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Toyin Falola: Living And Globalising The Humanities



Toyin Falola: Living And Globalising The Humanities

By Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso
On Tuesday, 11 October, at State House, Abuja, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari conferred one of the nation’s oldest and highest merit honours, the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), on University of Texas at Austin professor of history, Toyin Falola. Professor Falola is the University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at UT Austin. Falola is also one of the foremost scholars in the humanities today. As Africa’s most decorated and celebrated academic at home and abroad, with over thirty lifetime achievement awards, sixteen honorary doctorates, eight festschriftens in his honour, seven teaching awards, three chieftaincy titles, book awards named after him and several honorary conferences, Falola is at home with achievements, accolades, awards, and unparalleled distinction.

Last year, on 17 November, 2021, Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, awarded an academic Doctor of Letters (D. Litt.) degree to Dr Falola, exactly 40 years after the award of his PhD by the University of Ife in 1981. The University of Ibadan is the first African academic institution ever to award the academic D. Litt., an epochal event, and to none more deserving than to such a distinguished global humanities scholar. Falola is a teacher of teachers, a mentor of mentors, an academic leader, astute administrator, writer, poet, polymath, and, without doubt, a far-ranging genius. These recent conferrals provide, therefore, a good occasion to recognise and reflect yet again on his towering contributions to the academy and global scholarship.

Toyin Falola: Living And Globalising The Humanities

Prof. Toyin Falola

Falola is the preeminent African-born academic of our times, with a sprawling breadth of publications and contributions unrestrained by disciplinary boundaries, transcending all the traditional fields of the humanities and social sciences combined and covering a truly global geographical and cultural scope. It is a somewhat daunting task for anyone to attempt to distill and parse his oeuvre, which comprises so many published books — thirteen in the last year alone; hundreds of journal articles, book chapters and essays; countless keynotes and distinguished lectures delivered in countries on every continent, and so much more. In this age of renascent intellectual and activist movements to decentre hegemonic knowledge and reinscribe the contributions, experiences, and perspectives of non-Western and Global South peoples within entrenched knowledge production systems, Falola’s body of work is pioneering, even prescient, and is a compass for what it means to truly achieve the knowledge transformation aims of this movement. While the humanities have been criticised as partial and incomplete, having been built on an essential image of Man and humanity that is discernably Western, Falola’s work boldly destabilises established canons, consolidates knowledge from the margins, centres these within mainstream theoretical, academic, and policy conversations, and ultimately globalises the humanities. It is, quite simply, an extraordinary achievement.

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Such is his stature that Toyin Falola needs no introduction — but permit me to highlight some key biographical moments. Forty-one years ago, in 1981, he was awarded his PhD in History, completed in record time, from the prestigious University of Ife, Nigeria. What is remarkable here is his journey up to this point, which marked a triumph over monumental life challenges, including childhood poverty, dropping out from high school, becoming a child street hawker, and then a self-motivated and self-sponsored student. His young years in Ibadan, South-western Nigeria, are captured in his award-winning memoir, A Mouth Sweeter than Salt, and his teenage years of drifting, in its sequel, Counting the Tiger’s Teeth. Fellow students at the University of Ife called him “indigo,” short for “indigent,” his public badge of circumstance, and yet, those fellow students, some of whom would become his colleagues as lecturers, were already calling him “prolific writer” by the time he graduated with his PhD. By all accounts, Falola was already a prodigy, having published in leading journals in the field early in his career and even before many of his teachers. This phenomenal intellectual productivity has marked his career, as has his prodigal generosity, by which he combats the demons of a difficult past.

Nigeria of the 1980s was a very troubled nation, and Falola’s story closely parallels that of the nation at this point. The monumental wealth of the oil boom of the 1970s had been squandered, while the deep fractures of a multi-ethnic nation that had fought a bitter civil war had led to the abandonment of cohesive values and the reification of a gluttonous elite that would preside over the exploitation of public office for personal and parochial gains. The 1980s would see a return to military misrule, unprecedented human rights violations perpetrated by the state, a national debt crisis, and enforcement of IMF debt conditionalities, in particular the devaluation of the naira and imposition of structural adjustment programmes which rang the death knell of social infrastructure and state welfare programmes.

Prestigious Nigerian universities such as Ibadan, Ife, Nsukka and Zaria, which had debuted in the 1940s and 1950s at the rank of similar institutions globally, were hard hit by the socioeconomic and political crises of the ’80s and became part of the national decline. Many academics who refused to be coopted into the rot were hounded and arrested for their opposing views and labour union activities — including Falola. This, combined with their rapid impoverishment and the deterioration of teaching and learning facilities, caused many professors to take the exit option, heralding an unprecedented era of brain drain. Similar travails beset other African countries in that gloomy period of the continent’s history.

READ ALSO: Prof. Toyin Falola: A Tribute

Falola’s path would diverge from that of his beloved nation when things fell apart at Ife and the centre could no longer hold. In pursuit of a more productive academic environment for his vaulting talent, creative energy and innovative scholarship, he left Ife, first as visiting fellow at Cambridge University in the UK, then York University in Canada, before finally settling at UT Austin in 1991 as a full professor of African history.

