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Time to sign off public writing

By Tunji Olaopa
12 March 2019   |   3:38 am
I have reached a very significant point in my regular public writing, and compelled by a personal work restructuring that I just undertook to step it down significantly, by 70% perhaps. It means I would henceforth intervene in national discourse only on very few occasions when I feel so strongly, and when I need to…

Th art of writing

I have reached a very significant point in my regular public writing, and compelled by a personal work restructuring that I just undertook to step it down significantly, by 70% perhaps.

It means I would henceforth intervene in national discourse only on very few occasions when I feel so strongly, and when I need to share lessons that could deepen policy and discourse from lectures I deliver from time to time. And it is therefore a juncture that I feel compelled to share with my vast community of readers who have tolerated my public commentaries and opinion pieces for many years my decision that I am signing off of regular public commentaries into semi-retirement.

This simply implies that while I would surface once in a while to reiterate my advocacy issues, I will now have more time to dedicate myself to more lectures, and possibly attempt to write some more books as I receive inspirations in the near and far future.

I had returned to this business of writing for about a decade now, and I have satisfied my inner craving that I could still write. I was drawn to writing not willingly, but by a compelling desire to draw the public into the understanding of some salient dimensions of our collective national predicament, and how we must go about reflecting on and resolving them.

My founding discipline of political science, and lifelong dedication to the public service both enforce on me the rigid discipline of writing as advocacy for national reconstruction.

Sometimes in 2011, and after a very long hiatus in writing in the popular media, I was compelled once again to pick up my pen and enter the public sphere of reasoned and reasonable discourse. There were two interrelated missions on my mind then when I made this decision.

The first was stirred by the urgency of deepening institutional reform and institution rebuilding that was becoming obvious.

About a decade before then, I had taken up a monthly guest lecturer’s task at the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) at Badagry, and a little less frequently at the Centre for Management Development (CMD) and the National Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). These seminar series facilitation and lectures take up very defining issues in public sector management and the Nigerian civil service system.

From this reform impulse, I made a decision to deploy public education writing series to expand these issues into the broader ones of re-professionalizing the public service as a means of rebranding the civil service in Nigeria into a world class institution by expanding the community of reform champions beyond the bureaucracy.

The second impulse to enter the public sphere came from the renowned political scientist, late Prof. Claude Ake, and specifically from his foreword to my biography of the late Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade titled A prophet is with honour.

In that Foreword, Ake decried Nigeria’s attitude to her heroes and heroines. This gave me the inspiration to, first, see clearly the relationship between these heroic capacities and the Nigerian postcolonial redemption; and second, to generate series of critical narratives around individual heroes and heroines, mentors and statesmen and stateswomen.

The cogent essence of these narrative is to argue not only that these extraordinary men and women, patriotic Nigerians all of them, have contributed heroically to achieving the Nigerian project, but that treating them with respect and understanding the point of their heroic sacrifices would serve as a national incentive and encouragement for other Nigerians who are equally determined to give themselves and sacrifice their efforts and even lives for the greater glory of this great country of ours.

As far as I am concerned, this is the stuff of which committed writing and public commentaries are made. And in this wise, I have a legion of seasoned and astute forerunners and contemporaries whose writing and companionship have served as the occasions for more durable and rigorous conversations on the well-being of Nigeria.

Here, I pay an unreserved respect to those sagely wordsmith—Peter Enahoro, Olabisi Onabanjo “Aiyekoto’.

Ray Ekpu, Olatunji Dare, Mohammed Haruna, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed, Fred Onyeoziri, Godwin Sogolo, Femi Otubanjo, Femi Orebe, Sam Omatseye, and many others. I started reading this generation of writers from graduate school.

Then there are those who are more contemporary with my entry into the public sphere; especially those with whom I share notes and feedbacks regularly: Ayo Olukotun, Festus Adedayo, Segun Ayobolu, Olusegun Adeniyi, Akin Osuntokun, Reuben Abati, Abimbola Adelakun, Okey Okechukwu, among others.

All these old and new Op-Ed and public commentary warriors have helped sharpened my capacity to clearly understand and articulate my worries, understanding and directions for the Nigerian state. These fearless writers embody the courageous commitment and clear-headed focus on the germane issues around which Nigeria and Nigerians ought to reflect.

This is what has been the template I had adopted for all my public education and advocacy series.

While I may not consider myself as courageous as these veterans largely due to the abiding public service values that remains my testament as mentor to a large pool of bureaucrats, I strove to put in my own little reflections and reasoned inputs into the mix of volatile commentaries on where we are as a nation and what could be done to make Nigeria great.

A bulk of my public commentaries has been dedicated solely to the national project, and the challenge of postcolonial development in Nigeria.

