Las Las! (Part III)
By Toyin Falola
Nigeria is experiencing economic issues due to poor planning, ineffective policies, poor leadership, and many other factors. Despite the country’s abundant natural and human resources, the inability to use the wealth to turn things around for the masses has led many astray. A significant portion of the country’s wealth is in the hands of a privileged few, which has led to increased vices among the citizens as the means of survival get tighter day by day. The roles that these obstacles to survival have played in every aspect of society have largely contributed to greed and a preference for living a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of others. The alarming increase in ritual killings in Nigeria has placed the nation in a state of shock and fear, as many do not know who the next victim of the tragedy will be. Banditry, cybercrime, and kidnapping are all on the rise and Nigerians are not spared from these vices and other forms of insecurity, even amid severe economic difficulties. In February 2022, the Nigerian House of Representatives recommended that a state of emergency be declared because of the increasing rate of ritual killings, banditry, and terrorism, which have grown to be severe security threats.
Many people are relocating out of the country for various reasons, including economic difficulties, insecurity, and societal issues. Workers are migrating to other nations believed to have better working conditions, just as students leave because of the deplorable state of the country’s tertiary education system. The informal sector is also experiencing such significant movement, and many people are falling prey to fraudulent travel agencies, human traffickers, and other scams because of the desperation to flee the nation as soon as possible.
READ ALSO: Las Las! (II)
Due to the struggles with various family concerns and the environment in which they live, citizens now face a narrow path to achievement. The events that led up to Tobias’s tragic demise are only a few examples of the experiences that youth of his age face, which can either improve or worsen their fortune. Malik is not exempt from the same dysfunctional societal scenario; his route to achievement was made even more difficult by the environment in which he found himself and by the circumstances of his upbringing. Despite receiving some care from one of his parents, he is automatically at a disadvantage because of his surroundings. This will significantly alter what would become of his future.
Malik watched the bullets fly and hit his unguarded friend. He wished he could have helped Tobias. He wished he could have made the bullets disappear or deflect them or even rendered them powerless, but there was nothing he could do. He had always never been able to help his friend much because he also needed all the help he could get. Malik was quite different from Tobias in some ways. He came from a relatively comfortable middle-class family, and like Tobias, his parents were no longer together. His father had enough money to care for his wife and Malik but lived by his philosophy to enjoy himself on earth before death called on him. Therefore, he spent his days philandering.
To properly go about his business, Malik’s father had another philosophy he lived by: “Any child who wants an affluent life should work for it.” With that, he denied Malik access to his money. This attitude disgusted his wife so much that she left to raise their son alone. She did her best, and he finished his National Diploma, but the lack of funds ended his aspirations to continue with the Higher National Diploma. Malik’s frustrations grew when he could not get a job with his qualification and turned to menial jobs to sustain himself.
With pieces of his heart in his hands, Malik called his mother to inform her that his roommate had been executed, but he did not mention what led to his execution. He dared not. Everybody who knew the truth of that matter at best kept their mouth shut lest they risked Sir Mola’s wrath. Malik thought about his ageing mother. What would she do if something bad were to happen to him? She had weathered many storms to see that he became a success and loved him still, despite his few bad habits. Tobias’ death awoke a new fire in Malik. He had to make it, whatever it took.
It was time to ramp up that hustle, but Nigeria is not a good environment to bring prosperous returns. He should leave the shores of Nigeria like his friends who had now become big men and rode in big cars. There was a serious urge for Malik to leave the country as quickly as he could, but he was cash-strapped. His sources of income were his mother and his daily hustle. Both would eventually bring the money he needed, but it would take him years. Malik did not have that kind of time. Something had to be done to his situation, and it had to be done fast. He reached out to some of his friends abroad but got no replies. Wealthy people do not like potential competition.
READ ALSO: Las Las!
However, that did not put a spanner in Malik’s schemes. He reached out to some of his friends who were still in the country but doing better than he was. Many cold replies came his way, but he eventually found a friend, Geeboy, who took pity on him and introduced him to a Shaman. The place and the man looked scary, but not enough to prevent Malik from achieving his goals. After several chants and incantations, Malik was given two options: to take a soap that he had to bathe with at exactly 2 a.m. for seven days or exchange his manhood for a potent money ritual charm. Malik had seen the latter play out many times in movies. Money rituals are not worth it. The soap process seemed not to be complicated. The soap would only make potential customers feel pity for him and bring more jobs to him. It looked decent enough, and even though the money ritual process would give him instant wealth, he settled for the soap. He only needed more money to quickly gather enough funds to process his migration out of Nigeria.
