The auspicious event was the public presentation of my book, The Unending Quest for Reform: An Intellectual Memoir.
And then, it was not surprising that the entire event erupted into an agitated atmosphere for a reassessment of the Nigerian predicament.
A significant cross-section of stakeholders in the Nigerian project were there, from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar GCON (who joined online) from Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and Dr. Kayode Fayemi (ably represented) to Prof. Oladapo Afolabi CFR (online), to Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim to Prof. Tunde Adeniran, from Lady Ada Chukwudozie, Chair, MAN in the South-East Nigeria to numerous senior citizens as Prof. Gabriel Ogunmola, past president, Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Pai Obanya, formerly of UNESCO and UBEC, Prof. Femi Otubanjo, my political science teacher to Prof. Olu Obafemi, from Comrade Issa Aremu to Prof. Victor Ayeni to the columnist Olusegun Adeniyi to Prof. Antonia Taiye Simbine, DG NISER, to Prof. Sunday Ochoche to Prof. Fatai Aremu to Dr. Adiya Ode of Palladium Consulting to Prof. Nasirdeen Usman mni to Dr. Otive Igbuzor to Mr. Olufemi Awoyemi mni, Dr. Musa Rabiu, past Registrar, CIPM to Dr. Plangsat Dayil of Unijos, Olufunke Amos, Dr. Ladi Bala-Keffi, Barr. Rakiya Tanko-Ayuba mni, Dr. Kingsley Ozele to Dr. Steve Ogidan mni to Dr. Yushua Karima mni to Dr. Abimbola Alale to Mr. JK Opadiran formerly of ASCON and NIPSS and Amb. Godknows Igali, Amb. Martins Uhomoibhi, Amb. Olu Olusanmokun, Prof. Nicholas Damachi, Dr. Goke Adegoroye, Dr. Joe Abah of DAI, Engr. Johnny Chukwu, Mr. Chike Ogbechie to Mr. Samuel Abalaka to Dr. Lola Okwosa to Ms. Enene Ejembi to Mr. Victor Mayomi, Mazi Obi Adindu to Gani Ojagbohunmi to the representatives of the Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade clan, Arc. Sam & Arc. Mrs. Funmi Odia, Mr. Dapo Oyewole formerly of McKinsey to the Aawe natives present including Mrs. Joke Alagbe to Prof. Francis Egbokhare—former president of the Nigerian Academy of Letters—and Prof. Isaac Megbolugbe of John Hopkins University, USA, Prof. Jide Owoeye, pro-chancellor, Lead City University and of course Prof. Toyin Falola, the global scholar and renowned historian, the huge others who joined online, to name only a very few. And there were formidable panelists at the two technical sessions to thrash various issues connected with making Nigeria work through the reform initiatives of the incoming administration.
In other words, the absence of leadership is the occasion for all sorts of institutional dysfunctions that holds back the optimal possibilities of public service. All those present were agreed on the harm that the prebendal, elite rentier and predatory culture has done to the capability of the Nigerian state in becoming fully functional.
It is easy to see how this lack of a leadership focus could be the occasion for political crudity and governance rudder-lessness due to the critical defining ideological signposts by which the Nigerian state could become truly developmental.
In Nigeria, elite behaviour has not translated into a nationalistic consciousness hinged on an ideological framework for reconstructing Nigeria’s governance direction. On the contrary, the political class has captured the Nigerian state in a patrimonial grip that render it the private property of the elite to be dispensed and disposed of according to their rentier whims.
Situate such a compromised political class side by side with an image of a ship without direction, and you get a sense of the frustration that a cross-section of those at the Nextier event expressed both in their capacities as Nigerians and as critical members of the institutional and governance configuration of the Nigerian development agenda. One astute member of the audience, during the Q&A, asked the panelists how Nigeria could make sense of the unravelling fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
Note that, unfortunately, Nigeria is just getting set to make an entry into the 4IR when the rest of the world is about to jumpstart the fifth industrial revolution (5IR). This question about Nigeria’s readiness to enter the 4IR is actually a question about the capability readiness of the state and its public administration system—a focus of exquisite diagnostic analysis and robust discussion at the public presentation—to backstop the performance and productivity profile of the Nigerian state as a developmental entity.