It was in this phase of his work that Falola surpassed his own established record of high-quality scholarship to join the rarefied pantheon of globally recognised scholars and thought leaders from every continent. His wide-ranging scholarship placed him at the zenith of the global academy. It made him keenly sought after, from Australia to Europe and South America, and across the length and breadth of Africa and the United States. His capacious penchant for seeking out, recognising, promoting, mentoring, and supporting countless other scholars along the way, and extending compassion and hospitality to humanity in all its shades and colours, was to quickly turn him, literally, into an orisa, one of the gods, affectionately revered by multitudes of his protegees, friends, and colleagues.

I have refrained from pigeonholing Falola’s scholarship into any specific academic field or specialty, as I firmly believe that it would be diminishing to refer to him as merely an African historian. To do so would be to affirm Eurocentric assumptions of modern knowledge systems that consider Western-originated systems of thought as the centre, the norm, the legitimate locus of knowledge, and all other scholarship as peripheral, liminal and merely contributory or reactive to Western thought. Contrarily, Falola’s lifelong work overturns these assumptions in two major ways: by reshaping global knowledge systems by the breadth, depth, originality, and pluriversality of his work, and by creating his own intellectual constellations, forging alternative paths. Let me examine each in turn.

For the first pillar of intervention – reshaping global knowledge systems – the breadth of themes that have emanated from Falola’s pen bestride the disciplines of history, philosophy, international relations, cultural studies, literature, languages, the visual and performance arts, religion, politics, sociology, technology, education, and many more. He has refused to be contained within one discipline, redefining multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity in his work. He has researched African worlds, as well as those of its diaspora, flung far and wide across the globe, from Europe to the Americas and beyond. But even more so must be the recognition that Falola’s work has been about humanity, in all its diversities and locations, unearthing and celebrating its unique qualities but also commonalities; rehumanising the minimised, animalised, brutalised, and minoritised peoples of the world; uncovering and reconstructing systems of knowledge disappeared by colonial structures; interpreting subordinated cultures, probing hegemonic politics; forecasting futures.

Falola’s oeuvre actively and conscientiously rejects the notion of a universe of knowledge from which all other kinds of knowing are rendered derivative and secondary, merely the “other,” and thereby made powerless. Rather, he embraces and canvasses pluriversalism, not just as the title of one of his riveting essays but as the sum of his ontology, epistemology, and methodology. Pluriversalism maps out a world of knowing, of being, and of becoming, whereby the epistemological standpoints of peoples and societies are taken as sui generis, original unto themselves, and complete, in a world of mutually existing epistemologies – a pluriverse, not an artificially hierarchised universe of ostensibly subordinate and superior systems of knowledge. In taking this path, he actively combats the epistemicide, decimation, and relegation of African and other non-Western systems of knowledge and seeks to restore them to their rightful place in society.

BOOK: Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, And Voice

Falola distills these foundational ideas in several of his metatheoretical works that help us understand the hundreds of other books and essays where he presses these ideas into intellectual service in exploring varied subjects. In his 2016 lecture (now published) presented as the Kluge Chair of the Countries and Cultures of the South at the US Library of Congress, titled “Ritual Archives,” Falola shifts the ontological focus towards African texts, symbols, shrines, rituals, images, performances, art, objects, which in their agglomeration expand our knowledge of multiple bodies of philosophy, literature, languages, histories and more in our world. In this ground-breaking conceptualisation, he asserts a redefinition of the central idea of the “archive” in extant historical studies to a methodological embrace of an unbounded world of data encompassing the natural and supernatural, secular and non-secular, human and non-human objects and species, dismantling the existing canon.

In his recent book, Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency and Voice (University of Rochester Press, 2022), Falola takes on colonial hegemonic knowledge, as well as the decolonisation and decoloniality movement. In this brilliant book, Falola demonstrates he is the doyen of global intellectual traditions and the master of the protocols of knowledge production. Falola skillfully deconstructs Western philosophies and epistemologies, dissecting how they have positioned African and the Global South experiences as subaltern and silenced their voice and agency in a historical continuum that persists into the present, dominating every facet of life, including development prospects. But beyond this, he does what a master does: he turns the critique inwards, explaining the failure of the decolonisation and liberation movements of the last century to achieve the emancipation needed for progress, and its implications. The book provides a magisterial synthesis of diverse and divergent decolonial perspectives from across Africa and the Global South, reinstating their authority, affirming their relevance, projecting their voices, reconstructing their world, globalising the humanities. As if this were not enough, the sequel, Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies (Cambridge University Press, 2022), unveils the mechanics and methodologies for engaging the self as an archive, and the vast pluri-disciplinary potential of mainstreaming these subaltern methodologies into the annals of global humanities.

Importantly, also, the texts described above advance a thesis of the humanities that undercuts its conservative underpinnings as a field essentially preoccupied with Western elite concerns relating to aesthetics and arcane subjects, to one that is actively bent and shaped to provide the good life by practical epistemological and policy interpolations that deliver progress and development for societies that would otherwise be left behind. His mode for doing this has been varied, from using his membership of the governing boards of universities to advocate for transformative humanities curricula and pedagogy to breaking through the barriers of conventional texts and media to initiate his own digital dialogues platform, the Toyin Falola Interviews, to facilitate the conversations that must be had.

