Obadiah Mailafia: The Grip Of Grief
I spent over 20 years of my working life abroad as a university teacher, banker and international civil servant with an unblemished record. I have no criminal record — not even a parking ticket. Sadly, it is in my own fatherland that I’m being subjected to criminal investigation and such extreme political persecution. Please, pray for me. I have reasons to believe that my life is in danger and that some powerful political forces want to silence me forever for speaking the truth. For speaking on behalf of the Holy Martyrs — of thousands of innocent children, women, elderly and youths that have been killed in our beloved country.
Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, 2021.
Today, I have not come to bid farewell to a compatriot whose resolution to strengthen the political system of his homeland through revolutionizing the minds of the people continues to flog the political merchandisers in their weakest point. Instead, I have come to combine my lamentations with the grief of others who have accepted the deceased as the shining light in the darkness of leadership quagmire that Nigeria fits its description. Justifiably so, I do have reasons to lament because the agitations of a critical voice represented by Dr. Obadiah Mailafia are a reminder that the country called Nigeria might have increased in age, but it remains a dwarf in the practices of federalism and democracy. Any country that cannot protect its minority members is a failure.
Apart from the insinuation that the sudden death of the deceased cannot be excused from the see-no-evil political elite of the country, as implicitly contained in his declaration quoted above, that sudden exit from the face of the earth is an affirmation that dysfunctional systems are not usually ineffective as the general impression against them has indicated. These systems are effective in frustrating and then losing their best brains to different causes—death, migrations, desertion, among other things. Nigerian systems are not especially effective positively, not because they lack the requisite ability and materials to do so, but because they are paralyzed by leaders who lack the needed goodwill to drive the people forward.
For all it is worth, Mailafia’s death was avoidable; however, its (un)avoidability is proportional to the leaders’ intentions who control the country’s power. The power controllers of dysfunctional systems are usually impugning on the autonomous right of institutions so that they could get results that align with their myopic vision. Such is the danger of having hind-sighted dummies in the theatre of power of a country, more so, of a country that is supposed to be the most populous Black nation. But when these self-serving individuals at the corridor of power pursue their selfish agenda in their bid to shut every critical voice, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic comment makes it apparent that what they are doing is called a defence mechanism. The relationship between the systematic silencing of a vibrant voice and dysfunctional system is that instead of facing the bulk of responsibilities staring the country’s leaders in the face, they scare genius minds away from the corridor of representation and force them into accepting silence as the preferred mode of political participation. Leaders who are faced with ideas deficit pay more prominent attention to voices that raise contradictory opinions because their ignorance is usually drowned in the ocean of truth, which these voices speak all the time.
READ ALSO: Molefi Asante: The Lion Who Refused To Buy The Hunters’ Stories About The Forest
Please make no mistake. I have not alleged that the death of Mailafia came from any particular interest group as far as Nigeria is concerned, but it is difficult to absolve the government of such indictment when it has successfully registered into the minds of individuals who are supposed to discharge their statutory duties without intimidation, that the government is particularly interested in how it handles its clients, be it from bank to its customers, police to the citizens, court to the people, and even hospitals to their patients. This conclusion is inevitable given the agonizing declaration of Obadiah Mailafia on a dying bed in one of the country’s most respected medical services arenas.
For the honourable man, the deceased, to have declared that “I have reasons to believe that my life is in danger and that some powerful political forces want to silence me forever for speaking the truth” suggests that institutions cannot function effectively in a political geography where the government is averse to opposition and perspectives that put them on their toes. Ironically, in a truthfully democratic setting, no government would function effectively without having a persistent voice calling it to order and charging it to undertake its statutory responsibilities.
Today, as I write, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, with whom I shared a communicative space some few weeks ago about raging issues and emerging concerns around Nigeria, exists no more—a victim of institutional decadence that follows nearly all postcolonial African countries. At the departure of the West in the Nigerian political landscape, we thought it would be the immediate euthanizing of invirile leadership, bad governance, and insecure political elites whose sense of safety is ensured only when they victimize the defenceless masses. However, experiences in recent times have not only told us we were too ambitious with our dreams; they have also revealed to us that we were hallucinating, in 1960, about a utopian future.
READ ALSO: ‘How Doctors Shabbily Treated Mailafia While Dying’
What does it matter if the picture of the person who occupies the highest political seat in the country is different when the safety of revolutionaries cannot be guaranteed immediately they decide to speak for the masses? Has colonialism not eroded the sense of postcolonial Nigerian leaders knowing that critical voices against their administration, even when they have ulterior motives, help drive them to a direction where it would be easier to achieve greatness? Who would tell the Nigerian government, and maybe every society that is averse to truth-telling, that intellectual voices like Mailafia need to be preserved for they serve as eyes to their people and the country’s future? Who?
If the statement attributed to the dead is factual, at what point would we collectively, as a people, understand that while you can silence the body that houses the voice of reason, no one can silence the voice itself, for it speaks using different body containers? From the inception of human society, there have been people who would offer alternative perspectives to everything. In fact, these people are usually understood based on the age of collective wisdom that their society has acquired. They consider them good or evil according to what they define as good or bad, which has something to do with their evolutionary progress.
