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Damilola Osunlakin: I Lost My Son!

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Amongst the many gifts fortune has bestowed upon Nigerians, carefree existence isn’t one of them. Whether or not this is peculiar to the populace, it has undoubtedly, won us the title of “one of the most resilient people on the planet.” One can argue that the most fortunate we have been, as countrymen, is perhaps at our “independence” from Britain in 1960, which we allegedly obtained on “a platter of gold.” Since then, it has been our lot as citizens to go the extra mile for what might be considered a basic comfort elsewhere, and although we are blessed with many of nature’s gifts, the resolve to harness and utilize them to the benefit of all continues to elude us. While many have accepted that this is “normal” as fate hardly ever delivers a complete package, others have simply admonished that we consider ourselves fortunate that we are not plagued by the natural disasters that ravage other well-off regions and that it is only a matter of time before we get to our desired destination as a people. But is time really on our side?

As a septuagenarian, with the benefit of retrospect and by the will of Providence, I can attest to the fleetingness of time, the fragility of life, and the challenges that come with lacking a privileged beginning. In my time, I have seen many prospects dimmed and even snuffed out by the obstacles imposed by a near-impossible Nigerian system. Many alongside whom I strove for a better tomorrow marked by achievements, both for our upliftment and that of our people, succumbed to the various pressures from an emerging nation with one too many murky episodes. And it was to be the lot of a few among us—products of grace and hard work—who, without the advantage of privileged birth and social connection, broke through socio-economic barriers to etch a niche for ourselves, only to have our elation dampened by the continuing strife endured by today’s Nigerian youth. In their predicament, I found a calling to mentorship, to present myself as a guide to young wayfarers seeking a path to significance through an enduringly torturous Nigerian socio-economic landscape.

                    Osunlakin  and  Prof. Falola

It is no secret that Nigeria is endowed with a good number of young talents, as evidenced by their outstanding feats in their various fields of endeavour at home and abroad. It is also common knowledge that, without the appropriate enabling social structure to guide their development, many of our young men and women have resorted to vices—popular among which is internet fraud. This poses a danger to our collective socio-economic development and threatens our reputation as a hardworking and dynamic people. In this situation, I identified an opportunity to give back to a society that, in its way, contributed invaluable life lessons to my formative years.

 During my years of mentorship, as an elder and an academic, I have had great opportunities to interact with many young and promising Nigerian youth. Some I met at decisive moments, when either tuition or the right introduction meant the difference between a promising career and oblivion, while some simply needed someone with experience to point them in the right direction. In all cases, it has been an honour to serve and to see many mentees live up to their potential and evolve into productive members of society who contribute their quota to its advancement. But, as with success stories, there have been other unsuccessful attempts, the most recent of which has inspired this recollection and commemoration. 

I knew the late Damilola Osunlakin through Professor Adeshina Afolayan of the University of Ibadan, who introduced him to me to assist with a project on Ijemo, an old township in Abeokuta. I was later told that Temitope Fagunwa, the activist-intellectual at Osun State University, introduced Damilola to Adeshina. Las Las, Fagunwa and I had to cry. While the Ijemo project collapsed, it birthed a genuine relationship grounded in affection. 

From a small beginning flourished a great relationship. He would call me to ask about my family and health. He always told me to take a rest. In a non-transactional relationship, his words of affection got to my bone marrow. He was different: he was not seeking favour but seeking love; he was not seeking objects but emotional connections. He was a good person. As he called me “Baba”, he became my son. I began to call him “Omo mi”, which means “my son.” A fictional label became real, so real that if I did not hear from him within 48 hours, I would panic. When the ruthless Boko Haram kidnapped his friend’s fiancée, Damilola’s compassion had no limit, and we both wept as we struggled in vain to locate her. Damilola gave me his thesis to read, and I gave him elaborate comments and did line-by-line editing, which I hardly blessed anyone with. I got a publisher to publish it for him. This promise will be fulfilled.