For Falola’s second major intervention in the humanities – creating new constellations – we must understand that the majestic intellectual offerings discussed so far have not taken place in a narcissistic bubble. In personal decolonial praxis, he has actively sought to demystify, democratise, and dismantle the colonial intellectual gatekeeping that had hitherto obfuscated and denied many scholars from marginalised and precarious contexts worthy publication and academic advancement opportunities. For decades now, he has strategically created initiatives that opened up the humanities to global contributions. He founded several book series with top international presses, such as Cambridge, Palgrave, Routledge, Bloomsbury, Rowman and Littlefield, and the University of Rochester, to create avenues for the publication of a broader range of humanities scholarship than would have been possible otherwise. Presently, Falola actively manages nine book series and is substantive editor/co-editor of at least five journals, while serving on the editorial board of at least five dozen others. About five years ago, he persuaded Palgrave Macmillan to establish a series of major reference texts to bring global studies of Africa up-to-date with innovative developments for another generation of scholars — and the result was twenty Palgrave Handbooks on Africa, including three on African women’s studies that I had the privilege of co-editing with him.

READ ALSO: BOOK REVIEW: Pathways To Nigeria’s Future: A Review Of Toyin Falola’s Understanding Modern Nigeria

Not satisfied with all these pathways to enlarging humanistic studies, Falola created a consortium of African presses under the Pan-African University Press to open even more paths for subaltern voices to emerge. His annual Africa conference in Austin has, for more than twenty years, served as a talent incubator that has pushed the careers of many junior scholars to stardom, including the publication of dozens of edited volumes from the conferences which started so many scholars on their publication and promotion trajectories. These efforts make Falola personally responsible for curating and producing humanistic knowledge outputs numbering in the hundreds every year, outside his own prolific writing. His constant quest for collaboration and mentorship of others on these projects have propelled many hitherto unknown scholars to shared prominence with him. A restless spirit, a courageous pathfinder, Falola exists without limits to his creativity, compassion, and optimism.

Professor Falola is the living embodiment of the loftiest objectives of humanistic studies. His extraordinary life and achievements speak to the unending capabilities of a life of the mind, of the limitless potential inherent in all of humanity beyond borders and boundaries. Just as he has resisted the restrictive compartmentalisation of fields and geographies of the humanities, he has personally invited and warmly welcomed colleagues from literally the entire globe as co-travelers on the academic journey. A pan-ethnic Nigerian, a true Pan-Africanist, and a global cosmopolitan, Falola is as at home in the ghettos of Lagos as in the presidential palaces in Pretoria and Lusaka. Despite his extremely lofty position in the academy, Falola can be found engaging the street trader, the lowly undergraduate, and the junior professor with the same keen interest, humility, and enthusiasm as he would royalty. And he would regularly turn the spotlight on others, extolling their achievements, as in his book, In Praise of Greatness: The Poetics of African Adulation (Carolina Academic Press, 2019), in which he deploys poetry and prose to pay homage to other scholars, artists and intellectuals for their impact and ideas, a rare phenomenon.

At UT Austin, Falola has been bestowed many major teaching awards the institution has on offer, seven of them, and he is often called upon to train teachers in other universities. Unassuming and always approachable, he goes out of his way to seek out budding talents and promising scholars, to provide opportunities for them to develop and grow, and makes the time to help them navigate the stages of climbing the academic ladder. At the same time, he finds time to advise kings and presidents, provide scholarships for needy students, share drinks with friends, and be committed to family. It is confounding how he is so deftly able to seamlessly integrate scholarship, pedagogy, mentorship, professional service, family, and community leadership.

Ultimately, on account of his generous habit of promoting and celebrating others, and returning his achievements as greater service to Africa and all of humanity, we celebrate Toyin Falola as our own, one of the best to have come out of the womb of Africa, who has fought difficult epistemic battles on our behalf and come out not just undaunted but indeed victorious. We rejoice with him. We are proud of him. Falola, rise still.

Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at Brandeis University, Massachusetts.

This essay was originally published on “Not Even Past.”


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A Savage Outing In The Name Of Electioneering 



Prof. Hope Eghagha

By  Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

It is in the nature of man, supposedly enlightened and exposed, to occasionally reveal the savage aspects of the homo sapiens. There is a beast in every man as evident in Lord of the Flies by William Golding where children trapped on an island reveal savagery unbecoming of apparently innocent kids. French novelist Emile Zola in la Bete humaine wrote about how ‘individuals are derailed by atavistic forces beyond their control’. Similarly, whole communities sometimes expose the savagery in their hearts in time of tension. When it is interethnic, interracial, or interreligious, that is, when it concerns group behaviour, it could have devastating consequences on society just as the xenophobia directed against Nigerians in South Africa led to deaths of innocent immigrants. This is the only way I can describe the last mob mentality and the ethnic hatred that seized Lagos last week Saturday before, during and after the governorship and House of Assembly elections. Sadly, this ugly spectacle occurred in some other parts of the federation, especially Kano and Rivers State. The Igbo are being profiled, vilified, and made a target of mass hysteria!