During his time in Rome, Aristotle saw differently from what the ancient Romans had seen and dared the system to improve their vision by considering, as fundamental principles of life, those things they had frozen. Ironically, he was tried before by the law for which he was trying to challenge. It was evident that Aristotle was against a war he would not materially win. He lost his life in the process, but his vision would eventually fire Rome to an enviable position in many aspects of life. Galileo, during his period, saw the world differently as an astrologer and a philosopher. The leaders were paranoid, and they crushed his life because they could not fathom his thoughts. Dr. Mailafia, with whom I communicated last month, became sore in the throat of a particular political class, who derived benefits from the compromised values of a medical system to “silence his voice forever.”
Beyond the deep sore dug in the throat of your loved ones, Mailafia, because of your sudden and unforeseen demise, the memories you left behind are a scent of courage and hope because you showed that a geometric rise of people is possible regardless of their economic and political background. Your life was a lesson that one can be generally successful without having to take the wrong routes. You rose from grass and definitely to grace. From zero, you became a hero just because your determination to defy the gravity of poverty outweighed your zeal for all unnecessary distractions. Because you lived a life of purpose, you were an inspiration to a generation of Nigerians who never imagined arriving at the pinnacle of their career due to the impression that the system is rigged to eternally frustrate and discourage them. This means that while you acknowledged the dysfunctionality of the system in which you found yourself, you never relented or showed a sign of defeat to nature. You made use of the materials available in your surroundings and transformed the life you were given. Today, your fans, starting from your immediate family members (children, wife, and even parents) to the admirers of the legacy you left behind, are proud to have associated with you in your lifetime.
READ ALSO: Dr. Obadiah Mailafia And The Nigerian Story Of Leadership Failure
But then you have left a wound in our hearts, those of us who have enjoyed the fecundity of your wisdom from a close distance. You have gone suddenly away from our midst, making us feel sharp and robust pains that leave untold emotional wreck in our minds. It was not easy for you to die, apparently, but trust me when I say that your pain was temporary and your agony was very brief compared to what we, whom you left behind, would feel anytime we remember the shining Soul that you were and the beautiful mind that you represented. Mailafia, the path we have chosen to tread as public intellectuals is becoming lonelier, compounded by the cloudy future we face in this trajectory where voices of freedom and reason are aggressively challenged because they speak a truth that is too deafening for tyrants all over the world to accommodate.
But would we now bow to their pressure and submit the future of innocent generations to their hand, Obadiah? Would we now lose focus and be distracted by those who window-dressed their cowardice and choose to lick the boot of political merchandizer as a way to augment their living and pretend everything is good, Mailafia? Would we now accede to the pressure of selfish leaders who wanted to run a government that does not entertain alternative perspectives, dear erudite?
I ask all these rhetorical questions because of the prescience of your predictions about the country in recent years, and because I was struck by the unusualness of your exit from the face of the earth. In my last conversation with you, you expressed your concerns and mentioned how the welfare of the people in the country has been technically silenced by the emergence of curable security problems. I remember you saying that the future is in the gloom as long as the political machinations in the country continue with such a level of questionable determination. You expressed your feelings about the country’s economy that has witnessed unprecedented deterioration in recent times because of poor policies and an unwillingness to ask for help where and when it is needed. You decried the apparent political misdemeanour that has encouraged this predatory economic geography and explained to the international audience that surviving the current economic hardship that has bedevilled the country is like surfing an ocean without the necessary equipment and with no dependable knowledge of swimming. You never really imagined the courage you enhanced in the hearts of many who share from your optimism, provided the country’s boat is rightly paddled. Together, we recently discussed the expanding dangerous legacies that neocolonial African leaders make from the inheritance they get from their erstwhile imperialists and how it seems they are married to the ideas imposed on them for life.
About Nigeria, Dr. Mailafia dialogued with me on the possibility of internal colonization, which people at the helm of power seem to exploit continuously. The fact that people’s psychology has been complicated by various experiences of disappointment, discriminatory regulations, and marginalization has further emboldened them to take a similar trajectory when they have opportunities to serve in any position of power. I remember vividly when Dr. Mailafia concluded that the rot has permeated nearly all institutions in the country, as it has moved confidently away from being domiciled by the government at the central level to every level where administration of power is demonstrated. Everyone becomes a potential despot, seeking any available opportunity to unleash their mayhem on the innocent people of the country. In essence, seeking power has been considered a great desire to provide some immunity to the individual away from the regulations naturally meant for the majority.