From education to literature, from politics to governance, from religion and interreligious dialogue to entertainment, and from philosophy and the humanities to gender issues and scientific development, I have sought in all these essays to connect the many complex and labyrinthine dots in Nigeria’s postcolonial and post-independence predicament that have made national development a thorny issue close to sixty solid years after the official end to colonialism.

Some of my passionate entries have been dedicated to the relationship between the humanities and the social sciences (HSS) and the prospect of national integration in Nigeria. I have raised issue, first, with the methodologies of the HSS; and second, why intersectionality with the sciences as well as a renewed understanding of the relevance of the HSS in a global capitalist world is the way forward.

I have equally established the critical relationship between politics and governance, and through the eyes and arguments of major global scholars, I have pointed at crucial reform element that would aid institutional transformation of the Nigerian state. I have argued, for instance like institutional scholars, that institutional reform depends on the type of politics a nation wants to play.

In several essays, I have pinpointed the relationship between religion, spirituality and nation-building. I have argued that while religiosity has remained one of the banes of disintegration, as many examples across the globe has shown us, spirituality has a role to play in nation-building.

I have then argued for an ecumenical platform that would enable the various religious persuasion to, for instance, take a cue from the tolerant spiritual dynamism of the Yoruba which enables for religious pluralism. I have then gone on to critically examine the patriotic and heroic contributions of specific Nigerians, in all these spheres of endeavor I have outlined, to the question of how Nigeria can be put together as a viable and developed country.

From Wole Soyinka to Bolanle Awe, from Matthew Hasan Kukah to Hajia Gambo Sawaba, from Hubert Ogunde to Chimamanda Adichie, from Adeoye Lambo to Aliko Dangote, and Billy Dudley, Pat Utomi, to Ken SaroWiwa and Odia Ofeimun, I explored the heroic capital at the disposal of the Nigerian state, and the potentialities that each of these individuals potent for transforming Nigeria.

I also made an appearance at the public sphere for an entirely professional reason, to which I dedicated the second part of the bulk of my public advocacy series in the newspapers. And this has to do with my perception of the civil service system in Nigeria, my unstinted optimism about the inescapable relationship between the public service and national development in Nigeria, my staunch belief that the Nigerian transformation must commence at the level of institutional reform, and my multifaceted drive to achieve this through reform advocacy either through the pages of the newspapers or through administrative re-engineering.

All these could be considered the crucial elements of my reform philosophy for a transformed Nigeria.

In several of my reform essays, I dedicated a lot of space to a diagnostic analysis of what had gone wrong with the public service system in Nigeria, especially right from its inauguration in 1954, its transformation into a truly Nigerian institution through the Nigerianisation Policy, and its struggle since then to come to terms with transforming itself given the enormous challenges—political, administrative, and bureaucratic—that have trailed it since then.

Specifically, I have been concerned with how the public service could be the point of connection between performance management and the urgency of achieving a transformation in the productivity paradigm of Nigeria.

The public service for me is the central focus of the dynamics of productivity. It is to the extent that we are able to rebrand it into an efficient, effective and lean world class institution delivering democratic goods and services that we can ever hope to turn Nigeria into a truly productive state.

This is where, as I have written, the reform of the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) become crucial. These are the engine room of the public service, and it is through their capacity readiness that the public service can truly become world class.

However, and as I have written time and again, institutional reform is a very complex business that requires, as its first condition of success, the need for ownership of the reform idea.

Ownership derives from, first, the government tapping into the necessity of the reform; and second, of pursuing the reform in a manner that will make Nigerians buy into its necessity for achieving a truly empowering democratic governance.

It is unfortunate that it is at this level of ownership that the reform story in the Nigerian public service has not yielded its full prospect yet.

I kept arguing that while consecutive Nigerian governments cannot be faulted on the passion that has attended institutional reforms (demonstrated by the numerous reform commissions established since independence), this passion has not been backstopped with a significant reform knowledge that would have dictated the trajectory between what is institutionally dysfunctional and how we need to do it in a manner that would make reform work for democratic governance in Nigeria.

Once the government is able to commit to taking reform through its complex messiness from design to conception and then to implementation to management, it must also be ready to bring the people along through the institution of transparency through an open government initiative.

The e-government option opens up the reform processes to all Nigerians, and accept their inputs in good faith as a joint partnership in good governance.

These are the various levels of fundamental issues to which I have dedicated my writing spirit over the years. But I am not done just yet. Writing is just one dimension of my reform passion and advocacy.

At a more institutional level, the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy constitutes the platform from which my professional work continues. It is now this platform, at this interregnum, that I hope to be able to go on with my commitment to teaching and my professorship, and to public administration advocacy and advisory professionalism. I hope to be able to deepen the involvement of the ISGPP with concrete technical support and engagement with key policy makers, public and private. And when the occasions demand it, I hope to make some forays into specific issues that become germane in making Nigeria work. So, this is Tunji Olaopa signing off!

Olaopa is Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy – ISGPP