Whoever thought that we still harboured such a degree of ethnic hatred in our hearts some sixty-three odd years after independence? And the silence of the elite while savagery reigned was mindboggling. Was this orchestrated from the highest level of society? Did they, as the world did during the Rwandan massacres, look the other way? Is there ever going to be integration or cultural acceptance of the ‘other’ in our disparate polity? Add to these the deployment of a supposedly cultural rite of purity, the Oro festival, to drive fear into the hearts of potential voters on the night before voting commenced! It seems we are not ready, not molded, not fashioned for democracy. Hoodlums went round voting points and prevented anyone who did not look Yoruba or who had non-Yoruba names from voting.

Democracy manages diversity. It does not emphasize difference. Lagos and Kano exposed our dirty underbelly both to us and the rest of the world. In some states, governors, their surrogates, and political gladiators, seized the instruments of state to intimidate their opponents. Political exclusion is antithetical to the practice of democracy. By engaging persons of all backgrounds before elections, they court voters. To set hoodlums on innocent citizens because they have a different view is dangerous to the survival of the Republic. The experience last week calls for a reconsideration of the creation of State Police. State governors will unleash them on opponents without let or hindrance. If non-state actors could unleash terror on voters, it is left for us to imagine what uniformed officials could do in the name of the law.

It is instructive that while hoodlums attacked and harassed voters last Saturday, policemen and other security agents looked the other way. In some states, policemen openly snatched ballot boxes. Such acts make citizens lose faith in the state. It is a recipe for civil disobedience. If a state actor, elected by the people in any part of the federation decides to lead a sustained protest against the federal government, we would have a deadly situation in our hands. And that is how breakdown of law and order starts.

Persons of Igbo ethnic group who reside in Lagos must also refrain from making provocative statements which could generate hatred and rejection. To claim that Lagos is no-man’s land is provocative in our current circumstances. Lagos has been a good home to all, both good and bad. It has offered an opportunity for citizens who came to Lagos with a nylon bag exit as landlords and rich businessmen. All those who have found accommodation and a source of income in Lagos must respect the codes of social engagement. But state officials should not react to misguided statements from troublemakers in the land.

The people of Lagos and the State government must wake up to the realities of 21st century Lagos. No government has the power to exclude potential voters because they may support candidates that are not favoured by the establishment. And they must carry the mob of area boys and ethnic jingoists along in re-understanding their environment. In a truly democratic setting, governments initiate policies that could win them votes from certain demographic sections of society. In a multiracial society, the dominant class engages minorities with favourable policies as shown in the American experience.

What happened during the election was a form of coup against the people in a clinically arranged exercise by the state. Bullets and missiles were fired by non-military savages. Threats and intimidation restricted access to the ballot box. Some citizens who had access to the ballot box had their votes nullified. The so-called game changer BVAS was made a laughingstock. The young people watching the elections exercise are being encouraged to adopt dishonest means to achieve their goals in life. Yet, the victors have been pronounced. Cheating pays in this environment. It should be possible and indeed mandatory to order new elections to be carried out in any part of the federation where snatched ballot boxes prevented a conclusion to the exercise. This will reduce the criminal practice. The perpetrators must be brought to book. There is no report that those scoundrels who attacked innocent citizens last week have been arrested.

There must be a restitution. There must be punishment. There must be consequences for brigandage and violence. By allowing such rigged elections results to stand, we are digging the grave of democracy. Any politician who rigs his way into office lacks legitimacy. The people are angry. The people are waiting for the opportunity to have their pound of flesh. BVAS may have been compromised now. In future we will have an INEC chairman who will firmly ensure that election processes and results are sacrosanct. This will be in an era where the INEC chairman is appointed and fired by the people through the National Assembly. There will be an INEC chair who is not partisan, who will be prepared to do right by the Nigerian people. Until we have a truly independent electoral commission, thugs and their masters will continue to rule over us.

Out there Nigerians are angry. Bitter. Disappointed. Almost in despair. They believe the INEC Chairman misled them into believing that the elections would be free and fair. That INEC in connivance with the federal authorities deliberately sabotaged the dreams of the people. We are not sure whether that perception can ever be erased. Whatever it is, INEC and the current political class have taken us back to the Stone Age! Which is sad! Discontent has been driven underground. And until there is a purgation, only God (not the many false prophets around) can tell us how this macabre drama will end.



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Unending Passion For Reform: A Peep Into My Memoir And The Future Of Nigeria



Prof. Tunji Olaopa

By Tunji Olaopa

In 1976, Karl Popper, easily one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, published his autobiography, the Unended Quest. It was the philosopher’s attempt to capture in graphic, simple and autobiographical form, the trajectory of his intellectual life—how his existence came to be circumscribed by a series of philosophical ideas that eventually defined not only his fame as a philosopher but also his existential fulfilment as a human person.

