Adulthood Na Scam!
By Toyin Falola
Nobody go ask if you don chop
Nobody go send you free money
If you no get na you sabi
Adulthood na scam!
Nigerians have always been able to express their thoughts and views in the most straightforward and humorous ways. They accomplish this in terms of their actual conditions by using slangs, other gestures, or even dance moves. Slangs like “Adulthood na scam”, “Japa”, Sapa, Shege, and Las Las are sociolinguistic expressions that capture Nigerians’ thoughts and realities. When talented Lade created the “444” jingle for Airtel, perhaps only her close friends and family were aware that she was the composer of the catchy tune that had people bobbing their heads and lip-syncing whenever the commercial jingle played on the radio or television (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQHTY0FZins). I love the song so much that I went in search of her!
In Adulthood na Scam, Lade, in her melodic voice, sang about how things are for grownups in the country, and the song quickly gained popularity among Nigerian young people and even adults. Being an adult includes the hustle and bustle, the need to have good financial standing, getting less attention from others, and eventually yearning to revert to childhood. Many individuals identified with the song and concurred with the singer that life as an adult is not as idyllic as they had imagined or would experience it, and they wish they could go back to being kids. The phrase “Adulthood na scam” was largely agreed upon by the populace.
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Mo gbe o!
My landlord wants my overdue rents
Baba Isola is dead!
I don’t have his number in heaven
I drank gari this morning
I smoked gari this afternoon
I don’t have gari left for the evening
Mama mi Isola is dead!
She gave me iresi for breakfast
Amala for lunch
Iyan for dinner
She does not pick my calls in heaven
My best friend at Unilag has sold his computer to buy rice.
He is a Lecturer 1
Better paid than Lecturer 2
Is 2 not greater than 1?
Mo gbe o!
I know Bose, a secondary school teacher at a high school that belongs to my friend. She only hopes for a meagre amount of thirty thousand naira at the end of each month. She is a graduate and a single mother, and also battered with enumerable responsibilities from her family, being the first child. From the N30,000 (taxable), she feeds herself and her innocent little boy. She pays her rent and struggles to do her duties as the eldest sibling of her low-income family. This is not only a sad story but one that tears the heart apart. Hurting, isn’t it? She begs friends and colleagues for money now and then. She is ashamed; her benefactors are tired.
Right on the Lagos highway in Ikorodu, Joseph lives in a one-bedroom apartment with three other roommates. I know him through a friend who hired his brother. He is well-paid. The joyful news is that Joseph is a very talented computer guru who works with a top tech company in Lagos. Recently, he was moved to one of their branches on the Island in Lekki. But the sad story is that the company has no plan to provide accommodation or transportation allowance. He earns N400,000 monthly but struggles to save N10,000 at the end of the month, so he goes from Ikorodu to Lekki every day, spending a lot of his salary on transport fares and nearly as much as the time he spends in the office to commute to work and back. He sleeps in his office from time to time. Luckily, or maybe not so luckily, for him, he impregnated his girlfriend, and now they have to live together. This means he will pay for the entire apartment if he asks the three other roommates to leave. He will also take care of his newly unwed wife and the baby. Sadly, the parents of this school-dropout girl have been demanding. Last week, he had to send N50,000 to his father-in-law, who is yet to make up his mind about the dowry list—all these responsibilities from a seemingly huge looking N400,000.
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You, reading this, know more people than I do. You know their incomes. You know their stories. These are the lucky ones with jobs!
The National Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Office have been conducting the “Corruption in Nigeria Survey” since 2017, and they successfully did so in 2017 and 2019. This was done after receiving responses from 33,000 Nigerians at least 18 years old in the 36 states. In the study, they listed the main issues facing the country, which impact the realities of Nigerians. These include ethnic animosity, drug trafficking, corruption, high living expenses, unemployment, and issues with infrastructure, housing, health care, and education.
The slang Adulthood na scam! raises concern about how the low standard of living in the country affects citizens, as growing up means you will have to start taking responsibility amid a high unemployment rate and the low probability of getting a job that allows you to live comfortably. Unemployment is one of the most pressing problems in Nigeria. Thousands of youths with qualifications have to endure years at home doing nothing despite the responsibilities that come with age. According to Trade Economics, the youth unemployment rate in Nigeria increased to 53.4 per cent from 40.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. An increase like this impacts adulthood in the country; many youths are stranded or unable to shoulder the responsibilities and expectations of this stage of life.
