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A Review Of Tunji Olaopa’s The Unending Quest For Reform: An Intellectual Memoir 



Prof. Tunji Olaopa

By Festus Adedayo

 Literally, memoirs perform retrospection surgery on the memory. They do this by removing shards that encumber and make remembrance difficult. Intellectual memoirs do even more. As academic works spiced with human existential narratives, they offer one for the price of two. While the reader walks through the lane of history with the author to recreate the past, the reader is also afforded the benefit of a profound discourse which, together, forms a corpus of memorable intellectual narrativization.

Tunji Olaopa’s The Unending Quest For Reform: An Intellectual Memoir ranks hugely in this category. A 249-page work, it is a journey, not only into the very didactic world of the author’s intellectual life, it also provides invaluable insight into what he calls the systemic structures and operational dynamics of the Nigerian civil service.

For anyone in search of titivating titles that surreptitiously lure the reader into the body of a work, The Unending Quest is at first uninspiring and uninviting. The title heralds a prospective travel into the world of staid academy and philosophy. However, a curious fascination lies ahead upon a cursory reading of the book. Then, the reader immediately transposes into another world as they encounter a very insightful, well-written narrative of the life of a man whose existential itinerary is woven, like a tapestry, round the quest for knowledge and scholarship.

Foregrounded by impressionable words from two renowned scholars, one in cassock and the other in the shawls of the academy – Matthew Hassan Kukah and Eghosa Osaghae – the kick-off of The Unending Quest begins on a fluid plane. Like all Forewords, both scholars’ interventions dissect the book by way of summaries, whetting the appetite of the reader about an eventful historical progression. They did not shy away from alerting the reader that the totality of the memoir is woven round issues Nigeriana but such that remarkably enfold themselves into and supervene in the life trajectory of the author.

Aside from the Forewords, the book is broken into eighteen chapters which narrate the life journey of the author and his very luxurious thoughts about Nigeria and her development. The first thing the reader will find out about the book is that it is very lean on the author’s personal life but very robust on the existential dilemma of Nigeria. Before embarking on this journey, the author offered an explanatory note on why Olaopa embarked on writing a memoir at this point of his life. As he narrated, two schools of thoughts explain the maturation of a memoir. The first, heeding the call of the philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, frowns on the vanity of self-portraiture that underscores writing of a biography. The other, whose justification was given by the author himself, unfolds itself into the quest to write a memoir. This, he said, is the realization of the sociality of man as “being in a community.” The explainer for this is that, man whose life project is concerned with “how the life projects of others within the political community can become the platform for making sense and meaning out of existence” has great motivation in explaining how he got to where he is. Memoir is one of those routes.

As the book blows own whistle for the commencement of a journey with Olaopa, the author unapologetically flaunts his Aawe, Oyo State ancestry and the life-long impact that the rusty and sleepy town of Okeho, also in the same state, played in his life journey and foundation. The reader will meet this flaunt almost at every intersection of the book, almost to a repetitive level, with the result of an underscore of a life structure moulded on core traditional African values.

The book romanticizes the flora and fauna of Aawe, its “ancestral founding and apocryphal imaginaries” as well as the picaresque beauty of Okeho’s landscape, which all find a maturation and encore in Ali Mazrui’s famous triple heritage of Africa thesis. For Olaopa, Aawe was a study in the dynamics of shared values, especially its capacity to “mediate and manage differences.” The author’s most profound takeaway from Aawe, it will seem, is its “stable crises of plural configurations” and “mosaic of multi-colour differences.” The icing on the cake that that this sleepy town provided for him lies in its dynamics of shared values and eventually, its ability to lend self as a community of loved ones.

The above theme was further adumbrated in Origins 11: Family Life where the book doubles down on the communal nature of the author’s upbringing, how “the moral eyes of everyone (were) on everyone.” However, in spite of how the author painted the marital amity and harmony witnessed in his father’s polygamous home, Olaopa still has a negative perception of polygamy which he feels was “not fair to the mental development of a child and the intergenerational handholding that a child requires to get a solid grasp of life and existence.” This negative reading of polygamy, for Olaopa, is due to its socio-cultural internal dynamics “that often go wrong and drag the child’s mental and psychological balance with it.” This, to him, is the most robust justification for Christian theological abidance with monogamy.

