Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun At 80: Celebrating An Intellectually Energetic Octogenarian
By Toyin Falola
Positive and impactful energy is difficult to contain. It envelops everything within range like an aura, letting its positivity wash over them. In a world filled with gloom and uncertainty, it helps to surround oneself with positive energy. Thus, it is no surprise that people whose philosophy and interpersonal relations are marked by positive energy attract the very best of humanity.
I have known the Ekiti-born famed professor of history for decades, and I have always seen him as a positive energy that attracts the best humans because he also belongs to the clan of the few good humans. My affiliations with Professor Akinjide number more than one. Aside from being students of life and full-blooded Yoruba, we are both people who love, live and breathe history. Our ties even go beyond that, some of which might not grace these pages.
If one were to describe Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun by a cluster of words, it would be: “An impactful intellectual who radiates positive energy.” These words truly embody who Prof. Osuntokun is and what he stands for — he blazed trails right from the genesis of his education at Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, all through Ibadan Grammar School, at the University of Ibadan, and throughout all the colleges and universities where he pursued advanced studies. One of the most intellectually profound products of the Ibadan School of History, he was a historian before he resumed his scholarship at the University of Ibadan in 1963, where he became a university scholar and one of the few people selected for an exchange program at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. From the start of his career, he displayed the intellectual material he is made of, enjoying an early and illustrious career in academia. The roots of his academic sojourn are founded in the University of Ibadan, leading up to a Ph.D. at the Dalhousie University in Canada, and eventually being named Emeritus Professor at two of Nigeria’s prestigious universities — the University of Lagos and Redeemer’s University.
Professor Osuntokun’s academic career started from his days as an assistant lecturer at the University of Western Ontario in Canada around the 1970s. I was a high school teacher during the period. By the time I resumed as a lecturer at Ife in the 1980s, Prof. Osuntokun had moved to the University of Lagos, where he was already an associate professor. He was generous to drive me in his nice Volvo car to attend a conference on federalism in Abuja. The energy was impressive. We branched into his home town of Okemesi, where he told me his family history. I visited him in his house in Lagos, where his gracious wife hosted me to a good dinner. I also visited him in his house at Ibadan, where I once met his distinguished brother, the medical doctor who once served as the provost of the University College Hospital (UCH).
READ ALSO: Professor Akinjide Osuntokun At 80: The Tour De Force Life
Before his time as an associate professor at the University of Lagos, the famed historian had some stints at the University of West Indies and the University of Ibadan, all in the early to mid-1970s. It is a bit surprising — and I do not think I have ever mentioned it or asked him about it during any of our discussions — that he had a very short stint at his alma mater, the University of Ibadan.
You could describe Professor Osuntokun as the “come rain, come sunshine academic.” Throughout the nation’s turbulent Second Republic, he remained committed to the academic side of the country, helping to solidify it with his employment at some of the country’s universities. During the thick of the tumult of the embryonic Second Republic and the military’s recapturing of sovereignty in the early 1980s, he remained an academic, resuming at the University of Maiduguri. He became a professor of history during the second bout of military regimes in the country. He hosted the annual Congress of the Historical Society of Nigeria, and it became my first time visiting Maiduguri. Since then, Professor Osuntokun has shared his academic career between the University of Lagos and Redeemer’s University, attaining the position of emeritus professor at both. The Okemesi legend’s career as an academic is presently fixated at the Redeemer’s University.
However, anyone who thinks academia is all there is or could ever be to Professor Osuntokun could not have made a false statement. Intellectualism and excellence have defined the life and career of the seasoned academic. For Professor Osuntokun, prowess, excellence, and expertise are like a second skin; norms he acquired from the cradle as part of his family’s cultural orientation back in Okemesi. Service to humanity brings us the utmost fulfilment. The Osuntokuns of Okemesi are characterized by an inclination to serve humanity through public service, and Professor Osuntokun played his path as proof of the saying. The average Nigerian in the early 70s, 80s, and 90s would know of the other members of the Osuntokun family and how they worked for the betterment of society. Although demised, the astute scholar’s siblings were well-known names in their respective career fields. As a result, he knew no other way than to become an excellent and outstanding person in his chosen field.
Prof. Osuntokun also enjoyed a successful, albeit turbulent, period of public service as a one-time ambassador of the Nigerian state. He served to the best of his ability in this role and had his unwavering stance throughout the upheaval. Political instability and threats from military leaders, among many other things, marked Prof. Osuntokun’s service to the Nigerian state, but he never shied away from committing to help the country stabilize and remain solid. His energetic and impactful life also teaches us to be focused on our goals and altruistic in pursuing our achievements. Thus, even when many want to deter us or when those we are supposed to collaborate with consistently aim to frustrate us, we would think nothing of their calculated evil actions and focus on the end goal — the greater good.