There are three stages to life; first, you are a child, then you become an adolescent, and later an adult. According to an Encyclopaedia, childhood begins at age one and ends circa age 12-13, after which adolescence begins, where individual transitions from childhood to adulthood. This Encyclopaedia puts adolescents between 10 and 19 years; it is the shortest of the three stages of life. Adulthood takes a larger share of one’s life. In many countries, individuals are considered adults when they reach the age of 18. Wahala arrives!
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As a child, one lives a relatively easy life, and the major difference between most rich and poor children lies in the care they receive. At this stage, you can play as much as you want. Your parents would be happy to have you away so you can have fun, and as long as you do not suffer bodily harm, everything is fine, and you can always come home to ready-made meals. During this stage, you earn ridiculous amounts of money, material gifts, and love, especially if you are a cheerful, smart, and witty kid. Children are unconditionally loved, and their only nightmares would be the lack of freedom of speech, thought, and choice, as well as the numerous errands they are made to run.
During adolescence, youngsters try to prove to others around them that they are no longer children but are now grownup. This is where the suffering begins. You are put in many rough situations to demonstrate that you are no longer a child and can face life’s challenges. At this stage, your wants and needs increase geometrically, and the rate you get free money and other gift items decrease arithmetically, putting you in a tight angle. Also, the unconditional love you receive as a child reduces gradually, and the love you get will now be determined by your looks, behaviour, and efficiency. However, the joys of being an adolescent lie in the fact that you can now access more freedom of speech, choice, and thoughts, and most of the time, you are in charge of younger people and can lord over them like a real adult.
The adulthood stage is the last. It begins around 18 to 20 years of age and is maintained for the rest of one’s life, making it the longest stage. This time, you are as free as the birds in the sky; there is total freedom of speech, thought, and choice. At this age, you either receive love or hate, depending on what kind of grownup you are. This age can be tasking as adults like you, adolescents, and children expect you to make things happen. Your finances will largely depend on how you earn, how much, and how you spend. Your wants and needs, which now include that of the children, adolescents, and adults under your care, will never end. Do not expect material or monetary gifts at this period of your life because they will reduce geometrically.
An average child wants to leave the childhood stage and be an adult. They envy the adults’ freedom. One of the biggest pains for a child is waking up early when school is in session while the adults relax and do their things at their own pace and time. Children want to grow quickly to that level and be free of the school burden. They envy adults who are rich and long to get to this stage of life where they have their own money (not as gifts). However, these children fail to realise that adulthood comes at a steep price. Adults only give out money after taking care of a long list of bills and responsibilities, and being present when their children go to school is also part of their duties as parents. Since no one explained this to the young ones, adulthood looks like a paradise to them, so when they get to that stage and face the reality that adulthood is not what they thought it would be, frustration sets in.
This type of frustration inspired Lade’s “Adulthood na Scam,” which means being an adult is a fraud. Lade sings about how adults do not get free money, how no one cares about an adult’s well-being, how they have to hustle all day to make ends meet, and that they must manage their finances and pay bills. If we are being realistic, is adulthood a scam? Or is it that some adults do not know how to manage their affairs? Or is it the environment that has made life torrid for adults?
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Firstly, the hustling part of adulthood is non-negotiable. It is the backbone of adulthood. As an adult, you need a source of income, if not several, to sustain your life. This does not make adulthood a “scam,” as it is just normal. As an adult, you become the giver rather than the receiver; therefore, you should expect the rate at which you receive freebies to reduce significantly, and you should start giving more. This is another reason the hustling part of this stage of life cannot be negotiated.
Secondly, how adults manage their finances will determine whether they consider adulthood a scam. Many people cannot make a scale of preference or even differentiate between wants and needs; they just spend on anything and everything. Most times, people spend on things that do not add value. Expensive clothes, jewellery, alcohol, and so on, all on a relatively small budget that would cover their needs and take care of their younger ones. This means they must work extra hard to tick all their boxes, and surely, this set of people will believe that adulthood is a scam.
Lastly, society or the environment plays a major role in this matter. More developed societies like the United States of America and China have better economies, unlike Nigeria; therefore, it will be easier for adults to survive in these societies than in Nigeria. In America, for instance, one may get a job and a car at 18 (a fresh adult), even if it is on loan. Sadly, such is not the case in Nigeria, where adults in their late twenties struggle to secure a job that does not take care of their needs, let alone secure a loan for a car.
“Adulthood na scam” is largely based on the adult’s perspective and the realities of their localities. To some, adulthood is the survival of the fittest! They have chosen to kala and daju, ignoring every responsibility of being an adult. Instead, they adopt the stance that las las everybody go dey alright!
