Review of Hereto Serve –Advocacy for Good Governance by Oseloka H. Obaze, during the Book Presentation in Finotel Classique Hotel, Awka on June 15, 2013.
By Prof Ikenna Onyido
In the event that I disappoint you, which is very likely to happen, or at the best that I bore you with this book review, in which case you must be a very tolerant and magnanimous person indeed, please don’t blame. Rather blame the man who called us together here today, the author, Hon. Oseloka Obaze, for making a poor choice as the reviewer of his book, which indeed is a masterpiece on good governance and leadership, against the background of the interactive dynamics of the complex variables of capacity and capability, values, ethics and morality, character, conviction and compassion. The author’s compass of friends straddles literary giants on our landscape, the best social scientists that can be found in our Nigerian universities and in the diaspora, legal luminaries, accomplished diplomats who have made our country proud by the quality of their service and representation of Nigeria to the outside world – a group from which he broke ranks to answer the call to service, and quite a number of professionals who have made their mark in government and governance, etc.; these are people who understand the craft of writing or the demands of governance, who could have added value to this event if Hon. Oseloka had engaged any one of them as the book reviewer today.
Why the author left all these accomplished friends of his to ask me, a simple-minded scientist whose expertise lies at best in ‘propounding chemical theories that are not useful to anyone’, as one obviously angry critic of mine described me a while ago, to review his book is best known to him. I protested, but he persisted. I had another escape route from this assignment, for which I consider myself comprehensively unfit to undertake. For more than nine months now, I have been battling with a health challenge which has reduced me, temporarily I must insist, to walking with the assistance of a cane. I refused to succumb to that attractive exit strategy for two major reasons. First, I have come to trust Hon. Obaze’s sense of judgment. If he thinks I am able to do a review of his book, then there must be something in my comprehensive unfitness that has passable merit. Second, he is a good man and my friend. In the Nigerian scenario where government and governance have become associated with a good measure of the exhibition of shamelessness and self-aggrandizement, with the exception of few individual cases who are deemed statistically insignificant for group characterization, it is indeed an honour for me to review a book written by a good man, who has participated in government and governance at a very high level and who is and remains my friend. So here am I.
I might as well add that the book I am about to review has had a couple of reviews already. When the author forwarded those reviews to me, I was initially tempted to read them so that I could skirt around their major thrusts and deal with issues about the book which they did not consider. On a second thought, I decided against reading any of the reviews because that would be a sure way of shackling me and stifling any individualistic approaches that may be whirling in my head as I read the book. I shall read those reviews after today’s event so that I can savour the divergences and convergences that are sure to occur.
Kindly indulge me to spend a few minutes recalling the circumstances of my friendship with the author. I arrived Anambra State in 2011 to share whatever was left of me with my people, after being away from home since 1970 when I went to the University of Ibadan as a lad, so I arrived here before Hon. Obaze. Naturally, when he joined the Government of Anambra State, his name was all over the airwaves as the then Secretary to the State Government (SSG). I had no personal knowledge of him until we shook hands right in this Hall in late July 2013 when he came to represent the then Governor, H.E. Peter Obi at a book launch in honour of the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Professor Boniface C. E. Egboka, FAS, an occasion in which I was the Keynote Speaker. The next opportunity to exchange pleasantries with him came in early 2014, soon after H. E. Chief Willie Obiono assumed the mantle of leadership as Governor of Anambra State and retained the author as the SSG. We travelled together to Abuja by air from Enugu and in the arrival hall in Abuja while we were waiting to pick up our luggage, I walked up to him to congratulate and thank him for staying on as an emblem of continuity with the new Government.