With another chapter entitled Christianity and the spiritual, Olaopa seems to have completed his narration of his personal memoir section of the autobiography, preparatory to discussing his intellectual journeys. In this chapter, like most philosophers who arrive at intersections of knowledge where they begin to query the existence of God, Olaopa was also drawn to that troublous juncture where three footpaths meet, apologies to Professor Ola Rotimi’s The gods are not to blame. Brought for reflection at this point was the dialogical relationship between the Yoruba spirituality and Christianity, the relationship between Christianity, mysticism and occultism, the author’s invariably tending seriously towards agnosticism and eventual return to the faith of his father. His son’s decision to walk the path of his father by staying at home on a Sunday woke Olaopa up from his solipsism. The reality rudely perched on his mind that rather than his personal experience being an exclusive feeling, it verged on the experience of others. With this reality slide in a subterranean manner into his thought, Olaopa there and then kindled afresh the dying fire of Christianity in him and set aglow the quickening of his return to the faith of his father.

In Books and Becoming, Olaopa offers the rationale for his bookish life and the obsessive place that the search for knowledge occupies in his life. “My entire life has always been defined and shaped by books,” he declares unapologetically. As an affirmation and testimonial to this apologia, the reader is taken through a kaleidoscope of Olaopa’s dialogical relationships with books, beginning from Daily Sketch, a newspaper which his father daily purchased and which he propitiated regularly to the god of his precocious mind. Olaopa also holds like a totem his encounters with the genie in the genius of Prof Ojetunde Aboyade and how, in Form Three, he masticated the generally considered bony offering of Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died. Then, he began to fill his mental barn, at that precocious point in his life, with works on historical heroes like Galileo Galilee, Queen Amina of Zaria, Mansa Musa and down to Archimedes. Among his classmates, this exemplary but unexampled relationship with books earned him the sobriquet Azikiwe, a literal reading of the “book – iwe” in a Yoruba reading of the name of Nigeria’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe.

Here too, the reader is led into the near marital disharmony that books were to cause in the author’s family. Finding it difficult to understand Olaopa’s incestuous consanguinity with books, the author confessed that his wife, at the teething stage of their matrimony, thought he was arrogant and perhaps, selfish. The woman, who was later to be a convert to her hubby’s life journey of spiritual affinity with books, found it difficult to penetrate this book obsession and felt he was selfish to carve a solitary world for himself inhabited only by him and his army of book companions.

Right from here, the reader will quickly realize that reading The Unending Quest has the potential of offering imperishable quips, per page, of the book. This reviewer has his own copy of the book pockmarked with pencils underlining those rich lines and which he has hoisted to lusciously enrich his life. One of those quips is where Olaopa sees his life journey as one constantly at the entrance of Apollo’s temple at Delphi, engaged with the graffiti, “Man, know thyself.” The second is Olaopa’s verdant discovery at the altar of Plato which taught him “the embryonic understanding of the relationship between knowledge and social construction.”

One major nuance of The Unending Quest is its simplification of staid philosophical schools and the offerings of their proponents. Chapter three of the book is one of those. The Republic of Plato is lent to explain Olaopa’s intellectual journey which he confessed wasn’t triggered from the four walls of the classroom but the existential agony he encountered when, in 1965, as a young boy, he escaped the gory bloodthirstiness of Western Region’s deadly political violence which nearly killed him. Deploying the large expanse of intellectual frameworks he acquired from reading the works of philosophers like Plato, the philosopher whose ancient Athens and its declining democratic fortunes constituted the hub of his philosophical obligations, Olaopa’s life quest too got enveloped by the quest to provide answers to that Platonic quest, “how can we build a city on the foundation of justice?”

Apart from the tissues of precocious audacity that he acquired from youth, in The Unending QuestOlaopa credits the University of Ibadan as where he acquired a lifelong intellectual armament, capacity for discursive engagement and boldness that have proved invaluable in his adult years. UI, as it is fondly called, the book recalls, was where the young Tunji was given a clear vision of the world. It was the place of incubation and maturation for his idealism and which moulded the man who would later mutate into one of Nigeria’s foremost intellectual public servants. It also taught him the worth of institutional values and the imperishable values of the intercourse of ideas and ideals.