“An autobiography is the story of how a man thinks he lived,” says Herbert Samuel, the British liberal politician. Of course, for Karl Popper, the intellectual autobiography is a testament to a life that became philosophical at a young age. It was while working between 1922 and 1924 with a cabinetmaker, Adalbert Posch, that he first fell in love with epistemology and started wrestling with the dynamics of knowledge that derived  from the early influences a book-filled house had on him.

By the time Popper published the Unended Quest in 1976, I was still in the process of my preliminary educational formation, with no clear clues as to what life held or in what directions I was  headed. I was deeply enmeshed in the exuberances of a secondary school student who sees life in terms of the day to day excitements and rascality. But then, I had also began accumulating some specific life experiences in terms of social relations and unexplained incidences. Three are significant here for my intellectual, political and spiritual life formation. The first, my first brutal
initiation into Nigeria’s zero-sum politics, happened in 1965 when the horrific consequences of the political antagonism between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief S. L. Akintola landed squarely in  my little world in the South-West. I was right in its path. The terrible fact of a person being doused and burnt by thugs was kept indelibly in my confused and shocked mind that would later start groping for answers to human inhumanity to human.

The second encounter was more intellectual—I met Plato on a shelf in the personal library of my uncle, Chief Alfred Olaopa. His copy of Plato’s Republic became immediately fascinating to me because of its dialogic form. But then, my grasping mind got more than the dramatic form that gave form to Plato’s philosophical ideas, insights and arguments. By the time I had arrived at the University of Ibadan for a long immersion in political science and political theory, I had already found a way to connect between the degenerating democratic experiment of ancient Athens that instigated Plato into philosophic reflection when Socrates was killed, and the debilitating condition of post-independence Nigeria that I witnessed as a six-year old boy in a small corner of Oyo State, in modern Nigeria. My university sojourn gave me the theoretical framework with which to make sense of my groping for meaning of the Nigerian experience.

My third encounter was more spiritual. In 1976, after my witnessing thuggery and just about when I encountered Plato’s reform vision in the Republic, I suddenly developed an intense headache that snowballed into incessant migraines that lasted for ten years. There was not anything we did not try, from tablets to herbs; and from hospitals to churches. Of course, my parents concluded it was a spiritual attack. I took the mental pain to my days at the university before it was finally resolved well after my graduation and youth service. But I learnt a lot about spirituality and God from that trauma.

By the time I joined the Presidency in 1992, and eventually the civil service, I had come full circle in my introspection and reflection about my place in the world, my research focus and direction. All of what I considered to be Nigeria’s cogent predicaments, the fundamental problems with the public service, the role that the civil service can play in reconstructing the Nigerian project. And
at this point in my personal formation, I have developed a philosophy of reform in its administrative, technocratic and social dimensions.

This is where I found the uniqueness of my life trajectory—and the urgency of publishing a memoir: my intellectual and professional maturation is tied in with the concerted efforts to find resolutions for Nigeria’s postcolonial predicaments. And it is my desire to share my own little efforts with those who have similar
patriotic aspirations and would want to keep holding up the flag. This is the key import of The Unending Quest for Reform. I am in the forefront of the narration because I believe that providence had projected my being into the cauldron of the unfolding and unraveling of the Nigerian state at
the time I was born, just some few months before Nigeria came into politico-administrative existence via her flag independence.

As I narrated in all the pages of the memoir, the entirety of my intellectual development, from secondary school to the University of Ibadan, as well as the entire trajectory of my professional coming of age and maturity had been devoted to understanding the Nigerian project and assembling the credentials and competences to find ways and means by which to make Nigeria work  positively for Nigerians. I consider myself to be a minor protagonist in a narrative that maps how the Nigerian state has evolved over the course of its independence, and how it has failed to keep up with the imperatives of her greatness. The Unending Quest for Reform is a narration about the historical unraveling of the Nigerian state, the great ideological conceptualization of its future, especially during the first republic, the operationalization of the colonial landmines, especiallyt through one of the greatest institutional inheritances (the civil service system), the weaponization of Nigeria’s plurality by those who would undermine Nigeria’s greatness for their greedy primitivec accumulation the struggle to get back on track, especially by the civil service and its effort to administratively redirect Nigeria’s infrastructural development—all from my perspective.

Even as a minor protagonist in Nigeria’s political drama, I consider myself to be significant in her search for greatness. The Unending Quest for Reform is my account of my diagnosis of my life
within the trajectory of Nigeria’s protracted search for nationhood. Therefore, I do not see this as self-indulgent in any sense. Eleanor Roosevelt got my intention quite right. For her, “Autobiographies are only useful as the lives you read about and analyze may suggest to you something that you may find useful in your own journey through life.” There is a generational and professional handholding gesture that I intend this memoir to concretize. Even though the memoir speaks about some dimensions of my life, it is meant to specifically outline my journey from the first encounter with Nigeria’s institutional dysfunctionality to the administrative philosophy that could transform her governance and institutional reforms.

