By Tunji Olaopa
In coming to the analysis of the future of Nigeria, there have been so many paradigmatic analyses about how to make sense of the Nigerian predicament and resolve it in order to make Nigeria a space for innovative transformation. When I started analyzing Nigeria from the perspective of social, ethnic and generational capitals, I had a sense of what Vitor Belfort, the Brazilian professional boxer puts so aptly: “Legacy is not what I did for myself. It’s what I am doing for the next generation.” Belfort might not be aware of the deep national and developmental implication of that statement, especially for a country like Nigeria reeling under the weight of underdevelopment, and with a generation of leadership that is clueless about what needed to be done.
Generational analysis about Nigeria’s predicament speaks of disappointment and possibilities. The disappointment lies in Nigeria’s inability to harness its youth population, through an investment in higher education and a policy intelligence that redirect the energies of the youthful human capital into development purposes. And the evidence is not only that Nigeria’s youth unemployment is at an all-time high, but also that the youth population has become so disenchanted about the promise of the Nigerian society that they are fleeing in drove, and taking their capacities and competencies along with them. The real tragedy is that Nigeria invested in getting these brilliant generations into a space where they could be harnessed into nation-building and economic revitalization. But the country is at a loss as to how to recoup its investment. Nigeria’s loss thus becomes other nations’ gain.
And yet, Nigeria is still not devoid of possibilities and potential. And I am speaking of those chronic and unrepentant patriots who have made a vow to see that Nigeria regains her march towards greatness through the deployment of their unbridled hope and skills. The list of these patriots is long, and I have written so much about some of them as heroes of the Nigerian state. Today, I write about Tayo Aduloju and his courage to dare being Nigerian. Aduloju has just been appointed as the new CEO of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG). That Aduloju finds himself in the core of this organization is not fortuitous. NESG has been at the forefront of prospecting Nigeria’s economic growth through an evidence-based policy advocacy that sets its focus on an economy that is “competitive, sustainable, inclusive, open…”. The Aduloju I think I know could not have been in some other organizations. He was meant to be in this space of critical reflection and empirical analysis about the operational dynamics of the Nigerian economy, and the future of the Nigerian state.
And that he is now leading this organization not only speaks about tenacity, but also a continuing determination to keep deploying competences and skills towards doing some good. To have achieved this significant position—at the head of dogged and bright generation of young and old dedicated to reflection around the possibility of Nigeria—ought to tell you something fundamental about the kind of worldview that motivates someone like Aduloju. Vitor Belfort’s statement does not speak to governments alone; it also incorporates a reform principle that insists on preparing a generation to carry forward the demands of institutional transformation. This is the context that brought me into contact with Tayo Aduloju when I was a permanent secretary, and was confronted with the acute need to facilitate inter-generational conversation around policy, institutional and governance reform research, discourse and praxis that will game change Nigeria’s policy and implementation dynamics. At the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, he eventually became one of my lifelong sparring partners whose interventions and ideas provided the soundboard for my reform philosophy.
Of course, when I retired, I dragged him along to the drawing board for the conceptualization and actualization of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). This was how we started consolidating our joint strategy for the professional practice—together with the outgoing CEO of NESG, Mr Laoye Jaiyeola—that will culminate not only in further institutional collaborations between NESG and ISGPP, but also in more critical conversation around policy and institutional reforms, as well as deeper personal professional relationship. Aduloju is fundamentally an individual driven by the search for excellence, dictated by the objective of making Nigeria better. And of course, the dynamics of reform is what motivated NESG’s many platforms for iterating ideas, strategies and paradigms. This is also what Aduloju is all about: connecting ideas, individuals and networks of discourses and practices that further enlarge the space of possibilities in reflection, praxis and action.
This explains his voracious appetite for anything “reform”. Our capacity to spar together on reform matters derives from his functional relationship with my entire reform oeuvres, experiences, and reform reflections, models and philosophical framework. And even that—reading and digesting all my ideas, books, publications and issues—does not suffice for him. He took a step forward to converting them all into curricular contents for executive education that others can benefit from. That is how much he is invested in ideas, the institutional framework for communicating them, and the reform dynamics that will eventually lead to qualitative transformation. This is therefore perhaps one of the strongest motivations I had for embarking on the journey that produced The Unending Quest for Reform; an intellectual and conceptual frame that will aid the Aduloju’s project of generating a reform curriculum out of my reform publications and experiences. And this is all the more fundamental given that one of the most critical arguments that form a crucial plank in my reform philosophy is the urgent need for the emergence of a new generation of public managers that would be sufficiently re-professionalized and self-motivated into public-spiritedness and twenty-first century competence set to handle Nigeria’s transition into the fourth industrial revolution in the knowledge age.
The Unending Quest for Reform and the Aduloju curriculum project therefore serve a critical intergenerational collaboration founded around an institutional modality for mentoring a new corps of public managers who would take public policy and the messy processes and operational dynamics of institutional reform seriously enough to commit their entire professional and vocational zeal to it. Thus, it does not take too much thinking to imagine what Dr Aduloju would have in mind as the next level for NESG in its advocacy for a strict and output-based operational modality in the assessment of Nigeria’s economic viability. And this will be a huge double task. First, there is the important responsibility of filling the huge shoes left by the outgoing CEO, Mr Jaiyeola who did all in his best to bridge the gap between NESG as a think tank and government’s poor policy uptake that had consistently muddied the policy space in Nigeria’s attempt at unraveling her development agenda. Stepping into that huge shoes implies that Dr Aduloju cannot do less. But then, it also means he has to do even more in taking NESG into even more uncharted territories in the collective search for a breakthrough in innovative reflections and evidence-based policy analysis.
And here, I am one of those who have encountered the incredible stretch of imagination that connects Aduloju’s strategic competence with functional praxis. What I foresee is simply that if Aduloju could achieve all he did while serving as the Chief Operating Officer of NESG, then manning the position of the CEO simply provides even more leeway to push through innovation quality leadership that organizational protocols could have denied him.
I am serving him up as the embodiment of the twenty-first century public servant with the charisma, capacity and knowledge to lead the new public service Nigeria requires to transit into a developmental state. That Aduloju works in the private sector, and seamlessly interfaces with the public sector to facilitate growth and optimality in institutional performance is a huge plus. It further strengthens the policy intelligence framework by which reform-minded public service across the globe instigates performance and productivity that enhance the quality of life of the citizens.
And even more: Dr Tayo Aduloju exemplifies the figure of the Nigerian generation that is dedicated to transforming the fortune of this country. Not everyone’s face is turned west-ward in a japa frenzy. There are those who have accumulated many years of intense competence-building that are invested in searching inward and globally for a solution-portfolio by which Nigeria could be made better. There are those whose destinies are tied with the objective of making Nigeria a better place than her current dismal performance in all human development indices. Dr Tayo Aduloju represents a new generation that one can comfortably hand over the baton of reform advocacy and agitation, without the fear of dousing the flame.
As I celebrate Dr Aduloju’s ascension to the position of responsibility, I am very glad that there is still something to be said for the emergence of a new generation of game changers. I stand with this generation, and I hope that his continuing commitment to Nigeria will become a testament others will buy into.
. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration.
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