In addition to his services to the Nigerian state, Professor Osuntokun has held key positions in organizations and companies. His cumulative experience as an administrator would span up to thirty years. He has held several administrative posts, including as the Director of the National University Commission, Washington office, and a member of the council at the University of Maiduguri. Professor Osuntokun served on the administrative and academic sides of the university system. He is undoubtedly an excellent and world-class lecturer to his past and current students. Beyond that, he also proved his worth as an exceptional and result-driven administrator in several capacities, both within and outside university campuses.
When a man’s life is synonymous with greatness, he attracts honour and recognition like sugar cubes attract ants. Professor Osuntokun is the recipient of several awards, fellowships, and recognitions from the Nigerian Academy of Letters fellowship, the Officer of the Order of Niger award (one of the most coveted in Nigeria), and the Historical Society of Nigeria fellowship, among several other recognitions and awards.
What can we say about a learned man if there is no way to quantify how knowledgeable he is? And how shall we quantify that? How many books has he written? How many books is he featured in? How many research papers has he published? And if we were to ask these questions of Prof. Osuntokun, we would be surprised at the vastness of our discovery. Through his writings, he shows the diversity and intellectual prowess. I have read several of his works, from his op-eds in the dailies to his papers.
Prof. Osuntokun, whom I greatly adore and hold in the highest regard, will be 80 years old on April 26, 2022. I am glad that the historian has spent these many years on earth, and I send him best wishes. Two periods in one’s life are most likely the best — the 20s and wise years of old age, and the ingenious academic is currently in one of those periods. He lives to revel in the achievements of his lifelong dream and the joy that his now extended family must continue to inspire in him.
Happy Birthday, Intellectually Profound Positive Energy!
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Africa Reckonings And Futures
By Toyin Falola
Africa, a continent full of diverse peoples and fascinating history, has struggled with several social, economic, and political problems during its existence. Despite its recent development, it has suffered from a number of wrongs stemming from its pre-colonial history and its tangled links with other continents, especially Europe. There is a school of thought amongst certain African academics that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was the high point in the West’s systematic plunder of Africa, resulting in devastating cultural, social, and economic losses on the continent. The transatlantic slave trade was a cultural and social calamity for Africa, ripping apart communities and erasing centuries of history. Peoples of African origin, including those living in the diaspora, continue to feel the repercussions of this pernicious trade, leading to internal conflicts over their own identities. But the slave trade and the brain drain are not the only issues the continent of Africa is contending with. Many problems plaguing the continent call for fresh approaches and changes in perspective. These problems range from insufficient socioeconomic growth to governance worries. Environmental concerns and the effects of climate change pose major risks.
Let’s take global ecology and Africa’s exposure to environmental crises, for instance. Regarding the world’s environment, Africa is about to get some hard truths. The effects of climate change are and will continue to be felt most acutely on the African continent, where the majority of the world’s poor live. Climate change is real and has serious consequences for Africa, as seen by the continent’s warming temperatures, higher sea levels, shifting rainfall patterns, and increased frequency of droughts. It is not enough for Africa to just adapt to this problem; the region must also be creative and rethink its connection with the natural world. The effects of global warming on Africa’s agriculture industry are emblematic of the problem. Many African economies rely heavily on agriculture since it provides a stable income for millions of people. The difficulty of farming and livestock raising is growing due to climate change. Crop failures and decreased yields have resulted from changes in rainfall patterns and the increased frequency of droughts. Because of the severe weather, some farmers have given up and moved on. Given the significance of agriculture to Africa’s economy, this trend is cause for concern.
The effects of climate change aren’t limited to agriculture. The shift in weather patterns is threatening the continent’s ecology and biodiversity. For example, melting glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro threaten to deplete the water supply for millions of people in East Africa. Loss of biodiversity will likely have significant effects on food security and health while rising sea levels endanger the viability of coastal populations.
To effectively address the global ecological issue, Africa will need to use a variety of strategies. New and creative approaches are needed. Sustainable agricultural strategies, such as crop diversification and conservation agriculture, may aid farmers in dealing with the effects of climate change and shifting weather patterns. In addition, governments may support renewable energy by investing in it and enacting regulations that encourage the use of cleaner energy sources like solar and wind. If such sustainable practices are enacted, Africa’s total carbon footprint could be significantly lessened, thus considerably contributing to the fight against climate change.
Away from climate change and its effect on the continent, we turn to the complicated positions of African Studies. As the continent has become more diverse and complicated, so has the study of Africa. African history, culture, politics, and society have all benefited from the work of academics and researchers from all over the globe, who have contributed to a growing body of work on these topics. There is, however, a continuing discussion over the boundaries and potential of African Studies, with some suggesting that it is time to think both inside and beyond the norms of the field. A critical examination of the underlying assumptions and methods of African Studies is required for both “going with the grain” and “going against the grain.” This perspective acknowledges that the field of African Studies was formed by colonialism and imperialism. Consequently, African Studies frequently reproduce the same power dynamics. African Studies is interested in expanding its horizons and discovering novel approaches to learning about and interacting with the continent and its people, and thinking with and against the grain of the discipline is one method to do just that.
