By Tunji Olaopa
This surely cannot be the season of deaths. But the death of Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi is another on the national scene that causes extreme pain. In the last few weeks, we have cried out in anguish over Chief Olaniwun Ajayi, Ibrahim Dasuki (the former Sultan of Sokoto), and now Chief Gbadamosi. All these are leaders who, in their own unique ways, prop the scaffolds of the national project in Nigeria. Sometimes effectively vociferous, sometimes strategically silent, all these national figures and public servants exert sufficient heroic influence which become glaring when death snatches them out of reckoning. We can only be the poorer with the demise of these people. I mourn Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi as a consummate public servant and a determined nationalist. Albert Schweitzer, the German theologian and philosopher, remarks that “The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.” Even though Rasheed Gbadamosi is, in our reckoning, gone too soon, I think he fulfilled the purpose of living.
Chief Gbadamosi lived a talented and full life. The trajectory of his life points at a man who got the hang of life with a joie de vivre. His passing instigates some significant thought in my mind regarding the notion of national service. Here was a man whose life straddled the private sector, public service and the culture industry. Economist, businessman, industrialist, minister and art connoisseur, Rasheed Gbadamosi embodies the persistent possibility of the beneficial interactions between the private and the public for the sake of national development. At both the national and state levels, he was as dedicated to public service as he was to building his reputation as a leading industrialist. In fact, let us say, together so many others, he constitutes a manual in public service.
One of the significant practices that energize the act of governance in countries like the United States, for instance, is the seamless interaction between core career public service and the private and non-governmental sector. In other words, it seems taken for granted that the government can count on the services of individuals who have made significant marks in business or the private sector. Major ministerial positions and senior executive service in the US government framework are given to experienced individuals with the knowledge that can take the business of government forward. It really does not matter if that expertise is derived from the public service or from private experience. But in Nigeria, it is not always very easy to attract a successful industrialist into the “poverty” of government job. “Poverty” in this sense refers to so many variables about the public service that constrained innovation, creativity and performance. And all these are further aggravated by political intrigues and the dynamics of office that put a permanent clog in the wheel of progress and development. To therefore find someone in the mould of Chef Gbadamosi who could make this dangerous transition is commendable beyond measure. In some clear cases, one cannot but detect a patriotic heart yearning to give back to the nation the experience that had been earned in the trench of serious private business. And where else is most suitable to put the person of Rasheed Gbadamosi’s caliber if not the Ministry of National Planning?
Whenever I think of him, I remember illustrious Nigerians like Michael Omolayole, Christopher Kolade, and Gamaliel Onosode. Rasheed Gbadamosi lived a long life of service and dedication to Nigeria and humanity. These individuals constitute a significant section of eminent Nigerians whose names would usually not feature with reference to ground-shaking political events. Apart from featuring in some capacities as members of some committees and chairmen of governmental business meetings, their cogent national service consists in their numerous contributions behind the scenes where thorny government issues require deep wisdom and experience that had been acquired within the complex environment of private business. Call them the silent patriots who daily and regularly invest in making Nigera a suitable place to live and be proud.
On another level, Chief Gbadamosi has more of a soul mate in the equally late Ambassador Olusegun Olusola than with the other three Nigerians. Together, Gbadamosi and Olusola signal another level of relating with the Nigerian state. Both of them were art aficionados whose public service also permitted an exuberant dedication to writing and the arts. Only very few in Nigeria have this sensibility; a modern sensibility that views life through the beauty of arts and the sublime serenity of good music. Only very few Nigerians could see the import of the relationship between arts and governance. I suspect that a dedication to the arts cleanses the soul and enlarges one’s humanity. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan writer, attests to the unique perspective that the arts provide: “The arts then act like a reflecting mirror. The artist is like the hand that holds and moves the mirror, this way and that way, to explore all corners of the universe. But what is reflected in the mirror depends on where the holder stands in relation to the object.”
Most grown up Nigerians enjoyed The Village Headmaster, Nigeria’s longest running soap opera, from 1968 to 1988. The series was a television dramatisation of Nigeria’s nation building challenges deriving from its cultural diversity. With several plays, including Children of Two Wars, Behold My Redeemer, Trees Grow in the Desert and Echoes from the Lagoon, Rasheed Gbadamosi also contributed to our understanding of the dynamics and pathologies of power and the requirements for the transformation of the Nigerian society. I guess it is safe to say that Chief Gbadamosi’s multi-tiered life enables him, on one hand, to speak truth to power through his capacity to gaze upon the sublime and receive the Muse’s empowerment.
And on the other hand, he was not just an armchair literary critic who hides within the atmosphere of the fictional. On the contrary, if society is to be transformed, it requires willing individuals who are courageous enough to risk operationalizing their beliefs for the betterment of the nation they believe in. Chief Gbadamosi found public office as his own means of assisting in the nation building effort through participating in the building of a governance blueprint that is worthy of democratic governance.
Unfortunately, Rasheed Gbadamosi was just only one man, and our imperfect humanity allows us only some small feats which may not be sufficiently cumulated to the benefit of a nation. After all, we are only just human. Civilization, according to Cheikh Hamidou Kane, the Senegalese writer, “is architecture of responses.” And so also is the act of nation-building.
“Nigeria” is a project that requires the collective responses of every Nigerian, both high and low. And I am too much of a realistic to know that patriotism can take different shape from the critical to the apologetic. In our patriotic commitment, we all recognize that Nigeria is not all too good but yet it is not all too bad. The differential between the good and the bad in our national affairs then constitute the locus for our collective responses. Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi is now gone, but he left us a unique dynamics of the cultural and the administrative as a framework within which Nigeria could be reworked.
I see in this man a representation of a public servant par excellence. A summary of his public life is simple and profound: He served! And his service was not just limited to the prosaic of bureaucratic responsibility. He served with an enthusiasm that countered the axiom that civil servants do not crack jokes. From Muson Center to the art galleries and then to the corridors of bureaucracy, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi epitomize the spirit of service—the joy, the commitment, the obliged sense of responsibility. Chief Gbadamosi witnessed the decline of the civil service in Nigeria right from the 1975 almighty purge that accelerated the decimation of the bureaucracy. And yet, he eventually found himself drawn by the need to serve his Fatherland. And he continued serving even till the end of his life.
I salute this example; I salute Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi—playwright and public servant