The Unending Quest is however not a book ordered in a sequential chronology. For instance, while it begins with a chapter entitled Books and becoming, it was not until page 42 that it narrated a major occurrence of the author’s life at his birth. In this chapter, with the title, In the valley and shadows of death, the author avails the reader of a major existential travail that he underwent while growing up. As is the book’s renown, this chapter begins, not without a major philosophical quip to explain the binary of boom and gloom that life is renowned with. “From birth to death, the trajectory of life is marked by all kinds of experiences; the pleasurable and the most difficult, the sinister and the benign… the bitter and the sublime.” It was in the cusp of this that he narrates his mother’s encounter in 1960 at the annual baby show in Okeho where baby Tunji, without “a prize-winning physiognomy” caught the attention of a Reverend Sister who delivered a message to wit, no matter the challenge the author’s mother encountered grooming the child, he was never to be taken “outside the faith.” Thus, when in early life, he encountered a head-cracking recurrent pain that defied all prognoses and even spiritual medications, Olaopa took this existential travail, which almost drove him to the point of suicide, as one of the agonizing experiences that come with the binary offering of life.

In Further philosophical reflection on my spiritual journey so far, Olaopa, deploying philosophy, agonizes about Pentecostalism leaving the most cogent route of faith and its slithering into what he termed an absolutist theology.

In virtually all other chapters of the book, the reader is availed a peep into the fecund administrative career experience of this numero uno intellectual public servant. It is a very massive reflection and insight into, in the words of Professor Eghosa Osaghae, one of the writers of the two forewords of the book, “the nexuses among public policy, public administration, civil service and governance on one hand, and how these can be transformed along the paths of the reforms that seek to address the pathologies of bureaucracy.” This, Olaopa did in this book, with a philosophically in-depth and clinical knife that is delivered with the aid of scientific analyses.

For instance, Olaopa believes that there is an administrative pathology in the Nigerian civil service which he tagged “debilitating bureau-pathology” and that this conundrum can be surmised as “too many people doing nothing; too many doing too little and too few doing too much.” He doubled down on this public service equivocation in The making of a public servant reformer. Here, he dissected the messy, complex conundrum of reforms. More significantly, he laid out the task demanded of a public service reformer, as that of a responsibility to “think politically and act strategically.” The environment in which the reformer is expected to work is one that is circumscribed by politics and politicians, he says. In the book, you will be availed with Olaopa’s assessment of the Nigerian public service. To him, it is an institution that is inherently paradoxical, whose dysfunctional nature is matched only by its potential. Using the Chinese philosopher, Confucius and his philosophy of pedagogical dynamics, Olaopa used this philosopher to explain the expectation of society from the public servant. The expectation, he said, is for them to “work anonymously but assiduously at the foundation of good governance without any care for self-serving benefits.”

Olaopa also offers his frown on the pathological bureaucratic culture of the Nigerian public service, submitting that this culture is the very antithesis of the efficiency that is expected of the service and limiting its quest to serve as complement of democratic governance.

In other chapters of the book like Abuja and the presidency, From the MSO to the BPSR, Becoming a Permanent Secretary, Reform philosophy for Nigeria: The Socratic Imperative, Reform agenda, Administrative leadership and the politics of reform, From ISGPP to NIPSS: Retirement and post-retirement think tanking, the reader will come in contact with an effusion of the author’s constantly iterating mind and his eclectic prognosis of the Nigerian public service dilemma. You will invariably wonder how Nigeria would retire a man with such humongous recipes for her atrocious public service challenges at a time when the country required his services the most.

In From the MSO to the BPSR, Becoming a Permanent Secretary, for example, the reader will be thrilled about how the author deployed pre-Socratic philosophers’ treatment of the concept of change and the relationship between permanence and change, into explaining the flux, the “administrative befuddlement” that he met when he eventually left the speech writing office at the presidency for the Federal Ministry of Education. For him, what he called the “kaleidoscope of dizzying dysfunction” in the Nigerian public service has a relationship and explanation in Heraclitus’ world of flux and logos. This then explains the paradox of “how the logos can remain the same universe defined by constant flux.”

Olaopa’s understanding of the role of the Permanent Secretary differs from the simplistic “I am directed” zombie that he is perceived to be. For him, he is multidisciplinary or a generalist who is expected to serve “as an institutional memory, as well as the custodian of the traditions, knowledge and the chains of the interlocking conventions, rues and due processes that constitute the ministry she heads.” He thus needs, according to him, “a mix of strategic, tactical and operational capacities and commitments” to navigate through the dysfunctional complexion of the civil service.

