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Nigeran Civil Service Bureaucratic Corps From A Generational Lens



How To Revive Public Schools - Tunji Olaopa

Tunji Olaopa

Henry Glassie, the American historian, writes that “History is not the past but a map of the past, drawn from a particular point of view, to be useful to the modern traveller.” This axiomatic statement grounds the fundamental significance of the nature and the relevance of history and historical interpretation in all human endeavors. From statecraft and governance to personal and collective enterprises, history enables us to navigate the present and orients the future. Someone says it is an early warning signal for those who pay the needed attention to its signs. Indeed, for David McCullough, another American historian, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” In this piece, I will like to deploy historical analysis to (a) put the present state and future possibilities of the Nigerian civil service in perspective; (b) outline a generational perspective to enable me to figure out the present state, and (c) give an overall picture of who we are and why we are the way we are in the Nigerian civil service.

A generational framework attempts to provide a trajectory of historical analysis founded on the significance of particular generations in history. History is often reckoned with in individualistic terms, as the deeds and actions of strong men and women. A generational analysis, however, relocates the variable of historical significance to generations of individuals in history; those whose collective actions and deeds contributed to the understanding of the paths and directions that history took and is taking. Of course, generations are very difficult to delineate, and this is because one generation merges into another. But this objection is not strong enough to undermine the distinctness of generations in, for instance, administrative history in Nigeria. In most human rhetoric, the idea of generation plays a useful role. However, we fail to explore the deep sociological and historical possibilities inherent in deploying the concept as a significant variable of analysis. I am deploying the idea of “generational capital” to name the potential and possibilities that a generation can bring to bear on the evolution of a family, a community, a nation or an institution. The obverse is also important: generational deficiency links the unwillingness or inability of any generations to the failure of the recipient of their capacities and capabilities.
The trajectory of the emergence and institutionalization of public administration and the civil service in Nigeria benefits immensely from a generational analysis. There are three generations that contribute capital and deficiency to the institutional performance and productivity quotients of the Nigerian civil service. Of course, the first generation of civil servants and public administration belong to what we now fondly refer to as the golden age of the public service in Nigeria. This first generation unraveled between the 50s and the early 60s. This period coincided first with the inauguration of the Nigerian civil service in 1954 as a nascent institution, and the political independence of Nigeria. These two facts significantly attest at once to the quality of the officers that founded the civil service and the institutional quality of the public service itself. The Nigerian state therefore began its post-independence existence with a very strong and professional civil service, regarded as perhaps the strongest of the colonial legacies bequeathed to Africa. This civil service framework was one nurtured on the traditional Weberian structure which required from civil servants the requisite of anonymity, neutrality and impartiality. Thus, a civil servant’s overall profile is therefore expected to be circumscribed by efficiency, effectiveness, integrity, accountability, responsiveness, representativeness, loyalty, equity, fairness, and so on.

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Those we call the civil service pioneers—Simeon Adebo, Jerome Udoji, Samuel Manuwa, M. O. Ani, I. O. Dina, Joseph McEwen, S. Ade Ojo, Ojimiri Johnson, C.O. Taiwo, Fola Ejiwunmi, G.E.A. Lardner, Sule Katagum, Joseph Imoukhuede; Ahmed Talib and Abubakar Koko (both of Udoji Commission), and many more—came into an inherited British civil service founded on a strong tradition. Those that became a part of this institution became living exemplars of its traditions and framework. Choosing a civil service career at that time conferred prestige and status in society. The condition of service supported this class recognition. At this point in its evolution, the civil services were not perfect but they stood out as value-based institutions distinguished in competence, professionalism and moral rectitude. They attracted the best and the brightest. Their internal governance was entrusted to an independent, non-partisan and impartial beacon of integrity—the Public Service Commission. Recruitment was strictly meritocratic and promotion was based on merit and performance. There were attractive competitive and comparable conditions of service and generous and well-funded pension package.