I remember vividly that this is the clear mandate I received from Chief Simone Adebo, in one of those crucial encounters I had with him that clarified my incipient yearning for administrative and institutional transformation through research and praxis. He was worried that civil servants in Nigeria are often the butt of derogatory representations and scurrilous analyses that tied them to damage done to the Nigerian state. And yet, these civil servants fail to provide the insights into their professional intervention in the administrative dynamics of Nigeria, especially through personal narratives and systematic documentation. The Unforgettable Years, Chief Adebo’s autobiography, serves the grand purpose of outlining the critical years of the founding of the Nigerian civil service system and that was tied to the working of Nigeria’s plural unraveling. That autobiography had to have been written because Adebo himself constituted a legacy that represents the golden age of Nigeria’s public service. To read The Unforgettable Years is to not only understand how the civil service system came into existence and developed, it is also to understand the roles that the civil servants and politicians played in the first few years of Nigeria’s postcolonial existence. More than this, it is also to understand how the famous Awolowo-Adebo model of
politics-administration dichotomy was operationalized in ways that gave birth to the infrastructural wonders of the old Western Region. This is the same sense of immersion that one gets when reading Chief Theophilus Akinyele’s Beyond Pushing Files, or Prof. Akinlawon Mabogunje’s A Measure of Grace. It was partly what I wanted to achieve when I compelled the late Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade to approve the biographical narrative of his life and experience as an intellectual and civil servant. In A Prophet is with Honor, I narrated how Aboyade embodied the town-and-gown framework, and how the trajectories of his life and professional experience were connected with the deep desire to enhance the development of Nigeria. I am therefore hoping that this memoir will also be a part of the existing and excellent personal narratives of significant public servants that complement Nigeria’s political and administrative histories, and critically gesture at the fundamental place and roles of the public service in Nigeria’s development agenda.

The Unending Quest for Reform was written within the best tradition of memoirs. Caroline Knapp, the American writer, captures this essence beautifully: “By definition, memoir demands a certain degree of introspection and self-disclosure: In order to fully engage a reader, the narrator has to make herself known, has to allow her own self-awareness to inform the events she describes.” The self-disclosure that underlies this memoir is meant to point outside of myself and the experiences I have accumulated to a larger national context that facilitated most of these experiences and how the dynamics of governance and institutional reforms that define my professional and
philosophical endeavors could be turned towards the betterment of Nigeria and Nigerians.

In eighteen chapters, I wove a long story that began from my native town in Aáwé and ended within the trenches of institutional reforms within the public service space in the presidency and
other MDAs in Abuja. The contours of that intellectual and professional unraveling took me to several parts of the world and brought me in contact and engagements with several people. I was brought to critical points in my understanding of the trouble with Nigeria, to quote Chinua Achebe. Since, for me, the civil service represents the most crucial point in the developmental awakening of the Nigerian state—as a democratic and developmental state—I dare say I was brought to a fundamental understanding of what is wrong with that system and how it can be fixed. I did the rounds of all the significant institutional nodal point, and I researched theories and administrative practices across the globe that could shed light on the way forward. I have been a part of some of the fundamental attempts at administrative restructuring in the Nigerian civil service. I have also
partaken at some high-level and high-powered committees and sessions to hammer out some of the crucial documents around which institutional reforms have been anchored. By the time I became a permanent secretary, I had been able to harness all my knowledges and administrative competences, and formulated a three-pronged framework.

First: I was able to craft my objective around the need to understand and add value to the ongoing reform efforts geared towards strengthening the capacity base and professionalism of the civil service as a critical factor in national development. Second: I gradually commenced developing a reform philosophy and strategy premised on the need for the evolution of a productivity paradigm designed to generate a dynamic thinking process to resolve the crisis; which requires a workforce that is professional, confident and productive and a reform that effects critical structural and behavioral  changes that motivate the redefinition of the Federal Civil Service in the pursuit of
performance and innovation at all levels. And third: from the objective to the reform strategy, I was able to formulate what I consider to be the fundamental role of my status as a permanent secretary. It became clear to me that my reform philosophy automatically places a huge responsibility on a permanent secretary as a change agent.From the Career Management Office to Information Technology ministry, I was presented with multiple opportunities to bring my reform philosophy to bear on the internal administrative limitations and possibilities of the MDAs. By the time it dawned on me that deep-seated systemic changes required far more strategic alignment of the administrative and political, retirement had already happened in 2015. Fortunately, I was not caught napping. One of the most significant lessons I learnt from my many years of mentoring by the late Aboyade was the critical link between Nigeria’s development agenda, the civil service system and think tanking. The business of reform cannot be understood in terms of insider dynamics alone. There must be a way to carry it on with patriotic fervor even right from outside the institutional frames of the civil service. This was the reflection that led to the emergence of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). The ISGPP is conceived to be an independent organisation devoted to research and executive education for those in government and other sectors of society in Nigeria and the rest of
Africa. Essentially, it is meant to function as a policy and research think tank whose fundamental objective is to address the skills and competence deficit that would transform public bureaucracies and the political arrangements of Nigeria and other African states in ways that will make them work even better for a responsive democratic governance and inclusive development.