In the Socratic Imperative as a reform philosophy for Nigeria, Olaopa bears his mind on how the Nigerian public service must, like Socrates, examine itself because an unexamined life is not worth living. The civil service, in overcoming its bureau-pathology, must accept the optimal system model. This offers a comprehensive analysis of how the service can overcome “both its internal administrative incapacities and external political challenges to effectively become an agent for good governance.”

The book ends with a chapter entitled, Prospecting Nigeria’s future as a nation which is essentially a diagnosis of Nigeria’s leadership dilemma and its objectionable following, as well as the ailments latent in the due. He submits that there is an urgent imperative for restructuring.

The book is a very compelling autobiography, the type that is a rarity in this part. From the beginning to the end, it is a compelling work which, like the preoccupation of the weaver of a tapestry, needles together primary data of the encounters of a participant observer in the theatre of governance.

Though downcast that he did not study philosophy as he desired to be navigated by his childhood mind compass, Olaopa eventually made a profound art of philosophy as a philosopher, practitioner, expert-insider, advocate of a better society, theorist and a man whose research mind will make a first class traditional ethnographer cringe with envy. In this book, the reader will hear the voice of a political scientist and an intellectual public servant whose understanding of the workings of the service is at best professorial.

All in all, the 249 pages of this book, The Unending Quest For Reform: An Intellectual Memoir ripple with nuggets and invaluable insights into the problems of Nigeria, from the vantage of the public service. Olaopa provides a verdant assessment of the service and, ipso-facto, boring down into the Nigerian existential malaises. On a personal note, it has been long I read a book of that intellectual texture that provokes such immeasurable fervor in me, from any public intellectual. It should be a must-read for students of political science, public administration, political theory, development studies and philosophy. It should also be an important companion for, not only anyone aspiring for a career in the public service but for anyone in doubt about the value of philosophy and intellectualism in any life engagement.

. Adedayo, PhD, is a  Tribune Columnist and Editorial Board Member. 


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Arts & Culture

Ojude Oba Poised To Become A Global Event – Abiodun



L-R: Former Governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba; former Senator representing Ogun East, Senator Lekan Mustapha; Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun and the Awujale and Paramount Ruler of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona at the 2024 Ojude Oba festival held, at the Ojude Oba Pavilion, Ijebu-Ode on Tuesday.
Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, has said that his administration is poised at making the Ojude Oba festival a global event.
The governor who stated this on Tuesday at the 2024 Ojude Oba Festival held at the Ojude Oba Pavilion in Ijebu-Ode, said the annual event has grown from a mere gathering of Ijebu people to felicitate the Awujale to an event that attracts both national and global audience.
According to the governor, the festival, which has become a tourist attraction, symbolizes and reflects the collective unity of the people known for hard work, perseverance, and industry.
He said: “Ojude Oba festival is not only a cultural heritage for the indigenes of Ijebuland but has now become a significant event that attracts local and foreign tourists to Ogun State, showcasing our hospitality and enviable tradition of Ijebuland to the national and global audience.
“This festival serves as a symbol of our unity, tourism and a rallying point to all the Ijebu sons and daughters to celebrate the life and times of our tradition, culture, and revered monarch.
“It has become a catalyst for the development of Ijebuland, and this undoubtedly underscores the importance of preserving our traditions for future generations.
“By standing for unity and harmony, we elevate our community and set an example for others to follow. The essence of unity and harmony in Ijebuland can be seen willingly in cultural events like this festival.
“Our administration is deeply committed to supporting the initiative to make it a permanent event in the global tourism industry,” he said.
The event, Prince Abiodun observed, creates opportunities for an advancement which has brought about the socio-economic development not only to the axis but the state as a whole.
While thanking President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for showing interest in expanding the festival, especially with plans to include it in the UNESCO’s world cultural heritage, the governor said his administration was committed to providing the conducive environment for business to thrive.
He said the festival provides an opportunity for the Ijebu people to take stock and project the future. He called for unity and harmony from people across the state, adding that it was time to work together to build a virile state.
“The state government will continue to create a conducive atmosphere for community development across the state and I solicit the support of the people, especially all the sons and daughters towards the 20th National Sports Festival, Gateway Games, 2024, part of which will be hosted right here in Ijebu-Ode,” the governor concluded.
Minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Hon. Hannatu Musa-Musawa, who was represented by Rev. Ben Ugo, Director of Cultural Industry and Heritage, said her ministry was working towards promoting and preserving cultural heritage of President Tinubu’s administration with the creation of economic expansion to the tune of $100bn.
He acknowledged the cultural diversity of Nigerians, noting that the federal government is working towards making the country a cultural hub by the year 2030.
The Chairman of the 2024 Ojude Oba festival, Chief Olu Okuboyejo, appreciated the governor for his support for the festival and the people for turning up en masse  to grace the occasion.
L-R: Former Governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba; former Senator representing Ogun East, Senator Lekan Mustapha; Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun and the Awujale and Paramount Ruler of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona at the 2024 Ojude Oba festival held, at the Ojude Oba Pavilion, Ijebu-Ode on Tuesday.