A few months later, H.E. Governor Obiano graciously constituted a Visitation Panel to the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University and the Nwafor Orizu College of Education under my chairmanship. It was then, in the course of that assignment, that I interfaced properly and in a personal way with him. Meeting with him on a number of occasions to straighten out issues germane to our delivering on the assignment by His Excellency gave me an insight into his personality. We became instant friends and two years gone now, we relate to each other as if we knew each other decades ago. Reading through this book, you will come face to face with the author’s personal characteristics and qualities; they simply jump out of the pages. One thing I can assure you is that, you will clearly understand how the author transited from the comfortable air-conditioned offices of the United Nations and the attendant diplomatic finesse and niceties to survive in the murky waters that the cloak and dagger politics of Nigeria represents; he has done so without deformations to his physique or character and without the tell-tale bruises which technocrats who unguardedly jump into such waters nurse for the rest of their lives. The political terrain is littered with such post-operative junk.
Vital Statistics of the Book
Let me start with the vital statistics of the book, Here to Serve – Speeches, Op-Eds, Essays and Advocacy for Good Governance, is a 251-page elegant piece of work which the author divided into four parts, Parts A – D for convenience. Part A consists of nine speeches collected under the heading Responsive Leadership. Part B, which has the heading Ethics in Governance, is also a collection of six speeches. Part C is on Policy Interrogation and is made up six speeches and two Op-Ed pieces. The last part, Part D, has the heading Confronting Realpolitik and contains three speeches, three essays and two Op-Eds. On the whole, the book is a collection of thirty-one papers. The author served as SSG for three years, for the last two years of Governor Obi’s tenure and for one year under Governor Obiano. Of the thirty-one papers in the book, twenty-three were done under Governor Obi whilst the remaining eight were done during the one year the author served under the incumbent Governor. Reviewing this book is quite a difficult assignment for me because I find that page after page there is wisdom, there is profound truth and there is a clear pathway into a future Anambra State, going from the good of today to the great of tomorrow, an incremental approach that emphasizes political evolution. Faced with this dilemma of what to highlight and what to leave behind, I decided to adopt a minimalist but latitudinous approach of highlighting four themes among the mosaic of themes that run like a web throughout the book. This approach leaves the reader with the pleasure of mining the rich treasure that is bound between the two covers of the book.
Although the book is a compendium of papers delivered to different audiences on different occasions on topics that seem disparate in content and nature, it can easily serve as a treatise in leadership. Early in the book, the reader is presented with accounts of the State Government responding to and managing the emergencies of the flood disaster of 2012 and the Ebola scare of 2014, two events that truly tested the Government and brought out the best in the leadership. It fell to the lot of the author to coordinate the efforts of the State Government in managing these emergencies. The proactive response by the State Government on these two occasions demonstrate what leadership is all about. These emergencies demanded empathy, compassion, courage and sensitivity on the part of the leadership. Deploying the best that is known in crisis management by delivering targeted interventions and calibrated responses, these crises were managed with clarity, confidence and precision. Lives were saved and hope was restored. Leadership is about giving hope in the face of hopelessness, about leading the fight and showing the way. Occasions such as the flood disaster require bringing relief and succour to the needy and desperate in the face of severely limited resources and competing demands, a situation akin to the Biblical scenario of feeding five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, the distinctive difference here being that only Christ could accomplish such a feat, and an honest attempt to feed the hungry, even with the best of intentions, would be to make the crumbs go round, and there would never have been any leftovers to be collected. We begin to see from this book a leadership that recorded tangible achievement with lean resources.
The fourth paper in this compendium, titled We Are Called to Serve So That Our Posterity May Be Enriched, goes to the heart of the issue of leadership and it is from here that I derived the title for this review, Service for the Enrichment of Posterity. In this speech the author, who four months later declared his intention to seek the governorship position in Anambra State, ‘underlines the essence of public service and why those privileged to be called upon to serve must do so selflessly’. Identifying leadership as a calling rather than an all-comers endeavour, he characterized the leader as one who has the qualities of selflessness, purposeful subjugation of personal interests in order to serve the people in the quest for common good, humility, vision and commitment. That is where he makes this profound statement that deserves to be cast in stone: ‘We are called to serve not so that we may be rich or famous, but that our posterity may be enriched’. This statement portrays a completely different mind-set than what prevails in our contemporary Nigerian politics where the opposite is true. By this statement, the author has set down an acid test for those in leadership positions. While in office they need to continually ask themselves: ‘Will my service enrich posterity?’ After they leave office, the question they need to ask themselves is: ‘Have my years in office served to enrich posterity?’ If this yardstick is applied to Nigerian leaders, dead or alive, only very few will be celebrated as successful leaders.
