Rethinking Heroism and Nigerian Civil Service

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Festus Adedayo

Unarguably, the dominant perspective about heroism in Nigeria today is that of a land where that species is endangered. Aside the political exploits of the Obafemi Awolowos, Nnamdi Azikiwes, Ahmadu Bellos, on the economic spheres, the Da Rochas, Aminu Dantatas, Louis Phillip Odumegwu Ojukwu; public service, the Babatunde Ajoses; literature, Amos Tutuolas, Chinua Achebes; education, Adekunle Ajasins, Chike Obis; the musical turf, the Hubert Ogundes, Dan Maraya of Jos, Rex Lawsons etc., whose unifying thread of heroism in their works was patriotism and excellence, the pantheon of that class and creed is becoming an anachronism in Nigeria today. This has been attributed basically to the maximal character and texture of capital in the Nigerian society, the abandonment of societal values of communalism for individualism, leading to survival-of-the-fittest and its subsequent derivative of elimination-of-the-weakest and ultimately, an erosion of values. The latter was effectively prosecuted by a combine of successive governments and the abetment of that vice by even the governed themselves.

At an analytic level, if you could find ten of that rare breed of nature’s creation per thousand of surveyed Nigerians in the 1960’s, even up to the 1970’s, you could barely encounter one per thousand of that same sum in the Nigeria of today. Indeed, it is running against the mill to be heroic in Nigeria of today. While basic components of living were relatively easy to access in the former times, securing them is war today. Jealous and seeking to curtail rivals in its vicinity, heroism does not approve of friendship with Nigerians’ current maximalist search for capital. In other words, it is almost impossible that heroes could be found in the same trenches where people are pursuing wealth and survival.

Some people have posited that it was easy to discover heroes in the 60’s and 70’s Nigeria because the environment was conducive to heroism. Broken into basics, they said that the Awolowos, the Azikiwes, Bellos could pursue societal good because their personal and individual good was a given. It is more complex for emerging youth and children of today. The environment is hostile to heroism and indeed, like the cobra whose offspring murder it at procreation, as the Yoruba saying goes, any attempt to be a hero in Nigeria today is smothered at infancy by an environment where heroes are almost treated like pariahs.

So when Tunji Olaopa, holder of a doctorate in public administration, consummate civil servant and prolific writer, posits that there are heroes in Nigeria and seeks to intellectualize their process of heroism, his proffer cannot but be likened to a Copernican theory in geography, and an against-method of Paul Karl Feyerabend, an Austrian-born philosopher, which are basically revolutionary. Olaopa had, in a previous engagement, in a book he authored on a renowned scholar kinsman of his, confirmed the theory of the dearth of heroes in the land. Ojetunde Aboyade, close companion of and a fellow “ecumenical spirit” of Professor Wole Soyinka, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, former lecturer at the University of Ibadan, and a multiple-tested economic adviser to successive Federal Governments in the 70’s into the 90s, was Olaopa’s subject in the biography. In the biography of the late professor entitled A Prophet is with Honour – The Life and times of Ojetunji Aboyade, Olaopa had literally acknowledged that heroes, who belong to a rare and special class, are unusual to come by. His position was corroborated by the renowned professor of political science, Claude Ake, who wrote in a foreword to the book that “The country has no heroes, acknowledges none, and it devalues and derails those who could be…The project of nation-building and development which Nigerians espouse is a journey without maps, undertaken in moral anarchy towards an uncertain destination.”

Recently, Olaopa seems to have submitted that that same rare species is witnessing an explosion. In a recently authored book entitled The Labour of Our Heroes published by Ibadan-based Bookcraft, Olaopa painstakingly, in an eleven-chaptered book, outlined paths to the Nigerian project, the national question, education and the human capital dynamics, the Nigerian predicament, Nigeria’s position in the continent, civil society and national integration, civil servants and entrepreneurs, among other classifications.

In the same vein, Olaopa churned out of his intellectual smithy another book, published by same Bookcraft, which he entitled Civil Service and the Imperative of Nation Building which, on the whole, places a telescope to the Nigerian civil service of the past and the present, looking into the dark contours of its dysfunctions, failings, successes, progress and future possibilities, from theoretical and practical perspectives. He submits that the Nigerian civil service “stands at the critical nexus between grand infrastructural and service delivery efficiency and effectiveness and the trans-ethnic and trans-religious loyalty which is necessary to promote and sustain the civic bond of unity that will truly transform Nigeria into a nation.” Coming from a man reputed to be one of the most fecund-minded civil servants in recent times, this proffer would definitely need to be taken seriously by a Nigeria seeking ways out of the bind of drudgery and lethargy that are associated with the civil service.