During the first few days of using the soap, Malik saw no difference in his financial status, but he kept on. As the days rolled by, he noticed that people were not troubled to pay him higher prices for his services. Some even tipped him, and clients kept coming back for his service. Just as the Shaman promised, the soap worked wonders, and Malik judiciously used it, so it did not finish on time. Soon he started to make enough to save up for a passport.
At the immigration office, Nigeria was waiting for Malik. There was a long queue of people like Malik who wanted to leave the country to secure greener pastures. After his data was captured, Malik was asked to return in three months to pick up his passport. The words pierced his heart like a spear. He did not have that much time to wait; he needed to be out of the country almost immediately. Malik hung around with dejection pasted over his face till one of the immigration officers asked him what the issue was. He narrated his predicament, and the officer procured him a way out. If he wanted his passport to be released in two weeks, he needed to pay more, which would be fast-tracked for him. Malik was happy to hear this. Paying bribes in Nigeria to have one’s way is not a new phenomenon to him. He left the immigration office after exchanging names and phone numbers with his saviour.
When two weeks started to draw close, things did not seem right. The officer was unreachable and was no longer returning Malik’s texts. He dashed to the immigration office to check what was going on. No matter how much Malik yelled the full names of the officer and described his features, nobody could recognise him, and the only answer they gave to Malik was that there was no record of such a person. Malik had been duped. People watched him cry like a baby, but he did not care. He had just lost a lot of money. He was later whisked to the Comptroller’s office, where he was reprimanded for being so gullible as to pay a bribe to an individual whose identity he could not verify. He, however, took pity on Malik and told him he would see to the early release of his passport. Malik immediately stopped crying and was about to put on a happy face when the Comptroller mentioned that he would have to make some payments to that accord. He took his time to think about it. This could not be a scam; after all, it was the Comptroller’s office.
READ ALSO: Toyin Falola At 70: The Reminiscing About A Scholar And Legend
After deciding to risk it and make payments, Malik was left with little money, which meant he would have to double his hustle to secure funds for his visa and flight ticket. He made the payment and hoped for the best. Exactly a week later, Malik was called by the immigration office to come and pick up his passport. It was a happy day, and he pranced all the way home. All that was left now was to buy his visa and flight ticket. Money was the key factor, but he did not have much, and the soap given to him by the Shaman had finished, so he reached out to him again. The visit to the Shaman was a bitter-sweet one. Malik was told he could not have the soap again lest he runs mad, but he would have some good luck come his way and should make sure to use it as it would make him rich. He persevered and kept at his work, although it was not moving the way it did when he had the soap. When his frustration was about to reach its brink, Malik got a call for a job guaranteeing him big pay. He quickly accepted it, following the Shaman’s advice.
Malik linked up with some guys and successfully kidnapped a bus full of passengers. They lived in a thick forest for three days, collecting ransom and releasing their captives. The Shaman had predicted right—Malik made big money from the evil machinations. He reached out again to Geeboy and told him about his travel plans. Geeboy quickly called up a travel agent who would not only take care of the visa process but also get his tickets and help him put his money in a foreign account so that when he got to his destination, he would have something to survive with. Malik could not be happier. He thanked his friend and prepared to meet the agent.
Glorious was that day when he met the agent. The meeting occurred in the agent’s home, with his wife serving them beer and fried meat. He spoke all the right English that Malik wanted to hear to keep his mind at rest that his money was safe with him. He had no reason not to transfer all the money to the agent and go home to have a sound sleep. In a month, he should be out of the country and be chasing his dreams in a saner clime. The day arrived, and Malik and Geeboy went to the agent to pick up his documents. They knocked on the door but got no response, and the agent was not taking his calls.
Malik almost had a heart attack. Had he been duped again? He was about to burst into a thunderous crying session when a horn was heard at the gate. When it opened, it was the agent and his family. He apologised to the two men and handed over Malik’s passport with a stamped UK tourist visa. Malik was bound to leave the country the next day. He thanked his friend and left for the airport at the first break of dawn the next morning, even though his flight was slated for noon. He did not want any hiccups in his travel plans.
