By Dr. Tunji Olaopa
What comes after the end of roaming? He sees himself, white-haired, stooped, shuffling to the corner shop to buy his half-litre of milk and half-loaf of bread; he sees himself sitting blankly at a desk in a room full of yellowing papers, waiting for the afternoon to peter out so that he can cook his evening meal and go to bed. The life of a superannuated scholar, without hope, without prospect: is that what he is prepared to settle for?
—J. M. Coetzee
In Disgrace (1999), Coetzee, the South African writer, painted a rather frightening retirement picture of Professor David Lurie. I am different from the fictional professor in so many ways. Unlike Professor Lurie, this is not the kind of retirement I see for myself at all. While the announcement calling for the retirement of the seventeen permanent secretaries was shocking to me, it was not at all unexpected. Whoever managed to reach a fulfilling career point in the civil service must have gotten there with a sense of history. If Nigeria could waste the incredible talents retired summarily especially in 1975, why should we be exception to what has literarily become a rule of a sort in our governance trajectory. I have had no doubt whatsoever what my retirement plans would be. I have nurtured it for over ten years, reflecting and adjusting and planning. This preparation originated from the foreknowledge that I would not always be in the service, but that the business of reform cannot dare stop.
Like David Lurie, however, I am also a scholar; I am committed through research and advocacy to the urgent and rigorous reform of the civil service system in Nigeria. Since I became a public servant more than twenty seven years ago, it has become almost immediately clear to me that Nigeria’s greatness is hinged on the capability readiness of its civil service system. It is not hard to come to this conclusion—the civil service is the Nigerian state personified. The state therefore stands or falls to the extent of the performance profile of its civil service. Unfortunately, a critical mapping of the trajectory of public service performance, from 1960 to date, gives us no room to cheer. Most of the reforms read like an exercise in administrative damage control. For instance, since independence when the Nigerianization Policy intervened in the emergence of the Nigerian civil service, the idea of meritocracy became a critical issue because it was slaughtered on the altar of representativeness and nepotism which became the trademark nod to Nigeria’s plural status. And so, the idea of professionalism has been haunting the civil service ever since.
Before the retirement, and with the mentorship and guidance of veterans like Prof. Akin Mabogunje, Dr. Christopher Kolade, and a few others, I had been certain what my post-retirement effort would be. The Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) is the final product of the iteration of many ideas. And its emergence goes beyond the need to backstop my retirement and ensure a regular source of livelihood. On the contrary, the School is actually the most logical standpoint for my reputation as a reformer. What kind of reputation ends in the office? And what kind of reform is tied only to the dynamics of the inside perspective? The administrative reform and governance research that I have dedicated twenty seven years of my life to is essentially institutional. It concerns a persistent and rigorous interrogation of the public service structures, institutions and processes at the level of theory and practice. I have always been a practitioner who understands perfectly the reciprocal relationship that exists between the theoretical and the practical.
My researches and advocacy has been based on the need to adequately perceive the problems of Nigeria, and the needed solutions, from these twin pillars. I am a bureaucrat driven to research by the need to understand the reality of practice i.e. the policy-implementation gap in Nigeria’s arrested development. My mission in researching the public service is to be an expert-insider in the vanguard of what I considered in the ‘80s as the most critical gap in the Nigerian development equation: the policy and development execution trap that the public service as a management system had become. When I came to this conclusion, I was a development policy researcher. At the time, implementation research had become a central issue driving development and policy work in government. It is therefore administratively logical for me that the framework of the ISGPP will be firmly located within the need to bridge this execution gap which is still critical to the performance metric of the civil service in Nigeria.
The Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy is conceived to intervene actively in Nigeria’s governance framework in a manner that instigates, and participates in, a creative policy making dynamics that extends the frontier of development and democratic thinking and practice in Nigeria. Unlike the plethora of training schools, policy institutes and consulting outfits that abounds in Nigeria, the ISGPP has devised a broad-based approach to training, executive education and policy research that intersects development, democracy and governance issues. It is meant to become a focus for a sustained discourse on development and governance in Nigeria that draws insights and experts from Africa and around the globe. ISGPP is not just another business school; it is a school of governance. For instance, the ISGPP has a curriculum and faculty designed and assembled to tackle the issue of relevance. Relevance is defined as achieving the critical connection between local governance realities and global development discourse. Such a School is required given the context of pandemic administrative inertia and bureaucratic pathologies that assail service delivery and public service performance throughout Africa, and especially Nigeria. And to achieve comparative advantage, ISGPP is set to critically examine the little governance issues and the big governance dilemmas; it is set to generate hard empirical data and explore complex theoretical pictures; it will rigorously examine the local from the vantage dynamics of the global.
There is a deep sense in which the incidence of poverty, illiteracy, the infrastructural deficit, unemployment rate, crime and insecurity, the health pandemic and other socioeconomic woes that afflict Nigeria, and other African states, are the direct consequences of administrative neglect and policy weakness. It is a fact that Nigeria’s social policy dynamics is essentially flawed. The mission of the ISGPP is to facilitate a wide network of experts—academic and practitioners—across the private and public sectors, non-profit and non-governmental organisations and the Nigerian and African diaspora that would ensure a robust and rigorous framework that initiate a theory and practice dialogues and discourses on the possibilities of rethinking and rehabilitating Nigeria’s governance architecture.
