REFLECTIONS — THE ROLE MODEL SERIES –
SIMEON OLAOSEBIKAN ADEBO
TERRIFIC HEADLINES’ is an online is a non-political, not partisan information outfit that deals largely with setting the agenda in motion for discourse for the common good and in national interest. We deal largely with advocacy, public enlightenment, and feedback activity designed to lift the spirit of Nigerians to higher levels of excellent and patriotic performances, as citizens’ collaborate with government to evolve more promising ways of constructing a ‘New Nigeria’ through commitment, dedication, patriotism, peaceful conducts and dialogue, as key ingredients of unity, peace, stability, and development. There are so many posers that call for reflections, particularly how those wonderful patriots of the pre and post colonial eras acted as if they were perfect. We are told that only God is perfect; but the way and manner these great Nigerians laid the foundation for a modern Nigeria confer on them the worthy description as patriots. Their achievements are worthy of emulation, if we must go forward. One of those personalities who have recorded their names on the positive pages of history is Chief Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo.
Many civil servants might not have heard of, or remember the name: Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo and his peers – Jerome Udoji Head of the Civil Service of Eastern Region and their Northern region counterpart, Ali Akilu. These great Nigerians are noted for their professional conducts that guided the governments in which they served conscientiously, thereby aiding development. The official conducts of these great Nigerians are so remarkable that they challenge public office holders to strive for perfection. Some pertinent posers: Could these public administrators and politicians have succeeded immensely in the task of governance as a result of any magic wand? t Could they have been aided by some extraneous factors including loyalty to the nation and their constituents rather that loyalty to individuals or groups of individuals? What is happening to the present generation of Nigerians occupying coveted offices? Obafemi Awolowo’s Inaugural Address as Chancellor of the University of Ife in 1967 answers in part these questions: “Whether we are conscious of, or acknowledge it or not, the fact remains stubborn and indestructible that poverty, disease, social unrest, and instability, and all kinds of international conflicts, have their origins in the minds of men … It is only when the minds of men have been properly and rigorously cultivated and garnished, that they can be safely entrusted with public affairs with a certainty and assuredness that they will make the best of their unique opportunity and assignment.”
Going through records provoke feelings of melancholy. It equally places huge burden on this generation to copy the examples of honest and professional services rendered by these great Nigerians. For the younger generation who might possibly not know Chief Simeon Adebo, who was Head of the Civil Service and Chief Secretary to the Premier of the defunct Western Region. It is possible that if we correct our poor reading culture and recall past contributions of these patriots to national development, we might be able to learn from experiences and restore some sanity into the polity. For instance, I read about Adegoke Adelabu recently and discovered that he was a real genius — an extremely intelligent personality who bagged double promotion in the elementary and secondary schools. Simeon Adebo was a lawyer, apolitical administrator and diplomat. Adebo served as Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1962-1967. He was and later employed as a United Nations Under-Secretary General. Prof. Akin Onigbinde, in his review of a publication titled: “The Unforgettable Civil Servant’’ notes that: ‘’In 1962, Adebo left Ibadan, not for the expected deserved retirement, but to extend the frontiers of his acknowledge courage and integrity in the discharge of services to the international community.
Some posers arise: Is it possible for us to produce the types of these great Nigerians again? Is it possible for the Nigerian Civil Service to function like we recorded in the 1950s up till the period of the Great Purge of 1975/1976 when the military introduced the fear of a non-permanent tenure through the sudden mass sack of able bodied and brilliant bureaucrats? What are those factors that aided professionalism in the civil service and are we prepared for restoration of all that have been damaged? Even if the country is prepared, are those in charge of the bureaucracy – politicians and civil servants eager to do the needful? Do we have people with adequate exposure and with good intentions to operate government structures as was done in the early days?
Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo, one of the pioneers of the Nigerian Civil Service, served as the head of the Western Nigeria Civil Service (1957-1962) Nigeria’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations in 1962-1967.