As the hours passed, Malik became very anxious and kept checking the time, which seemed to be intentionally slow that day. Eventually, it was time for him to check in. But he was not cleared as his documents were invalid. He needed the words to be repeatedly said before he understood that he could not travel with the visa he had. His obvious ignorance also made the officers at the check-in counter let him go without asking security to take him in for questioning. Malik called the agent immediately, and when he could not get him on the phone, he ran out of the airport and made his way to the agent’s house. He was sure it was an honest mistake on the agent’s part, which would be rectified as soon as possible, and he would be on his way out of the country.
READ ALSO: TF At 70: A Meditation On Nothingness
He met a locked door and stood there still dialling the agent’s number, which was now returning a “the number you have dialled is switched off” response from the operator. Still contemplating his next move, Geeboy’s landlord called his attention from the balcony and asked if he did not know the agent and his family had left for Dubai the previous night. Of course, the landlord must be hallucinating on some cheap dry gin, Malik thought and made nothing of it as he dialled Geeboy’s number. His friend was shocked to hear from him at that time of the day and instantly knew something was wrong. Malik told him what the landlord had said, and Geeboy asked for a few minutes to quickly make a call. Not quite three minutes after, he confirmed to Malik that the agent had truly left the country, apologising profusely and claiming his innocence.
Malik’s first reaction was to laugh. He thought about all the Nollywood movies he had watched and how every scene that had played out with him all day seemed like a well-acted film. He pictured Lateef Adedimeji in that role, the expression on his face, and his voice as he cried. Malik laughed and then cried as reality set in that he had been properly scammed. The good thing was that he had heeded his mother’s instruction not to tell anyone he was travelling out of the country until he had settled in at his destination. So, his house was still there, and none of his neighbours knew that he would have been touching down in London at the exact time he unlocked the door to his one-room apartment that night. Malik returned home defeated, and the wells of his tears dried up.
Two days later, he received a call from Geeboy to be a part of another job that would guarantee even bigger money. He knew then that las las, everything would be all right for him.
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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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
Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir
By Eghosa E. Osaghae
Intellectual autobiographies come as absorbing and engaging as other profound academic works tend to be. Professor Tunji Olaopa’s intellectual memoir is not different and certainly ranks as one of the more profoundly intellectual autobiographies to come out of Nigeria. The reflections on the nexuses among public policy, public administration, civil service and governance on the one hand, and how these can be transformed along the paths of the reforms that seek to address the pathologies of bureaucracy – or bureau-pathology as Professor Olaopa calls them – are done in the best traditions of rigorous scientific analysis, normative and empirical. And given the relative leanness of analytical and theoretical scholarship in the field of public administration in Nigeria and Africa, it is obvious that this book, even as an autobiography, has all that is required to be a major contribution to the discipline, especially on the subject of reforms, which is a central theme of the memoir.
From the story of his progression through life as told in the memoir – from being a scholar-in-the-making since the
age of five, to earning the alias, Azikiwe, at the highest level of ‘-isms’ in secondary school, to finally becoming an expert-insider in the federal civil service and professor at Lead City University, only a knowledgeable, visionary, and activist-reformer like Olaopa, with the zest of patriotism and nationalism has the qualifications and credibility to say the kinds of things he has said in this book. His premature and unexpected retirement from the federal civil service in 2015 seemed to have halted the leading roles Olaopa played in the complex arena of reforms; these were roles that his academic pursuits and engagements with The Commonwealth , The World Bank, the UN system, and reforms institutions and processes in Australia and South Africa,continental and global professional institutions, amongst others, prepared him for; but this book documents the hows and whats of those roles and sets a well-reasoned rationale and template for continued reforms. The concluding chapters of the book, which are addressed to the reforms the leadership expected of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federal Civil Service in particular, fill the gap of what might have been. That is, if the unexpected retirement – another
painful reminder of the insecurity of tenure that has plunged the civil service in Nigeria deeper into the recesses of instability, demotivation and corruption, did not happen.