ISGPP therefore becomes a critical means of generating an outside perspective on the inside mechanisms of the public service management system as well as other institutional frameworks that generate policies and decisions that are meant to promote the wellbeing of Nigerians. I have been inside; now the ISGPP represents the best modality for looking back inside and continuing the reform diagnosis and institutional prognosis. But this time around, the business of reform becomes more urgent with the dialectical modus operandi that brings together a critical mass of renowned change agents with many years of perspectives, experiences, insights and capacities in a multidisciplinary framework that confronts the governance predicament from multifaceted dimensions. Thus, the ISGPP reaches into the significant recess of the academia—political science, philosophy, public administration, history, economics, sociology, law, educational management, information science, development studies, international relations, etc.—in active synergy with practitioners of public administration, ICT, human resource management, project management, public sector performance, industrial relations, business information, public communication, urban and rural planning, health policy, agriculture and ecotourism, environmental policy and the civil society.
ISGPP is a total governance package. And since the School has been conceived to be significant to the development and policy project in Nigeria, it stands to reason therefore to bring its inauguration to the attention of the government and the public in a manner that announces its intention and critical relevance. This is the essence of the inaugural conference slated for February 1-2, 2016. The theme of the conference—Getting Government to Work—aptly summarises the essence of ISGPP. We are in the season of change, with the Buhari administration making preliminary but energetic efforts to ensure that Nigeria moves beyond its lethargic tradition of government business to a more corruption-free, dedicated, and even patriotic service to the Fatherland. The ISGPP Conference is therefore auspicious. It was conceived from the premise that it is high time the Nigerian government began harnessing the energies, resources and commitments of its citizens in order to become effectively capable of meeting their needs and aspirations. In the tradition of the National Economic Summit (NES), the conference on Getting Government to Work will be an annual event and flagship programme of ISGPP..
The fundamental question around which the ISGPP Conference is based is simple but profound: What are the fundamental structures, institutional deficits, issues, processes and dynamics of government that have made the attainment of an all-inclusive development in governance , economy and democracy in a manner that conducive to peace and social justice difficult in Nigeria? With this question, the ISGPP hope to rally an entire intelligentsia and critical elites to a roundtable on the Nigerian governance deficit and possibilities—Olusegun Obasanjo, Emeka Anyaoku, Akin Mabogunje, Richard Joseph, Christopher Kolade, Kayode Fayemi, Isaac Adewole, Matthew Hassan Kukah, Pat Utomi, Eze Onyekpere, Chude Jideonwo, Akin Iwayemi, Amadu Sesay, Osita Ogbu, Ayo Teriba, Omobola Johnson, Nkoyo Toyo, Lola Dare, Isaac Adewole, Osita Chidoka, Foluso Okunmadewa, Pai Obanya, Ademola Oyejide, Akinjide Osuntokun, Alaba Ogunsanwo, Chris Imoisili, Ayo Olukotun, Odia Ofeimun, Adele Jinadu, Bayo Olukoshi, John Ayoade, Olu Sanya, Jibrin Ibrahim, Tunde Adeniran, Oladapo Afolabi, Adeoye Akinsanya, Tade Aina, Adigun Agbaje, and more. This is the crème de la crème of Nigeria’s intellectual, government, civil society and policy experts gathered to jumpstart the rethinking of the Nigerian governance space.
The statement to be made at the ISGPP Conference is expected to go beyond the tradition of the communiqué. For Ezra Pound, the US poet and critic, ‘Any general statement is like a check drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.’ The communiqué at the end of the Conference automatically commits the ISGPP to what it promises, a rigorous and radical re-examination of the policy architecture in Nigeria in a way that instigates reflection and action committed to birthing sustainable good governance. The Conference is therefore the signal to the commencement of serious and energetic operation that radically inserts the School into the governance processes and frameworks in Nigeria. Thus, once the Conference concludes, the ISGPP is expected to begin delivering on its mandate, which in part would be to implement the decisions, conclusions and recommendations of the inaugural conference, as the best Governance School ever to be conceived in Nigeria.
With the ISGPP, I think all the disappointment of sudden retirement is being converted effectively into veritable opportunity to do more for country. While I am not certain this whole tradition of yanking people off their calling with impunity that started in 1975 is ever good for a nation that should harness the full potentials of its best resources, the complexity of getting change to happen in a confounding climate like Nigeria’s can hardly happen without government having to make mistakes, here and there. But more than this, my mind remain focused on the reform business as I have to give back to this great country and the tenacious institution of the civil service that has weathered the storm since 1960 and which has given me the opportunity to reach a point of fulfilment in a career that had become for me a calling. With the ISGPP and the learning journey which just commenced, I am about to step into a new shoe of a critical outsider. I am still professing reform; and I have nothing to fear from J. M. Coetzee’s terrible vision of retirement!
*Dr Olaopa, former Permanent Secretary in Abuja, is the Executive Vice Chairman
Ibadan School of Government & Public Policy (ISGPP)