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Musing On The Protracted ASUU Strike: Echoes Of The Past In The Present



Musing On The Protracted ASUU Strike: Echoes Of The Past In The Present
Prof. Olayinka

By Idowu Olayinka
The current faceoff between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) commenced on 14th February 2022 as a rollover strike which has since graduated to a full-blown, comprehensive, total and indefinite strike.

I write as an insider in the Nigerian University system and as a Nigerian patriot. As at the time of writing this short article the strike has now entered the 29th week and still counting; it has thereby already acquired the dubious distinction of being the second longest strike in the history of the Nigerian University System, surpassed only by the 2020 strike during the novel corona virus COVID-19 pandemic when the entire world was on a lockdown (Figure 1).

Musing On The Protracted ASUU Strike: Echoes Of The Past In The Present

Figure 1: Duration of ASUU National Strike, 1993-2022

Using the 2019 data published by the National Universities Commission (Nigerian University System Statistical Digest), and assuming that all the Federal Universities and one-half of the State Universities are on strike, it can be shown that about 1, 479, 393 undergraduate students and 179,310 postgraduate students are stranded on account of the continued closure of public universities in Nigeria. The grand total is a humungous 1,658,703 students that are so affected by the protracted ASUU strike.

READ ALSO: Adamu Adamu: What Manner Of Education Minister?

The past in the present
I recently came across a monograph published by the Association of University Teachers (AUT), University of Ibadan, in November 1973 and one could not but observe the striking similarities between the crisis in the University system of that year and its current edition, in spite of the 49 year time lapse. The more things change the more they remain the same. The AUT document chronicled the events that led to the crisis in the University earlier that year which revolved around conditions of service.

Apparently, a review of Condition of Service of University Teachers at University College Ibadan, the only university institution in the country during the pre-independence era was carried out in 1959.

In spite of repeated demands by the University Teachers as from 1964 no review of the conditions of service was undertaken for over a decade. The matter came to a crisis situation in 1972 when lecturers at the University of Ibadan, under the aegis of AUT, threatened to go on strike and there was the real possibility of the 1972/1973 session not commencing by September 1972 as had been the practice since the institution was established some 24 years earlier. The AUT showed understanding and the University was able to proceed with the academic calendar as earlier planned. By this time there were only six Universities in the country namely Ibadan, Nsukka, Lagos, Ahmadu Bello Zaria, Ile-Ife and Benin-City. However later events showed that it was just a matter of postponing the evil day.

The first series of industrial disputes between the National Association of University Teachers (NAUT) and the Federal Military Government began in 1972 and there was a resumption and continuation in April 1973.The university lecturers under the aegis of their national body, NAUT, declared a strike in April 1973. On 19th April of that year the Head of State made a broadcast to the nation in which he charged university teachers with lack of patriotism and ordered them to write letters to their respective Vice-Chancellors accepting government approved fringe benefits in which case they could resume work on 25 April or else to pack out of university accommodation and regard their appointment as terminated. Moreover, the Head of State announced the closure of the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos until further notice. The genesis of the 1973 strike by the AUT could be easily traced to the fact that the conditions of service of the University teachers were left unreviewed for 14 years (1959 till 1973).

The university teachers chose to go back to work but refused to write any letters to the Vice-Chancellors. In deciding to go back to work the university teachers were more concerned about the future of higher education in the country than in saving their own skin. Nonetheless, subsequent events have shown that an irreversible humiliation and desecration of the glorious era of the Nigeria academia and intelligentsia had begun in earnest.

READ ALSO:  “Cut Soap For Me!”

Fast forward to 2022
As against the six Universities in the country as of 1973 there are now 49 Federal  and 57 State Universities to contend with. A major aspect of the current crisis that has led to the closure of most of these public universities in Nigeria for some 29 weeks now and still counting is the fact that the 2009 salary scale of University Lecturers has remained static over the past 13 years.