Ethics, Good Governance and the Bond of Performance
The critical importance of ethics in governance is another theme that runs throughout the book. The author is discernibly worried about how the public perceived the Government in which he is a key player, perception that is based on the noncompliance to ethics and lack of transparency by a few, which puts a negative label on the whole. Such negative perceptions include the ‘general expectation that those in government have infinite resources to dole out to friends and acolytes’ which creates ‘the conflicting popular expectations of those in political power’, thereby constituting ‘obstacles to improving governance in government’. True enough, the society expects so much from public officers. Yes, such expectations push people in public service to engage in corruption in order to fulfil public expectation. We have arrived at a situation where public servants who do not live up to societal expectation are considered failures. The situation has become quite complex that making a dent on it would require leading by example, leaders who have no skeletons in their closets, the kind of leadership the author directly and indirectly canvasses for our society.
It is the author’s argument that real development is a product of visionary policies, that there is nothing like a bad public policy since all public policies are supposedly well intended. He postulates that what we generally term bad policies are ‘badly conceptualized policies and poorly articulated and badly implemented public policies. Hence when a desirable policy does not come to fruition, it becomes a failed or bad policy.’ I initially had a hard time wrapping my head around this argument, because the author ends his argument by affirming the existence of what he initially argues does not exist. On further thought, however, I began to look in the direction he is pointing us to. All policy makers set out with good intentions, yes, but good intentions are not enough. As the saying goes, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. If what the policymaker started out with good intentions to achieve ends up as a failure, then we have a clear case of lack of capacity. It should be the leader’s responsibility to recruit people with the requisite capacity or build that capacity in situ in a tailor-made fashion to translate his/her vision into concrete reality. This strikes at the heart of how the Nigerian political system recruits expertise – it is largely prebendal, a matter of who knows whom, or the installation of some other nebulous criteria that fail to insist that the best hand for the job be recruited. Until the Nigerian political system learns this lesson, mediocre output will continue to be the norm, at best. The author deals with the issue of ‘celebration of mediocrity in the name of political accommodation and settlement’, decries do-nothing politics which, ‘when combined with greed leads to corruption’. Do-nothing politics he defines as ‘using and diverting government resources to personal use, or sharing it out to individuals instead of using it for public interest matter’. This is courageous, hard stuff from somebody in government! The author emphasizes that good governance rests on the core principles of transparency, predictability, accountability, responsiveness and inclusivity, all of which ensure adaptive leadership and purposeful governance anchored on ethical conduct, discipline, integrity and credibility. It is also his view that in the current Nigerian set up, a bond of performance must exist and needs to be instituted between the three arms of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – and between the government and the governed for the much needed synergy that gives rise to good governance, which yields the dividends of democracy, is realized.
Policy Interrogation – Higher Education and Technology Development
This book presents an exquisite menu of policy dialogue, discussing issues such as: youth engagement, agriculture and the challenges of national growth and development, repatriation of Anambra indigenes by Lagos State, growth enhancement, capacity building and job creation, climate-resilience and low-carbon development in Nigeria, the revenue allocation formula, and the Petroleum Industry Bill. However, I have chosen to focus on technology development and the dissonance that exists between academia and the industry because it is an issue which interests me and one that has vexed me considerably.
The author laments the near absence of ‘efficient collaboration between academic institutions in Nigeria and the local industries and entrepreneurs’. He is very generous by qualifying what should be a resounding indictment of the Nigerian educational system and the political leadership for sustaining what is indeed a colossal loss of intellectual capital which other countries utilize to leverage their development. Using the ancient city of Awka which was renowned for blacksmithing as a case study, the author notes that none of the universities located in Anambra State has so far exploited that resource of indigenous technology for research, innovation and development, which should, in turn, power economic growth with job creation as a salutary spin-off. Mr. Obaze’s diagnosis is right – Government is as guilty as the industry and institutions themselves in not recognizing and exploiting the mutual synergies that should impact the society; his assertion that ‘failure to identify and exploit our indigenous’ human resources impedes our technological growth’ is an entirely correct conclusion.