Getting beyond Western scholarship’s hegemonic, oversimplified, and reductionist perceptions of Africa is a major challenge for African Studies. For a long time, colonialism and imperialism were justified by depicting Africa as a land of darkness, ignorance, and cruelty. Even though this viewpoint has been debunked, it is nevertheless often presented in academic literature, where it reinforces inaccurate generalizations about Africa and obscures the region’s complexity. Academics need to interact with the nuances and contradictions of African cultures to think both with and against the grain of African Studies. To do so, we must abandon oversimplified conceptions of “African culture” and “African politics” and instead acknowledge that the continent is home to a wide variety of civilizations, languages, and political structures. Likewise, it requires appreciating the initiative and inventiveness of African people, who have played crucial roles in forging their own histories and cultures.
Extending the reach of African Studies outside the confines of the field is another crucial problem. Despite the field’s expansion over the last several decades, researchers from the Global North remain preponderant, contributing to the maintenance of existing power disparities on the continent and among its people. The best way to think with and against the grain of African Studies is to have conversations with academics and researchers from Africa and the diaspora. Critical introspection and questioning of one’s own assumptions are necessary outcomes of both “going with” and “going against” the prevailing winds of African Studies. We must be ready to examine our methods critically, accept both the field’s limits and its potential and welcome other viewpoints. This is the only way to get a more complex and accurate picture of Africa and its people.
Africa’s potential in the 21st century is a growing talking point in both academic and wider public circles. Despite this positive trend and the rich cultures and histories of the continent, Africa has been typically seen through a pessimistic and static viewpoint. However, in recent years, mainstream discourse has shifted toward a more optimistic and positive assessment of Africa’s future prospects. The realization of Africa’s enormous potential for economic growth and development is a major factor in this shift. African nations have seen tremendous economic development in recent years despite numerous hurdles, including political instability and violence. Due to this growth, many economists believe that Africa will soon become the world’s next economic superpower.
The expansion of Africa’s communications networks is another reason for hope for the continent’s future. The continent of Africa is more interconnected than ever because of developments in technology and transportation. Trade, investment, and cross-cultural cooperation have all benefited from this heightened accessibility. But, Africa still faces some difficult obstacles. For instance, many African nations are still hampered by pervasive violence and political instability.
More communication and cooperation between African nations and the rest of the globe is crucial if the continent is to overcome its current difficulties and fulfill its future potential. More money spent on infrastructure and technology, together with programs encouraging cultural understanding and cooperation, may help bring this about. Poverty, inequality, and political corruption are all major contributors to the instability and violence plaguing Africa. Africa is frequently presented as a victim of external factors rather than a player in the game of life. A more nuanced knowledge of Africa’s complicated reality and a shared commitment to a more fair and equitable future are possible via attentive listening to and through the sharing of African viewpoints.
Coasting home, colonialism, globalization, and wars for independence and sovereignty have all left their marks on Africa’s rich and varied history. Notwithstanding these setbacks, African nations have been remarkably resourceful, imaginative, and resilient in their pursuit of social justice and economic progress. Several nations in Africa have seen steady economic development, technological innovation, and social revolution in recent years, propelling the continent to a prominent position on the international economic stage. However, many problems, such as poverty, inequality, war, environmental destruction, and political unrest, persist across the African continent.
Africa must tackle issues like reducing poverty and inequality, which are stumbling blocks to their continent’s future. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reports that Africa is home to some of the world’s most unequal countries, with over 400 million people living in abject poverty. Corruption, poor leadership, and inadequate provision of necessities like education, healthcare, and clean water all play a role in exacerbating the problem. Social safety nets, job creation, and entrepreneurial training are just a few of the efforts and programs that African nations are engaging in to combat these issues. Regional integration, which seeks to encourage trade, investment, and collaboration among African nations, is also gaining prominence.
Africa must also face the need to confront environmental concerns such as global warming, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. The continent is especially at risk with so much riding on agriculture, natural resources, and healthy ecosystems. Droughts, floods, and food shortages are just some of the ways climate change is already threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people throughout Africa. To combat these issues, African nations must fund projects and programs in areas like renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and ecosystem restoration. International collaboration should also receive more attention as a means to foster climate-resilience, adaptation, and mitigation.
Conflict, terrorism, and human rights abuses are also some of Africa’s political and security issues that must be faced head-on. To solve these issues and advance peace, justice, and human rights, many African nations must work to establish democratic and stable institutions. External meddling, resource rivalries, and ideological divisions only fuel the fire. To face these difficulties, African nations should put resources into programs and efforts, including peacemaking, conflict avoidance, and rights advocacy. Regional and continental integration, which seeks to enhance collaboration, solidarity, and collective security, should also gain prominence.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, Africa has a wealth of untapped potential and prospects. The continent’s youthful and energetic population, varied and significant cultural legacy, and plentiful natural resources make it an important and influential part of the world. Several African nations are becoming centers of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship due to their growing ties to the global economy. Several African nations are investing in areas like education, innovation, and infrastructure building to use their continent’s abundant resources. In sum, Africa is weighing a number of options as it strives to determine its destiny. The continent must face its own realities. Africa’s future lies in its ability to capitalize on its young population, rich cultural traditions, and plentiful resources to create affluent, equitable, and globally integrated communities. Getting to these futures requires African nations to keep questioning everything.