Without blowing my own trumpet, I believe that with The Unending Quest for Reform I have created a narrative on the necessary imperative of keeping the business of reform always on the
front burner of administrative and institutional performance and productivity through change management and reform. That is what the title of the memoir is meant to address. The need to keep
modernizing the institutions of performance and productivity that will enable the public sector to keep delivering services efficiently never ends. And this unending imperative is frankly and bluntly juxtaposed with the protracted but not-so-successful reform efforts of consecutive Nigerian
governments since independence. The Nigerian reform landscape has never lacked genuine agenda and blueprints that critically diagnose and assess the imperative of reforms and what needed to be done. Unfortunately, they have all ended in the trash bin of haphazard implementation. And so, from the perspective of my reform experience, the discerning reader ought to have fathomed why I would think this memoir should matter within the transition to another republic in Nigeria. The Unending Quest for Reform sums the entirety of my experience, passion and reflections about transforming Nigeria, and the strategies and tactics by which I reckon the transformation could be achieved. We cannot afford to let the fifth republic be another wasted effort in governance and institutional restructuring. In the memoir, and as a framework that signposts the future of a revamped public administration
system that backstops the larger governance agenda that any new administration might want to leverage for national transformation, I set out a series of recommendations for reform. These could be taken to be part of the tangibles that my academic researches and professional experiences as a
scholar-practitioner have yielded over the years. The most fundamental logical reform step for the new administration in Nigeria to take, as a governance and administrative imperative, I noted, is the creation of a change space. This is a space that enables the new Nigerian leadership to harness competences, skills and strategies that enable it to push institutional and governance changes despite contextual circumstances and pressures. A change space is therefore the context that facilitates transformation through the committed efforts of several change agents, from the politicians and government functionaries to the civil and public servants. This automatically focuses on the fundamental role of a transformational leader as the moving force that catalyzes the change space into a domino effect of several innovative changes and reforms. The focus of the desired transformation to be initiated in the change space is the transformation of the policymaking
dynamic such that policy becomes strategic and motivated by policy intelligence and research
emanating from a technical configuration of town and gown institutional arrangements that bring the strategic offerings from the universities, think tanks and industries to bear on how the government make and implement policies. Reforming the public service system is meant to facilitate a deep-seated culture change that transforms professionalism and public-spiritedness. This is meant not only to improve the efficiency of the civil servants, but to also galvanize the system into optimal performance and
productivity. This must necessarily commence with a very high level of revamped gatekeeping dynamics through the civil service commission that not only streamline recruitment metrics, but also collaborate to facilitate the emergence of a critical and functional communities of service and practice, like the National Association for Pubic Administration and Management (NAPAM). Internal administrative reforms commence with the institutionalization of performance
management systems that are underpinned by competence-based HR function and practices, as well as the inauguration of a multidisciplinary platform that serves as the launch pad for the emergence of a senior executive service drawn from sectors of the Nigerian societies, including the Nigerian diaspora. The essence of the performance management framework is to serve as a precursor to a full-fledged modernization of the service delivery capacity of the public service
through the transformation of government business, transformation of corporate governance principles, and the undermining of the adversarial elements in labor unionism. The new administration cannot also underestimate the crucial significance of the public-private partnership protocol as the engine of efficient service delivery to Nigerians.

All memoirs hold some form of enlightenment for the assiduous readers. I want to believe that The Unending  Quest for Reform possesses the same possibility. The advantage of reading it is that it provides three levels of engagement. For those interested in the pure narrative of my coming of age within a Yoruba Christian home, chapters two, four, five and the coda are your starting point. If your forte is an understanding of my intellectual becoming, then chapters one, three, four and seven are critical. I outlined my spiritual trajectories in the coda, and chapters five, six and seven .My  professional development, administrative challenges and achievements, and reform philosophy are the subject of chapters eight to eighteen. But then, since no narration of a complicated life can be that seamless and smooth, an immersive reading of The Unending Quest for Reform is required for full noenjoyment. I hope you will be able to pick a copy to get an insight into how my life intersects a vision of Nigeria as a democratic and developmental possibility.

.Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Professor of Public Administration and Founder, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP),Bodija, Ibadan.



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Religious Mumu



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei

Religion remains a much-debated issue, especially in Africa. It is one of the determining factors of our identity. It determines who we are, our beliefs, actions and reactions, and even our thought processes. Africans had their own culture and traditional religion until the advent of western civilization, which brought with it the ‘gift’ of Abrahamic religions—,Christianity and Islam—and judged African traditional religious practices as evil, pagan practice and witchcraft. The missionaries did a thorough job of making people believe that their religion was superior and righteous. Africans accepted these imported religions, and their traditional beliefs began to fade. Christianity and Islam are now the new order, and people are extremely devoted to these newly found Gods. 

The Toyin Falola Interviews recently played host to music composer and songwriter, Beautiful Nubia. The question of Beautiful Nubia’s stance on religion pops up during the interview. He is known to promote African spirituality but has also defended foreign religions as advantageous. In response, he talks about his ancestral line: his paternal family were Olu Orogbo devotees (the Yoruba god of letters), and his maternal family were Ifa priests and Esu devotees. He said, “religion has always fascinated me like it gets people’s minds.”  He opines that spirituality ties into what gets people so much into religion. Although he no longer practices religion, he affirms that these religions have positively influenced people to do good and show kindness to their fellow human beings.

