Lai Mohammed: An Unmanageable Mistake!
When President Muhammadu Buhari announced the people he had selected to occupy some of the most strategic positions in his regime, there was understandable uproar across the country. Nigerians looked at the profile of these fellows and wondered what could have motivated their choice, what exactly in their credentials qualified them for such sensitive positions.
Ordinarily, Buhari would have simply ignored such an outcry, but he surprised Nigerians by volunteering an explanation. These, he said, were the people who had stood by him through the stressful years of his various unsuccessful attempts to become president. As he moved from one party to another in his quest to actualise his ambition, they stuck with him, undiscouraged by his growing history of failed presidential runs. So, this was the time to “reward” them for their steadfast loyalty. (These are the people now loosely referred to as Buhari’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” or more recently, “the Cabal” in Aso Rock, whose activities Nigerians have learnt to monitor with considerable apprehension.)
Buhari’s preference for cronyism which mostly celebrates mediocrity at the expense of merit and expertise (an odious, counterproductive practice that has sufficiently advertised its predictable dividend in his regime’s very dismal performance in the last two years) is, however, not original. In the unmissed Olusegun Obasanjo regime, appointment into public office was celebrated as an invitation to “come and eat.” And not a few in that wayward regime, and the ones that followed it, really overate and became horribly obese, as evidenced by their mysterious humongous accumulations!
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In decently-run countries, people see appointment into public offices as sacrifice to their nation. Some, driven solely by love for country, quit high-paying jobs to take these positions whose statutorily fixed salaries compel them to undertake drastic readjustments in their lifestyles by shedding some luxuries that were easily guaranteed by their former salaries. Their country men and women celebrate them as patriots and heroes, and they leave public office with their heads held high, and their names boldly engraved in their country’s Hall of Fame.
But in Nigeria, the story is different. That is why it should be understood that while for many months Nigerians waited for Buhari to announce his list of ministers, thinking he was busy carefully searching for the best hands to do the very significant and urgent reclamation job crying for attention at such a very critical period in our nation’s history, the man was, no doubt, busy considering whom to “reward” with what position.
When the list was eventually released, it greatly disappointed and shocked many Nigerians leaving them wondering why it took the president all those months to come up with such hope-depleting appointments.
The most demoralising confirmation that little or no imaginative thinking went into the making of that list, however, was Buhari’s decision to “reward” Mr. Lai Mohammed, the industrious chief propagandist of his party, with the office of the Minister of Information. Although, I had learnt very early to grossly moderate my expectations of the Buhari regime, I never in my wildest imagination expected that the president would fall so cheaply into such a brightly advertised trap.
Now, as the chief propagandist of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Mr. Mohammed worked very hard to ensure the successful execution of the APC stratagem for hoodwinking Nigerians into thinking the party had any clearly thoughtout programme for the country’s reclamation. So, I am not begrudging him his presidential “reward” for “hard work” in line with Buhari’s political philosophy. But why the information ministry? It is like asking the chief propagandist of a guerilla army to head the country’s information ministry after it had ousted the government in power and formed its own regime. The switch is not impossible, but always very difficult to achieve. And that has remained Mr. Mohammed’s problem from his first day in office. Both offices require different approaches, languages, mindsets and even postures and gestures. The minister of information has found it very difficult to achieve a crossover.
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Hence, for several months after the APC gained power, Mr. Mohammed was still trapped in campaign mood – clearly ill-prepared, and pathetically battling to adjust to his new job. And so, while Nigerians demanded evidence that the regime he speaks for had the slightest preparation for the job that had fallen on its lap, Mohammed continued to launch vitriolic attacks on the now opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an expired strategy that had served his party very profitably during the campaigns, but which was now exposing the party’s abject lack of action-plan and focus. When it eventually dawned on him (after many months) that the PDP was no longer in power and that this option has become such an unbearable irritant, he quickly changed tactics and began to make fantastic and largely unverifiable claims about the supposed exploits of the Buhari regime. That was when we began to hear that the Buhari regime had “changed Nigeria for good” despite the unimaginable hardship that suddenly overwhelmed Nigeria shortly after the APC assumed power which soon began to drive Nigerians to suicide and into other deadly extremities forcing several of those who had campaigned vigorously for the APC to come out to render unqualified apologies for misleading Nigerians. When Mr. Mohammed is not vomiting on Nigerians some very drab fairy tales about how the Buhari regime had “changed Nigeria for good”, he would be shocking everyone with the product of his hyper-active imagination that Boko Haram which was still unleashing horror and bloodshed across the North East had been “technically defeated.”