It is quite amazing that we have not woken up to the fact that knowledge, as well the innovation and technology derived through research, is now at the centre of sustainable development. In fact, the United Nations, which just last September declared the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the new global agenda for development, also set up the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) as a body to prime universities and other knowledge centres the world over to play a strategic role by supplying the knowledge and innovation required for solving development-related problems in order to promote the SDGs. What do we find in Nigeria? Governments are indifferent and Vice-Chancellors, except a tiny minority like my own Vice-Chancellor, Professor Joseph E. Ahaneku, FAS, are lukewarm at best, but mostly dismissive because SDSN has not come with sacks of US dollars! So while others are busy marshalling their universities, pointing directions and delineating research that should support the SDGs, we have gone on with our ‘business as usual’ attitude, obviously to our detriment. So the author is exactly right when he writes that ‘the reality in the 21st century is that you ignore technology at your own peril’. I shall leave you to read his suggestions for ameliorating this unusual situation in your own copy of the book
Power Rotation, Anambra North and the Issue of Inclusivity
Part D of the book collects a number of incisive papers under the caption of Confronting Realpolitik. As a reviewer who has adopted a minimalist approach, I have, with great difficulty because every essay has some fundamental import, chosen to zero in on his essay on Understanding Why Anambra Has to Go North, the author’s contribution to the debate on why the North senatorial zone had to produce the Governor of the State in 2014, because I am a great believer in equity and fairness. The author was an interested party, since he was an aspirant to the Governorship position at the time. There were two contending sides of the debate on the issue – those who the author referred to as ‘the all-comers-and-freedom-to-choose’ group whose argument was that democracy is based on equal opportunity for all, and the ‘equity-based-rotation’ group that canvassed rotation as the pathway to inclusivity. Without question and any reservations, the author weighed in on the side of rotation and equity, with passion and vehemence – he neither shied away from confronting this inconvenient truth nor did he pull any punches. Being the scholar cum diplomat-historian that he is, the author knows that ‘there are certain constants in Nigeria’s political power play. There is no altruism. Power is never given or ceded. Professional politicians covet their space and positions as if it were their birthrights: forget equity, fairness or justice …..’ Powerful advocacy that should make any fair-minded person think twice. The author served it best here, with clinical efficiency.
Governor Obi must be commended for being fair minded and for his insistence that his successor had to come from Anambra North. Those who argue on the side of a free-for-all contest have a point there but democracy is more than being right, it is also about making everybody to feel that they belong, it is about inclusivity. Yes, merit and excellence are important criteria, but there is no part of Anambra State that lacks men and women of excellence and distinction. Besides, excellence is a necessary but not a sufficient criterion for leadership. When I graduated from Ibadan in 1974 and everybody was excited that I made a first class, my father of blessed memory pulled me aside in the midst of the pervasive joy around me, to tell me: ‘Son, you have performed excellently. I congratulate you. But you require more than excellence to be a successful person. The world has so many excellent fools’. And just earlier this year, I read a book on Harvard University titled Excellent Sheep. So, Ladies and gentlemen, excellence is important but we need more than excellence. If we insist on merit and excellence alone, we either run the risk of being led one day by an excellent fool or court an implosion. Those of us who have no political ambition whatsoever do not however wish to be led by excellent fools and that is why we subscribe to the mantra of affirmative action that underlies progressive societies. The cost of exclusion is too high for any polity to bear. Exclusion breeds resentment and resentment when nursed over time breeds rage, rage that is bound to be let off at great cost, a situation in which the law of probability says that nobody knows who will be hurt or who will lose more. To those in politics, my counsel, and that appears to be the message of the author, is that concerted and deliberate efforts should be made to promote inclusivity at all levels. With that as a political frame, everybody is happy; it is indeed a win-win formula.