. (Excerpt of Keynote Lecture, Canadian African Studies Association, May 29, 2023).
Buhari: The Illusion Of Hope
By Toyin Falola
Leadership is pivotal to development; as such, every election is taken seriously, and the transition of power is especially given attention in Nigeria. Nigeria is coming from a place where its leadership has been in question because of the failure of past leaders to remedy several of the problems it faces. So, in every election circle, with May 29th as the handover of power, there is so much expectation, anticipation, and delight, except for the current one. But over the years, those anxieties are met with disappointments.
Nigeria saw a new semantic twist to the word “change” from its mantra in 2015. The year was supposed to be the beginning of hope; the citizens thought Buhari, the messiah, had come, not knowing that things were just getting messier. It has been a long eight years, and the nation has taken two steps backward in several ways, an inch forward in some while the others stay in their stagnant, deteriorated states. It has been a long ride, and the score sheet is quite discouraging in the spirit of speaking the truth to power.
One of the selling points of the change mantra was the readiness to fight any corrupt practices in the country. The citizens had expected that many politicians would have been put in jail or get several of their properties confiscated. Well, for those not on the good side of the President and the party, those promises were made regarding them, but the big-bellied politicians eating from the pots of corruption and sitting in influential political offices have become saints that stack away national treasure. The list of those that got their sins “forgiven,” as stated by the former chairman of the All Progressives Congress. No one hears of David Umahi’s alleged N400 million naira diversion of public funds, Godswill Akpabio’s N100 Billion alleged diversion, Stella Oduah’s alleged N9.4 billion, and other accusations, Orji Uzor Kalu’s N3.2 billion accusation, Adebayo Alao-Akala of blessed memory’s N11.5 billion allegation before his death, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika’s alleged connection with the Sambo Dasuki’s $2.1 billion, and several others after they have moved to the ruling party, the fount of foundation that all sinners can come. The corruption rate in the country reached a record rank of 154 in 2021 and has become the 150th least corrupt country in the world. One would have thought that the nation was ready to fight corruption under Buhari’s tenure seeing that there was a report that there was a possibility that the country would lose about 30% of its GDP by 2025. We are edging toward this problem, and Mr. President and his appointees indulged the causes too much.
One needs to check whether the poverty rate has been reduced as promised by the change mantra, but the country is in a dreadful situation it has never been before eight years. The margin between the rich and poor grew, while citizens were left with no buying power. The past eight years have left one wondering if there has truly been the availability and access to supposed public goods and services with “a united, peaceful and secure nation,” as the president had stated in his farewell speech. As expected, the supposed global recession and economic downturn, as the president alluded to, would never be enough excuse for the incapability of at least giving the citizens steady lives. First, Nigeria is not the only country that faced the challenge, but the propensity of its effect seems higher than in other countries. Secondly, the administration has been in place since 2015, and laying claim to the incidents of 2020 and 2022 is outrageous.
One of the reasons Mr. President showed more enthusiasm toward the nation’s petroleum sector was first to ensure that there are sustainable changes to its different problems and reduce the corruption rate in that sector. Despite all the various promises to revive the sector and the refineries and make things easier for the citizens, the petroleum sector continued to worsen. The fuel prices now are not just ununiformed in practice but have increased almost 200% more than before the administration’s commencement. The refineries have remained in their state while we export crude oil and purchase petroleum products in an inconsiderate state. The subsidy has not been removed, but prices are still not favorable to the people. Mr. President as the Minister for Petroleum and those who served as Minster for State for Petroleum Resources have found themselves in limbo while millions of Nigerians still queue to buy petrol at high price year in and year out. Fuel scarcity is no more a phenomenon; it is a festival people are not surprised it happens.
While you preached democracy, even in your farewell speech, I am not certain all its tenets were well kept or practiced as they should have been. Maybe the president does not know that the practice and presence of democracy is not the absence of military or despotic rule as it was in the first administration of the General but the recognition of the people’s sense of belonging in the leadership, the obvious practices of the system, especially in the face of antagonism. What are the tales around elections in Nigeria, what has happened to freedom of expression, and how best can one describe the prevalence of the tenets? Nigeria has seen one of the worse levels of suppression of human rights under the Buhari administration in this democratic dispensation. Police brutality has increased to incite a high rate of citizen resistance to the police. The government’s body language has been more of beating a child and beating him when he cries. The advent of the EndSARS protest was not just the youth showing readiness for a better Nigeria, but it was an expression of the insults of oppression of the injuries of lack of facilities and low standard of living.
