Yahaya and public administration scholarship in Nigeria
There is a way death compounds our sense of finality by adding also a sense of lack. When someone important dies, a big hole begins to gape in the fabric of human existence. That is the way I see the recent demise of Professor Aliyu Danlami Yahaya. The loss of this remarkable patriot, scholar, intellectual and public administrator reverberates in concentric circles from the immediate family out to the several communities of knowledge and practice that he had solidly influenced, and finally to the larger political science, public administration and policymaking academic networks and scholarship in Nigeria.
There is no worse time for Nigeria to lose one of her brightest and best. Nigeria needs all the ideas she can bring together at this juncture in her national and political development and she needs all the more those brains that have the capacity to translate those ideas into substantive framework that rings past lessons to bear on present circumstance to make a sense of our collective national direction.
But even more so, this is one death that will decimate the communities of knowledge and practice, from political science to public administration. From being the first indigenous head of department, from 1976 to 1981 of the illustrious Department of political science and International Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the late Prof. Yahaya spread the tentacle of his acute knowledge to the political science and public administration landscapes across Nigeria and indeed Africa. As the first indigenous head of department, Prof. Yahaya was saddled with the unenviable but significant task of overseeing the rapid Africanisation of the department, as well as the transformation of its pedagogical and curricular dynamics to fit the peculiarity of scholarship in a postcolonial environment.
My first contact with Prof. Yahaya was as a student of political science in the 1980s. This was through his serious scholarship. I am especially talking about his magisterial The Native Authority System in Northern Nigeria, which discussed the trajectory that led to the emergence of the local government system. I would later come in contact with his other numerous and significant public policy papers when I was coming of age as a civil servant who is interested in formulating the theoretical foundation of the public service and its democratic mandate in Nigeria. By the time I finally met him in person as a member of the Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade-led Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) set up by the Babangida administration (where he had replaced the late Prof. Y. A. Aliyu, I began to form an opinion about the relationship between his scholarship and his commitment to the communities of knowledge, practice and service.
Other prominent members of the PAC were Dr Michael Omolayole, Prof. Isawa Elaigwu, Dr Effiong Essien, Prof. Ikenna Nzimiro and Prof. Francis Idachaba. I had just been seconded to the PAC from my entry-level appointment as a member of the Speech Writing and Policy Analysis Unit in the office of the president. In the deliberations of the PAC, Prof. Yahaya was on hand to provide the institutional analytic perspectives to the deliberations. He had earlier also served in IBB’s political bureau, alongside Dr Samuel Joseph Cookey, Edwin Madunagu, Tunde Adeniran, Mrs Hilda Adefarasin, Sam Oyovbare, and many others. This was at a critical juncture when Decree 43 of 1988, derived from the highly seminal reform recommendations of the renowned economist, Prof. Dotun Phillips, was in contention. By 2014, he had surfaced as a member of the National Constitutional Conference.
By the time he became the Director-General of the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), the president of the National Political Science Association (NPSA), and then later the secretary-general of the African Association of Public Administration and Management (AAPAM), my doctoral research was in the works, while my reform reflection on the state of the Nigerian public service system had reached such an advanced stage for me to recognize the significance of someone of Yahaya’s scholarly caliber. There are two significant things I want to leave in my readers’ consciousness about the significance of Prof. A. D. Yahaya’s scholarship and service to Nigeria.
The first has to do with the relevance of intellectuals and their relationship with the government. Part of my advocacy for transforming the remit of the tertiary institutions’ mandate in Nigeria is the need for a robust town-and-gown relationship that unravels a collaborative effort which brings the best of scholarship and research deliverables to bear on the realities of the town. There is no other way by which to measure the significance of education than in its transformation of the lives of the people who ought to be the end users of academic research benefits.
