Habu Shuaibu Galadima: Institutional Leadership in a Critical Time

By Tunji Olaopa

Death is the ultimate of all the gloomy things to write about in life. It is the cessation of all possibilities. And this is why it always leaves a bitter taste in the memory, whether it is the death of a person in a distant place or a loved one close by. And when we lose dear and loved ones, there is no consolation to be found in Horace’s words that “Pale death beats equally at the poor man’s gate and at the palaces of kings.” Nobody wants to write a eulogy of a friend, a colleague, a relative or any loved one. Having to pen this tribute to my boss, colleague, brother and friend—Professor Habu Galadima—is one of the most harrowing experience I have ever gone through. How could we be talking of a eulogy to someone who was still with us a few days ago? How could I even make sense of speaking about him in the past tense?

For a long time, my mind refused to connect with my pen. I could not piece together any meaningful thoughts, except thoughts about the meaninglessness of existence, the futility of human strivings and ambition, and the mystery of our mortality. The Preacher, in Ecclesiastes, calls it vanity upon vanity—the superfluity of all thoughts, cravings and achievements. With every death, and most particularly with the death of Prof. Galadima, all the fundamental philosophical questions about life and existence came rushing into the mind. However, King Solomon in the same breath consoles us that it is not how long one lives but how well. And Prof. Galadima lived well. Marcus Tullius Cicero is the one who remarked, most perceptively, that “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” For those like me who had encountered Professor Galadima, the heart comes away with a permanent imprint of goodwill.

Professor Galadima was accomplished in administrative and academic matters. From the moment he earned his first degree in political science, he had not stopped searching for ways and means to advance not only his own intellectual and academic pursuits, but also the administrative betterment of the University of Jos, his alma mater, as well as every other institutional space that had ever gained the good fortune of having him on their staff list. Once an imperative like the championing of the creation of his home state, Nasarawa State, gets to Prof. Galadima, then it was time to engage with it in order to achieve some desirable objectives. Nothing should ever be postponed if it depends on him. It is as if the Professor always perceived a cause and institutions in terms of their reform capabilities. He was always seeing what could be done and how it could be done.

And it was that earnest spirit of an institutional reformer that he brought to his appointment at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). Before assuming the ultimate mantle of leadership at NIPSS in August, 2019, Prof. Galadima had served at critical time as the Director of Research. This is a significant position in the institutional capacity of NIPSS whose sole remit is evidence-based research that NIPSS could deploy to influence the policy architecture of the Nigerian government. Thus, when he eventually became the Director-General, Prof. Galadima was already poised with his insider knowledge of how NIPSS works, and how it could be repositioned to do better as a national and international think tank. This was not just a mere political or bureaucratic statement. Professor Galadima brought to his new position a wealth of institutional experience and a vision to rethink NIPSS.

It was at this point that we met. And that meeting was not just coincidental. Part of his very clear and coherent vision for rehabilitating NIPSS as a world class think tank—a vision he had incorporated into the NIPSS strategic plan—was to deepen the academic and research remit of NIPSS through the arduous task of attracting and retaining high-end scholars, academics and professional to assist in the agenda of transforming the Institute. And the task is an onerous one for two reasons. The first is the institutional challenge faced by NIPSS to fund its most fundamental objective. The NIPSS Act left NIPSS three sources of funding—government subvention, institutional sourcing and loans. All three are not sufficient to facilitate the efficient running of the Institute, and especially the demands of its research remit. And this specifically leads to the second reason why deepening NIPSS’ academic responsibility is difficult: NIPSS also has to confront the terrible effect of brain drain which ensures that scholars and professionals prefer the glittering institutional opportunities offered beyond the shores of Nigeria than what Nigeria’s institutional richness can offer.

Prof. Galadima, as it turned out, remained undaunted. And it is in this context that I came into his perceptive orbit. My relationship with NIPSS dates back many years as guest lecturer and programmes facilitator. My reform advocacy and pursuit had brought me into the trajectory of the ongoing efforts to keep reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of the Institute. But I never met Prof. Galadima until he invited me in January of 2020 to be a part of the brainstorming seminar centered on (re)conceptualizing NIPSS on the basis of some next level indications by HE the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and the theme chosen for 2020 by the President. I was subsequently pleasantly surprised when he extended an invitation to me to join the NIPSS faculty as a Directing Staff on full time. The invitation came at a time when I was caught up in the pressure of so many competing responsibilities. But Prof. Galadima was not to be denied! His indescribable humility was one factor that played a significant role in my acceptance of the invitation. The other factor is my immense belief in NIPSS as a think tank that has a fundamental role to play in Nigeria’s transformation in terms of strategic policymaking and democratic governance.

Our late D-G played a very significant role in the attempt to reposition NIPSS. And he did this by the very force of his conviction and responsibility. Think tanks all across the world are judged by their managerial and governance dynamics—the composition and expertise of their governing board, CEO and senior management teams. Indeed, the successes or failures of an efficient think tank rests mightily on the visioneering and strategic acumen of the CEO—the director-general in the Nigerian context—who has the duty of being the liaison between the board, the senior management team and the faculty in facilitating the efficient operational running of the think tank.

Professor Habu Galadima had vision and he had the administrative and intellectual strategies to back the vision up. He ran an open-door policy that diligently canvassed all shades of opinions and ideas that could be beneficial to the institutional strengthening of NIPSS. And yet, he had the strength of personality to resolutely stay with and pursue the superior opinion founded on adequate argumentation, not minding what anyone feels—until further conversation and evidences yield another superior idea, argument or opinion. And the pressure of being the chief executive never deterred him from remaining as a conscientious teacher and seminal researcher with a deep seminal sense of the role of critical interjection and review of his presentations and contributions by colleagues, however objectionable. Prof. Galadima is always ready with his easy smiles and commendations whenever new insights is gained from the critical review of his ideas and presentations.

While he was the director-general, Professor Habu Galadima maintained a critical institutional balance that enabled him to stay unstintingly loyal to his principal in terms of his responsibility to NIPSS; to maintain an administrative procedural conformity in terms of his respect for the rules and regulations sanctioned by the NIPSS Act; and yet a sure willingness to speak truth to power when the needs arise. Reform success is always concerned with walking the tight rope between institutional capacity readiness and political know-how. With regard to the future of NIPSS and the content of his appointment, Prof. Galadima was ready to keep pushing the boundary of what is institutionally possible to make NIPSS what it was meant to be within the context of Nigeria’s policy architecture. For instance, shortly after assuming the mantle of authority as the director-general, Prof. Galadima had to confront the terrible institutional limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown of Nigeria. Any other CEO would have resigned him or herself to fate. But then, Professor Habu Galadima was not just any director-general. The first hint about his leadership recalcitrance was his determination to keep the scheduled Senior Executive Course 2020—NIPSS’ flagship executive education programme—on course. All that was needed was his innovative compliance with the nationally designed guidelines. And the SEC 42 proceeded as scheduled, without any significant administrative hitch.

Max de Pree, the American businessman, once said: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The second is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” This statement captures succinctly the requisite mix of the personal and the professional skills that is required to move any institutional or organization forward, and even more so a think tank. And Professor Habu Shuaibu Galadima had it in the proportionate balance. Unfortunately, death has denied us the opportunity of celebrating with him the transformation of the Institute that he dedicated many years of his life to. We can only hope that others will take the institutional baton, and transform NIPSS as a think tank—to his loving memory.

  • Prof Tunji Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Directing Staff, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos tolaopa2003@gmail.com tolaopa@isgpp.com.ng

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