I believe those that thought the President was a reformed and repentant democratic would be close to disclaiming such assertions. The government institutions have become elements of witch-hunting and the hands of political strategies to intimidate those that are in the way of the government or anyone at all. Should one refer to the popular Twitter ban from June 5th, 2021, to 13th January, 2022? The killing of several EndSARS protesters and the darkened truth about what happened on that fateful night at Lekki Tollgate. And if elections alone are what Mr. Buhari understands as democracy, I am not sure Nigeria can boast of the 2019 and 2023 elections conducted under his administration. A report stated that the DSS, the Army, and other security operatives were used to intimidate voters and several other intimidations from children of the dark worlds during the 2019 elections. The 2023 elections were worse, with different public intimidations and obvious rigging, violence, and other vices during the electoral processes.
One may need to ask where the jobs promised or seemed to have been produced are, who are employed, and who are the employers. While there is considerable progress in this instance, the conditions have not changed, as most of the steps taken are not sustainable. With an unemployment rate of about 33%, those who try to establish themselves face a toxic environment. A report shows that about 80% of Small and Medium Enterprises failed in Nigerian as of 2020. While efforts, even where they are not sustainable, are still efforts, the Buhari administration forgot to provide more enabling society for businesses to thrive. In the name of business interventions, the momentary Christmas gifts are mostly embezzled by the officials and gotten by party members and associates; they are not enough if self-subsisting systems are not built around them to ensure they serve the purposes for which they are given out.
The argument of certain people during the pre-election change mantra before the 2015 election was that because of the military background of Buhari, the nation might have enough hold of its security problems. One of the great sins of Goodluck Jonathan was his inability to combat terrorism and the growing security challenges. Of course, a General was coming, and it was reasonable to see people with some comfort level. The Buhari agenda and propaganda were sold to the nation, and security was the weak spot of many of the citizens. The ride for the past last years has been worse; while the news about Boko Haram has become normal incidences that do not even get to make newspaper headlines in the country, other forms of insecurity have become strengthened. The anxiety or fear on an average Nigerian road is enough to give one high blood pressure. Prisons are broken in most undignified ways, mass massacres and kidnappings, and several other unspeakable disgraces. Mr. Buhari, Nigerians never see you coming.
When the common and seeming colloquial saying, “What is worth doing is worth doing well,” is said, it is a big message that even Buhari should have learned from. There are excuses that the anticipated rot was worse, as almost all governments say when resuming after an opposition predecessor. And where it seems that the Water of Nigerian problem is fast becoming more than the Garri of your power, it would have been an honorable thing to step down for others to try; well, the phrase, although never reflected, “politics is not a do or dies affair,” does not extend to while in office. But Yoruba would say, Akukuu joye, o san ju enu mi o kalu lo.
While Nigeria has been on fire, it seems the president had more enthusiasm for tourism than the nation’s state. From 2015 to December 2022, our Ajala president spent not less than 225 days on medical trips, aside from other summits and official trips. This is against the promises of ensuring the President and other politicians explore local medical options. But most importantly, if a president could spend such several days on unofficial journeys at different intervals, there is little to say about how settled and ready he has been for the job.
However, it is my message to the next president of Nigeria that the nation needs real change and that the duty is to at least make things stable. He should take clues from the mistakes of Buhari and other past leaders to make wise decisions that will transform the nation. More so, the 2023 election has threatened the nation’s unity, so he must rule with this consciousness at heart. I say “Amen” to the oft-repeated prayer:
May Buhari Never Happen to Nigeria Again.
May 29 And Onward: Towards Nigeria’s Rebirth And Transformation
By Tunji Olaopa
Six concerns will constitute the focus of my discussion today. First, I will like to place May 29 within the context of Nigeria’s political history, and why it is crucial at this juncture. Second, I will be situating this 2023 transition within the context of the critical crises the new administration will be inheriting. Third, I will be highlighting the leadership deficit confronting Nigeria, and locating it within a broader and global search for a good, humane, strategic and managerial leader for the Nigerian state. Fourth, and as a corollary, I will attempt to benchmark Nigeria’s capacity for transformation with the transformational potential exhibited by global comparators like the Asian Tigers. Fifth, I will then contextualize this benchmark within the African continent by examining the Mo Ibrahim African Governance Index which will help bring into sharp relief the issues limiting leadership performance in Nigeria especially. And sixth, I will then draw on significant lessons that the Tinubu administration could benchmark to commence and make a success of its governance objectives, strategies and methodologies.
Many Nigerians have varying expectations about today, May 29. For the cynics and the pessimists, it is a transition that leads nowhere, except the manifestation of a fresh spectacle of musical chairs—a familiar but tragic drama involving politicians with a high leadership deficit whose lack of governance vision and low level of development performance spell ultimately another possible four years of intense frustration for Nigerians. For chronic optimists like me, this might just be a May 29 transition with a difference; a day that might as well signal the threshold of a revolutionary moment in governance transformation. Reform optimists, like me, look out for an elected political class that displays evidence of leadership competence and development performance. This simply implies that leadership goes beyond a mere title; rather, it references the capacity of a leader or a group of dedicated crops of leaders to redirect a state like Nigeria away from the precipice and towards an envisioned future. Inevitably, such leadership action will necessarily involve making sound and sometimes difficult decisions, creating and articulating clear visions, and establishing achievable goals. And the decisional dynamics will often entail playing high politics, which is bound to be rough and tough, but which will eventually conduce to increasing the quality of life of Nigerians.