One has spent the past 34 years as a member of the Faculty at the University of Ibadan, a period that is perhaps long enough to know that there is a strong correlation between the take home pay of staff and the ability to recruit and retain new blood Faculty. In the 1980s through to the 1990s it was extremely difficult finding quality staff to employ. That was at a time the Federal Government introduced a Structural Adjustment Programme. Most academic departments in our Universities became empty as many academic staff resigned in droves and emigrated to seek greener pastures in Europe, Middle East, USA, Canada and Southern Africa among other places. As of August 1991, we were only four academic staff left in my Department to teach the ever-increasing number of undergraduate and postgraduate students. Needless to say that we were over-worked and underpaid. It is still a miracle that we survived in spite of all the scars. ASUU came up with some ingenious phrase in the form of car stickers to drive the message home ‘My take home pay cannot take me home’ and ‘My boss is a comedian, the wages he pays is a joke’. In fact the wage was not just a joke but a huge joke taken too far. Cultism became the order of the day. Worse still teaching, learning and research facilities became depleted and/or obsolete. The overcrowded students’ hotels were under sub-human conditions. There was a rapid fall in the reputation, prestige and competitiveness of the Nigerian University system. We are yet to recover from the loss of academic ideals.

READ ALSO: Obi Lashes Out At Govt As ASUU Strike Lingers

It’s the economy, stupid
“It’s the economy, stupid” was a phrase coined by James Carville in 1992, when he was advising Bill Clinton in his successful run for the White House. Some 21 years ago I was Head of the Department of Geology at the University of Ibadan and I hosted a senior colleague of mine from one sister Federal University from the eastern part of the country. In the course of our discussion he informed me that he was going to vote for the incumbent President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, for a second term in office at the then forthcoming 2003 general elections. I tried to find out why he was so much in love with President Obasanjo. His response was spontaneous in coming. He informed me that before May 2000 he was living in penury, unable to meet most of his family obligations. Then from nowhere, without any ASUU strike, salaries of academic staff were increased by about 200%. I could relate with this confession because as a Senior Lecturer then, my monthly take home pay spiked from about Twenty Eight Thousand naira to about Eighty Five Thousand naira effective May 2000. It was, in a manner of speaking, a windfall.

About five years ago I had a private meeting with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and I tried to inquire from him the motivation for his government’s upward review of salaries in May 2000. He informed me that it was based on his personal experience while serving a jail term in Yola Prison. He found out that some of the prison warders who attended to him were earning very meagre salaries in spite of having large families to cater for. So when providence smiled on him to emerge as an elected civilian president in 1999, some 20 years after he had stepped down as a Military Head of State, he deemed it fit to implement an upward review of the minimum wage which led to a highly significant improvement in salaries of public servants. This is highly commendable.  The only snag was that no upward review of those salaries was undertaken for a long time subsequently in spite of the high rate of inflation. Meanwhile the price of goods and services is a moving target which defies the law of gravity which states that whatever goes up will come down. It may be noted that if we use a conservative annual rate of inflation of 10%, it follows that there would have been a 100% devaluation in just seven years. In effect the real value of the take home pay of employees would have dropped by at least 50% in seven years!

READ ALSO: God When?

The current ASUU Strike
An agreement was signed between the Federal Government and ASUU in 2009 which addressed the Conditions of Service, Funding, University Autonomy and Academic Freedom, and Other Matters related to regulations, working environment, etc. It was expected that the issues would be renegotiated after three years. For whatever reasons, there was a delay and the renegotiation eventually commenced in March 2017. with Dr. Wale Babalakin, then Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos as committee chair. Babalakin resigned after he left as Pro-Chancellor of University of Lagos. After the nine month strike of 2020, the Federal Government replaced him with Professor Emeritus Munzali Jubril. A new agreement was produced in May 2021. All relevant agencies of government apparently participated. The Federal Government refused to sign the agreement. When the current strike started in February 2022, the initial demand of ASUU was for the Federal Government to sign that agreement. The Government Team came back after several weeks to say that they could not sign the Munzali Jubril agreement, and that ASUU should start the negotiations all over again. After a few weeks of objection, ASUU agreed. That birthed the third committee led by Professor Emeritus Nimi Briggs. He has also submitted his report. There is no indication as yet that the Federal Government is eager to sign the latest negotiated agreement.

The main issues in the 2022 National Strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities include the following:

  • Finalisation of the draft Renegotiated 2009 Federal Government-ASUU Agreement
  • Implementation of the Memorandum of Action signed with the Union on 23rd December 2020
  • Deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS)
  • Mainstreaming of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA)- payment for excess workloads and responsibilities due to gross shortage of qualified academic staff
  • Proliferation of Universities especially by State Governors
  • Release of White Paper on the Visitation Panel Reports


Matters arising and searching for a way forward
It has become very obvious that the funding model for higher education in any country is largely a political decision. While in the US (the richest country in the world) students pay hefty tuition fees, in Germany (the richest country with the strongest economy in Europe), Scotland, Finland and Estonia, students attend university free. These are two extremes on the funding model spectrum.

