The Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art: Restoring African Art To Its Glory
The concept of the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art arose from an appreciation of the disconnect between the Nigerian people and their history and heritage. It is a timely and laudable initiative, coming when the country and its people are in dire need of a rallying sentiment to unite a nation stretched almost to a breaking point by decades of un-nationalistic conduct. This commendable project will also instill in an increasingly disenchanted citizenry a can-do spirit drawn from the knowledge of a long-shared history and the ingenuity of their ancestors, as demonstrated by their artistic skill.
According to the famous Pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey, “A people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Thus, the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Arts represents an opportunity to provide a sure-footed generation of Nigerians, deeply rooted in their history—and how the world works—and drawing from such knowledge clarity and conviction required to set things aright.
Does art contain such capacity to inspire, some might wonder? What useful knowledge is there in the lost, discarded, buried, and forgotten materials of a long-dead generation? As a longstanding medium for expressing the “thoughts, emotions, intuitions, and desires” of artists (as members of society), art possesses the capacity to capture and reflect the mood of society—at least from the artist’s perception of it. This quality has imbued art with the capacity to reflect the changes in human society in the various stages of its evolution. It has also contributed to establishing artworks as an indispensable source for historical reconstruction and cultural interpretation, especially in societies where writing was not developed. And it is in this observed resourcefulness of art—as a store of historical/cultural evidence—that archaeology as an academic discipline is also anchored.
One fundamental characteristic of society (everywhere) is its non-static nature. Societies change over time, mainly in reaction to internal (social and environmental) and external (inter-group) dynamics. This transformation, which occurs in society’s organizational structure and cultural content, is defined in four (identified) stages of social evolution: hunting and gathering, pastoralism and nomadism, agriculture, and a stage of commerce. Also, it is reflected in the variance of their material culture from the stone age to the bronze and metal age. This material culture that encompasses the artistic expressions of these societies carries evidence of the changes in social order and the preoccupations of various stages of societal evolution. All these changes are documented in several pieces in the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art.
In African Art, Frank Willet observes that until recent times in the history of society, the story of humans has largely been about his interaction with the environment. In this preceding period, our ancestors developed various means of depending on the environment to ensure survival. In “traditional” Africa, predominantly ceremonial art played a key role in the ceremonies intended for such purposes. This is not subscribing to functionalist interpretations of African art as simply an outcome of aesthetic and creative appetites; rather, it acknowledges the predominant role art played in Africa’s social and economic systems, of which ceremonies formed an integral part. There were ceremonies for ensuring successful hunting expeditions, sufficient rainfall, fertile fields, bountiful harvests, protection, warding off bad spirits, and generally good fortune. For such occasion(s), special masks, drums, ceremonial apparel, and sculptures were employed in communication between the physical and spiritual realms following the provisions of traditional African mythology, which proposes a connexion between the world of the living and the netherworld.
Plastic art, as some have argued, was not well developed among earlier hunting and gathering groups such as the recovered objects in east and central Africa, as well as a later pastoralist and nomadic communities such as the Massai and the Fulani, whose migratory lifestyle—in search of game, freshwater, and pasture—did not encourage the creation of permanent settlements. This does not mean that these societies were devoid of art and artistic expressions. They mainly practised other forms such as music, dance, narration, poetry, and glyptic arts like engravings and paintings on natural (rock) surfaces. Basketwork was a form of art that was (in some ways) attainable. The skill was developed to very high levels because of its lightweight, durability, and ease of transportation. Although the former can be practised almost anywhere, the latter was carried out at centres where these groups repeatedly returned, converging in large numbers for marriage, initiation, and other such ceremonial rites. Such practices have accounted for the numerous (early) cave and rock paintings scattered around the arid regions of northern and southern Africa and some parts of east Africa.
The distribution of rock paintings and engravings among these African regions also follows the availability of natural shelter in caves that served the convenience of migratory groups. In East Africa and some parts of southern Africa, especially the savanna gap between forest and arid regions, mixed farmers and herders created a blend of material cultures. Therefore, the lighter the wood in the area, the less developed the sculpture and the more prominent the earthenware and beadwork. Subsequently, with the organization of human groups into settled agricultural communities, a stage marked by the domestication of animals and plant seeds and an expansion in the human population, there was an increase in the incidence of plastic arts—wood, ceramic, stone, and metal sculpture. As Willet notes again in his book, African Art, “It is the settled agriculturalists who have produced most of the well-known sculptures of Africa, especially from the rainforest.”
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Three major factors contributed to the predominance of sculptural works of art south of the Sahara. One was the introduction and proliferation of iron tools which facilitated agricultural production. The second was the impact of an agricultural basis of community that permitted permanent settlements and the development of architecture, which created a demand for sculptors to produce architectural fittings such as doors, windows, house-posts, and other household furniture. Thus, it is observed that the most productive traditions have produced the finest African sculpture. The third important factor was the availability of wood (the chief sculptural material in the area). The variety and abundance of this material supported an extensive array of products and the development of sophisticated craftsmanhip. Some examples of these works are represented in the Museum.