Damilola grew weary. My son grew tired. He was not one of those young men who would solve their problems with crimes. He resented the Yahoo-Yahoo boys. He was not one of those who would seek quick fortunes. He criticized those who did rituals for money. He was not one of those who would compromise his morality. He wanted to live in a decent society. He sought a simple life, which any decent society should be able to grant. All he wanted in life was the development of his intellect. He had already blended talent with promise and would have done solid scholarship in the area we need the most: the excavation of our dead past before the British intrusion. A library is dead. A talent is gone. A force, a mighty force, has relocated to heaven. We all are the losers.

I have never met his biological parents, but I spoke to them during their pain. The biological parents accepted me as Damilola’s father. They struggled, and when the father called to break the news, the words hit me so badly that I was sick and immobilized for two days. The words: “our struggles were in vain” were calamitous. The parents did everything they could. As devout Christians, they did their best with integrity and righteousness. Godly parents, they followed the path of healing in a Western and spiritual sense. They must accept the verdict of God. “There is no true love without suffering,” Pope Benedict VVI reminded us, closing this remarkable statement with even a more profound line: “there is no gift of life without pain.” I pray that the faith of Damilola’s parents will never be put to the test.

               Osunlakin  and  Prof. Falola

Of all the messages of condolence that came my way, the most moving and the best came from Daniel Eworo, Damilola’s friend and schoolmate at Ahmadu Bello University, who, despite his anguish, recounted their relationship thus:

 Osunlakin, as I fondly called him, was a reserved man. Our first meeting was at the Department of History postgraduate library, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, back in 2018. What set him apart, beyond his intellect, was his willingness to put aside any task to answer a question, which I had quite a few as a budding researcher. His coverage of issues was particularly impressive; even when he had no ready answer, Osunlakin always had a good recommendation on most subjects. Of this, I found my respect for him to grow. And soon enough, he became my go-to person when I encountered any perplexing subject. I cannot say how others perceived Osunlakin, but he was an ideal friend to me. His focus and determination were inspiring. He had everything about his career path mapped out. When we would speak on the phone, and I’d enquire about his well-being and whereabouts, and he’d mention that he was attending some seminar at some distant location, I’d marvel at how committed he was to his scholarly objective, especially given the economic constraints that should ordinarily deter him. The news of Osunlakin’s sudden demise has deeply shocked me and others in the department.

 

Damilola, my son, I am not supposed to write your obituary—you were supposed to write mine, but I must endure the loss, I must cry,  I must suffer the pain:

Tis’ indeed a long walk;

for us seekers of freedom

even these candidates of the kingdom

all of us children of the Lord.

 

Individual paths we must take

in our journey to glorious escape

different scenes, different landscapes

and the many choices we must make.

 

We, hurried on by our pursuit of this and that

are engaged in a daily dance with chance

where the best of us strive to keep balance

& others are condemned to a circle of fresh starts.

 

Thus, in those rare moments, our paths cross

brief moments that birth lasting bonds

lies an opportunity to lighten the burden

of a fellow sojourner to the eternal garden.

 

To those whose journeys are cut short

we owe a duty of brief pause

a moment of commemoration

and a time for contemplation.

I share this great loss with Damilola’s family, friends, and colleagues from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. We love you, great sojourner. May your soul find the peace and rest the world, nay, our dear nation, could not give.

Falola , Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Lead City University, Ibadan, is  a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities

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Opinion

Professors On INEC’s Will (4)

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Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof. Tony Afejuku

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 

and priests, 

not in the service of beautiful people 

and late night promises, 

not in the service of influence, 

incompetence and academic 

clown talk?

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.

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Opinion

Iwuanyanwu And The ‘Political Rascals’ Rhetoric 

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Nigerian Destiny: In The Hands Of The People
Dr. Promise Adiele

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.

Promee01@yahoo.com

 

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Opinion

Olaopa: The Self As  A Patriotic Reformer – The Tales Of  A Memoirist

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Prof.Afolayan

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 non￾self, 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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