Many students in the US incur huge debts on account of taking a lot of loans while studying to earn a University degree. They are expected to start repaying the debt so long as they earn more than USD125,000 per annum.  While the Republican Party is against debt forgiveness, since the party perceives such debt forgiveness as handout the Democrats are in favour of some level of debt forgiveness of up to USD50,000 or even a total forgiveness of such debts. The ideological difference between the two parties is very obvious.

Germany has many highly ranked world class Universities and nearly all of them are public Universities funded by the respective 16 Landers (State Governments) in contradistinction to the USA where most of the leading Universities are privately owned. Even at that when you probe further you find out that the leading funding agencies in the USA such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NRF) which offer grants to university researchers in the US are owned by the US Government. The Final Year 2022 President’s Budget request for the NIH is $2,213.6 million. On the other hand, the 2022 annual budget of the National Science Foundation is $8.8 billion. In my great country Nigeria we are still debating whether TETFund should support private Universities.

Every politics is local. Most of the Nigerian elites enjoyed highly subsidised University education. A situation in which many brilliant but indigent students are not able to pursue University education on account of very high tuition fees is obviously inequitable.

We need to fashion out what is the best model for our country in order to reposition the Nigerian University system which is grossly underperforming for sundry reasons.

Many stakeholders from all walks of life get in touch with me every now and then to find out when the public universities will re-open so that students could resume classes as if I have the power to decree the institutions opened. I am as frustrated as any other stakeholder and patriot. The anxiety and frustration of students, parents and guardians are quite understandable. Ironically many members of ASUU also double as parents of undergraduate and postgraduate students. Worse still many members of ASUU are themselves research students whose academics and career progression have been put on hold, no thanks to the current strike. To that extent it can never be we versus them. All of us are involved in one way or the other. Students are the lifeblood of a university and the Faculty are there in loco parentis for the students. Anything that delays the students’ graduation is naturally a cause for worry. We hope for the best such that normalcy can return to our public university system before too long.

READ ALSO: Pro-actively Preventing The Next ASUU Strike

Recent Crisis in Nigerian Universities: The Case of A.U.T., Ibadan. Association of University Teachers, University of Ibadan 1973. Ibadan: Ororo Publications. 18 pp.

Nigerian University System Statistical Digest, 2019. Abuja: National Universities Commission. 545 pp.

Prof. Olayinka served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, 2015-2020.


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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 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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Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir



Prof. Eghosa Osaghae

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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The Unending Quest For Reform – Tunji Olaopa’s Intellectual Memoir: A Commentary



BREAKING: Kukah’s Diocese Under Attack, Two Priests, Worshippers Kidnapped
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah

By Matthew Hassan Kukah
It takes great courage for anyone to make the decision to write an autobiography. That is not something one does lightly. It is an act that opens one up to the public glare, and to lots of reinterpretations and misinterpretations . So, when I received the manuscript of Professor Tunji Olaopa’s memoir narrating his career as a scholar-bureaucrat, I had quite a rewarding intellectual experience reading it. It is really commendable that the tradition of documenting administrative career experience that was established by the icons of the civil service like Chief Simeon Adebo, Chief Jerome Udoji and Mr Allison Ayida, is being extended by a knowledgeable  policy worker and expert like Prof. Olaopa. This tradition derives from a duty I think they owe the public service profession and public administration scholarship: documenting their career experiences .The uniqueness of Unending Quest for Reform is that it brings together the career trajectory of someone who is both a scholar and  a bureaucrat; someone who brought the uniqueness of theory and scholarship to the peculiar profession of the public service. This great work closes the gap between the two.

When Tunji and I first encountered on the pages of the newspapers, I was amazed at the depth of his insights into policy issues. He shattered all the assumptions that some of us had about the civil service and those who inhabit that universe. I was forced to take more than just a reader’s interest in his articles. This is because I immediately connected to his mission as a governance and institutional reformer. Given that what he began to do reflected what I have been doing, it made sense that reformers must close ranks. He wrote with so much confidence and clarity drawing from a deep well of knowledge. There was a patriot committed to changing the tenor of public policy, making public service very attractive again to public intellectuals. I, therefore, started thinking of how we might work together. Sometime in 2013, when we reconstituted the governing board of the Kukah Centre, we did not hesitate to bring him on board as a formidable member. I had no little consternation when I heard the news of his untimely retirement by the Federal Government in 2015. It was one of those national decisions that one loses sleep and appetite over. But then, I was not disappointed that about three months
after his retirement, he announced the setting up of his pet project – the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). I was pleased that this reformer was now determined to reposition himself and continue on the path he had set for himself.