Two Nigerians whose intellect could be likened to a description of French philosopher, Voltaire as one of the most agile brains to have ever inhabited a human skull – the renowned bard and gubernatorial aspirant in Edo State, Odia Ofeimun, and emeritus professor of Geography, Akin Mabogunje – did a critique of the books in the form of foreword. Ofeimun sees Olaopa’s effort in The Labour of Our Heroes as an attempt at “memorializing (the) feats, up-raising the heroic status of (such Nigerians)”

Using the old theory of charismatic political leadership, he said, “Quite heartily (it) engages a Pan Nigerian landscape in which religious and political leaders, academics and intellectuals, entrepreneurs, philosophers, physicians, scientists and creative writers, actors and filmmakers, musicians and community leaders, are placed in the same force-field, as heroes. Politics is not thereby downgraded or degraded but visualized, in context, as one of the theatres in which leadership may manifest within a contingent network of outstanding performers.”

Ofeimun thereafter went into a characterization or profiling of the Olaopa heroes and how they passed through the acid test of his search. He said the book is “a commingling of legendary entrepreneurs like Dantata, da Rocha, Ojukwu the elder, Dangote, Omolayole and an Onosode with maverick social consciences and educationist like atheistic Tai Solarin and lawyer-activist, human rights crusader Gani Fawehinmi, Pentecostal pastors like Enoch Adejare Adeboye, and Oyedepo, all in the same feast of herohood with Bishop Hassan Mathew Kukah, a catholic priest pursuing an ecumenical programme of dialogue between diverse creeds, on the same counterpane with Wande Abimbola, a virtual Babalawo, who is toasted for removing the libel and rudeness of the bad sciences that once consigned traditional religion, and specifically Yoruba Ifa divination system, to a zone of fetish, if not barbarism.

By the same token, we are enabled to deepen acquaintance with great minds like Professor B.J. Dudley, one of Africa’s most rigorous political scientists; and Professor Ayodele Awojobi, a professor of mechanical engineering with specialization in vibrations, an inventor, social critic and futuristic thinker; and the savvy economist, Pius Okigbo; the mathmatician, politician and folk hero, Chike Obi; and scholar and gender activist, Bolanle Awe, writers and artists Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, D. O. Fagunwa, Hubert Ogunde and the much younger Chimamanda Adichie – all of whose achievements may be consensually upheld as building blocks for the ultimate national edifice. Among physicians, Adeoye Lambo, Oritshejolomi Thomas, Umaru Shehu and Oladipo Akinkugbe are duly celebrated as are the great denizens of the Ibadan School of History for incomparable practice and research.”

However, Ofeimun wondered why, in spite of the long heroic clientele that Olaopa gathered, the assemblage which he ascribed to the author’s “admirable gumption in letting objectivity and balance be his measurement through which he hewed out their outstanding display of honour and uncommon pedigree and elan”, Nigeria is still grappling with teething issues of development and is deemed a failed state in virtually all respects.

In Civil Service and the Imperative of Nation Building, Mabogunje, who referred to the book as a “very opportune publication” said that the Nigerian Civil Service, especially at the Federal level, has had a very chequered history. His analysis was largely historical, pontificating on the certainty for a rosier future for the civil service if it collapses the virtues of the past with the challenges of today, an amalgam he opined would ooze out a promising future.

“Coming with the confidence to advise on policy decisions and the secured tenure of the Colonial Civil Service in the early years of our political independence, the Service was soon forced to confront the profound national crisis that led to the military intervention in the administration of our nation in 1966. Those years of crisis and military rule leading to the Civil War of 1967-70 saw the Civil Service virtually operating effectively at both the political and the bureaucratic levels of governance. A subsequent military regime re-acted against this conflation of responsibilities and almost literally “decapitated” the top echelon of the Service by forced retirements, leaving the Service bruised, disorientated and no longer possessed of its earlier confidence and sense of security,” Magobunje said.

He concurred with the author on the need to stress the fact that democratic progress all over the world responds more to the consistent reformulation of the operational dynamics of the Civil Service System which is the recognized engine room of national development and progress.

“The Civil Service is especially a sine qua non for national integration in a country like Nigeria racked by pangs of post-colonial ethnic, religious and cultural agitations for identity, a sense of belonging and social inclusiveness. Indeed, the Civil Service stands at the critical nexus between grand infrastructural and service delivery efficiency and effectiveness and the trans-ethnic and trans-religious loyalty which is necessary to promote and sustain the civic bond of unity that will truly transform Nigeria into a nation.”

On the whole Mabogunje recommended the book to President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration as a writ to be used in undertaking “the unfinished nature of the reforms of the Federal Civil Service and be decisive in re-focusing its operational processes and procedures towards the goal of efficient and effective service delivery and national integration.”
––Dr. Adedayo is on the editorial board of the Tribune.