Adebo was engaged by the United Nations as Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, UNITAR, from 1967-1972. Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo, who held the chieftaincy title of Okanlomo of Egbaland attended King’s College, Lagos, and later read at the London School of Economics. At the conclusion of studies, he was admitted to the bar. He had a brief stint at the Federal Ministry of Finance before his transfer to the Western region government. He joined the elite Administrative Officer cadre in 1942. He previously served as a junior hand at the United African Company and Nigeria Railway Corporation where he became familiar with labour movements. He served as the General-Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Railways Civil Servants for many years.
INTERNATIONAL APPOINTMENT: Simeon Adebo was appointed Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York as well as commissioner general for economic affairs in Washington. He was in t his capacity from 1962-1967, and represented Nigeria in its relations with the international monetary and banking institutions in Washington and the departments of the United States government involved in aid to Nigeria. Thus the foundation of Nigeria’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, both products of the Bretton Woods Conference at which the Allied powers made plans that they hoped would keep the post war world in monetary and financial stability was laid by this astute civil servant from Nigeria.” The influential New-York Times ran a commentary on Adebo, describing him as ‘’pioneer of the Nigerian civil service, and a former United Nations envoy and university president. Adebo held 13 honourary Doctorate degrees from various universities, among these: Western Michigan University, 1963; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1965.
CHIEF SIMEON ADEBO AS A PIVOT: Prof. Tunji Olaopa, a retired federal Permanent Secretary, in a lecture delieved in Delta State disclosed that: ‘’Obafemi Awolowo gave Adebo the marching order to ensure that the policies initiated by the AG work. Chief Adebo had this to say: ‘’When I served under Chief Awolowo in the West, he used to say that I should tell my colleagues that he could deal with the politics of the issues. ‘’What he wanted were detailed analysis of their implications. ‘’With the facts at his disposal, he felt that he would be in a better position to decide on what to do. This sums up my own view too about the relationship that should exist between ministers and civil servants. The rest, as we say, is history! But then in this case, history goes beyond just mere narratives. Success in the Southwest region came as a result of critical administrative institutions and apparatuses that delivered on the challenge of good governance.
Simeon Adebo is also on record as asserting that: “From my experience of public affairs and my recent dealings with government officials, there is a high level of ignorance of seemingly educated men about past events in this country. ‘’On any major issue many public officers behave as if there had never been a past and that we must copy new fangled ideas and procedures which are then labeled as progressive reforms. This applies to virtually every aspect or facet of our national life and activity. ‘’Needless to say that anything that is new becomes old in the course of time, and if we get into this tendentious habit of disowning not only our past but also our past leadership, we would end nowhere. Let us learn from them, without forgetting what they did for this country”.
Tunji Olaopa continued: Chief Adebo did not only effectively decoded what Awolowo wanted in the governance dynamics, he understood what was needed to deliver on the vision of “Life Abundant” which the Action Group chose as its slogan. Chief Simeon Adebo was a properly trained public service professional who understood what “public service” entails. The civil service was not just an employment; it was a spiritual endeavour. Spirituality in service in this sense refers to a search for meaning and value that encapsulates a desire for interconnectedness with others in a manner that leads to a dedication to certain objectives. Such a spirituality would encompass other notions like (a) a call to integrity; (b) relationship—the realisation that people are connected to one another; (c) love in the workplace that treats others the way one wants to be treated; (d) a search for meaning within a bigger picture that drives one to seek for solutions to problems.
RUNNING AN EFFICIENTCIVIL SERVICE: ‘’With this understanding of public service as involving integrity and spirituality, Adebo put in place an efficient and effective administrative parameter that could have rivaled any public service system in the world. I will outline three cogent institutional reform dynamics which were at the heart of Adebo’s administrative genius as the other half of the Awolowo-Adebo model Nigeria needs to transform its governance framework if democratic governance must work to undermine our post-independence predicament. Adebo saw immediately that if the public service must function optimally, then there must be way to not only attract the brightest and the best minds, but also to facilitate an efficient performance culture that will sustain the “good development performance” expected to sustain the good governance Awolowo wanted to initiate in the Southwest region.