The second generation of public administrators and civil servants is from the late 60s to early 70s, the core of which constitutes those we fondly refer to as the super permanent secretaries. And the list of the members of this illustrious generation of public servants is sterling: S. Olabode Wey, M. A. Ejueyitchie, Abdul Aziz Atta, C. O. Lawson, Allison Ayida, Liman Ciroma, Shehu Musa, Gray Eromosele Longe, Ahmed Joda, Philip Asiodu, Ime Ebong, Mrs. Folayegbe Akintunde-Ighodalo, P. T. Odumosu, N. U. Akpan, Ali Akilu, Francesca Emanuel, Ibrahim Damcida, Musa Daggash, Prince Solomon Akenzua, Prince Festus Adesanoye, Princess Tejumade Alakija, Sunday Awoniyi, Adamu Fika, Olu Falae, G.P.O. Chikelu, Prince Sanda Ndayako, Theophilus Akinyele, Jonah Ogbole, and many others. The permanent secretaries that carried “super” qualifier amongst this corps were so-called because they were called upon at a most desperate and chaotic time in Nigerian history—the civil war period—to deploy their administrative acumen, competences and wisdom to take Nigeria through the pre-war, war and post-war periods. Their challenges also dovetailed into managing the command-and-control structure of the military during and after the war. So, as Theodore Roethke, the American poet, noted, the eyes of these public servants had to see in this dark time.

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Before expounding the trajectory of the third generation of civil servants and public administrators, to which I belong, I need to note a few administrative dynamics and dysfunctions that heralded the emergence of the third generation. From the pioneering generation of civil servant, as noted earlier, Nigeria inherited a civil service that was essentially value-driven, public- oriented and highly professionalized. The values of the service as well as those existing within the Nigerian society of the period were mutually reinforcing to facilitate the core public spiritedness that the profession demanded. An added positive characteristic was the symbiotic relationship between town and gown that allowed for a policy architecture that benefitted from both. While the Victorian value set that grounded the civil service made it inevitably elitist, the real challenge for the pioneers was their inability to interrogate and deconstruct the value foundation of the civil service in ways that connect it with local ideas and traditions. This failure would later have terrible consequences, which the pioneers themselves anticipated.

Both the Adebo Commission (1971) and the Udoji Commission (1974) signaled the moment at which the system ought to have transited from the Weberian, “I-am-directed” administrative tradition, so that the system would be remodeled to facilitate its capacity readiness to carry the functionality of a developmental state. Unfortunately, the system was at the height of its success, preeminence and somewhat too self-satisfied to respond to reform prompting. The administrative dissonance between the civil service and the second and third development planning undermined the vision of placing the Nigerian state at the commanding height of the economy as a developmental state that was able to realize the objectives of transforming the lives of Nigerians. Several series of events—discovery of oil, the immense petrodollar that submerged the national revenue, the rejection of the Udoji recommendation for a managerial rehabilitation of the administrative system, the implementation of the Udoji bonanza which structurally disconnected the service wage structure from national productivity trajectory thus making recalibration within technical-rational parameter complex, and the 1975 purge of the civil service—eclipsed the golden age of the civil service, and aggravated the second generation that was already immersed in bureau-pathology. It was already an open season of societal and administrative anomie. The economy awash with oil revenue had already instigated national profligacy. And Prof. Wolfgang Stolper had become frustrated by the culture of planning without facts or statistics. Once the 80s were fully underway, the Nigerian economic and institutional dynamics was too weak to resist the structural adjustment programmes when they were foisted on the country.

From the 1975 civil service purge to the SAPs de-institutionalization process, the value-orientation of the inherited civil service ethos had been damagingly eroded. Professionalism and public-spiritedness had gone to the dogs! The culture of delayed gratification had been replaced by that of instant gratification (or something-for-nothing). The statist dynamics of prebendalism and clientelist framework could then easily invade the civil service in ways that instigated a culture of waste and redundancies as well as a damaged maintenance and asset managing system. The third generation of public servants were thus heralded by a ballooning cost of governance and an administrative debilitation that were a far cry from the system inherited by the pioneers, from Adebo to Ayida.

By the time my generation came of age, it was already deeply embroiled in the dynamics of the bureau-pathology that has debilitated the civil service. And this was all the worse because we had mentors and seniors who connected us to the golden age in terms of their passion, professionalism and knowledge-propelled zeal for service. They carried the grand narratives of promise and progress tied to nation-building. And they were all too willing to pass on their knowledge and zeal through a generational handholding. Unfortunately, however, it is my generation of administrators and public servants that has to pick up the brunt of institutional decay at its acutest point, and especially when the challenges of national integration and good governance have become more heightened. Nigeria now needs “a world-class public service delivering government policies and programmes with professionalism, excellence and passion”, to quote the vision of the NSPSR. But then, the “professional, efficient, effective and accountable” public servants who understand the system (past, present and in the light of daily growing innovations in public administration) to bring knowledge and skills into capacity readiness may really not be on ground. Besides, there is a dearth of think tanks and consulting firms that have developed services portfolios that have deep enough relevant contents, solutions-frameworks and core competences to address first-hand, the issues and problems for which governments in Nigeria are seeking solutions. And at that in measure that could seamlessly translate into handholding technical support services which MDAs require to excel or to be on top of their game.