Introduction: Why is May 29 Critical to Nigeria’s Current Crisis?
The uniqueness of May 29 in Nigeria’s political history is essentially constituted by the metaphor of transition that it signifies. The day represents the culmination of all electoral processes that had earlier produced political leaders at the federal and state levels. More fundamentally, transition represents an optimistic movement away from the old to the new. Roy Cooper, the current governor of North Carolina in the US captures my sense of the weightiness of the idea of transition: “Transitions are a time for reflection, and a time for looking forward.” So, this moment in history affords us, as Nigerians, the opportunity of weighing our present circumstances and predicaments side by side the possibilities we again have the privilege of unraveling in order to be able to undermine the stranglehold of history. Remember the maxim about those who have failed to learn from history.
What is the starting point for our reflection today? It is straightforward: Nigeria is in a tragic crisis situation. And we arrived at this point as a result of an almost inexorable political and historical trajectory of the inauguration of the Nigerian state through the amalgamation in 1914 till her independence in 1960. Current sociopolitical and economic realities—debt crisis, insecurity, underdevelopment, bureaucratic pathologies, etc.—are simply the morbid symptoms of deeply entrenched dysfunctions that successive Nigerian government, since independence, have been grappling with. And the outgoing administration seems to have mediated the sliding of the Nigerian state to its low ebb in years. In terms of human development, Nigeria’s status is quite dismal and discouraging. In terms of human poverty, Nigeria’s own poverty index shows that 63% (approximately 133 million) of Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. In the Ease of Doing Business Index, Nigeria is ranked 131 out of 191 countries. And finally, in the Chandler Good Government Index for 2022, Nigeria ranks 102 out of 104, only better than Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
This brief articulation of Nigeria’s current predicament provides a summary of the daunting implication of this May 29 transition from the old administration to the new one, and the enormous burden of history that is already placed on the shoulder of the new government. I am however suitably situated to believe that from our present position, the Nigerian state can only achieve an upward trend away from its crippling circumstances to a better condition. And my optimism is not incumbent on the usual hope that attends transitions such as this. My status as a scholar-practitioner and an institutional reformer provides me with more pedestal from which to categorically enunciate my firm belief in Nigeria’s capacity to climb out of her development and governance abyss.
As I have narrated in numerous public discourses, I am an unrelenting student of politics and Nigerian governmental processes and procedure. My status as a scholar-practitioner enables me to bring to bear on political and administrative dynamics in Nigeria a practitioner’s angle that leverages deep theoretical and practical knowledge that enable me to interrogate the nexus of leadership, governance and public policy in outlining the imperatives of national transformation and development management.
Africa’s Leadership Deficit and Nigeria’s Challenge
This makes the issue of leadership a key matter in the fashioning of a developmental state around which institutional reform becomes a matter for crafting infrastructural and economic development. And in the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance for 2021, Nigeria ranks 30 out of 54 African countries. And in a ten-year classification trend, from 2012 to 2021, Nigeria is placed in the category of “increasing deterioration”. And this explains why no Nigerian leader has ever won the prize; or why the Foundation skipped the award for ten years (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022) because there were no worthy African leaders.
And this is why Anthony “Lee” Iacocca is right to wonder where all the leaders have gone to in his bestselling book of the same title. Africa’s leadership deficit is complicated by two factors—one, the thorny issue of political selection and succession (how political leadership is put into office); and two, the critical issue of how these leaders perform when they eventually get to office and began to deploy political power. The leadership problem in Nigeria is measured against the background of successive governments since independence to inaugurate a developmental state in Nigeria. The developmental state demands the deployment of a competency model to harness talents that will enable the government to build durable institutions to articulate a productivity paradigm that will instigate a democratic service delivery framework for the citizens. But we need to be careful not to benchmark our leaders against standards that would keep crippling them and their performance, especially in contexts that would be incompatible with the standards they are benchmarked against.
Nigeria, the Asian Tigers and African Comparators
The closest governance context to the African experience is Asia, and so we can start by benchmarking the new administration to the experience of the Asian Tigers, like Singapore. How did Singapore, through Lee Kuan Yew, make that fundamental jump from third to first world? Six critical readjustments are key to that transformation we can learn from.
- First, there was a rejection of import substitution for a pursuit of a bold and aggressive export-oriented development strategy.
- The second, and corollary, development framework is the discipline that export strategy imposes on the cultivation of local consumption and local industries in a way that enables steady growth.
- Third, this cultivation of local consumption is geared towards the improvement of national productivity. This therefore makes it necessary to invest aggressively in education and training that inevitably leads to increase in per capita productivity in the national economy.