On 1st February, 2016, Olaopa convoked the inaugural international conference of ISGPP, which brought together eminent personalities like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the late Prof. Akin Mabogunje (who was the chairman of the ISGPP Governing Board), Prof. Richard Joseph, the global scholar and distinguished professor fromNorthwestern University, Evanston, along with virtually all known social scientists and governance-cum-development practitioners and scholars in Nigeria and the Diaspora. That, for me
, was the stuff that a scholar-practitioner of stature is made of.I would later be invited to feature in the ISGPP Book Readers Series when my 2011 book, Witness to Justice: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission, was subjected to a seminal discussion at the school’s imposing premises in Ibadan. Thereafter, the Kukah Centre and ISGPP brokered an agreement,and subsequently  worked on a number of collaborative projects. That agreement is, of course,still exploring how the institutional collaboration might be deepened now and in the future.

Permit me to just reflect on a few fascinating things about Tunji. The first, of course, is what I want to recall as his spiritual tenacity. I am a Christian who has taken the pulpit to the public sphere and I know what that means. It has put me right in the eye of the storm and attracted curiosity and interest. And Nigeria is a very stormy place to be a Christian and a public person. Public office has made a mess of most people’s spirituality. But here is someone who does not hide his spiritual orientation. Indeed, here is a bureaucrat who not only sees the public service as almost akin to a calling in the priestly Levitical order. He also sees spirituality as a critical dimension of what makes a public servant committed to public service. I was delighted to read about the impact that his parents and his Baptist background had on his spiritual maturation.For me, the home and that heart made warm by the love, care and discipline of dutiful parents contribute a lot to who we eventually become. Tunji brought a lot of solid character traits from that warm heart kept alive by his parents to his public engagements.

Prof Olaopa clearly has drunk from the springs of wisdom of Plato, Max Weber, Chief Awolowo and Simeon Adebo; Olaopa practically learnt at the feet of these giants. He had the best of intellectual and moral grounding that would contribute to his making as a scholar￾bureaucrat. And I should know this: a reformer must always keep up the delicate act of transcending the fray, of always being above board. I could feel Tunji’s pain and frustration when I read the narration of his encounters with the deep-seated dysfunction of a system that ought to make critical impacts on the lives and well-being of Nigerians. And yet, this is a system that keeps foiling the best intentions, not only of the government, but also of well-intentioned reformers like Prof. Olaopa. And so, in 2015, retirement arrived at the doorstep of someone who had laboured for twenty-seven years trying to find the means and ways by which this civil service system could work better. And I wondered and still wonder at the paradox that is Nigeria. What country that wants to grow regularly dabbles in the wastage of her talents or even undermines the very best efforts of her heroes and heroines – patriots who dare to hold up the country’s image to her? How does a country that urgently wants to reform its institutions throw out her institutional reformers untimely on the altar of bad politics?

With Unending Quest for Reform, Prof. Tunji Olaopa is making a two-point contribution.The first is that the volume provides a documentary encouragement to those who would take up the onerous task of institutional reforms in the public service. The challenge is simple: this is a worthy and patriotic life aspiration that makes one’s existence fulfilling.Reform is a spiritual task, as far as I am concerned. It is like Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The book is both a challenge to the civil servants to pick up the gauntlet and an encouragement that it is something that can be done. I guess Olaopa sees his reform contributions, not with reference to the heights they could enabled him to attain, but in the context of the experiences he had garnered and could now document for those who must carry forward his space-clearing efforts. The second point Unending Unending Quest for Reform makes is that reforms do not and cannot end. The volume points at missteps and reform errors and, critical junctures and possible directions to take to keep carrying the business of institutional reforms forward for the sake of transforming Nigeria into a template of democratic governance worthy  to die for.

Unending Quest for Reform is a solid testament. It is a testament to patriotic
commitment from an unbending spirit that is still fired by the will to keep up the business of reflecting on the best way to do public service and to serve himself until the spirit leaves his body. I hold up Prof. Tunji Olaopa as the essence of a public servant and institutional reformer.And I recommend the memoir as a book all public servants should keep on their shelves as a constant reminder of what is possible when reflecting about Nigeria and her future.Our nation owes him a debt of gratitude even as he continues to serve his country with diligence.

Kukah is Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.

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