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The third generation and its notables (not in any verified order of seniority) would include Aliyu Mohammed, Aminu Saleh, Gidado Idris, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, Ignatius Olisemeka, Baba Gana Gingibe, Abu Obe, Yayale Ahmed, Ebele Okeke, Amal Pepple, Stephen Oronsaye, Oladapo Afolabi, Sali Bello, Goni Aji, Danladi Kifasi, Winifred Oyo-Ita and Folasade Yemi-Esan. They were generationally, confronted from the 80s through the 90s to date, with a huge tide of challenges and possibilities. The managerial revolution that the Udoji Commission recommended confronted the public service with new concepts and practices around target setting, performance assessments metrics, professionalized human resource departments, policy-engaged research, evidence-based policy intelligence, monitoring, evaluation and new project management accountability structures, management and operation research, etc. Of course, the succeeding governments, from independence, were equally concerned with the sustained decline in the effectiveness and efficiency of the civil service, and especially its disconnection from development planning and state objectives. Thus, administrative and governance reforms became key parts of service rehabilitation. But then, the reforms became as transformative as they also contributed to institutional problems. One example suffices here: the Dotun Philip Commission and the Civil Service Reorganisation Decree 43 of 1988 it inspired during the Babangida administration. One major reform item of this reform report was the paradigmatic shift away from the British Westminster parliamentary and administrative tradition to the American presidential system.

Within the remit of achieving a professionalized service, the Phillip Report focused on training to achieve specialization. Civil service officers were targeted based on the high-end qualifications they present at entry, and are required to undergo regular training and retraining. This led to the creation of a new bureaucratic structure made up of assistants, officers and directors. The unintended consequences of the reform transcended its initial objective of a professionalized and specialized service. For instance, the renaming of the permanent secretaries as director-generals was a politicising act that gave them the tenures of political appointees. They therefore occupied offices as long as the tenure of the appointing government lasts. By the late 90s, the fight to regain the value-based practices of the civil service was already getting lost. First, the service was already a mixed multitude—a genuine set of administrators and conscientious civil servants coexisting with a motley of politically-minded bureaucrats more inclined to political orientation, parochialism and primordial sentiments. Second, the category of mentors and seniors who were more than willing to assist in waging the war to relocate the system back to its value-based administrative tradition were already rapidly thinning out due to retrenchment and death.

It was thus that sincere reform efforts were contending with congealing anti-reform bureaucratic practices. Even after 1999 when the democratic experimentation commenced, and the civil service was under the reform imperative of re-professionalization to capacitate service delivery to Nigerians, the phenomenon of organized lateral transfers and the resultant stagnation and promotional block which had built up since the movement of the capital of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja in the federal in 1990/1, had already become complicated and disenabling to the system. This measure of bureau-pathology was aggravated by a certain level of in-breeding that ensured that the service is not opened up in a structural sense that facilitates a systematic process of infiltration by external expertise and competences through sabbatical leave, staff exchange, projects-based exposures opportunity to officers, and so on. There was also a limited exposure to business and commercial orientation that constrained capacity by officers to take advantage of such emergent business models as PPPs, outsourcing, etc. in the last decades. The service also became constrained by a reluctance to modernize through a critical embrace of new technologies and digitization necessary for the implementation of open (cum electronic) government, and consequently a performance management culture that has the capacity to enhance national productivity Nigeria requires for a competitive twenty-first century economy.