Willet suggests a correlation between the existence of high quality and quantity of sculpture in the sub-Saharan region, the abundance of material, and the existence of elaborate political institutions. He quotes Fr. Kelvin Carroll’s assertion in Yoruba Religious Carving, which states that:
Constant suitable work is necessary for the full development of a carver’s abilities. It was the group of carvers in a district -repeating the same themes and only gradually introducing new ones – which built up a cumulative genius capable of supporting the less gifted carvers. It was… this evolution as a group, rather than the religious intensity or emotion of the carvers, which gave much of its artistic power to the old carving. If sufficient carvers could be- similarly employed – and fully employed – in modern conditions, the artistic level of the whole group would rise and individual geniuses would emerge.
Examples of wood carvings are in the Shyllon museum.
The next level in societal development is what is known as the “commercial stage”. This stage is one of the well-established networks of interaction, advanced metalwork, and greater cultural exchange (diffusion) between settled communities. It was a period that witnessed increased population density and competition for the control of unevenly distributed resources, which often assumed ideological dimensions with cultures vying for dominance. Internally, interactions took the forms of trade, diplomatic exchange, and war. Externally, the earlier Middle Eastern-North Africa cultural influence was driven by trade and diplomatic relations, expansionist, and proselytization (Christian and Islamic) campaigns. And then came the latter (modern) European influence, which also took the form of trade (illegitimate and legitimate), diplomatic relations, conquest, proselytization (Christian), and colonization. This period witnessed contact between different (material) cultures and saw the introduction/spread of new ideas, materials, and techniques to hitherto culturally distinct regions.
The introduction of Christian and Islamic worldviews into Africa, from the 2nd and 7th centuries AD, had significant influences on indigenous socio-cultural and economic practices, especially among the communities along the northern fringes (Ethiopia, Egypt, Nubia, and parts of northern Sudan) of the continent which were most exposed. In Ethiopia, where the emperor (Ezana) declared Christianity the state religion as early as the 2nd century AD, Christian traditions have continued to exist, only suffering a momentary decline in the 7th century in the face of Islamic expansion. The influence of Christianity on Ethiopian art was profound enough to split its art traditions into “Church art” and other forms of “popular” arts—basketry, textile, and jewelry—that share similarities with other traditions in the region. Thus, Ethiopia remains one of the best examples of Christian influence on African art and culture symbolized in artforms, including illuminated manuscripts, iconography, and the depiction of crosses in paintings and metalwork (as in currency and royal ornaments).
Also, the spread of Islam into the hinterlands of Africa as far as the southwestern region began with the conquest of most of northern Africa. From thence, the religion spread through trade and proselytization, first into parts of eastern Africa and gradually to West Africa. This normally followed a pattern where the ruler having converted (for several reasons, including key trade and diplomatic relations) is joined by his subjects. This way, Islam spread (at the expense of traditional African religions), carrying alongside it the cultural traits of (the Arabs) its originators, creating new, and transforming existing communities to fit Islamic models. As a result, Islamic calligraphy and architectural designs were adopted in these regions, phasing out traditional forms of artistic representations (particularly representational art), which were officially frowned upon in Islamic doctrine.
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The halting of the first wave of Christian and Islamic “religious-cultural” expansion into the southernmost fringes of the African hinterland meant longer preservation of indigenous practices. This, alongside factors such as high levels of creativity, availability of materials, and the presence of well-established political institutions encouraging productivity, may have accounted for the large amounts of sculptures with a distinguishing level of sophistication in the sub-Saharan region, as symbolized by the Benin and Yoruba traditions which are dated over a thousand years old. Among these are also other sophisticated and antiquated traditions from the middle-belt regions of present-day Nigeria, such as the famous Nok Culture.
As a phenomenon spanning all four stages of societal development, art is an indisputable resource for evaluating extinct and extant societies. Every stage of societal development leaves an imprint on its art. According to Jess Castellote, the Director at Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, art’s deep role in traditional African social organization serves as a means of looking back in history at “the organizational structure of society; the culture, the religion, the philosophy and aesthetics.” It also offers itself as an important tool for dispelling unfounded claims of cultural superiority and inferiority. For an illustration, observing the changes in the hunting depictions in the rock and cave paintings of northern and southern Africa provides insight into the types of animals available and tools used in those regions at the time.
Likewise, the similarity in technique, material and cultural significance of artworks between the Yoruba of Nigeria and neighbouring Benin, Togo, and the Edo (Benin) of Nigeria reinforces the belief in a cultural connection. The recent phase of the “commercial stage,” often referred to as the “modern era,” has profoundly impacted traditional African art. It has exported African art traditions/forms (mostly through slavery) to other regions of the globe, introduced new ideas, and influenced how African art is perceived and studied.
With this brief introduction to aspects of African art, you can have a better appreciation for the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art.
.This is the second part of a series on the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art. Toyin Falola is a Humanity Chair and University Distinguished Teaching Professor, the University of Texas at Austin.
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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.
NEW TIMES CULTURE
Olaopa: The Self As A Patriotic Reformer – The Tales Of A Memoirist
Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir
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