Adebo therefore put in place a personnel management framework that combined a Public Service Commission with a critical apparatus of Establishment and Control. While the PSC was meant to actively the safeguard of the values of the civil service, especially with regard to recruitment, promotion, training and discipline, the department for Establishment and Control also became a critical safeguard for manpower development that no administrator could ever joke with. The public service was therefore conceived as a school of management meant for a critical mass of people trained in the art of managing the public services. The establishment of a training branch in the Treasure with the task of keeping a constant watch on the recruitment and training of this critical mass of civil servants that will ensure the productivity and performance of the engine of Government.
SYNERGY: The second administrative element that distinguished the Western Region Civil Service under Simeon Adebo was a town-gown synergy that facilitated the strengthening of its economic analysis capacity through a unique collaboration that brought together civil servants and academics in a town-gown relationship that infused civil service administration with debated and brainstormed ideas and innovation to function at optimal performance. This synergy had three pivotal strands. The first was a solid Regional Economic Planning Advisory Committee which took advantage of the proximity of the University of Ibadan to draw on intellectual insights that could motivate the progress of the civil service. The third pivot was the establishment of the “Administrative Research Group,” an ad hoc committee attached to the head of service, made up of administratively experienced officers whose sole responsibility is to dedicate time to analytic thinking and reflection on critical issues agitating the civil service at any given time.
EFFICACY OF THE AWOLOWO-ADEBO MODEL: The third pivotal leg of the town-gown relationship was the establishment of a public service forum which drew on intellectual, administrative and political insights from the intellectual and professional interaction between a guest speaker and several categories of administrative officers who came together in a sub-group meeting after a guest speaker must have opened the general meeting with a general perception of the issue under discussion. The third administrative element in Adebo’s revolutionary public service was a brilliant understanding of the dynamics of industrial relations as a critical ingredient in public service performance and productivity profile. Chief Simeon Adebo wisely took all threats of strikes serious. In this, he benefitted from his secretaryship of the Nigerian Union of Railwaymen. There was in existence a situation of mutual trust that came from an understanding of what is required from the government and from the union. For instance, Adebo remarked that on several occasions, there would be an independent recommendation from government to introduce certain improvements in the condition of service.
But such recommendations would not be finalized until the unions are also brought into the known. This then made it possible for the unions and the government to not only work together in collaboration, but to also take credit for such recommendations. It took the political and bureaucratic leaderships to facilitate the good development performance that defined the good governance profile the Southwest region was under Awolowo and Adebo. It is precisely that development performance that is missing in Nigeria’s governance dynamics. I have spent sufficient time as an expert-insider in the Nigerian civil service system to know that it is still a long way from achieving the capacity that will backstop the success of democratic governance in Nigeria. And the politics of contemporary Nigeria has become too political to achieve the kind of collaboration required to produce a commendable policy architecture that an efficient administrative machine can transform into good governance. We therefore still have a lot to learn from history. And one basic insight to learn from the historical narrative surrounding the Awolowo-Adebo model is the significance of translating political vision and agenda into governance reality through the cultivation of an efficient public service machinery and many significant collaborations and partnerships.
SPIRITUALITY OF SERVICE: Tunji Olaopa, a professor, and retired federal permanent secretary, now executive vice-chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) in the presentation made at the Town Hall meeting convened by Prof. Pat Utomi’s Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) in Ibusa, Delta State, spoke about the Executive Team. In his autobiography, Awo, Chief Awolowo was very proud of his executive team: “My team of ministers was unexcelled. It was a team which any head of government anywhere in the world would be proud of.” What he could not have said, for modesty sake, is that it takes a strategic leadership to know who has the requisite skills, competence and capacities to build the kind of esprit de corps that gets the work of governance done. It was a function of Awolowo’s transformational leadership style to immediately recognize that government is a collaborative teamwork made up of knowledgeable governance partners. If Awolowo did so excellently well in spite of all the constraints, then the key lesson for us, paraphrasing William Shakespeare, is that the fault is not in our star that we are underlying, the fault rests squarely in us that we cannot convert Nigeria’s natural endorsement to greatness.