In essence, the third generation of administrators and civil servants were confronted both with the challenge of modernizing the public service, and the imperative of becoming twenty-first century public servants patriotic and professional enough to drive the public service as a valuable complement to the demand for democratic governance in Nigeria. Each of the two generations was confronted with its own unique challenge. The first generation had to ensure that the inherited civil service retained its value-based framework so as to be able to function in the newly independent Nigeria. the second generation had to retain the functional efficiency of the civil service to be able not only to conduct the civil war but to also rehabilitate a war-torn Nigeria. The third generation is confronted with the challenge of democratic governance and the imperative of modernizing the public service to achieve efficient service delivery. And this challenge is all the heavier because the administrative and governance dynamics of the 60s, the 70s and the 80s cannot match up with the series of administrative and governance ideas that have all formed to insist on modernizing the government and its public management framework for an even better performance protocol and productivity than ever before.

Managerialism has transformed the way we understand government, governance and management. Essentially, the idea of the twenty-first century government is one that is democratic, citizen-centric and seamless in the way it connects its efficient and technology-enabled public service to an enlarged governance space that allows both the government and other nongovernmental and nonstate actors to brainstorm and strategize on how to generate policies that facilitate better service delivery to the populace. And the idea of a 21st century government is practically impossible without a corresponding 21st century public servant—constrained by ethical values (i.e. integrity, honesty, respect); democratic values (i.e. responsiveness, representativeness, rule of law); and professional values (i.e. excellence, innovation)—with the capacity to create and continually recreate public values within a framework of entrepreneurial dynamics that allows citizens’ and societal satisfaction. In essence, the twenty-first century public servant must be willing and able to operate in a VUCA—volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous—environment, armed with a large dose of public-spiritedness and a sense of the public service as a calling in the Levitical Order.

. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos .


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President Buhari And His Successor



President Buhari And His Successor

By Promise Adiele
It is gradually becoming impossible to cope with life in Nigeria. Sometimes, one must invoke all the elementals of fortitude in the sanctum of the inward being to put up a pretentious smile. It is that kind of smile which deceives observers, creating the impression of wellness when all is far from being well. Hope keeps Nigerians moving, a far-fetched hope that someday all will be well – the days of political rascality and arbitrary socio-economic terrorizing of the populace will be over. Then normalcy will return to these shores. That is the prayer of every reasonable Nigerian. Unfortunately, not all Nigerians are reasonable. Not all Nigerians pray that prayer. Indeed the realization that not all Nigerians wish the country well desecrates one’s moral canvass and sense of acuity. It amounts to a wanton violation of Nigeria’s collective dignity. Why would some people wish this country evil, just why? In less than three months, a successor to Nigeria’s imperial majesty Muhammadu Buhari will emerge. Out of the three front runners – Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one of them will ascend the throne of authority inside the sanctuary of Aso Rock barring any eventualities.

Mr. President has admitted that he is in a hurry to quit Aso Rock. That declaration raises a fundamental question that requires clarification – is Buhari in a hurry to quit power as an individual or together with his political party APC? Certainly, many Nigerians are in a hurry to see Buhari and APC quit power for obvious reasons. Yet some Nigerians are desperately wishing for a continuation of the current macabre dance of death under APC. If indeed Nigerians agree that the conditions in the country are soul-wrenching, if, in all sincerity, there is a consensus arising from demonstrable tragic conditions in the country that the APC government is a composite failure, then, it naturally calls to question the cognitive stability of those who wish the current power machinery to continue.

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Everyone has the right to make a political choice but choices must be gauged by reason especially when they are bound to flounder on the heels of infantile convictions. A drunk can make a choice. A mentally deranged person can make a choice too. Children, in all their delinquent assuredness also make choices. Of course, the larger society will suffer if the choices made by the foregoing people are allowed to subsist because society recognizes the limitations of their discernment. If indeed society allows the choices made by these people to stand, it affirms a collective degeneration of virtue in the land. For example, should Nigerians make a choice that would ultimately snuff the remaining air out of their lives, that is, assuming all Nigerians are drunk and mentally handicapped? If indeed, like babies that are yet to develop any sense of danger, Nigerians file out to put forth their hands into fire, should elders in the land watch and applaud them? It is a simple question.

Muhammadu Buhari is, by every definition of the word, an elder in Nigeria both in age and career. From available records, he has always been involved in most events that shaped the history of Nigeria. But he is one of those that have benefitted immensely from Nigeria and therefore should never look away when the country approaches a precipice. He should react and save Nigeria in his capacity as the president and commander-in-chief. If anyone understands Nigeria more than the rest of us, it should be Muhammadu Buhari. If anyone should love Nigeria than the rest of us, that person should be Muhammadu Buhari. He should want Nigeria to succeed. He should wish Nigeria well. In that understanding, Muhammadu Buhari must ensure that no criminal whose candidacy and aspirations to Aso Rock will, besides embarrassing the country internationally, plunge over 200 million people into the depths of an economic abyss. I do not for one moment suggest that the president should interfere with the elections but he must ensure that only credible people aspire to the highest office in the land.