- Fourth, a corollary of this investment in training and education has to do with investments in research and development (R&D). Developmental states are states that immediately see the significance of industrialization as the marker of progress. And this requires a dynamical relationship, for instance, between industries and higher education that enables action research to fuel industrial breakthroughs which in turn become research projects.
- Fifth, developmental states cannot afford to become profligate with national finance. This automatically calls attention to transparency and accountability in the management of the national account. A by-product of this is the setting up of a solid anti-corruption strategies and structures that can bark and bite!
- Lastly, and most significantly, developmental states take their public service institutions seriously in terms of reforming them into becoming world class performance structures operating on meritocracy and competency-based human resource management.
The Mo Ibrahim African Governance (IIAG) brings home even more crucially the continent-specific standards and achievements parameters that are not captured in universalized global benchmarks. It not only tells us that leadership and leadership performance is context-bound, but also stands as an intermediate standard by which African economies and leadership can be assessed within a context of African political economy with its own unique challenges and successes. The IIAG benchmarks African governance dynamics around critical issues of infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, health and primary education, higher education training, good market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market sophistication, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation. And this is where the existing continental monitoring institutions like NEPAD and APRM become significant partners in Africa’s economic recovery and competitiveness. And given the failure to find a distinguished leader worthy of the Leadership Prize, this becomes an even more daunting leadership challenge for someone like Tinubu.
From Benchmarking Lessons to Governance Performance
This benchmarking points us in several directions that the Tinubu administration can pick up its legacy of good democratic governance.
Transformational leadership and the change space
The first and critical realization is what Nigerians require from the new administration. The short and profound answer is national transformation. If this is so, then transforming Nigeria and the quality of lives of Nigerians must start with a critical question: how does leadership become transformational? On this question hinges the difference between a leader willing to achieve performance in terms of governance changes, and one who wants to carry on, business as usual.
In answering this question, the conventional sense of a transformational leader is captured by the strong man theory—a leader that is decisive, intelligent, charismatic and therefore heroic, who has the capacity to translate vision and strategy to outcomes based on compelling best practices and scientific and evidence-based data. However, while this conceptualization of a transformational leader is an irreducible requirement in governance successes, it is also essentially idealistic. The point is that every leader is context-bound; situated within a context of sociocultural and political practices. Within the context of governing, there are so many variables that make the success of a single person—even with the best of capacities, charisma and wisdom, a most daunting feat, especially in a democracy. The idea of a government comes with various shades of limitations too significant for even a good and capable leader to overcome. The complex terrain of governance presented by the Nigerian state cannot therefore be located around an individual or in terms of a solo or personalized heroic effort alone. On the contrary, what is required is a leader that has the capacity to put together a change space graduated into multi-level leadership levels based on the paradigm that “multiple functions are required to effect change through multiple stages, requiring multiple parties to provide multiple leadership.”
This translates into the urgent assembling of a coalition of change, a team that possesses sufficient patriotic commitment, professional expertise and political wisdom to initiate, implement and deliver the change needed to move Nigeria beyond her present predicaments. And this must be done under the necessary dynamics of performance contract, audits and accountability to achieve peak and optimal performance. This suggest that the leader is technically-enabled to
- manage attention – create compelling vision of the new Nigeria that he is leading others to build
- manage meaning – is able to communicate the vision with clarity not only to the change team but to Nigerians
- manage trust – in being able to set achievable goals with sufficiently enabled structure of accountability for results achieved and honesty in explaining shortfalls
- manage self – match his words with his heart as measure of purposefulness
Governance principles and methodology
This is where vision, purpose and strategies are key. The President needs to commence the administration with a governance methodology embedded in Buhari’s statement of “’I am for everybody and I am for no one” which provides a detached platform for leadership and governance praxis. For instance, it will be the wrong foot forward if Tinubu starts by favoring only those who voted for him or aided him during the last elections, or—for that matter—filling his cabinet with political jobbers. This is because the complex problems Nigeria faces require radical and innovative approaches. We cannot, as Albert Einstein admonishes, “solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them …” Indeed, we cannot continue seeing development agenda only in terms of the hardware components of infrastructural development that has locked Nigeria into a 19th century perspective on what development is all about.
There is therefore the imperative to foreground the value of policy work reinforced with policy-engaged research and strategic thinking. This is more so, because the world is now firmly in the knowledge age where hardware of development requires the software to make sense. Indeed, Nigeria must rediscover the place and role of research in the generation of the requisite policy intelligence and action required to jumpstart critical progress. Action and policy research will indeed be the backbone of leadership sophistication and boldness to craft national development agenda that speaks to context-specificities in spite of the preferences of donor conditionalities and western neo-liberal orthodoxy
And even more significant is the fact that the idea of government itself has been superseded by that of governance which opens up the processes of government for a wider array of non-governmental and non-state actors to participate in government, and giving the acts and policies of government more chances of succeeding in empowering the citizens through infrastructural development. And so, governance provides the government of the day a wide range of political and technocratic expertise to choose from—subject specialists, think tanks, policy networks, and research-enabled interest groups which also have a strategic role to play within the governance space.