The second message is that there is something called the spirituality of service exemplified by Chief Awolowo at the political leadership level and Chief Simeon Adebo at the administrative cum technocratic level. The duo regarded service to country as a calling to serve a higher purpose as of priesthood in the Levitical Order. This is a sense of service which overrides personal willfulness to assume a sense of value. A sense of value that inspires a search for meaning which if one succeeds, like Awo did, creates a craving significance. Underpinning this whole dynamic is a sense of deferred gratification which is the theology of eternal reward as distinct from the reigning Nigerian culture of ‘something for nothing’ that has been given a dubious significance by the miracle mentality that is the language of evangelizing in the churches and mosques today.
EFFICIENT PUBLIC SERVICE AS A STRONG FACTOR: If I am asked, I will argue that the most important governance development decision Awolowo made goes beyond his policy architecture, made up of the core governance items from education to infrastructure. While these are very significant in defining “good development performance,” Awolowo’s genius lies in the inauguration of a functional and efficient public service system that will facilitate the execution of the development agenda that will empower the citizens of the South-west. Awolowo’s political agenda was defined by a policy dynamics in core policy areas of education, health, employment, agriculture, infrastructural development and a functional and efficient public service. The free primary education scheme and the universal fee health programme were the two elements of his governance project that meant to produce an enlightened and healthy citizenry.
The Awolowo political leadership was not only farsighted, but was also realistic. A realistic leadership works according to the implications and consequences derived from a well-researched development agenda that is balanced between policy expectations matched by the cost implications of the intended programmes with a funding strategy. Awolowo’s people-oriented leadership was formed along this line. Awolowo was aware, for instance, that the real burden of a universal, free and compulsory education came from the challenge of funding it. In 1952, the government projected a total of 170, 000 pupils to be enrolled in the primary schools. By 1954 (a year before the launch of the programme), 394,000 pupils had already registered! But then the government realized that a free education scheme cannot really be “free”.
FAR-SIGHTED PLANS: Economic realism led to the introduction of a capitation levy which was later abandoned for an increment in the existing tax regime. The success of the universal basic education scheme derived essentially from the fact that the Awolowo government did its homework, and was ready for the eventualities of policy execution that would have fazed any other government unprepared for the consequences of a complex implementation dynamics. We must not forget the singular role that the organization of agricultural and mineral resources played in the governance breakthrough of Chief Awolowo. Agriculture, for him, must be benchmarked against global knowledge bank. The Israeli Kibbutz system of agricultural collective was a good idea to adapt. On the one hand, the Action Group successfully organized farmers into functional cooperative movements, especially around the cocoa farmers marketing cooperative. The development of the Ewekoro Cement Factory was also very significant in boosting the socioeconomic fortune of the Western Region.
COMPETENT LEADERSHIP: Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the singular arrowhead of the South-west governance success story. With him, power was not an end in itself; it was a dynamic of responsibility that was entrusted into his hand as a governance issue to be used on behalf of the people. This is one democratic point that contemporary Nigerian leadership need to take to heart. The core insight here is that it is possible for the Nigerian context to throw up a competent leadership that is able to harness a core of like-minded democratic competences for a good development performance. Awolowo’s transformational leadership demonstrably transformed the South-west into an infrastructural paradise that resonated even till now. It is just unfortunate that those who have prided themselves as the political heirs of Awolowo and the Awo ideology have failed to carry on the governance baton that would have extended Awolowo’s legacy to the six Southwestern states of Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Lagos and Osun, including Kwara, states.