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Muhammadu Buhari has come face to face with destiny. He has always paraded himself as a man of impeccable morality, pristine integrity, and unblemished character. As a military head of state, he brooked no nonsense even though it extended to dictatorial levels. Those who peddled hard drugs or had any connection with hard drugs were summarily executed. Those who indulged in corruption by embezzling public funds were put behind bars for many years. Although Nigerians groaned, his no-nonsense,, zero tolerance for crooked characters was commended within and outside the country. If the young Buhari could strive to establish a legacy of forthrightness in governance and public service, one would expect, as wine becomes better with age, that Buhari would become better with age in which case, he would never touch a corrupt person with a long pole. Another question – what has changed in the present time which makes it possible for our integrity poster boy to look away while sullied characters dominate our leadership platforms and aspire to even become leaders?

Muhammadu Buhari must save Nigerians from local and international ridicule. He shouldn’t choose who will succeed him but he should stop someone from succeeding him. In the words of a Nigerian gap-toothed military ruler, “we don’t know those that will succeed us but we know those that will not succeed us”. The rest, they say, is history. As a matter of urgency, Buhari should call for the files of all the three leading aspirants and quickly begin to examine them one after another. He cannot pretend to be unaware of all the stench swelling around some of the presidential aspirants. The stench is choking, it can kill. If Buhari rules Nigeria for eight years, rehabilitates his family, revives his health, enjoys himself, and hands over the country to a misfit, he would have rubbished whatever legacy he built in the past and it would prove naysayers right that he never meant well for Nigeria.

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Buhari should call for the personal files of all three presidential candidates, investigate them through legitimate agencies and examine all the issues around their personalities. When were they born? What schools did they attend? Who were their parents? What documents did they submit to INEC? Are they authentic or forged? When was the first time they traveled abroad? Under what circumstances did they travel and with what identity? What were their dealings and employment history abroad? These relevant but fundamental questions should be asked. All information regarding their employment records, business dealings, friends and associates must be investigated and laid bare. The office of the president cannot be so shamelessly lowered to accommodate a fraudulent character for political reasons. There must be a limit to the Nigerian hypnosis which, as it stands, confounds even the dead.

No presidential aspirant found wanting in terms of morals and character should be allowed to participate in the election. At this time in Nigeria’s history, the country cannot afford to gamble with its future by enthroning a shady character to the highest office in the land. Finally, Buhari should demand that the three presidential aspirants should submit medical certificate which proves that they are healthy and suitable for the office they desperately seek. The comprehensive medical examination should be carried out by a foreign independent medical firm. This is to forestall any case of forgery and manipulation because it is clear that some of the presidential aspirants are steeped in forgery and double standards. Buhari has a rare opportunity to immortalize himself as a true patriot, democrat, and Nigeria’s all-time Mr. Integrity. If he fails to do the needful history will not be kind to him.

Adiele, PhD,
Mountain Top University.
Twitter: @DrPee4


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More Conversations Nigeriana



Conversation Nigeriana (7)

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Professor: We lost a colleague yesterday!

Amina: My condolences! Was he ill?

Bankole: Is there anyone who is not ill in Nigeria?

Professor: He dropped dead at home after teaching for two hours earlier in the day. Gone!! Just like that. No warning. No preparation. No serious illness. Alive this minute, dead the next! He went behind his flat to pump water and collapsed. Died before help could reach him!

Amina: Definitely his death was caused by stress, stress caused by the prolonged strike and the government’s harsh response! Eight months without a salary after most of them had taken loans from friends and banks in the hope that they would repay the loans when salaries were paid. All that was shattered by a harsh no from the President!

Obukohwo: May his soul rest in peace!!

READ ALSO: Another Conversation Nigeriana

Professor: His soul will not rest in peace until Nigerian rulers are punished!

Egbule: Who will punish Nigerian rulers? Who? Even God seems to have given up on them!

Amina: God has not given up on them. He is preparing them for something drastic that could change the political landscape forever. What exactly it is I do not know! But this cannot go on forever.