This is where the idea of putting together a government of national competence demands the creation of a change space, circumscribed by a competency model, that generates a national change management programme that orients those who would work within the change space for the transformation of Nigeria. The change space and competency model mean that the new administration is ready to jettison the business-as-usual attitude that is ready to play another four years of bad politics with the lives of Nigerians and the destiny of the Nigerian state.
This implies the imperative of troubleshooting deliberately for a managerial team that will energize the change space with ideas, innovation and strategies for institutional renewal and reform. I have once asked the question of whether a weak leader can build strong institutions. Of course, we have to answer in the negative. A leader is weak either because he or she lacks the political will to legislate very strong institution-building policies, or because he lacks the legitimate support of the people. The third source of weakness for a leader is that such a person has allowed personal gains and aggrandizing impulse to overshadow selfless decision making. In any of the cases, there is no foundation laid for the emergence of strong institutions. Building strong institutions with curtailing capacities that will deliver democratic service delivery to Nigerians requires a change space where functional and implemented policies can be made and results demanded.
Two immediate imperatives will guide the harnessing of managerial competences in the change space. First, the overall objective must be the launch of a national productivity movement that will be circumscribed by such critical pillars like cost of governance reduction, national waste management programme, new national project management praxis, and a new maintenance culture. The success of any state depends on her productivity profile and how the performance of her workforce impacts the delivery of goods and services to the citizens. And this is where the second critical issue surfaces—the need for a performance management system that insists that all those who must participate in the change space must be held accountable to a performance agreement or contract and performance audit. This focuses attention on the significance of creating a capability ready public service, operating on a managerial culture, that is professionalized, technocratic, value-driven, highly incentivized, accountable and technology-enabled sufficiently to backstop the productivity movement of the administration.
The success of the Tinubu administration, without mincing words, hangs on the capability readiness of the public service to deliver on the mandate that President Tinubu sold to Nigerians. This is where it becomes fundamental to call for a reinvention of the public service systems, structures, values and ethics—indeed the totality of work culture—within the necessity of getting the basics of public administration right. Modernizing the public service system thus translates into a deep-seated paradigm shifts in the underlying bureaucratic model.
Restructuring developmental federalism
The other side of my expectation from the Tinubu administration is an issue that President Tinubu shares with the ideological framework that has sustained the southwest in its bid to rehabilitate the Nigerian state. And this is the urgency of attending to Nigeria’s constitutional quandary, manifesting in its lopsided federal arrangement. Not making any meaningful attempt to correct Nigeria’s constitutional dysfunction, part of what constitutes Tinubu’s democratic credentials and ideological profile—would create a huge hole that will drain all good policy intentions. On the one hand, Nigeria’s presidential dynamics drains her budgetary capabilities. This is part of the cost of governance worries that Nigeria has been saddled with since independence. On the other hand, the lopsided unitary federalism has also been grievous in another way that the Tinubu administration cannot afford not to tackle. Nigeria cannot ever hope to make any governance success through a federalism that emasculate its federating units at the expense of a centralized framework that undermines the various units and their capacities to generate strength from their comparative advantages.
The comatose nature of the local government areas has deprived the Nigerian state of a framework of local governance that could harness the values of subsidiarity to crystalize, for instance, a grassroots-propelled poverty reduction programme and a people-centered development process around which the new administration can redefine democratic administration. So many of my public discourse pieces have outlined the significance of the Aboyade-Mabogunje OPTICOM—optimum communication—project that utilizes the strength of professionalized strategic communication praxis to engage Nigerians within a framework of social mobilization, popular participation and democratic accountability.
Carol Pearson, in The Transforming Leader (2012), says “…if we want to make significant and long-lasting changes, we must look within before we look without.” This grounds our realization that impactful change commences as a learning process—we need to change the way we think about development by staying centered in the midst of the change with the strength of political will. There cannot be, therefore, a one-size-fits-all solution for Nigeria’s predicaments. Even the transformational leadership model we have outlined cannot do without the underpinning of transactional dynamics. In a deep sense therefore, to reject the business-as-usual mindset will entail cognitive re-definition, purposefulness, integrity and leadership by example.
Let me be bold in closing to say that the leader that would make a difference cannot be a people pleaser. He must wield the stick of the Machiavellian even if seldom used. While it is a journey with co-transformational-traveler partners, the leader does not have to make his leadership a slave to the opinions and the will of the egocentric destiny destroyers. For Nigerians, a lot must fall in several places with this transition to a new government, and I hope, a new beginning in so many ways. Let me end with the poignant words of Kristin Armstrong, the sportswoman: “Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.”
.Being Distinguished Virtual Public Lecture of the Abuja Leadership Centre of the University of Abuja to herald the inauguration of a new President and Governments in Nigeria Delivered on Monday, 29th of May, 2023)
. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration and Executive Vice-Chairman, ISGPP, Bodija, Ibadan, Oyo State.
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