Odia Ofeimun’s 2021 Awo Memorial Lecture In Perspective
Just recently, the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation Lecture, the 2021 edition, was held. And the lecture was delivered by no other person than Odia Ofeimun. In the effort to determine those Nigerians who are unrepentantly patriotic and would go to any length to seek the redemption of the Nigerian state and her project of national integration, Ofeimun’s nationalist credentials have never been in doubt. And he is not just anyone who has achieved his deep knowledge of the Nigerian state and her independence trajectory through some random public commentaries. He has been involved from a defining stage of Nigeria’s development unfolding, and continues to seek the means by which he could pragmatize his ardent belief about turning Nigeria onto the right path of nationhood. In 2016, Odia Ofeimun sought, unsuccessfully, to win the gubernatorial ticket for the office of the governor of Edo State. That is how far he believed in fighting for the soul of Nigeria.
Outside of politics, Mr. Ofeimun is a polemicist. He will jump readily into any disquisition about the problems and the possibility of the Nigerian state. For him, national possibility has nothing to do with current problematics. In other words, confronting Nigeria’s past and current circumstances could only be a means of achieving a better understanding of what we need to urgently do to redirect the ship of state that has been floundering for a long time. Odia Ofeimun is worth listening to because of his long-standing credentials. And this is all the more because he began his political tutelage under the wings of the sage himself—Chief Obafemi Awolowo. If there are still very few disciples of Awolowo that have remained as ideologically and politically untiring in championing the core values of the sage, Odia Ofeimun is eminently one out of three. He was side by side with Chief Awolowo through the latter’s political sojourn through the post-war years and the efforts to rethink Nigeria.
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No one is therefore more suitable to deliver the Awolowo Foundation Lecture at a time when the Nigerian state is facing its direst circumstances. And no topic is even more apt than the question chosen by Ofeimun: “Whither Nigeria?” This is a question that not only probes into the collective wonderment of Nigerians, but also seeks to stimulate an even profound understanding of where the ship of state is headed. It is also a fundamental question that seeks to lay the foundation of what is wrong with the floundering ship. This is important to the extent that understanding a problem is a critical key to factoring its (re)solution. Nigeria is tangled in multiple complexities and contradictions that could confuse the most perceptive of politicians, political scientists and political theorists. However, Ofeimun is one political observer that has achieved perspicacity, with a very healthy dose of optimism. Indeed, at the Awolowo Foundation Lecture, Ofeimun posits that the question—wither Nigeria? — “is some way of visualizing a country ahead of us that is eminently saveable in spite of the change that has not taken place.”
Saving or salvaging Nigeria has become, for many eminent patriots, a rather exhausting endeavor. I have made the point before, in several commentaries, that Nigeria is a tough place to love, even for those who are heroic in their patriotism. From her founding, the Nigerian state has produced several heroes and heroines—too many to mention—who had invested and still are consistently investing in the redemption of the Nigerian project. However, Nigeria has not been lenient with her heroes and heroines. Indeed, and in most cases, the Nigerian state hounds and harasses them until they are lost to exile or even death. And then we roll out the drums to celebrate their heroism, while demeaning their national capital and contributions in the process. And no longer many have made the pragmatic decision to “siddon look,” to borrow the phrase of the former attorney general of the federation, the late Chief Bola Ige who, most unfortunately, also lost his life to the Nigerian condition.
But Odia Ofeimun would not be silenced. Nigeria, for him, is worth saving. And that salvation is worth discoursing, as he did at the Awolowo Foundation lecture. And the starting point of that discourse on this occasion is a clear and present danger, the problem of insecurity. The critical state of insecurity that presently envelopes Nigeria and threatens over sixty years of independence and attempts at nationhood. And that insecurity is made worse by seeming helplessness—at the various levels of governance—to mobilize state capability to secure Nigeria. For Ofeimun therefore, all is not well with Nigeria. The centre is barely any longer holding to borrow this term from the famous aphorism by Chinua Achebe. For Ofeimun, part of the current situation is that the centre and the peripheries have now locked horns in a titanic battle resulting arguably, from (a) the unwillingness of the centre to take a firm stand on the insecurity in the state, and (b) the readiness of the state governors to forcefully do something to protect their citizens, even when the Constitution limits their efforts.