Professor: The young man was a very passionate and committed teacher. There is a video in circulation in which he strapped the baby of a female student who was writing an examination to his back. What else do you need to demonstrate compassion? Now, he’s gone unfulfilled to the great beyond.

Bankole: There are too many sudden illnesses, deaths, and suicides these days. People can hardly feed. There is tension. School fees of children. Skyrocketing inflation and rents! As the bible says, ‘men’s hearts failing them for fear!

Professor: The public university system is in its last stages of credibility. Very soon, serious academics will take their exit because of the humiliation they suffered under Buhari, Adamu Adamu, and Ngige! I’m also thinking of an early exit, after all, I will continue to enjoy my pension. This is the time to look for something else to do.

Amina: If you quit because of three persons what will become of the system? We have to fight them.

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Professor: Fight them you say? Fight who? Fight Nigeria? Fight the federal civil servants, or the cabal in government, the judiciary that was used to attack ASUU? I’m not in a fighting mood anymore. This morning, I chatted with a senior colleague who said that as committed as he was to education, he was ready to retire at 65 rather than wait till 70. There are quite a number of academics who are thinking like this now. I mean, here is a guy who has spent his entire life in the system, sworn to making an impact and suddenly he feels that he has wasted his time in a system that never appreciated him. Not a good feeling.

Bankole: Who feels good about Nigeria right now? Is it the farmer or the banker or the student? May be politicians are happy with the mess we have found ourselves in because they thrive on confusion.

Egbule: We have a chance to create the Nigeria which we want in 2023. God has arranged it. Massive votes for the acceptable candidate and rejecting the others. That’s the way to go. Whether Nigerians will accept the offer is another matter entirely.

Amina: I’m not so optimistic. The old forces are ready for war!

Obukohwo: The situation is fluid. We are not sure about the plans of Bubu. Does he support any of the candidates? Does he want his party to continue at national level even though his performance has been abysmal? Does he want power to remain in the north?

Professor: It will be wishful thinking to believe that he does not want his ruling APC to continue to rule. The only point to counter that is if he remains clannish and directs state machinery into retaining power in the north. This second point will simply strengthen our fault lines- two countries living in one geographical space. And now that oil has been found in commercial quantities in the north, the two countries may now emerge.

Bankole: Not so neat and proper. There are other variables to consider.

Professor: Such as…?

Bankole: Religion. The international community! Economic interests!!

Professor: The major determinant to current mutual existence is the oil. Once everyone is sure of their share, the tension will be reduced.

Amina: There are minorities in the north. In fact, once we break up, there will be no end to it. We could end up as six or more different nations.

Professor: What is wrong with that? I’d stay in a small country and have my peace and security guaranteed than stay in a big nation that cannot guarantee my life and prosperity because the state has failed in its duties.

Obukohwo: I agree with you. We in the Niger Delta can now control our resources. We have lived too long in poverty.

Egbule: We have also created problems for ourselves. What have leaders of the Niger Delta done with the resources allocated to them? See what Wike has done with infrastructure. Can we say the same for the other governors?

Professor: Let us not regionalize corruption and inefficiency. Corruption is well seated in all the states in the country. Resources are not being properly channeled into development. As it is in Kaduna, so it is in Rivers or Delta or Lagos. It is a class thing. It cuts across party or ethnic lines.

Amina: Who will save Nigeria?

Bankole: It is only God that can save us.

Professor: God will not come down to save us. We must save ourselves. We must put aside petty grievances and squabbles to bury the hatchet in the head of a common enemy!

Amina: And who is that common enemy?

Bankole: the devil!

Professor: The devil in our political class!

Professor Eghagha can be reached on 08023220393 or


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The Man Who Saw Today From Yesterday



The Man Who Saw Today From Yesterday

By Sam Akpe
It started as a mere fantasy. Today, it’s mission accomplished. Let’s go back to 1976; in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He was in the primary school. Occasionally, he sneaked out into the city during break time; on a walk through the streets, with a classmate.

On this day, something unusual happened. They were chatting, laughing and stopping at every shop to admire the goods, hoping that someday, in future, they would walk inside and come out with baskets of goodies. At every boutique, they naughtily waved at the mannequins. It was fun.

Just as they were about returning to the class, they noticed a big, fenced premises, with people, dressed in white shirts and black suits, emerging from big cars. Each held a black gown—the type worn by church choir members. “What’s happening here?” The two boys asked no one in particular.