As the panelists all made clear, through personal experiences and professional narration, the future optimal performance of the public service derives from its capacity to wade through what has been called the VUCA—vulnerable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous—administrative environment in the world today.
Africa has often been regarded as the most difficult administrative context in the world, and this therefore doubles the efforts required to achieve administrative, institutional and governance reforms that Nigeria urgently needs. The challenge of running the gauntlet of the VUCA administrative environment is further made daunting by the lack of political will and the abundance of a rapacious spirit that bleeds the Nigerian state into wastefulness and primitive accumulation.
The public service and its apparatuses—ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs)—are therefore confronted with a herculean reform challenge: how to overcome the many obstacles to their capability readiness to birth a developmental state that could competently and effectively carry the burden of transforming Nigeria.
It is in this sense that Prof. Francis Egbokhare, the keynote speaker, raises the crucial point of Nigeria’s reforming dynamics that have “either not yielded the desired outcomes or they have yielded unintended consequences.” And despite the repeated attempt at reforming the Nigerian institutional dynamics, since, 1960, Prof. Egbokhare insists that Nigerians have now mastered the art of benchmarking failure.
What I have conceived as the bureau pathologies of the public service system in Nigeria is embodied by the flight of meritocracy as a driver of progress from the administrative and governance context. And this becomes symbolic of the Nigerian state’s resistance to innovativeness and the culture of excellence that are the sine qua non in the evolving knowledge age that signals any state’s interest in participating in global competitiveness and the robust potentialities offered by the fourth and the fifth industrial revolutions.
From Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to the keynote speakers and the panellists, there is no easy road to public service performance and national productivity paradigm that would herald Nigeria’s transformation in terms of democratic governance. The obstacles and impediments are just too daunting.
And yet, almost everyone to the last member of the audience, recognized that Nigeria could yet become the developmental state of our collective dreams. This is precisely the juncture where the new administration has a date with destiny in the real possibilities presented to it to make history through a conscious and conscientious harnessing and deployment of governance, administrative and development insights, such as those abundantly thrown up at the Nextier event, for reconstructing Nigeria and making it work better for her citizens.
At the second technical session for the day, the ideas of philosophy and ideology took the center stage as the benchmarking framework within which a national leadership and its vision and strategy could be given cogent direction. Outside of an ideological mold, the Nigerian state and her developmental agenda would keep getting entrapped by uninterrogated and non-contextualized extraverted solutions, blueprints, and paradigms recommended by the Bretton Woods institutions and the Washington Consensus.
The philosophy of reform therefore makes it imperative for the new administration to adopt and adapt an ideological frame as an organizing development logic that would assist in coalescing political action away from the crippling elite bargain into a veritable development gamble Nigeria needs beyond 2023.
Realpolitik, to the extent that it is inevitable as a political necessity, must be harnessed to the vision of pushing through a constitutional vision of federalism that grounds democratic governance founded on the vitality of Nigeria’s subnational units and their comparative advantages. In other words, realpolitik cannot be understood in terms of the bad politics that generations of rapacious politicians have been playing with the lives of persevering Nigerians.
In the strategy of the new administration, realpolitik must be the means to the end of governance and administrative reforms that will birth the emergence of good governance. The Tinubu administration must therefore take Aristotle and Machiavelli seriously in formulating a reform framework that will be technocratically sound and politically perspicuous.
From The Unending Quest for Reform to the brainstorming around the trajectory of moving from election to governance performance, it becomes obvious that the new administration cannot easily step into the existing framework of business as usual.
The stakes are just too high for complacency: Nigerians have suffered sufficiently in underwiring with their lives the failures of elite selfishness and government’s fixation with impractical solutions. Nigeria must work as a matter of not just a necessity but as critical survival salvage for her not to implode and get permanently locked into the backwater of history.
Olaopa is retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Professor of Public Administration and founder, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Bodija, Ibadan.firstname.lastname@example.org.