How could you have died, Obadiah, when you came up with lofty ideas about how the country can face head-on the challenges of mismanagement and insecurity that have bedevilled it? Were you not the one who said that fundamental changes will happen to the country the moment the citizens elect politicians of good political will? When I asked you how this is possible and ameliorative to the challenges we identified in the country, you told me categorically that good political will pave ways for other transformational engagements of every country. I remember with keen interest how you demonstrably linked the political goodwill of a leader to their interests in taking active attention to areas that deserve urgent leadership involvement. You said that through this, all institutions landlocked in the geography of dysfunctionality would have the concentration that could immediately propel them into what naturally obtains in a democratic society. You mentioned that to strengthen the country’s government, the quest for equality, which can be promised by the installation of a decentralized system, would be possible only when there is the political will by the commander-in-chief. You concluded, albeit hilariously, by getting a reinforcement of your position by quoting Psalm 11 vs 3 of the Holy Bible: “If the foundations are destroyed – what do the righteous do?”
READ ALSO: The Power Of Positive Difference: Dr. Obadiah Mailafia And His Nigeria
Our belief that the country’s bureaucrats are firmly behind this disruption because they have vested economic interests that they seek to protect at all cost was strengthened by your educative insight when you explained the connection between them and the government policy statements. We both lamented that whenever the country seemed to have made any modest progress in putting their challenging democratic experiences behind, they are usually overtaken by leaders who have no business in the corridor of power in the first place. Temptingly, this is where we almost shelved the blame of irresponsible leadership that has beleaguered the country to the West. While they are entirely absolved of this indictment because of the different interventionist engagements that sometimes have negative consequences on the people, there can be no excuse for the leaders who have made themselves the willing tool for the facilitation of exploitation by the West. Nigerian leaders are vain. They are eternally married to selfish ambition as long as they have financial and economic privileges, notwithstanding the conditions of those underneath them.
Listening to the announcement of your demise came with a rude shock, the magnitude of which I struggled to contain with a powerful price. For a man of your zeal and bravado, of course, you cannot evade death, just as nobody will, but then, death happening to you at that age and stage is something of a generational loss to the country, even in their ignorance. Beyond what could be imagined, you placed the Middle Belt of the country within the proper frame of relevance, where national concentration on them became inevitable, and their travails and challenges have become an international discourse. It was because you strive to arrive at excellence that you won the opportunity to serve at the apex of your career, in which such has been systematically drawn away from your people for a protracted period. You have produced ideas and philosophies, made informed decisions at the national level, and have contributed significantly to the promotion of excellence in the country while you had the opportunity to do so. Even when you left the public office, you continued to offer vital support to enhance the country’s progress.
Within the period of your existence, haven’t you challenged the stereotype by defying all the pressure from offensive camps? Unlike many revolutionaries, you never saw yourself lacking power, even when it was apparent you had no political one. You believed that your voice was strong enough to carve out the voltage of energy needed to electrify the world that appears very committed to selfish ambition and purposeless aggrandizement of wealth. You would not bow out for pressure, and because you were committed to the course of freedom and egalitarian society, you have won for yourself a place that would continue to exist beyond your anticipation and which already is outliving you. Without minding whose ox is gored, you were brilliantly critical of political moves that flagrantly undermined the economic and security safety of people. Your voice was not shaky whenever you educated the world on the importance of alternative perspectives. When others speak with their tongues in their cheeks, you came boldly to face the power brokers who have no single trace of passion for the country they lead.
Saying adieu to you now that you have departed is in the correct order. Wishing that you face a joyous experience in your spiritual journey is the least that we can do. You have gone to a place where we believe you would face less pressure, yet it is a place we are not in a hurry to go. We would be more content to have your presence amidst us so that we can continue to absorb the pressure of the unyielding African political leaders together. We would have loved more that we engage them in the intellectual world where we arm the defenceless people with the power of the pen to stand up for themselves and their exploitative leaders that are causing them all manner of pains. Undoubtedly, the fight started by generations before us, which obviously cannot disappear in our generation, would continue to have our contributions because nobody is free until everyone is free. Your voice has become immortal:
May the Almighty God give your family the strength to bear the irreparable loss and fortify them to move on in the right manner. Your disappearance has caused them some grief, certainly. But then, may they be consoled by the understanding that you led a fulfilled life while you were here.
Adieu, dear Obed!
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.
Read more authentic news on our social media platforms
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.
NEW TIMES CULTURE
Iwuanyanwu And The ‘Political Rascals’ Rhetoric
BREAKING: PDP Crisis Worsens As Chairman Ayu Steps Aside, Deputy Takes Over
NLC Directs Officials To Monitor Banks Over Cash Scarcity
Why GOFAMINT General Overseer Demoted His Deputy
BREAKING: UK Suspends Work, Study, Family Visas For Nigerians Over Ukraine War
BREAKING: First Nigerian Female Vice Chancellor Alele-Williams Is Dead
Opinion5 days ago
Opinion2 days ago
Unending Passion For Reform: A Peep Into My Memoir And The Future Of Nigeria
Opinion2 days ago
The Unending Quest For Reform – Tunji Olaopa’s Intellectual Memoir: A Commentary
Opinion2 days ago
A Savage Outing In The Name Of Electioneering
Opinion2 days ago
Reflection on The Unending Quest for Reform, Tunji Olaopa’s Memoir