 The Man Who Saw Today From Yesterday

Inam Akpadiaha Wilson (SAN)

Quietly, they tip-toed into the premises, and looked through the big windows. It was a court session. The Judge was seated. Lawyers were arguing. No one else spoke. No laughter. No movement. Extreme decorum. After a few minutes, they quietly walked away, afraid and confused.
With that unplanned visit, a career was born. From that point, they were no longer interested in supermarkets and mannequins. Almost daily, they went straight to the same State High Court to watch proceedings, peeping through the windows.

Although they hardly understood what was going on, they thoroughly enjoyed the courtroom drama comprising the bombastic legal jargons, the gesticulations, and the way lawyers interjected each other while rising to their feet.

Today, as you read this piece, Inam Akpadiaha Wilson, one of the boys in this story, is being inducted as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

After watching those court sessions several times, he made up his mind to become one of them. From primary to secondary schools, he kept dreaming, Today, he is living the dream.

From Onna Peoples High School, Inam had moved over to Government Secondary School, in Eket, where we met. With an unmistakable mischievous smile; plus, a sarcastic sense of humour, he was already behaving like a lawyer—walking with dignified mien. Believe me, he has hasn’t changed one bit.

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Twice he took JAMB, and twice he was refused admission to study law. At the third try, he got it, though his score was below the cut-off point. By his confession, it still remains a mystery how he got the admission. But he did. One hurdle jumped.

The next of the hurdles was money. As the fourth child in a large family, with a-civil-servant father, it took the intervention of his uncle for him to pull through. It was not a smooth ride.

Then he became playful and lost focus. Friends started calling him NFA—no future ambition. This happened at what is now the University of Uyo (formerly, University of Cross River State).

One day, a Ghanaian lecturer—now a serving judge in Accra—called him to order: “I’ve been watching you. You’re not focused. You no longer attend classes. You’re all over the place, wasting away. If you continue this way, you will never graduate.”

Inam listened attentively. The man continued: “With your own hand, you are trying to undermine your future. You look like a promising young man, but for some reasons, you’re misdirected. I am telling you now, turn around while it is still possible. Change your ways. Else, you are doomed.” Tough words. Bitter truth.

Inam confessed to me, “That was my turning point. I left him with an undertaking to heed his advice. I assured him that the final list of graduands will have my name on it. Truly, if I had continued along that path, all these would have been but a mere dream. I repented.”

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Called to the bar 32 years ago, Inam, as we still call him, started his law practice in Aba as an intern. His desire was to be in Port Harcourt, where he dreamt of walking boldly into the same court that he used to watch proceedings, peeping through the window—the very place where the dream started.

One day, he encountered a SAN, and got awestruck by his demeanor. From the manner the man addressed the court, Inam noticed a touch of extraordinariness.

He confessed: “I saw something different about him; and I said, ‘yeah, I like that. I didn’t know what it would take, but that encounter planted a desire in me. I started dreaming of being like him.” Another dream!

Inam’s journey to the top was soaked in sweat. He described his first initial years in legal practice as hell; “I almost died in the process. There were days I stayed at the bus stop without a dime for transportation. Yet, I was a lawyer, practicing in Lagos. It was that bad.”

In February 1998, he suffered acute typhoid. Admitted in a hospital, he lost blood, grew lean, “in fact, I saw heaven and I thought I had passed on. But I survived it. I had no money to pay the hospital bill. Friends came to my help.”

At a time, some of his friends urged him to leave Lagos. But he stayed on. He chose to die, trying. He saw today from yesterday. His tenacity paid off. Then things started changing as he got hired in big chambers owned by Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

Gradually, he started making court appearances on big cases. With a master degree in the kitty, his approach to legal practice took a new turn. Judges started noticing his intellectual depth, fluency of arguments and incontestable submissions. They were impressed.

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From one big chamber to the other, he created undeniable impacts. Perceptually, Inam moved legal practice from a mere profession to the realm of passion. He hit the limelight, arguing and making submissions in the Supreme Court. His qualifications for induction as SAN started accumulating. But he wasn’t in a hurry.

Just before he clocked 32 years in practice, he finally applied. The process, as usual was tedious, unpredictable. He knew he was qualified, but so were others. The applicants were in hundreds until the final interview when they were counted in dozens. It was tension unlimited.