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One good thing about the discourse on the Nigerian condition is that it has arrived at a specific point of clarity where the issues at stake are poignantly in bold relief. And Odia Ofeimun did not only come to these clear elements of the Nigerian predicament with a characteristic perceptiveness; he also brought along the weighty arsenal of a clear ideological apparatuses bequeathed by the social and political philosophy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The analysis of Ofeimun’s lecture throws up the diagnosis that Nigeria’s problem is essentially ideational and ideological. And this affects the states of the critical elements of the Nigerian condition. As is usual, let us start with leadership. From Chinua Achebe’s foundational diagnosis, the leadership problem in Nigeria has been iterated to a depth of significant analyses, though many seem to be confusing the import of the “strong man” vs “strong institutions” leadership theory assumptions. Forgetting that strong institutions are invariably built by strong men who don’t have to come in the mold of heroes and giants, the sense in which “leaderless revolution cum leaders without titles” have become veritable perspectives in critical national transformation journeys. Leadership is fundamentally about critical ideation.
A leader’s first responsibility is to visualize reality, and then to impose an ideational and ideological framework on that reality. This was essentially what Obafemi Awolowo did with the old western region. The ideology of democratic socialism birthed the infrastructural wonders that distinguished the region from others on the continent. But we have been waiting in vain for such an ideational process with successive Nigerian governments. The insecurity conundrum has become all the more menacing because of the perception of government complicity that has arrested every effort at nipping the danger in the bud.
The political process that puts leaders in place is mightily flawed. Ofeimun astutely points at what he calls “a flat ideological landscape” across the political parties “which is easiest explained by the fact that they are mutually interchangeable, outside, and even within ethnic differences.” In this regard, Awolowo’s Action Group and the Unity Party of Nigeria were the critical exceptions in the First Republic. The ideological leaning of any political party explains the nature of the vision it wants to impose on Nigeria’s postcolonial reality and predicament. Without such an ideological template, leadership could only flounder in interpreting what is to be done. And further, a political culture has mushroomed that permits an unscrupulous politicking that impoverishes the citizenry. If the political parties lack critical internal values, in what ways then will they be able to stimulate the moral rebirth required by a country like Nigeria?
Leadership is not only the fulcrum for a viable institutional framework and dynamics, leadership successes are also crippled by the very lack of strong institutional initiatives that leaders fail to put in place. The state of our insecurity has become what it is due to the glaring absence of significant political will and shared passion in the ruling class to set in motion the legislative machinery to activate constitutional provisions that will generate institutional strength to resolve it. The issue of state policing has been bandied about so much that we all seem to have come to the conclusion that Nigeria is not serious about policing the boundaries and flashpoints of her plural and postcolonial complexities. And yet we wonder why the security challenges keep metamorphosing dangerously. We wonder why the youth population has become a cannon fodder to feed the murderous impulses of unconscionable politicians and radicalized clerics.
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The alarming out-of-school rates in Nigeria speak to the laxity with which successive Nigerian governments have pursued a viable educational philosophy that would get children out of the street and into schools where they can be molded into critical citizens. Education is a veritable consequence of a firm ideational process, and a prominent tool for oiling it. Ofeimun signaled the sad policy zigzagging that saw, for instance, President Yar’Adua jumpstarting an educational policy that will take educational backwardness in Northern Nigerian seriously. Nigeria indeed recognizes the significance of a viable educational philosophy in national development. However, as the policy trajectory over the last three decades demonstrates, policy actions speak louder than philosophy.
Mae Jemison, the American engineer and physician, once wrote, “I like to think of ideas as potential energy. They’re really wonderful, but nothing will happen until we risk putting them into action.” And nothing has really been happening that could be called national integration and national development in Nigeria because the energetic ideas that are required to actively jumpstart these processes have not been activated. We keep refocusing on the same old ideas rather than energizing new ones that have the potential for transforming our collective situation. The choice is clear now. As Odia Ofeimun puts it graphically: we either remain in our sustained state of perpetual transitions, arrested development or restructure. It is as simple as that, if we must save Nigeria.
Prof. Tunji Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Directing Staff, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos firstname.lastname@example.org
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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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