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Meet Shaibu Husseini, The New Sheriff At NFVCB



Dr Shaibu Husseini

By Esther Kainebi-Daniel

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on Friday, January 12, approved the appointment of Dr. Shaibu Husseini as the new Director General of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), succeeding Adedayo Thomas.

Dr Shaibu, is a celebrated journalist, performing artist, cultural administrator, public relations and media expert, and film curator. He is an alumnus of Lagos State University (LASU) where he studied Mass Communication at the institution’s School of Communication and earned a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc First Class) in Mass Communication, the University of Lagos (UNILAG), where he earned Master of Science (M.Sc) wiith Distinction, and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Mass Communication . His PhD was on film studies as his thesis examined the ‘Structure of Film Production Companies in Nollywood’.

A trained and seasoned theatre, film, broadcast, public relations and culture expert, he is reputed as one of the most consistent documentarists of Nigeria’s vibrant film and movie industry Nollywood and he is an astute commentator on arts, theatre and film development in Nigeria and the continent of Africa.

In 2014, he was honoured for his contributions to the development of Nigerian film industry by Nollywood Film Festival in Germany.

He has been the chairman of the College of Screeners and a member of Jury Board of Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) for many years.

An alumnus of the United States International Visitors Leadership Programme and the AIG-Public Leaders Programme of the Blavtanik School of Governance of the University of Oxford; Dr Shaibu was one time Secretary of the Governing Board of the National Theatre/National Troupe of Nigeria (from 2011 to 2015). He was appointed Director of Dance and Music and Head of the Strategic Communication Unit of the National Troupe of Nigeria.

Dr Shaibu has been the Chair, for 16 years running, of the Selection Committee of Africa’s premier film award – the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) and a member of the prestigious AMAA jury.

He has attended several conferences, workshops and festivals and has sat and currently sits on a number of local and international Committees on film, theatre and allied matters including serving on the Board and on the jury of a number of Festivals, Awards and Committees including the Board of the Mainframe Film Institute run by the legendary Tunde Kelani, the board of In-short International Film Festival and on the Board of the Bank of Industry (BOI) Nollywood Fund.

Author of ‘Moviedom: The Nollywood Narratives’, Dr Shaibu is a Senior Teaching and Research Fellow at the Mass Communication Department of the University of Lagos and he was a former member of the Nigeria Official Selection Committee charged with the responsibility of deciding Nigeria’s entry for the Best International Film category of the Oscars.

He is currently a voting member of International Golden Globes Award and a consultant to the Berlin International Film Festival. He has served and still serves as a resource person, trainer in the field of theatre, culture and mass communication.

The new NFVCB DG was a pioneer artiste of the National Troupe of Nigeria; he has considerable theoretical, practical and field experience in the area of theatre, cultural administration as well as in public relations, advertising, journalism, broadcasting and film.

He considers himself an enthusiastic, dedicated, detailed and capable theory cum practically oriented professional who is able to improve the ability of an organisation to deliver outcomes that matter.

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Arts & Culture

A Panel Discussion On Decolonization/Decoloniality



Please join us for a panel discussion with our distinguished panelists, who will be sharing their expertise on “Decolonization/Decoloniality”.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

5 PM Nigeria

10 AM Austin

5 PM Berlin

Register and Watch:

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