In the hands of these new leaders, leadership has become essentially transanctional. Politics is now defined by the need for self-aggrandizement rather than unfolding the core responsibility of democratic governance. Chief Obafemi Awolowo saw beyond politics to what the people need to make their lives meaningful. And what was brilliant in his understanding of transformational leadership is his deep understanding that a leader needs a network of partnership and institutional support to succeed. It was not just enough to establish a classic political party with all the visions and mission statement in impeccable conditions. It became immediately clear to Chief Awolowo that the success of such a political party must derive from a concerted effort from a network of collaborators and partners to get power to serve the people.
DISCOVERY OF SIMEN ADEBO: While these are very significant in defining “good development performance,” Awolowo’s genius lies in the inauguration of a functional and efficient public service system that will facilitate the execution of the development agenda that will empower the citizens of the Southwest. The first significant decision in that regard was the appointment of Chief Simeon Adebo as the administrative head of service. Chief Adebo was one critical institutional factor within Awolowo’s strategy of collaborations and partnerships that boost a strategic change management dynamics. There was heavy investment in capacity development. The Institute of Administration was established in the then University of Ife to train top public managers. It provided platform for seminal interaction between policy makers and administrators.
Fundamental to this change management is a policy-research nexus that was the basic framework for grounding the ideology of people first. Thus, the policy roll out were constrained by the clear demands of good governance and what would definitely impact the lives of the Southwest people. And what better way to ground policy in action research than to associate development sectors to cognate disciplinary fields? What better way to make the synergy work than to bring together scholars and practitioners—Aluko in economics, Onabamiro in science, Oluwasanmi and Aribisala in agriculture, and Akin Mabogunje in rural and regional planning? With this change management strategy, Awolowo’s unique understanding of politics was ready to deliver the dividends of good governance to the people. But change management requires an active, capacitated and professional public service. — Being excerpts from a lecture delivered by Prof. Tunji Olaopa, executive vice-chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), at the Town Hall meeting convened by Prof. Pat Utomi’s Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) in Ibusa, Delta State; February, 2018.
GENERATING THE PUBLIC POLICY AND FORESIGHT:
Upon reflections, I considered it necessary to delve into the past for possible answers to problems associated with political governance in Nigeria and how these issues were resolved in the past. This idea itself was prompted by my very strong belief that we could turn the situation around in Nigeria if we are really sincere and allow national interest to override all other considerations; particularly our individual desires. In particular, I thought about the leadership question and how we could handle issues dealing with good governance and preferences on the democratic space. I thought about succession plans and games that have constituted one of the strongest cogs in the wheel of progress. I thought about the submission of eminent Jurist, Retd Hon. Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais that the mindset of Nigerians on elections is very negative; and the submission of another eminent Jurist, Retd Justice Niki Tobi (JSC) that Nigerians now view ”politics is a matter of life and death”. I came to the conclusion that if we are a little bit more dispassionate and cosmopolitan, we would record sanity in the polity.
For instance, there is the question of how did Nigeria’s political heroes and heroines of the First Republic handle issues connected with the culture of succession that has broken political parties into pieces? Only a few people like Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Senator Ayo Fasanmi and Chief Ebenezer Babatope are able to speak authoritatively on the system of election of candidates of political parties; particularly in the Action Group; and later the Unity Party of Nigeria. I am restricted to those names by my memory, because they are those known to me as some of the closest confidants of Chief Obafemi Awolowo; several others having been called to the Great Beyond. If it was a case of foresight and long range planning, Awolowo scored several goals as attested to be this quote: “While many men in power and public office are busy carousing in the midst of women of easy virtue and men of low morals, I, as a few others like me, am busy at my desk thinking about the problems of Nigeria and proffering solutions to them. Only the deep can call to the deep.”