The work of an opposition propagandist does not require much imagination. In Nigeria, the PDP even made Lai Mohammed’s job very easy for him by its embarrassing failure of leadership and character. So all he did was to paint the PDP in hideous colours while his party and its presidential candidate promised Nigerians juicy pies in the sky. Although, I remained skeptical after noticing that the APC was carefully avoiding every opportunity to explain how it intended to realise all those tantalising promises it was lavishly throwing at Nigerians, not a few voters, however, easily fell for their deception having already been irrecoverably seduced by the carefully erected and overwhelmingly marketed myth about Buhari’s exceptional abilities and character which had gained considerable weight overtime.
But Lai Mohammed became the greatest casualty of his own strategy. It was not hard to see that even many of those who still voted for the APC had stopped taking his words to the bank long before the elections. He had become such a severely damaged brand, horribly marred by the astounding untruths and half-truths his office churned out with unbelievable “bold face” and amazing regularity.
How a thinking government, one that expects to be believed and taken seriously by rational human beings, could not have seen very clearly that Mr. Mohammed had become such an image problem himself and, therefore, should not have been allowed to touch an image-making job with a fifty foot pole would continue to baffle any Nigerian with less-than average capacity to reason. Indeed, it sure speaks volumes and deepens our apprehension about the capacity of the regime managing our affairs to exercise sound judgment even on the simplest of matters.
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Is there no other position with which he could have been “rewarded”? Is the APC in such pitiable lack of appropriate personnel to man its information ministry? Apart from obvious names like Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and Dr. Kayode Fayemi whom, most people would easily agree, should have made tremendous difference as the New Face of APC image-making, are there no other people the APC can find within its fold whose understanding of image-making goes beyond churning out revolting lies and brazenly throwing them at Nigerians? In fact, Lai Mohammed has become such a damaged brand that even when he speaks the truth today, not a few Nigerians have difficulty believing him. For a regime that has wantonly squandered the enormous goodwill that welcomed it to power and which is presently nursing an odious image of failure and disappointment at a period of the worst form of recession in our country’s history, this kind of minister of information is the worst gift it can give to and retain for itself.
Although, much of Lai’s lies were easily overlooked during the campaigns by those Nigerians who had already made up their minds about the PDP, it was a disaster for the APC to unduly stretch its luck by thinking that Nigerians will, in the face of worsening economic conditions, still suspend their disbelief, and allow their eyes to be turned away from APC’s crying incompetence and abysmal failure with the same cheap lies they had endured during the campaigns.
As I write now on the evening of May 29, 2017 (the so-called Democracy Day), Mr. Lai Mohammed is being reported as having said earlier today, against all evidence to the contrary, that “…despite the dwindling revenue,” the Buhari regime has been “able to deliver on [its] campaign promises”. Waxing more confident, he dropped the real shocker: “I am happy that we are here today to prove that this government is not a government of propaganda; this is a real government that is dealing with the real people.”
The next day, May 30, as I tidied this essay, Lai Mohammed was on Channels TV painting such a rosy and delicious picture of the Buhari regime’s marvelous “achievements,” that one was left wondering whether those beautiful and sweet stories he was telling were actually happening in the same country one lived in. So disgusted, a senior journalist announced on his facebook page that thirty minutes into that unappetising performance, he had to change to a cartoon network to save himself from hypertension. One wonders if Mr. Mohammed even believes himself each time he opens his mouth to drop those his imaginary “truths” and “facts.” One wonders how many hearts he damages after each of his disastrous performances.