Putting it All Together – Concluding Remarks
This is getting too long for the minimalist approach that I chose. I shall now try to put it together as I conclude with the question: What did I learn from this book? So many things, but I shall dwell on two important points that I take away from the book.
I learnt about how Anambra State was and is still being governed. Governor Obi had a development strategy, the Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS), which aimed to touch every community and every Anambra indigene. Second, beyond the roads and other infrastructure we see, there are intangible derivatives of governance that his administration delivered. Anambra State’s performance in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a rising standard in education as evidenced by the sterling performance in the West African School Certificate Examination for years, back to back, a prudent fiscal policy that emphasized conservation of resources, judicious use and application of funds to milestone projects delineated in the States’s strategic plan, Anambra State attracting the highest foreign direct investment (FDI) during Governor Obi’s tenure, etc. Although the author served as SSG under Governor Obiano’s administration for just one year, there is enough in this book to discern how Governor Obiano approaches good governance: there is the Obiano Blueprint with its four pillars and various enablers, a powerful approach to governance, a bold and courageous security plan that has guaranteed security to Anambra people, attraction of FDI, etc. I am sure that if he had stayed on, the things we now see for ourselves would have been part of the book.
In compiling his speeches, Op-Eds and essays, Hon Obaze set out to give us a book that dwells on the need for good governance, the imperative for ethics in government and the indispensability of the bond of performance between the government and the governed. He clearly achieved this and much more. Between those bound covers, we have a treatise on governance, a guidebook for leadership and a handbook for those interested in serving. It was Virginia Wolff who said:
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his
life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
The author wrote with passion and courage. He did not shy away from identifying the problems or weaknesses or anxieties of the government in which he was a key player. But he did not stop of identifying problems, weaknesses and anxieties – he proffered hands-on solutions and ameliorating measures; he is no theorist peering into space through his telescope to discover Utopia, rather he is driven by ideals which he stated in the pages on Dedication, Reflection and Philosophy which anchored on his deep Christian roots. He is realistic enough to know and demonstrate that the hard work of building a superstructure lies in laying a strong foundation, block by block, which are bound together by mortar. He is passionate and optimistic about Anambra State and the larger Nigerian polity, but he has the presence of mind to know that complex equations with so many interactive variables are better solved by simplification. Yes, a simple and humble man, his simplicity has a profoundness that makes him write with clarity, precision and conviction. The iconic portrait that adorns the cover of the book is marched by the quintessence and lyrical melody which the prose in the book, though bound by covers, delivers to the ear of the reader. I commend this book to scholars and students of politics and government, to leaders in whatever setting they lead and to all who love good books. It is a joy to read this book.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, Richard Nixon after learning his lessons in a hard way in the politics of the United States, wrote the following in his memoir titled ‘In the Arena – A Memoir of Victory, Defeat and Renewal’:
“What separates the men from the boys …… is that boys seek
office to be somebody but men seek office to do something”.
In the author’s case he did not seek the office of the SSG. Governor Obi called him from the comfort and security of the United Nations to serve. We are grateful to Governor Obi for bringing the author back. Without that singular step there would never have been a day like today. He came, did something and is out. But he must not stop serving. There are many avenues for service other than service through politics. Let me throw a challenge that fits his intellectual, spiritual and moral credentials. We need to start grooming the next generation of leaders, the new Peter Obis, the new Govenor Obianos and others. Our young ones need not go to Lagos or Abuja to be mentored for leadership. Let us (when I say us I mean the author, me and all of you like-minded persons in this audience today who are passionate about taking the good Anambra of today to the great Anambra of tomorrow) put together a Centre for Leadership here in Awka to mentor and nurture leaders of tomorrow who shall take Anambra State beyond our vision, beyond our dreams. Consider this. It is urgent.
Hon. Oseloka Obaze, thank you for your illustrious service and for giving me this honour of reviewing your book. Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for tolerating me and for your kind and generous attention.
[i]Professor Ikenna Onyido, FAS, a Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science & Professor of Chemistry at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and was Vice-Chancellor, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (2006-2011).
Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.