Adulthood is not a scam; scamming is for adults! I still have space for adoption if you want to end adulthood and become my baby. Not babe!
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Professors On INEC’s Will (4)
By Tony Afejuku
These past three weeks have been three supreme weeks of supreme value to all of us who have been gluing ourselves to this column for the right reasons: No room for lying; no room for deceits; no room for propaganda; no room for vanity. No room, no room, no room for what should not be here. Thoughts of the streams, thoughts of the spheres, music of the streams, music of the spheres enhance the column in diverse ways.
Our debaters for the past three weeks have demonstrated this. Each of the professors (all of them, in fact) has demonstrated this in the geometry of their presentations, in the minds of their geo-biographies, in the arithmetic of their convictions and persuasions. They in varying degrees did not support the will of INEC in the presidential election, even though the INEC chair is one of them, a fellow professor in the sphere of the humanities. In going over the longitude and latitude of the flow of our professors, of our debating professors, in their authentic and responsible sphere of spheres the clarity and precision of the geo-biography and nature of patience moved towards me. This may not be the right way of putting it, but I found and still find each debater to be a patient debater. Goodness! How a patiently patient listener and presider over the debate Professor Olu Obafemi was/is! The rhetoric of his ears or of his eyes or of his tongue was/is the rhetoric of the sage. If I imagined this, I imagined it well. His rhetoric was/is not the creation of this recorder, but it is the rhetoric of the music of the shaping of the debate and the words of the debaters who like him are fellow writers and creators.
Now I present to our readers the summation of Professor Olu Obafemi who presided over the reported affairs of the literati:
“This debate has gone on very well and quite enlightening. I have learnt quite a lot from the various positions eloquently proffered here. I like to chip in this bit: (1) there will not be much ideological departure from PMB to BAT. We will still operate a neoliberal economy, fraught largely with parasitism and consumerism. It is very likely, from his experience in investment, creative commercialism/commodity consciousness and cosmopolitanism in governance, Tinubu will be a lot more distribution-prone, more productive, and more people friendly than his predecessor; (2) having operated in comprador praxis in the US, Tinubu will engage globalization with discretionary envisioning (these are loaded, unconventional concepts that may require greater elucidation in future; (3) having not operated unitarist governance strategy that we have had since Ironsi till date, and with his governance experience in Lagos, including standing up to OBJ to run a well-structured State in Lagos, BAT will be more of his own man who will surround himself with talent rather than a cabalistic instinct (I am talking here about power delegation as opposed to power relegation); (4) we have good reason to believe that Tinubu will not go for a winner-take-all, conclave-prone governance and will strive to deliver goods and services— democracy dividends more generously/humanely. May the future be better and more tolerable for our people and all of us in this country, and all our fellows and compatriots in foreign lands, that is, the diaspora.”
But the pastor-spirit as well as the track of traditional culture in him elicited from Professor Ademola Da Sylva what amounted to a kind of vote of thanks to Professor Olu Obafemi and the co-debaters in the literati.
“Many thanks, Baba O.O., for your thoughtful, clinical and lucid interventions; and IBK’s, (and others’) too! So palpable and infectious are the feelings of hope, and delight of the innocent, that you have demonstrated in your concluding postings, and my silent response was a loud A-m-e-n! Then I turned to God the Almighty, and said, “Baba-God, these genuine feelings expressed by these great minds, aggregate what is uppermost in the mind of the Nigerian people at this point of our history. Can you, please, do this one last favour for the masses of this country? I believe it is not beyond what you as the Almighty can do for an otherwise potentially great country like Nigeria! Simply protect BAT, from the powers that have constituted themselves into human principalities in the corridor of power; completely and permanently seal the mouths of those demonic lions labelled as Cabals in Aso Rock that have, thus far, truncated Nigeria’s destiny! AMEN!” Perhaps we should remind ourselves that our hope was this high when many Nigerian voters, including yours truly, trouped out to vote in Buhari as President! Now, I remember, “demonic forces” written about by Reuben Abati during the Presidency of GEJ, unfortunately, like some nameless hydra monsters they always rear their ugly heads with every new administration, these Aso Rock principalities. PMB has his good share of them in the Abakyaris, and very familiar ones, for obvious reasons, like the Ngiges, et al, never for once did they allow PMB to be! They took advantage of his visibly infirm state, to take over the reins of governance in what could be described as a “civilian coup” and ran-over the ship of the country crashing against the Aso rock! The reason we are where we are, right now! BAT like PMB, also has a visibly infirm visage/characteristic unless we pretend to not acknowledge it, a new set of cabalistic demons would join forces with the existing ones, after all, it is still the same Political Party, to take advantage of BAT’s current clinical status! BAT of 20 or 10 years ago, isn’t the same BAT today on account of age and health. Yes, unless God Almighty does something about these principalities through His human agents, they might yet soon take over the affairs of Nigeria under BAT too, to do what they know best: to steal, to kill and to destroy, and ensure that the status quo remains as it has always been, in the spirit of Ted Hughe’s very famous poem, ‘The Eagle’!”