In February, Mr. Mohammed declared that he has never told Nigerians a single lie and challenged those calling him a liar to provide even a single evidence to back their submission. According to him, even from his days as opposition spokesperson, he has remained “always very factual [and] very objective…” Then he dropped the bombshell: “…I challenge anybody to come out and say ‘this is one lie you told when you were spokesperson for the opposition. I challenge these people and I say, fault me on facts, and not on emotions.” Can you beat that?
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Now in this same interview (published in Daily Sun, February 18, 2017), Lai Mohammed also declared. “Number one, Mr. President is not ill; he is not in the hospital. So, there would be no need for me to give a bulletin.”
And after the Wednesday Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Minister Lai told reporters: “I can say without any hesitation that Mr. President is well, is hale and hearty. No question about that…Do you think we will be conducting our business like this if Mr. president is ill? …I was in Kwara yesterday, all our ministers are busy doing their work. Mr. President is well and is absolutely not in danger.”
That was Lai speaking his “truth” when Buhari was away in London where doctors were battling to save his life. But when the president returned to the country, he came very close to dismissing Lai as a pathetic liar. He said: “I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including the military with its ups and downs…Blood transfusion, going to the laboratories, and so on and so forth…I couldn’t recall when last I had blood transfusion, I couldn’t recall honestly, I can say in my 70 years..”
The problem with Mr. Mohammed is not that his first name, ‘Lai’, rhymes perfectly with ‘Lie’ and he seems to derive peculiar animation from always going all out to emphasize how that might be influencing his astounding pronouncements. His real problem is the extreme insensitivity that fires his stubborn resolve to continue force-feeding raw, nauseating lies to a suffering people and expecting them to be happy and grateful to him.
The ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign, a clearly fraudulent scheme seeking to transfer to the populace the guilt and responsibility for the failed ‘Change Agenda’ on whose back the APC rode to power is reportedly the brainchild of Mr. Lai Mohammed, even though there was also a controversy as to whose concept it was originally. Although, Mr. Mohammed denied Daily Independent’s report that the campaign gulped N3.4 billion, I am not aware that he has told Nigerians how much that wasteful, exasperating, hollow propaganda which is still running on prime time TV has cost the tax payer. I doubt if there is any sincere Nigerian who is not rankled by that campaign each time it pops up on the TV screen.
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It is quite clear that offering any advice to the APC government, a regime that often carries on as if it did Nigerians a huge favour by seeking and being in power, is like singing even the most enchanting ballad to the deaf. But then, what can one do with an insufferable problem like this that hurts the populace so badly? Now, I am not by any means suggesting that Lai Mohammed should be rendered jobless. No, not at all. But it should be clear by now, even to a deaf, dumb and blind leadership, that his redeployment is long overdue. A people being grievously punished by the current impossible conditions in the country do not need any callous smooth talker coming out to regularly insult them and compound their grief by attempting to discredit their very dire experiences by seeking to persuade them that their real and excruciating situation exists only in their imagination.
Lai Mohammed was a mistake from the beginning, the kind that cannot be managed. Like that very bad tooth whose intolerable pain can only be ended by extraction. When one looks very closely at Mr. Mohammed each time he is on stage performing, it looks as if the crushing burden of the “lie-lie” image is even beginning to weigh down heavily on him. He would obviously welcome any news of his redeployment with great happiness. The Federal Government (whichever one) should please kindly oblige him and us by finding him another job. Such a kind gesture will, no doubt, bring immense relief to him and many Nigerians.
Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, just turned 70 and some Nigerians have joined voices with Buhari to celebrate him. Determined not to be left out, this is the special tribute I paid him in June 2017. I don’t think there is anything to add to it.
Ejinkeonye is a Nigerian journalist and writer. He is the author of the book, ”Nigeria: Why Looting May Not Stop” (available on Amazon.com) (email@example.com; twitter: @ugowrite)
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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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