Olaopa engages the more substantial and critical issues elicited by public servicee reforms including those that constitute formidable obstacles in highly perceptive ways. “The public service”, he writes, “was not a place where mere ideas are sufficient to achieve significant transformation. Those ideas have to be immersed in the deep and dirty crevices of bureaucratic dead weights. As a public servant, it increasingly became clear to me that reading was not enough for the reformation of the public service. Ideas and knowledge had to be consciously adopted, creatively adapted, and deliberately owned and domesticated to achieve optimal results”. This was the lynchpin of reforms and transformations buoyed by Olaopa’s continuous research and development opportunities offered by the strategic positions he held especially in the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Head of Service. But the high expectations and ideals are easily brought down by the limits of realistic possibilities: “As an expert-insider”, he also writes, “I was equally confronted by a limitation: Can the civil service supervise its own reform? Can civil servants supervise the reform of their own institution?” Which all goes back to perhaps the greatest puzzle faced by reforms and their drivers: “In a situation where administrative dynamics have already congealed, can we expect the publice servantsto oversee the reform of their institution? How can reforms be jumpstarted by the very people who have vested interests in operating the bureaucratic culture? The obvious answere seems negative. And experience has revealed that most reforms failed because they were undermined by vested interests”. This is the essence of ‘bureau-pathology’ – “a state of stagnancy in which the civil servants protect themselves against any attempt to reform the very system with in which they operate. In this terrible situation, reform becomes the exception rather than the rule”. The pathology also leads to “too many people doing nothing, too many doing too little, and too few people doing too much”.
But these obstacles – and frustrations – which Olaopa experienced firsthand in hugeo tons thanks to the complexities, intrigues, treacheries and politics that climaxed with his premature retirement, do not diminish Olaopa’s conviction, enthusiasm and unending quest for reforms .The decision to set up the Ibadan School of Governance and Public Policy (ISGPP),take up the professorship at Lead City University, become a directing staff member at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, and this memoir (just in case the other platforms are necessary but not sufficient to actualise his vision) represent important milestones in this quest. Olaopa’s analysis also shows that the journey of reforms requires a lot more thanh the individual motivation; that motivation emanates from several other reinforcing anchors: expository reading, such as is found in his reading of Plato’s The Republic and other texts; the benefit of sound education and good peers, such as he encountered in Aawe, Olivet, and UI; the sheer boldness, such as is demonstrated in his forays into radical student unionism; the strategic opportunities that come through postings such as those to MAMSER, Ministry of Education, Office of the Secretary of Government of the Federation and Head of Service; and, perhaps, most importantly, the mentoring, reassurances and confidence-building such as he had from Professors Ojetunji Aboyade and Akin Mabogunje (these two had the OPTICOM modelt that provided a foundation for participatory reforms), Professor Tunde Adeniran and many more.
Although Olaopa engages public service reforms in an intellectually robust and engaging manner, there are issues that he has either left out or not engaged sufficiently. One of these is the cultural and historical specificities of particular reform situations. Surely, reforms have not grown to the level of a science of universals. Is there a need to decolonise the civile service for example? Another is the omission of the age-long debate between generalists and specialists in public service. Is it possible that the decision to bring specialists into the core of the civil service in Nigeria – that led to the appointment of engineers, medical doctors andc accountants for example, as permanent secretaries – has created problems of a different kindf for the civil service? Thirdly, for all the points raised about a purpose-driven public service with substantial federal restructuring, it is a little curious that very little consideration, if any,was given to the subnational spheres of the public service. Would the public service be trulyr reformed if the state and local government domains are not reformed? Should the federal public civil service be the federalist empire/colonial service?
Knowing Professor Olaopa as well as I do, I am sure that these issues will be taken up in his next volume on public servicee reforms– after all, the present volume is strictly a memoir and should not be read as an academic treatise, irrespective of all that I have tried to say.
Although the scholarly insights of Olaopa’s Unending Quest for Reform have the upper hand in this foreword, the memoir is far more extensive and encompassing. It covers his historical progression and, in the process, the several lessons to be learnt from his interesting experiences and discussions on familyhood, marital relations, religion, the role of God in humanl lives, mysticism and human relations in their adversarial and friendly forms. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir and digesting its deeper and very reflective lines. They show that Olaopa’s initial and continuous love for philosophy has crystallised into a way of life.
Professor Osaghae is the Director-General, Nigerian Institute of
International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos.
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