Well, well said, O debaters. But let the columnist-terminator and terminator-columnist have the last word. The time won’t be long to ask INEC this simple question: Did INEC lavish allegedly over three hundred billion naira to register the paltry figure or number of voters for the 2023 elections? Did the very small number (below ninety or so million) match the more than very huge sum of money that INEC got for registration of voters and for other election related matters, duties and responsibilities? How much money in millions upon millions did not allegedly go under and distributed to “principalities” and “demonic forces” hovering over Aso Rock and the Presidency of the presidencynologists? Any clear or unclear answers to these questions cannot or may not but tell us that the presidential election in particular was INEC’s will. Our debating Professors will not say on oath that they did not know. Did the presidential and other elections meet the expectations, wishes and will of the people generally? INEC has the answer. And our debating professors will bluntly tell the chairman of INEC this.
Because our professors are fellow writers, I must terminate the discourse by drawing their attention to the following poem “For the Consideration of Poets” by Haki R. Madhubuti (original name Don Luther Lee), the 81 years old African-American poet, author and publisher, and a native of Little Rock, Arkansas:
where is the poetry of resistance,
the poetry of honorable defiance
unafraid of lies from career
politicians and business men,
not respectful of journalists who write
official speak void of educated thought
without double search or sub surface questions
that war talk demands?
where is the poetry of doubt and suspicion
not in the service of the state, bishops
not in the service of beautiful people
and late night promises,
not in the service of influence,
incompetence and academic
The above lines speak volumes. Let them stay glued to our memories day by day. And may INEC’s chairman become the poet and historian of resistance after finding time to read this!
Terminated for now.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
Iwuanyanwu And The ‘Political Rascals’ Rhetoric
By Promise Adiele
Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot avails itself of multiple interpretative tools with a compelling grip on the moral imagination of the audience. As a timeless drama, it thrives on the hopelessness of the human condition dramatized by two vagabonds, Estragon and Vladimir who waited for a mysterious, titular Godot that never came. One of the features of the absurdist literary tradition portrayed in the play is the failure of language in the verbal context as a means of communication. The verbal exchange between the two vagabonds is evident of misinterpretation. One says one thing, the other interprets it differently. Thus, it calls to question the potency of language in the verbal medium as a means of communication. The preceding analogy reminds me of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and his purported insult to the good people of the Yoruba ethnic group. Perhaps, misinterpretation currently manifests as an inexorable content of Nigeria’s absurd credentials.
Last week, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, philanthropist, accomplished businessman, the Balogun Babaguwan of Yorubaland, Ahaejiejemba of Igboland and elder-statesman, while reacting to events that happened in Lagos during the last election when many Igbo people were bloodied and harassed, assured the world that “the Igbo and Yoruba are not at war”. On the heels of that statement came another one “they are Yoruba political rascals”. A syntactic analysis of the two sentences affirms that the Chief never meant to insult the entire Yoruba ethnic group. Rather, he was referring to rascals in Lagos who maimed, killed, and vanquished Igbos, non-Yorubas, and even some Yorubas with Igbo semblance, stopping them from exercising their voting rights during the election. He also said “we know them and we will deal with them”. Language scholars know that Chief Iwuanyanwu did not mean to insult the Yoruba. Sadly, some social nitwits, victims of acute cognitive impairment, went on a rampage to misinterpret and manipulate his statement to suit their treacherous, mischievous purposes. It is absurd.