He states, “Any organized religion has a set of dogma or doctrines they use to guide you to put you in there. You are there; it is like a strait jacket to keep you on the straight and narrow. Why I said religion is a good thing is because the purpose of this is to ensure that you stay on the straight and narrow, that you do good things.” We can agree that religion has contributed to the rise of morals to a certain extent, as the fear of God keeps many people from doing evil. It has curbed wickedness and negative traits inherent in humans and made many people see the world in a new light. Religion has spread the message of doing good and becoming a better human being.

                                        Beautiful  Nubia

The issue, however, is not the practice of these religions but the ability of leaders to sway people easily. Although imported religions have helped to stop the extremities of African religious practices, it has only accentuated people’s gullibility. Beautiful Nubia further states, “What is wrong with religion is that it gives certain people the power to use their followers. It is not the religion itself; it is the human beings who run these religious organizations who use their power to extract money from them and push them in the wrong direction.” Owning a church is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get rich, particularly in Nigeria. All that is needed to succeed in this business is to be a good actor, have nice clothes (suits, particularly), can win people over with words and give yourself an extraordinary title such as Rabbi

It is common knowledge that the major reason why people attend church and Jumat services religiously are that they seek solutions to their problems. As much bad governance is enough to seek God’s intervention for various human issues ranging from terminal illnesses, protection, promotion, unhappiness, barrenness, unemployment, and marital problems, to poverty, which is an average African’s motivation to seek God’s face, also cause people to become staunch believers. To get swift, miraculous answers to these problems, many people fall prey to the traps of “men of God”, who only look to fill their pockets and bellies. This explains why a “pastor” would shut down his church after winning a 100 million Naira bet.

Pastors and Muslim clerics are considered mini gods who can do no wrong. The Bible verse, “touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm,” is an ever-ready response by Christians in defense of their highly revered pastors who would not think twice before taking advantage of their desperation to get their problems solved. They forget that a “man of God” is first a man. Religion has rendered humans gullible to the extent that they excuse things their religious leaders do that are not even in tune with what is written in the Holy books. How do you explain a pastor who sleeps with a woman looking for the fruit of the womb and says his sperm is the anointing that will cause her to have her child? What do we say to a pastor who instructs his congregation to bring a greater percentage of their salaries to him so that God can answer their prayers? Should the man who claims to be an alfa but has exploited so many people in the name of being a ‘wonder healer’ be left alone? Churches and mosques nowadays see the desperation of people and feed off it. Many people come to church for prosperity and get ripped off the little they have, all in the name of miracles, signs and wonders. You could be in a church service and then suddenly hear the pastor say, “I see seven stars. I need seven people who will give the Lord Seven Hundred Thousand to come out now at the count of seven. One, Two…Seven!” You will be amazed at the number of people who will run to the altar to give the ‘Lord’ that amount of money in this present economy. Unsurprisingly, some borrow money to give to their pastors to receive blessings, then struggle to pay back the borrowed money. Monkey dey work, Baboon dey chop.

These men of God add false doctrines to their fraudulent, shady activities. Beautiful Nubia quotes his mother, a Christian singer, as saying, ” any church where they are a lot of people there, you know there are telling them lies there.” He made an example of a Muslim cleric who tells his followers that every other person is evil, an infidel and a pastor who tells his congregation that their Jesus is not a Jesus of poverty, that He died for them to be wealthy. It is now rare to find churches that preach about the kingdom of God and how to live a life that pleases God. Churches today entice and then mislead people.

Sometimes, people realize all these things are wrong but lack the courage to question these atrocities. According to Beautiful Nubia, “…as a child, you are fully indoctrinated, and as an adult, you are scared to question these beliefs.” Asking a pastor why he preaches only prosperity and how to get rich as a Christian would be considered as seeking the wrath of God because the pastor can call down fire to consume his ‘enemy’. Questioning an Imam on why he sleeps with young girls will only attract curses from the Quran on such a person, followed by “who are you to question God’s prophet? The ways and dealings of God are mysterious”. Really, who dares question these men of God? The fear that has been unconsciously programmed into your mind from a very young age holds your voice and makes you look away from the evils of these religious leaders.

This is not to say that there are no genuine men of God, but there is a plague of greedy religious leaders who, because of their power over their members, influence them to bend to their will while satisfying their greed and lust. “We should not focus too much on religion being our enemy. We need to focus more on ourselves, fix ourselves, and we can use traditional wisdom to do that”, says Nubia. The way we question and demand accountability from the government should be the same way we question our religious leaders. Not every “God says” is true. The Bible in 1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved , believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Many religious leaders are gods of their bellies and are only out to exploit people to put food in their fat stomachs and live expensive lifestyles with their poor congregation’s money. Child of God, shine ya eye!

This is Part 1 of the report on the interview with Beautiful on March 19, 2023. The extensive interview, which has received millions of views across different platforms, talks about the role of music in society. For the transcripts, see:




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