NO PERFECT HUMAN BEING: Awolowo was never a perfect human being. Only God is infallible. However, I marvel all of the time how there could be flawless political party primaries 60 years ago; and that same issue of emergence of credible candidates of political parties would constitute one of the greatest anti-democratic issues that we contend with today across all the 91 political parties in Nigeria today. The trend now is of: ‘’I lose on one platform, I move to another party until my name is eventually forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission’’ How was Obafemi Awolowo able to handle the following circumstances?
Emmanuel Alayande vs Bola Ige in the UPN primaries in old Oyo State. Ven. Alayande was one of the closest friends and associates of Awolowo; and was in fact the chaplain of the Action Group. . But the leader looked sideways and Bola Ige defeated Alayande in the governorship primaries of old Oyo State.. No intervention by Chief Awolowo.
J.F. Odunjo, was a close confidant of Obafemi Awolowo. His son lost in Ogun State primaries to Bisi Onabanjo (Aiyekoto) one of Awolowo’s ”boys”. No intervention
In Kwara State, Cornelius Adebayo floored J.S Olawoyin, a staunch Awolowo supporter. No intervention by Awolowo.
In the old Ondo State, Obafemi Awolowo allowed his friend of several decades, Adekunle Ajasin to go through the rigours of party primaries at almost 80 years, and compete with much younger elements like Ayo Fasanmi of the UPN. Ajasin emerged the UPN candidate. Those politicians never considered the advanced age of opponents. No intervention and no feud until 1982, when there was a revolt by UPN loyalists, many of them Deputy-Governors who wished to upstage their principals.
In Lagos State, one of his ”boys” and political followers, Lateef Jakande went through party primaries. No rancour
In Bendel State (Edo & Delta States of today) Ambrose Folorunsho Alli faced the UPN primaries to emerge the UPN candidate.
IMPORTANT DUTY & FREEDM OF DISSENT: The Unity Party of Nigeria regrettably witnessed an implosion in 1982 following protests by some prominent party members who decamped to the National Party of Nigeria. For Chief Awolowo, it was a most painful development given his speech at the Mapo Hall campaign fr the reelection of members of his party in Oyo State. He spoke years earlier in 1972, at the 25th anniversary convocation dinner organized by the Alumni Association of the University of Ibadan. His submission on freedom of dissent was to later occur ten years later and the even cited above in Ibadan. Applying his observation to the African continent, Awolowo noted that: ‘The duty which now devolves upon you is to uphold this inheritance from impairment and corrosion and to improve immeasurably upon it. Here then is the rub and the urgency of your new assignments. For, if the truth must be told, there are certain vital matters common to Africa in general and peculiar to Nigeria in particular which must be attended to by you and all of us with a due sense of urgency, dispatch, and resolution. I will try to enumerate some of them briefly.’’
Awolowo went further: ‘’For Africa as a whole, I will only outline six such matters, among others. One: In time past, the most potent weapon which African nationalists had employed in their fight for political freedom was freedom of dissent. Dissent That is, the freedom to disagree with, to criticise, and to chastise the government of the day, with as much vehemence and robustness as your eloquence or literary skill can command. It was the guarantee of this freedom, and its effective employment by African nationalist that had made our political independence a reality. In my humble judgment, and with the greatest respect to all our rulers in Africa, it appears crystal clear that this freedom of dissent is not only long in abeyance since independence but also now in danger of total extinction. Freedom of Dissent is a positive good: it is the best safeguard against tyranny, and the surest preventive of avoidable costly error on the part of the government of the day.’’
DIVERGENT OPINIONS – THE BEAUTY OF DEMOCRACY: What is happening today in Nigeria? Blatant violation of party regulations and laid down rules across the 91 political parties. These have resulted into several gross charades called political party primaries and internal democracy. Clearly, something is wrong when everybody thinks the same way about issues, events and conducts of personalities given the principles of objectivity, subjectivity, as well as selective perception and retention that combine to shape human thoughts.
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