|Dr. Tunji Olaopa|
I truly came to love this very institution that stands at the very heart of the Nigerian predicament as both a problem and a solution, simultaneously. I came to generate a very intimate knowledge of its operations and processes; its problems and complexities; its projections and possibilities; and the very people—the representation of Nigeria’s diversity—that makes the institution a resilient one since its inauguration in 1954. This is the institution I am exiting twenty seven years after I first reluctantly entered its complex corridors in 1988 as a rooky Principal Research Officer.
I know I have come a very long way in unadulterous and undiluted service. Once I became convinced enough to step into an institution that was far from what I dreamed of becoming, I never looked back. I channelled all my energies, physical and intellectual, into understanding and reforming the system. I saw it quite very early that Nigeria would not be able to move forward or make any appreciable progress in national development and national integration until and unless it calibrates a coherent and sustainable reform philosophy that will be grounded on institutional rehabilitation and reconstruction. I saw it quite immediately that, quite contrary to the reigning perception that government work is a sinecure, I had signed on for a helluva profession that would not permit any other side attractions. The Nigerian civil service is a jealous partner that demands unstinting attention.
Exit is always a problem. It is a huge problem for me. Malcolm Muggeridge understands my agony very well: ‘Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time.’ For me, there is no grace leaving an institution you have come to love; a system you want to willingly give your life for. If I am asked, it is definitely not the time for me to go. I doubt that I have served this Fatherland enough; I doubt that I have achieved what I set out to achieve. And certainly not at this time of imminent change that PMB is methodically putting in place in all areas of the Nigerian institutional life. This is a season of reminiscences for me—remembrance of pains and struggles and conceptual agonies and practical difficulties. It is a period to come to term with my institutional mortality.
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
I definitely had my entrance into this noble and ennobling profession. Now, it is time to exit. I guess I have gone the full ‘seven-age’ circle of my ‘acts’ as a civil servant. Now is the time to allow others connect the vision and the action, and move the Nigerian Civil Service beyond the imaginable.
I received hundreds of calls from all over when the retirement notice came in; hundreds of calls showing concerns, puzzlement, encouragement and prayers. And I assured everyone that I am still around. Exit, for me, is not disappearance or abandonment. George Grossmith, the British entertainer and writer, once remarked: ‘I left the room with silent dignity, but caught my foot in the mat.’ I may have left the civil service, but my foot is still caught in the dynamics of reform and institutional reconstruction. I am a full-fledged Nigerian who, like other well-intentioned citizens, is very much interested in the direction the nation is headed, and what can be done to redirect its national path.
The challenge for me now is that of how to continue the business of reform from outside the critical space afforded by an inside perspective on the civil service system. But then, operating from outside the space has its own advantages. For one, it affords an outsider’s perspective with its own objective assessment of what is wrong, what can be done and how it can be done. Most often, what institutional complacency has blinded an insider from seeing becomes perceptible to the critical outsider. In this regard, I consider myself most fortunate for the opportunity to act in both capacities.
*Dr. Tunji Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary.
Part 2 will be serialised tomorrow.