Anyone who knows Chief Iwuaynanwu’s antecedent will never ascribe offensive rhetoric to him. He is soft-spoken, conciliatory and peace-loving. Like every sensible person around the world, not just the Igbo, he was aghast with lurid photos and video evidence of harm against the Igbo in Lagos during the last election. Unfortunately, people who ordinarily frolic in the whirlwind of ethnic hate have seized the opportunity to insult the Igbo ethnic group while using acerbic words on the revered Chief. These people, in their degenerate and diseased mentality, are trying to install a wall of hate between the Igbo and Yoruba. Let me state categorically that the Yorubas are wonderful people whose spirit of brotherliness, conviviality, and tolerance speaks volumes across the world. I have maintained over time that the Igbo and Yoruba share a cordial, interwoven relationship in marriage, business, friendship, association and neighbourliness. The two ethnic groups can never be involved in a conflict. Many Yoruba people have helped many Igbo people to their destinies and many Igbo people have helped many Yoruba people to their destinies too. An attempt for one ethnic group to harm the other will result in serious harm for the two. It is as implicating as that.
Since the presidential elections, keenly contested by different candidates from different ethnic groups in Nigeria, some people have desperately sought to reduce the entire development to an ethnic affair. It is myopic and at once condescending. Does Peter Obi represent the Igbo? Does Bola Tinubu represent the Yoruba? Does Atiku Abubakar represent the Hausa/Fulani? These candidates all have supporters across the country. Of course, they will have a preponderance of support from their ethnic base. That is the way of politics. Unfortunately, ethnic jingoists have, in the inerrancy of their bleak convictions, reduced the entire political discourse to an ethnic affair especially Yoruba vs Igbo. These people, stranded in the realm of ethnic hate and communal intolerance, have done everything within their powers to inflame ethnic tension to crucible dimensions. It is wrong for anyone to insult a whole ethnic group in whatever guise. In Chief Iwuanyanwu’s case, he has put the records straight by clarifying what he meant, insisting that he was quoted out of context. But the morbid and decadent will not hear of it. They insist that Iwuanyanwu and all Igbo should be roasted alive. As far as these simpletons are concerned, the Chief spoke the mind of all Igbos. How idiotic and harebrained can anybody be?
Recently, some people have also indulged in ethnic slurs. Unlike Chief Iwuanyanwu that clarified himself, Bayo Onanuga offered no apology and insisted on standing by his words. Onanuga spoke for himself and couldn’t have insulted the Igbo on behalf of the Yoruba. MC Oluomo, while registering his socio-political disorientation, spoke for himself when he threatened the Igbo on an election day and went on to make good his threat which the police shamelessly called a joke. FFK has also made inflammatory remarks which were his personal opinion and not the opinion of Yoruba. It is therefore, a function of disabled, primitive awareness for anyone to insult an ethnic group based on the comment of one person. Such insults and abuses expose the quiddity of phenomenal foolishness which, hitherto, was concealed in some people by the façade of education. No, these hate mongers belong to the stone age. Nobody should be deceived by their pretentious liberalism.
The question is, are there political rascals in Nigeria? Definitely yes! These are the particular people Chief Iwuanyanwu referred to concerning what happened in Lagos during the last elections. Of course, all parts of the country have their share of political rascals. It is not peculiar to one ethnicity. Political rascals are those who walk the streets, snatch ballot boxes, stab people due to their ethnic origin and prevent them from exercising their civic rights. They are not educated. They are thugs, street urchins and never-do-wells employed by politicians to advance nefarious objectives. There are also some educated political rascals. They don’t walk the streets, but demonstrate humane deficiency of unimaginable proportions using social media and sundry news outlets. They spread hate, provoke enmity and fan the embers of war. They incite the uneducated, urging them to bay for the blood of ordinary citizens. Their social media handles are replete with expletives and insults. Abusive engagement allows them to flourish. Another category of political rascals populate government establishments like INEC, the Police and different security agencies. These people compromise the electoral process in exchange for financial inducement and material gains. They are unconscionable, desperate and invidious. Are these people from another planet? No, they are among us. We know them.
The ethnic hate narrative is a device enunciated by the political class to keep the people divided, breaking their rank and file to unite and fight a common enemy. The opposition LP and PDP are convinced that the election was marred by sharp, underhand practices and therefore have gone to court. Is going to court to challenge the outcome of an election a legitimate practice? If it is, why can’t detractors of equitable process allow the law to run smoothly? The call by some decidedly frustrated fellows in search of relevance and pecuniary patronage for the arrest of the opposition presidential candidates is from the pit of purgatory. The propaganda that there is a plan to disrupt the handover ceremony is a bundle of falsehood from the depths of Hades. Although many Nigerians regard the judiciary with a pinch of salt, people of goodwill should advocate for a peaceful resolution of Nigeria’s political challenges. Ethnic rhetoric should stop immediately. People should sheath their swords. Let us all close the road to Rwanda.
Adiele, PhD, writes from Mountain Top University.
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
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