At this stage, the statutory qualifications gave way to other considerations. His interview was on September 27. He later received unofficial confirmation of impressive performance. But then, a decision would still have to be taken on how many persons would be given the rank in 2022.

Fortunately, he was the only surviving candidate from Akwa Ibom; but not the only one from the South South. After the geo-political consideration, the panel set a cut-off mark at 85%. It was time for final elimination. On September 29, the waiting game reached a nerve-cracking point. It was the final day.

Noon passed, no news. Inam was in Abuja, alone in a hotel room. At 6pm, there was still no information. Applicants kept calling each other for updates. Tension rose to boiling point. At about 7:30p.m., he got a call from a SAN, who simply said, “Congratulations, my brother, you made it.”

Confused. Alarmed. Inam replied, “How? Is the list out? I haven’t seen the list. Have you seen it?” Many questions in one breathe.

The senior lawyer replied, “Come on, do you think I’ll just call you to say congratulations when you haven’t made it? You must see the list before you believe me? Okay, I’ll send you the list. You are number 18”

As the first call ended, another SAN called to congratulate him. Inam knew that these two people would not call him if they were not sure, because they were not regular callers.

Finally, the list came out. His name was number 18. Alone in the hotel room, he screamed and jumped. It was a mixture of joy, relief, tears, everything. “Me, a senior advocate?” Yes, mission accomplished.

Before he could wipe the tears off his eyes, the phone started screaming with calls. Things changed so fast.

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A few days after the list of new SANs was published, Inam went to Port Harcourt where he had a case at the National Industrial Court. Since he was not yet inducted, he was careful not to announce his presence as SAN.

But a senior lawyer on the other side could not hold back. Just before the first matter was called, he stood up and said to the judge, “My lord, with your kind permission, I wish to inform the court that my learned friend, Inam Wilson, is now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.”

The judge responded: “Are you serious? Congratulations Mr. Wilson, oh that is well deserved. But why didn’t you announce yourself as a SAN?” Inam replied, “My lord, I have not yet been inducted. I have to wait until that day.” The judge agreed but added, “All the same, you are a senior advocate.”

Inam enjoyed the atmosphere with the same school-boy mischievous smile. Of course, his matter was called immediately, in accordance with the privileges reserved for SANs. He was even accorded the advantage of an early date for the next hearing.

Trust Inam for a little more drama. He went to another court where he had no case at all. Straight to the front, he sat. The presiding judge personally announced, “Mr Inam Wilson, SAN. I notice you. Welcome to my court. I hope you are not here to disrupt my proceedings.” Inam responded: “No my lord, I just came to greet my lord.”

Certainly, this additional credential comes with a burden of its own. In addition to his previous efforts, he must still groom, train, and mentor junior lawyers in the best standards of practice and etiquettes of the profession.

Inam told me as though in confidence: “Now, you can no longer just go to court without enormous preparation because your opinion is supposed to be weighted and well considered.

“When you speak, there’s a presumption in your favor that you are speaking authoritatively—you must speak good law. The audience, the judge and other lawyers are supposed to listen and learn. You must advance the law.”

Curiously, none of Inam’s children is interested in the legal profession. Inam believes the reason is deeply rooted in the nature of the job. He revealed: “Yesterday I was with a few of my colleagues and we were brainstorming over this issue; because it doesn’t seem to be peculiar to me.

“One of the things we found out is that the children have seen us burn the midnight candle; working late nights over the years. They go to bed, daddy is working. They wake up, daddy is working. So, they ask themselves, is this what they must go through as lawyers? For most of them, it’s scary.

“Law consumes you; especially when you aspire to the highest level. It takes over your being. In fact, everything you do is law. Since the children belong to a new generation, they like things easy and breezy. But I’m still praying for them.”

In every journey to the top, the road may not be straight. It comes with detours, contours and breakdowns. But you must not lose your direction. Even when you have veered off, try and bring yourself back on track. Look up. Look ahead.

Inam told me, “You must be disciplined. There is no amount of vision or aspiration you can accomplish without discipline. Discipline is what makes you stay awake all night reading, while others sleep.

“Discipline wakes you up in the morning to prepare because you have a case. Discipline is what tells you watch your mouth, watch your desires. Self-discipline makes you delay gratification and measure your enjoyment. You can’t have it all at the same time.”
Congratulations, my friend.


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