Scholars and intellectuals make the best critics, in most cases. But then criticisms must also have a modus operandi for the transformation of what is criticized. In other words, scholars and politicians are united in the one mandate of making the polity a better place for enhancing the well-being of the citizens, and of helping them to live the good life, according to Aristotle. In some critical cases, intellectuals have to make this cogent contribution by being actively involved in the running of government. I once made a distinction between public and political intellectuals: “While the former confronts the whole ensemble of government and governmental power from within the ambit of the dynamics of civil society, the latter is drawn into the framework of governmental functioning due to several circumstances and justifications.” In being drawn into government, the political intellectual is tasked with translating criticisms, projections and convictions to workable blueprints that could transform the operations of government.
Like so many political intellectuals we have (Prof. Tunde Adeniran is one such for which my tribute to him activates this distinction), would activate democratic governance for Nigerians. In maneuvering his way through the often-fractious terrain of governmental intrigues and politics, Prof. Yahaya had to summon the best of his experience in mediating conflicts while attending efficiently to his responsibilities. The presence of such an astute scholar in government is supposed to bring direction and depth into policy design. I was thinking about Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade as I wrote this. All these political intellectuals bring a non-bureaucratic understanding of politics to complement the bureaucratic formulation and design dynamics that will aid the government in working better and more efficiently. As a badge of his enduring legacy, Prof. Yahaya is seen as an advocate for the poor. His book, The Native Authority System in Nigeria, was not just a historical piece that traced the metamorphosis of the native authority system into the local government system; it was also a piece of radical manifesto that outlines the oppression of the poor—or the talakawa—by the colonialists and their collaborators in the native authority. What else consolidates the relevance of any intellectual than to be seen as providing the radical theorizing that speaks truth to power about the conditions of the citizenry?
And this brings me to the second issue about the significance of Prof. Yahaya’s scholarship. This is the framework that this scholarship gives us to mediate between theory and practice. In administrative context, theory and practice are often grossly misunderstood and misapplied. Bureaucrats, for instance, often considered that they are the custodians of administrative practices while the scholars are only theorizing. The unstated assumption here is that theories are incidental to serious administrative practices. In the person of Prof. A. D. Yahaya, we have a postcolonial scholar-bureaucrat who embodied in his service the proper integration of both theory and practice that undermines the spurious attempt to distinguish between the two.
Prof. Yahaya was a known powerful figure in the community of service and practice. From serving the state government to assisting the Nigerian government in advisory capacities, he also made himself a figure that regional, national and continental administrative associations rally round. He had that understanding of the relationship between the knowledge he had acquired and how that knowledge should be deployed in the understanding of administration and the deployment of policies to human concerns. I shared several platforms with him since 2000 when we were both keynote speakers, alongside Prof. M. J. Balogun and others, at the National Association for Public Administration and Management (NAPAM) and ASCON-organised conference of December 2000 to mark the 70th birthday of the late Prof. Adebayo Adedeji, including conferences of AAPAM, CAPAM, IIAS in Brussels, CAFRAD in Tangier, Morocco, the retreats of Federal Permanent Secretaries and numerous learning events organised in the Federal Civil Service at different times.
He was also involved in the strategy development process for the public service reform strategy of 2003, and was with us at the roundtable facilitated at the Marlborough House in London by the Commonwealth Office that interrogated the report of the diagnostic studies of the Management Services Office (MSO) that would later inform the National Public Service Reform Strategy for Nigeria in 2003.
With others in the public administration scholarship like Adebayo Adedeji, Ladipo Adamolekun, Y. A. Aliyu, Augustus Adebayo, Alex Gboyega, George Oka Orewa, Ason Bur, Humphrey Nwosu, M. J. Balogun, Dele Olowu, Mufu Laleye, Victor Ayeni, Tijjani Bande, Dr. Mahmud Tukur, Dr. N. U. Akpan and many more, Prof. A. D. Yahaya exemplified a template of how scholarship should become engaged in the task of making the human society better than we met it.
I salute his memory!
Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Professor of Public Administration, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos. email@example.com