to pick up the gauntlet and an encouragement that it is something that can be done. I guess Olaopa sees his reform contributions, not with reference to the heights they could enabled him to attain, but in the context of the experiences he had garnered and could now document for those who must carry forward his space-clearing efforts. The second point Unending Unending Quest for Reform makes is that reforms do not and cannot end. The volume points at missteps and reform errors and, critical junctures and possible directions to take to keep carrying the business of institutional reforms forward for the sake of transforming Nigeria into a template of democratic governance worthy to die for.
Unending Quest for Reform is a solid testament. It is a testament to patriotic
commitment from an unbending spirit that is still fired by the will to keep up the business of reflecting on the best way to do public service and to serve himself until the spirit leaves his body. I hold up Prof. Tunji Olaopa as the essence of a public servant and institutional reformer.And I recommend the memoir as a book all public servants should keep on their shelves as a constant reminder of what is possible when reflecting about Nigeria and her future.Our nation owes him a debt of gratitude even as he continues to serve his country with diligence.
Kukah is Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.
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Olaopa: The Self As A Patriotic Reformer – The Tales Of A Memoirist
Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir
The Unending Quest For Reform – Tunji Olaopa’s Intellectual Memoir: A Commentary
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